|'The Elf & The Hawk' Review
This has been out for ages, but I'm a slow writer, in'I?!
This is one of those albums that I have previously dismissed as a "minor release" and consequently it
has not been a part of my Hawkwind collection until now. I seem to be running out of things to spend
money on, so here we are, listening for the first time to the CD reissue of The Elf & The Hawk. This is
actually a compilation of 2 titles: Alan Davey's first ("The Elf") EP, plus the HawkFan 12", a real vinyl
album that was included free with issue 12 of Brian Tawn's HawkFan back in 1986 (But see the
footnote). I thought it might be interesting to review this as there must be other Hawkwind fans like me
who've never heard this album but might be contemplating purchase....
The running order of the CD is as follows:
1. Countdown (Hawkwind 1972)
2. Ejection (Hawkwind 1982)
3. The Human Race (Dark Empire)
4. Synprovisation (Syndrone)
5. Ghost Dance (Hawkwind 1984)
6. The Tale of the Entropy Tango (Michael Moorcock's Deep Fix and Brian Tawn)
7. Aimless Flight (Underground Zero)
8. Burn Me Up (Dave Brock)
9. Solar Gig (Alan Davey)
10.Cosmic Dawn (Alan Davey)
11.Chinese Whispers (Alan Davey)
12.Ode To A Bass Assassin (Alan Davey)
13.The Switch (Don't Touch...) (Alan Davey)
14.Fractal Hunter (Alan Davey)
15.Space Rock (Alan Davey)
16.Spirit Of The Age (PXR1)
So, first impressions are that we have a Hawkwind-Friends-and-Relations type of excercise here, and
my take on those albums was that they were mostly shite. But in the extensive and lucid sleeve notes,
Brian Tawn mentions that he delayed the release of the original Hawkfan album to avoid that very
comparison - the Friends & Relations albums having started to appear at around the same time. So any
resemblance is coincidental. Each of the 3 Hawkwind tracks here is live.
As well as Brian's sleeve notes, the accompanying booklet reproduces some of the artwork and content
of at least one contemporary Hawkfan issue (number 12, likely as not) - or this may be a reproduction
of the original Hawkfan album artwork, I'm not sure. Either way it's consistent with the overall
'fanzine' feel of this album. The CD is released on Black Widow of Italy, by the way.
The CD opens with 'Countdown' which is the voiceover by Andy Dunkley and Stacia at the start of the
BBC Radio 1 Live CD - a 1972 recording of Space Ritual material which never gets close to Space
Ritual in terms of quality. It's OK in its' way, but has become available elsewhere (on the BBC CD)
since this was first released. This stutters into a live version of Ejection that I've not heard before,
dating from 1982 with Nik on lead vocals and Huw wailing away on lead guitar. The sound quality is
less than pristine but it moves along at a terrific piece. I just wish it didn't fade out during Huw's lead
playing, which can hardly be called a solo, more the application of texture and atmosphere...
Dark Empire's 'The Human Race' seems misplaced on this album - minimalist synth music that has a
songlike structure and a plaintive vibe. It's pleasant enough but reveals nothing on second or
subsequent hearings that you didn't get first time round. It does end with a rather splendid explosion,
though, and we Hawkwind fans are surely nothing if not connoisseurs of explosions. It also provides a
nice segue into Syndrone's 'Synprovisation', which is almost as minimal, featuring sub-HLL lead guitar
over menacing analog synth sounds which remind me of the Edgar Broughton Band's darker moments.
This is a track that Harvey Bainbridge could really get hold of and turn into something nightmarish.
Then Hawkwind pop up again with a live version of Ghost Dance, which is notably inferior to the one
that appeared on the Out & Intake album back in 1987, and on various other compilations since (in
more than one edit). This is, for my money, a pretty weak number anyway, and so I feel that my
Hawkwind collection has been enhanced not one whit for now including this.
To cite the Friends & Relations albums yet again, I always found the tracks by the Deep Fix so
embarrassingly bad as to be buttock-clenching. But this was a surprise...I read The Entropy Tango not
so long ago (in search of Hawkwind quotes, for use on this website) and the first part of this track
exactly portrays the surreal atmosphere of the Jerry Cornelius books, being actual Tango music,
complete with world-weary vocals. The next piece is chamber music from the ruins at the end of
Time, and equally effective. The "O Columbine" lyrics immediately invoke the Pierrot motif that runs so
strongly through those stories. There are actually three pieces of music in this track, with some rather
haltingly narrated passages by Brian Tawn bookending them. The third piece of music is again surreal,
but musically this time, with a wandering lead guitar picking a psychotic path through jagged
Perhaps this is the only thing that could have made Underground Zero sound quite as exciting as they do
on Aimless Flight. This is locktight hard pop music with alternating male and female vocals, 60's
keyboards and a competent rock rhythm section whisking us through a melodic workout. The sound is
muddy and this was low-tech even in the 1980's, but if anything it reminds me of Instant Flight, a
suspiciously similar name, who backed Arthur Brown at the Hawkfest 2003.
