Hawkwind 1970-1975

Hawkwind - Warrior on the Edge of Time2013 is a bit of a year for long-awaited reissues. First off, in March (in the UK, anyway — the US got it earlier), there was the Blue Öyster Cult’s Columbia Albums Collection, a box set that polished off the band’s back catalogue, digitally remastered and extra’d up with rarities and archive live material, meaning I could finally replace my vinyl rip of Imaginos. (Ditto for 1975’s double live album, On Your Feet Or On Your Knees, whose opening riff to its second track made me take up the guitar.) And this September will hopefully see the last classic-era Doctor Who finally make it to DVD: Terror of the Zygons, also from 1975. (It feels I’ve been waiting for that one since 1975.) And last month Atomhenge brought out a hard-fought-for deluxe remaster of Hawkwind’s Warrior On The Edge Of Time… Also from 1975. It’s the kind of thing to make me want to look back at the massive output of one of my favourite bands and try to make sense of it. And, at over forty years of mostly continuous studio albums, live albums and touring, it’s not going to be done in one Mewsings post. So, for now, Hawkwind’s first major musical era: from their self-titled debut in 1970 to 1975’s Warrior on the Edge of Time.

Hawkwind on Stage

A note on the sleeve of their first album outlined the band’s initial intentions:

“We started out trying to freak people (trippers), now we are trying to levitate their minds, in a nice way, without acid, with ultimately a complete audio-visual thing. Using a complex of electronics, lights and environmental experiences.”

Hawkwind - HawkwindI like that “in a nice way”. Because there’s nothing nice about Hawkwind’s debut. Aside from two songs that are basically Dave Brock busking numbers Hawkwinded up (both of them about breaking out of a complacent worldview to see life for the potentially miserable thing — “it may bring war”, “the tears you’ve shed” — it is), the rest of the album is a series of frankly terrifying instrumentals, full of moans, groans, echoes and disorientatingly weird sounds. Two of them are called “Paranoia (Part 1)” and “Paranoia (Part 2)”, for Heaven’s sake. (And the theme of mental illness keeps popping up in songs of this era, from the robotised weirdness of the next album’s “Adjust Me”, to its successor’s “Brainstorm”, a B-side called “Brainbox Pollution”, and Warrior‘s “The Demented Man”. If Hawkwind really were trying to sell the psychedelic experience, they weren’t putting the best face on it.)

Hawkwind - X In Search of SpaceThe band needed something better than paranoia and despair if they wanted to present their audience with a truly immersive experience. Fortunately, “oral space-age poet” Robert Calvert had the answer. He decided the band needed a mythology, or at least a viable stash of imagery and story that could take the place of their bleak inward mental journeys of doubt, disintegration and “a world of emptiness”. The answer was science fiction. Michael Moorcock was already associated with the band. (His first impression: “They seemed like barbarians who’d got hold of a load of electrical gear.”) He provided some poetry, as did Calvert. Calvert also penned the “Hawklog”, a booklet included with the band’s second album, X In Search of Space, which told of how the technicians of Spaceship Hawkwind arrived on Earth only to be transformed into a two dimensional black platter, indistinguishable in size, shape and function from what you Earth people call a vinyl LP. Hawkwind were now a — if not the — Space Rock band, and suddenly they had a universe of dystopian nightmares to take the place of their previously merely psychotic ones.

