Hawkwind’s Chronicle of the Black Sword

Ah, Hawkwind. Rocksters of Reality! Spacefarers of the Science-Fictional! Plunderers of Pulp! Barbarians of Blanga!

That’s enough of that. Let’s just say I like them, and The Chronicle of the Black Sword is one of my favourite of their many albums.

Those many albums… Sometimes I think Hawkwind aren’t so much a band as an anthology series, or an old pulp magazine. Weird Tales, say, or New Worlds. Pick up any lurid-covered issue of Weird Tales in its heyday, and you’d find a mix of stories by individually excellent authors, presided over and brought into some sort of unity by the vision of the editor, shaky-handed Farnsworth Wright (the “Tyrant Pharnabeezer”, to some of those who had to deal with his rejections), or, for New Worlds, (and quite fittingly in this case) the staunchly bearded Michael Moorcock. Pick up any lurid-covered Hawkwind album and you’ll find the same mix of authorial styles, presided over this time by chief Hawk Dave Brock (who has been called a lot worse than “the Tyrant Pharnabeezer” by those ex-members who’ve departed over creative differences, or been plain fired, but I think without him we wouldn’t have nearly so much — or as good — Hawkwind as we do. Hell, we wouldn’t have Hawkwind. Besides, I love his singing voice and thudding guitar).

Pick any two Hawkwind albums and play them back to back, and at times you’d be hard pressed to guess they were from the same band. You’ve got sixties druggy droning on their debut, a punk-like tightness in the Calvert/Charisma years, electronic trancy weirdness on It Is The Business of the Future To Be Dangerous, and oodles of straight-ahead rock (1980’s Levitation being a particular high point, for me).

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Hawkwind's Chronicle of the Black Sword, cover by John Coulthart

The Chronicle of the Black Sword is mostly straight-ahead rock, with a few patches of moody instrumental, and the beautiful breathy synth lament “Zarozinia”. Having listened to the album a good few times since I bought it back in something like 1987 (it was released in 1984), I find it impossible to judge how well it works, as a fantasy concept album, in transporting you to its particular story world. Why? Because all I have to do is hear the deep whomping thrum of the electronic drone that opens “Song of the Swords”, the album’s first track, and I’m there, in Hawkwind/Moorcock/Elric land, and I stay there till “Horn of Destiny” at the end. (With perhaps a slight jar at “Needle Gun” which opens side two, because it’s Jerry Cornelius, not Elric.)

But Chronicle is just a taster of the full Hawkwind/Moorcock/Elric experience, to be found on Live Chronicles, a double album and DVD of the accompanying live show. (Which, I always kick myself to recall, I had the chance of seeing when Hawkwind put on a reprise of the show at Conspiracy ’87, but, at the time, I was too scared of the idea of going to a rock concert to do it!) Here we get songs from Chronicle of the Black Sword and Hawkwind’s back catalogue, as well as some new linking tracks, woven into the tale of doomed Elric Womanslayer and the final battle between Law and Chaos.

Cover to US release of Chronicle of the Black Sword

Cover to US release of Chronicle of the Black Sword

How I’d love a full studio treatment of the whole show! Because, like it though I do, Live Chronicles just doesn’t have the full thumping aural richness of its studio-based little brother, and in the case of a song like “Moonglum” (written, sung and lead-guitared by the wonderfully reggae-voiced Huw Lloyd Langton), this is a crime, because this sublime piece of tune-smithery hasn’t, as far as I know, ever been studio recorded.

Ah well. Perhaps I should put the full-studio Chronicles (a triple album, I’d like to think) down as my fantasy fantasy album, the one I’d most like to hear had it ever been recorded.

Or I could, if I hadn’t already reserved that slot for the last of my top five fantasy concept albums, which I’ll be covering in the next Mewsings…

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