Burn Me Up, by Dave Brock, is more familiar to me as You Burn Me Up from 2001's Spacebrock. It's
basically the same, but the Spacebrock version was presumably re-recorded, sounding cleaner than
this. It's one of the better Brock solo pieces, built around a single ascending keyboard riff with
trademark guitar noises, synth-derived bass parts and percussion. The usual Brock synth noises are
there too, a bit of semi-ambient lead guitar, and a couple of vocal lines each making a couple of
appearances. This really defines the template for much of Dave's solo material.
After that we go into the Alan Davey EP, and the low-tech recording vibe is present once more - not
that there's anything particularly wrong with that. This stuff was recorded a long time ago and under
who knows what circumstances. Solar Gig is very brief, a bass pattern woven around single-chord
keyboard riffing. Cosmic Dawn is more songlike, and more pastoral than I was expecting from the
title. The synth swoops really seem a little out of place in a number which, to be honest, sounds like an
early Mike Oldfield b-side.
Chinese Whispers is a clever title for the next track, bubbling analog synths picking out an
oriental-sounding scale (is it politically correct to use the word 'oriental' in this context?) while a trebly
bass wanders about in the middle distance, before drum machines kick in, with some very
Brock-influenced processed guitar putting its' head above the parapet.
Ode to a Bass Assassin; Lemmy Tribute expected, and the 1980's twiddly synths are quickly pushed
aside by a muscular bass, which manages only to sound like classic Alan Davey. Again the guitar is
very Brock-influenced, and the entire vibe is quite Hawkwind. This almost sounds like a primitive
version of one of the rockier tracks from Electric Tepee.
Next up is The Switch (Don't Touch...) and again, it could be Hawkwind recorded on a 4-track, being
a brief snatch of noodling synths truncated suddenly by the vocal. Fractal Hunter (great title!) feels like
a speeded-up spaced out blues jam, yet again sounding like the most hastily recorded rough demo tape
of Hawkwind you can imagine. What makes it NOT Hawkwind is probably the simplistic drum
machine parts - there is absolutely no risk of mistaking this for a flesh-and-blood drummer. Again the
guitar, the synth, the overall shape of the song are what make it thus, rather than the characteristic Alan
Davey bass runs. This and the previous two tracks really establish the character of this EP.
Alan's contribution to the CD bows out with Space Rock, which spreads out a little from the
sub-Hawkwind template of the previous tracks. A nice chord structure allows batteries of synth to duel
with the bass. Once the guitar becomes more prevalent in the mix, though, this track starts heading
back into Hawkwind territory, which is no bad thing - the drum programming is better on this track, too.
PXR1 finish things off with their cover of Spirit Of The Age. This features a staccato faded-in opening
which is obviously modelled on the original studio version (much my favourite, and points to PXR1 for
having the good taste to opt for that over some of the less exalted live versions). This is not any kind of
radical departure, but there's a nice punky twist to the vocals which foreshadowed Ron Tree's
contribution to Hawkwind a couple of years subsequently, and still retains enough of the Calvert
phrasing to make this a real tribute to Bob. As far as instrumentation is concerned, that too is fairly
faithful, with a human drummer throwing a few flourishes, and guitar, bass and synth not a million
miles removed from the original. These people played the HawkFest 2003 and drew the shortest of
straws by being put on in the Barn Stage when Hawkwind themselves were on the main stage. But on
this evidence I would go out of my way to hear them under almost any other circumstances; this is the
best cover version of this number I've yet heard, and that includes Tim Blake's appearance on the new
Daze Of The Underground tribute CD.
Hmm, well, is it worth buying? That's up to you, really. I paid Â£12 for my copy, and no, it's not
worth anything like as much as that. If you see it for sale for, say, six or seven quid, that would be
about the right price. The Hawkwind tracks alone certainly don't make this worth buying, but a few of
the other tracks are good - and the Alan Davey EP is interesting in its' own right as a precursor to a later
model Hawkwind.... making it a kind of analogue to the Captain's 'Agent of Chaos' album. I can't
imagine playing this CD very often, but it's the kind of thing you might pull out occasionally and put on
at low volume late at night when you can't quite decide what else to play.
Footnote - thanks to Alan Taylor for this correction!
Brian Tawn was trying to do something different for HF and he decided to put issue 12 out on vinyl. So
rather than being a freebie, it *was* the actual fanzine. He issued it as a limited edition of 500 and it
cost Â£5 or Â£6. It came with a Hawkwind Merchandise carrier bag, a HF sticker, a 12" one page
liner in the bag, the vinyl and the sleeve. (I think that's all.) It was quite an exciting package to get
through the post for a 16 year old laddie like me). The sleeve was the yellow design by Trevor Kendrick
(I think) and is the same as the artwork as that for the CD, except that the CD sleeve has been modified
to call it 'The Elf and The Hawk' and modified tracklist etc. The liner notes were typewritten on a white
sheet and this sheet is probably what makes up part of the sleeve notes. I think there was artwork on the
reverse side of the notes, a picture of a (female??) robot with a gun! Also maybe an airship and a
cryptic message "MM23". I remember that because of delays with the vinyl it came out after HF 14 or
15, (something borne out by BT's notes, it appears).