Hawkwind - Doremi Fasol LatidoThe message remained bleak: “We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago” and “Time We Left This World Today” are just two SF-tinged tales of pessimistic environmentalism. “The Watcher” was looking in on us, had found us wanting, and promised that “The last thing you will feel is fear” before avarice destroys our sphere. The tales of psychic disintegration took on a science fictional tone — “Space is Deep” taking its cue from the opening passages to Moorcock’s 1969 novel The Black Corridor, about a man getting cabin fever in the utter nullity of deep space (and which was itself read out to freaky-spacey trip-music at concerts); meanwhile “Master of the Universe” hints at how hitting the borders of madness might at least help you break out of the complacent worldview attacked in the first album (“If you call this living I must be blind”). There were bursts of optimism: in the sheer vitality of Bob Calvert’s lyrics (and their delivery) in his paean to the spaceward urge, “Born to Go”; in the defiantly solipsistic hedonism of his “Orgone Accumulator”; or in the gleeful destructiveness of his “Urban Guerrilla”; also in the rather more gentle optimism of Nik Turner’s SF-tinged flower-power dreams like “Children of the Sun” and “D-Rider”. Even Dave Brock’s shamanic “Assault & Battery/The Golden Void”, though it may make him “Lose my body, lose my mind”, at least has a message of hope:

Lives of great men all remind us
we may make our lives sublime
And departing leave behind us
footprints in the sands of time

(Even if it is nicked from Longfellow’s “Psalm Of Life“.)

Hawkwind enlightenment, it seems, is enlightenment through psychosis. As Brock says in “You’d Better Believe It”:

The gentle madness touched my hand
Now I’m just a cosmic man

Hawkwind - Hall of the Mountain GrillOne thing that’s notable about Hawkwind’s output in these five years — particularly when compared to the next five, which is dominated by the fierce Icarus-like individualism of Robert Calvert’s manic side — is how much the lyrics are about “we” and “us”: “Deep in our minds”, “we shall be as one”, “So that we might learn to see/The foolishness that lives in us”. Consciously tribal, Hawkwind were seeking to create a communal experience. Their trance-inducing guitar grunge and join-in chanted choruses were trying to lift everyone to the same plane — if not through the previously promised levitation, maybe through a blast of sci-fi rocket power.

Hawkwind - Space RitualThey achieved their goal of presenting the “complete audio-visual thing” in their Space Ritual tour, whose double live album (1973) is the quintessence of this era’s recorded output. By this point they weren’t just a band of musicians. They had their poets (Moorcock and Calvert), their artists (Barney Bubbles), their light show (Liquid Len), their dancers (Miss Stacia). They had their tribe. They were the Technicians of Spaceship Hawkwind, and had achieved lift-off.

At the end of their confusingly-titled 1999 Party album (recorded live in 1974, released in 1997), someone says: “You have been experiencing the imagination of Hawkwind.” A shared imaginative experience. As it says in their first recorded song, “Hurry on Sundown”:

Look into your mind’s eye, see what you can see
There’s hundreds of people like you and me

Or in the later “Brainbox Pollution”:

Take my hand, I’ll lead you on
To learn so far, my dream’s your own

Hawkwind had shared their dream. Oh, and they also released a silly one-hit wonder single called “Silver Machine”.

Michael Moorcock’s Doctor Who novel — The Coming of the Terraphiles

The Balance has been pulled apart. The Multiverse has gone out of kilter. Matter is corrupting antimatter, Law is infecting Chaos, Chaos is infecting Law. The Doctor receives a garbled message alerting him to the dire state of the Multiverse, and in characteristically quirky style, immediately makes for the planet Peers in the year 51,007, to engage in a good ol’ game of whackit (the far-future’s best attempt at reconstructing a certain traditional English sport). After a foreword in classic science-fantasy style, in which we are introduced to the space-pirate Captain Cornelius, Moorcock relaxes into P G Wodehouse mode, as the plot to save the very nature of existence centres around the theft of a very valuable, though horrendously ugly hat.

Moorcock is obviously enjoying himself. The Terraphiles of the title, far from being some evil lizard-like alien, turn out to be a far-future society of historical re-enactment enthusiasts, whose particular interest is early 20th century England (the planet Peers is a terraformed theme-park based on a sort of “never-never England”). The Doctor, of course, is a fully-paid up Terraphile (which perhaps explains why he’s so fond of saving 20th century England from those endless alien invasions…), not to mention a dab hand with a whackit bat. (The sports scenes do tend to sound a bit Quidditchy, at times.)

