The Hard Stuff - Hawkwind Reissues

"Jim Sclavunos of Grinderman and The Bad Seeds gets to grips with sumptuous reissues from the
space rockers' golden age."  From Classic Rock, August 2011
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It's a sensation I've missed since exiting my greasy adolescence: that special sense of occasion when the
racks of my local record shop would finally get in the latest album from one of my fave rave bands. It's
almost embarrassing to admit it, but the arrival on my doorstep the other day of EMI's new 180 gram
reissues of the first five Hawkwind records -Hawkwind, In Search Of Space, Doremi Fasol Latido, Space
Ritual and Hail Of The Mountain Grill- briefly transmitted a fleeting tremor down my spine akin to those
halcyon days of youthful elation. Each album has been reproduced in its entirety, augmented with
well-chosen bonus tracks, and spread out across two double-sided slabs of robust colored vinyl for
maximum mind-blowing aural effect. Combined with the simultaneous release of "Parallel Universe: A
Liberty / U.A. Years Anthology 1970-1974", a triple CD compendium of key tracks alongside previously
unreleased material, all in all, getting this set of re-issues makes me pretty darn happy that the rapture got
postponed.

I've followed Hawkwind and the band's myriad offshoots on and off for decades now, first getting swept
away by the 'Wind at a teenage pot party. That particular pimply gathering in the shag-carpeted candle-lit
basement rumpus room of my high school buddy was prompted by a plan to watch (and get utterly stoned
to) a Pink Floyd TV special being broadcast that night. As a warm-up to get us in the mood for the main
event, a recently procured copy of Space Ritual was set on the turntable. An exquisitely laid out live double
album offering lengthy recorded evidence of the multi-media extravaganza Hawkwind typically presented on
tour around that time, Space Ritual took all us kids a bit by surprise, superseding Floyd and hijacking the rest
of the evening with its hallucinatory layers of sound that stunned and captivated us like a bunch of abductees
keelhauled aboard a UFO. "Pretty weird stuff, huh?" murmured one droopy-eyed space cadet sitting
cross-legged next to me, before noting, "They're from Germany," as he passed me a smoldering roach.

Hawkwind, I subsequently learned, hailed not at all from parts Germanic; but looking back I can sort of see
my misguided party companion was actually on to something. A kinship with German free-form
experimental outfit Amon Düül is arguable, not just because of their shared predilection for drug-fueled
improvisations, but in actual personnel as well: former Düül bassist Dave Anderson briefly joined
Hawkwind to record In Search Of Space, their second album.

Hawkwind's native habitat at that time was the Ladbroke Grove/Notting Hill area, with Camden's
Roundhouse at the outer limits of their day-to-day universe. In the early days, founding member and blues
guitarist Dave Brock could sometimes be spotted busking on Portobello Road -the same street where once
stood the now long gone greasy spoon that inspired the title of their fifth album, Hall Of The Mountain Grill;
but W11 as they were, Hawkwind's real home was outer space.

From the first outburst of vocalising on their debut self-titled album (produced by Dick Taylor of The Pretty
Things), yearning for the enveloping darkness of the vast night sky went hand in hand with seamless
conflations of inner and outer space. The down-home psychedelic shuffle of Hawkwind's opening track
Hurry On Sundown vehemently urges the future hither, whilst calling upon the listener to look inwards in
search of collective unconsciousness. Along with the aforementioned Brock, the 'pre-Lemmy' line-up on this
inaugural effort includes two other members whose integral importance to the early Hawkwind sound cannot
be overstated: free-jazz saxophonist Nik Turner and Dik Mik Davies on avant-garde electronics.

What the first album only hints at, In Search Of Space brings to the fore: when Nik Turner inducted his
friend 'space poet' Robert Calvert into the fold, the concept of the band as metaphorical spaceship really took
off, for better or worse, with no turning back. Teamed up with artist Barney Bubbles, Calvert transformed
the image of the band from a gaggle of scruffy West London hippies into proto-cyberpunk embodiments of
his personal science-fiction mythology. A 'Hawkwind Log' was contrived, detailing an arcane (and pretty
silly) origin story about their journeys to other worlds, eventually crash landing on Earth. At the same time,
the band grew increasingly ambitious about the scope of their live show, incorporating all manner of
spectacle and sensory bombardment to bring to life Calvert's dark space opera visions.

EMI's latest pressings of the first two albums, Hawkwind and In Search Of Space heighten the already fine
production of the originals by spreading out over two discs what had formerly existed on a single vinyl
platter. The same procedure as applied to the following two albums, makes for even more noticeable
improvement: vinyl copies of Doremi Fasol Latido and Space Ritual have never to my ears sounded quite
right until now. Perhaps it was due to how they were initially recorded or maybe it was just the result of
dodgy pressings, but somehow those two albums always sounded both murky and thin at the same time.

These new double disc re-issues combined with the latest re-mastering rectifies all my previous audiophile
grievances. Space Ritual, now offered as two separate volumes (thereby amounting to a four-disc behemoth,
where it had formerly been half as many) finally is as epic as it was always meant to sound. It's gratifying to
at last hear a pressing do justice to the relentless rocket-ride rhythm section of Lemmy on bass and drummer
Simon King, with long overdue enhanced fidelity bringing clarity and muscle to the proceedings.

My one overriding sadness about this set of reissues concerns the compromises that have befallen the
packaging. In their day, Hawkwind album covers were wondrous, innovative, creatively engaging artifacts.
The die-cut interlocking tri-fold puzzle of the original In Search Of Space cover and its accompanying log
has been simplified in the new vinyl version to merely a gatefold album sleeve. Likewise, the obliquely
totemic heraldic shield thing that ordains the cover of Doremi Fasol Latido -a cross between Art Deco radio,
American classic car insignia and Teutonic ornament- is no longer rendered in its original shimmering silver
foil, but instead a dull grey. Likewise gone, the original crazy layout of Space Ritual, with its unique
double-sided six-panel poster sleeve.

Disappointing though these cost-cutting measures may be, the overall vast improvement in the aural quality
of these updated vinyl versions with bonus tracks is much appreciated. Even if comparatively the packaging
is not all it could be, each album in this latest edition is nonetheless both attractive and solidly assembled, and
the juicy colored platters lurking inside each makes for at least a little extra treat.
Above: an ad for the concert
This photo accompanied the original, and was captioned "It's a rum do when Lemmy is the best-looking
bloke in your band..."  LMAO!
Combined with Parallel Universe's previously unheard
cuts (amounting to what can almost be regarded as an  
alternative version of each album), I'd say that even if
you already own all five albums in some precedent
format, you could do much worse than to buy the
whole damn set again just for the sheer sonic joy it will
bring into your life. And if you've got a phonograph but
don't own any Hawkwind yet, no need to hesitate: these
latest renderings are an excellent place to begin.

-Jim Sclavunos