If the threat to the Multiverse does, after a while, feel more like a maguffin to get Moorcock’s fruity collection of far-future retro-fictional “Decent Chaps, Silly Asses, Pretty Girls, Kindly Uncles and Terrifying Aunts” (not to mention space-pirates and Aetheristic sea-dogs) on a spaceship voyage together, it’s only because his primary goal seems to be having a bit of fun with the Doctor Who universe. So, don’t expect a compelling story, but do expect plenty of imagination, sly references to Moorcock’s own work (as well as a few favourites of his, such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Hawkwind, and perhaps a subtle Blue Oyster Cult reference in one chapter title), alongside lashings of Wodehousian fun. If nothing else, it’s worth it to read Moorcock’s rendering of the TARDIS dematerialisation sound: like “rusty shopping carts being dragged over sheets of corrugated tin” — the most accurate description yet!

The Roar of Love

As a follow-up to my top five fantasy concept albums, covered in Mewsings a while back, over the next few entries I’m going to look at a few more fantasy albums I’ve come across recently (one of which I’ve been trying to get hold of for some time). These are slightly different in that they’re adaptations of (or inspired by) existing fantasy books, not original fantasies in themselves.

First up is The Roar of Love by a band called 2nd Chapter of Acts. Now, did you pick up on the subtle cultural signals tucked away in the band’s name to guess they’re a Christian group? I admit that, at first, this put me off buying the album. Then I told myself to stop being silly. After all, I don’t let the fact that I don’t ride a motorbike stop me from listening to Blue Öyster Cult, do I? (Nor does the fact that I don’t use drugs stop me from listening to Hawkwind; nor does the fact that I don’t use the word motherf—! stop me listening to Jane’s Addiction, either.) I was just a little wary of the music being a bit too happy, not to mention clappy.

The Roar of Love (1980) is inspired by C S Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. My mum read the entire Narnia series to my brother and me, a chapter at a time (with the occasional, magical, “Let’s read two chapters this time, shall we?” — she clearly enjoyed them as much as we did), and I loved them. Along with Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, they were the first proper fantasy books I read (or had read to me), and I was totally lost in their world. It was only when I was about eight or nine, when I bought a book about the Narnia series (it may have been Paul F Ford’s Companion to Narnia) that I came across the idea that the Narnia books were Christian allegories. This was a total shock to me, as I associated Christianity with school assemblies, the enforced singing of hymns (all of which but “The Lord of the Dance” I found dull), and, worst of all, school-visiting vicars with their “God is your best friend!” cheery-cheery vapidity. (I was only interested in the chap who danced with the Devil on his back.) In fact, I felt a little betrayed. I re-read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe a few years ago, and was rather disgusted by how heavy-handed (not to say cack-handed) Lewis’s attempts to force the reader to feel religious awe for Aslan were. I fully intend to re-read the whole series — the through-the-wardrobe idea is, after all, one of the most magical symbols of entering the world of the imagination I know, perhaps not even second to entering the TARDIS — but I can’t help feeling Lewis’s tempering of the imaginative experience with such pointless (to me) didacticism is a little too much like the author placing an inappropriate hand on the (child) reader’s knee…

But, that aside —

The Roar of Love is fun. The music is, at times, sort of Yes-lite: full of energy, vocals in close harmony, lots of contrasting proggish sections going from classically-inspired to bombastic (light) rock to easy listening and funky pop. There was only one real trip-up moment for me (in the opener, “Are You Goin’ To Narnia”, which contains the lines “To meet the lamb that is a lion/I want to learn to love him too”), but that was more than made up for by the songs themselves being so very listenable. “Tell the Truth” became an immediate favourite with its “Turkish Delight” chorus. (It is followed by the funky guitars and soul-style vocals of a song, confusingly called “Turkish Delight”, about Edmund’s love for the White Queen. Soul, I can’t help feeling, is diametrically opposed to the fantastic. Nevertheless it will pop up again in another of the albums I’m going to cover.)

I’m always interested in how music can be used to capture the feeling of the fantastic, but I don’t think The Roar of Love is as concerned with conjuring another world as it is with just telling a story. The second track, “Lucy’s Long Gone”, covers the whole disappearance into another world with the line “I slipped right out of this world”, which doesn’t give it the awe, excitement and mystery I’d have liked. But the track does have a bouncy playfulness that reflects Lucy’s status as the youngest of the four children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — complete with circus-style calliope, at one point — which may be far more appropriate, anyway. Elsewhere, there’s enough lushness in the vocals to give the album a touch of the truly immersive feel of fantasy.

2nd Act of Chapters don’t do darkness, really. Even the track “Aslan is Killed”, though it has some lovely interweaving, almost fugal, vocal lines, doesn’t quite capture the devastating moment when Aslan is humiliated and sacrificed so much as provide a moment of sober reflection. But that’s more than made up for the truly uplifting mood of the album generally. Particularly “Witch’s Demise” with its chorus I at first misheard as: “And then He unmasked her/Then He cast her/to disaster/What a bastard!” (It’s actually “What a Master!” Oh, if only…)

Overall, great fun. It certainly captures the child-friendly fun elements of the The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe without overdoing the allegory.

The Blue Öyster Cult

boc_secrettreatiesBack when I was just getting into music, and my record collection could have been played in its entirety on a lazy Sunday afternoon (now, according to iTunes, it would take 26 days, 8 hours and 9 minutes), Garen went up to London one day and I asked if he could buy me a couple of records — anything by Hawkwind and the Blue Öyster Cult. He brought back two of the best albums I’ve ever heard. The Hawkwind LP was Angels of Death (1986), a compilation of the rockier numbers from their early-80s RCA releases, and it was pretty stonking, but Secret Treaties (1974) by BÖC just blew me away, and is still one of my favourite albums. I’d already heard most of the songs, as the first BÖC record I bought was their fourth, the live double On Your Feet Or On Your Knees (1975), which as well as providing a sort of coda to their first (and, to me, best) era, was responsible for me deciding to learn to play the guitar — I just had to play the riff to Harvester of Eyes, which sounded impossibly complex to my then-untrained ears, but which is actually made up of two separate but simple, rhythmically different, guitar parts.

That riff, though, is the key to what I love about early BÖC. With two, sometimes three, guitars going off at once, there’s the manic feel of a musical explosion barely contained by its song structure, as if five wild musos are ricocheting off in separate directions, but have been captured on vinyl just at that moment before they leave each other’s gravitational influence. Contained power. That’s what good rock music is all about. Add to that the weirdness of the lyrics (sometimes a little too obscure for my tastes, but often surreally suggestive enough to attain a sort of dark poetry), plus those bizarre covers by Gawlick, and the early BÖC seems to exist in a world of its own — so much so that, with their most famous album, Agents of Fortune (1976), which of course contains (Don’t Fear) The Reaper, and all the following albums seem to be to by a separate band. And in a sense they were, as, with the proceeds of On Your Feet the band members each bought a four-track recorder and went off to make song demos on their own. No longer having to contain the electrical explosion of five colliding talents, subsequent albums did still have their finely-crafted highs with some excellent songs, but never again had that raw power where the band’s talents were forcibly, and alchemically, mixed.

boc_spectresSpectres (1977) and the live album Some Enchanted Evening (1978) have just been remastered and re-released. Both have some great moments (Godzilla, Golden Age of Leather and Nosferatu on Spectres, Astronomy on Some Enchanted Evening), but the main thing I remember from when I first bought Spectres (from Beanos in Crodyon) — aside from the lead singer Eric Bloom on the cover looking like a well-suited hamster with cheek pouches full — was that the LP, when I first put it on, must be playing at the wrong speed. But no, that’s the start of Godzilla! Some Enchanted Evening, which always seemed rather like a half-measure as a single live album after the incredible double of On Your Feet, has been boosted to double-album length, and now comes with a bonus live DVD!