This strange little publication details the history of Hawkwind during their early 70's heyday, as told from a personal perspective by Allen Ashley - who's since gone on to publish much else as his website reveals. However, this work was his first and came out in 1991 under the imprint of Trevor Hughes' Hawkfrendz Publications. It's printed in familiar A5 monochrome format, closely spaced word processed text intercut with the usual co(s)mic-book black-and-white illustrations. However, at around 10,000 words it has more written content than most Hawkfrendz titles.
Chapter I "This is Al Calling" sets out the theme succinctly enough, with a stream of self-consciousness that accurately captures what a 1970's adolescence was like (in Britain, at any rate.) However, the author swiftly gets down to business and provides a decent summary of Ladbroke Grove embryonic chaoticisms, which moves smoothly into detailed reviews of the first single and album. The methodology is one that I follow myself, an attempt to describe the way the material sounds, rather than venturing into necessarily more subjective notions. Mr. Ashley does it pretty well, managing to convey a detailed but reasonably concise description of the music, without lapsing into purple prose. However, the surprise is that the author goes straight from one album review intro another: one would have expected lurid tales of gloriously shambolic gigs along the way, but maybe his mum wouldn't let him go to any. (Had this problem myself...)
Chapter IV "Ritualistic Space Chants" weaves the two themes (the author's autobiographical notes and Hawkwind's musical progression) together with the review of Doremi Fasol Latido. Why? This was Mr. Ashley's first Hawkwind LP, and I think every serious HW fan probably has just such a special relationship with the first Hawkwind album he or she ever bought. (Roadhawks in my case, which is a bit of an odd one.) Anyway, the author really nails it with his characterisations of Doremi as "darkness and gloom, a soundtrack for Armageddon". The boy can write, and even throws in a couple of high-falutinâ€™ references to Mozart and Sartre in his Doremi review. Chapter V he devotes to the Silver Machine / 7 By 7 single, and it's notable that he gets every little detail of Hawkwind history spot on. There is also the occasional assertion that's not something I've heard before, such as when he describes the lyrics to Upside Down as being about weightlessness in space. A rather intriguing one is an allusion to 7 By 7's spoken-word passage having a connection to the then seven-strong membership of Hawkwind (if Staciaâ€™s excluded), which is not something I've thought of before. When you remember the hippy guff that was being spouted about the Space Ritual stage setup, with each member's astrological sign corresponding to a planet whose orbit resonated to a Pythagorean frequency and was associated with a certain colour, this is not beyond the bounds of possibility.
Seven signs rode on seven stars Seven ways to find the long lost bards Seven days became seven years While Pocus laughed and called foul jeers Seven times he cursed the seven tears Each one became their seven fears What is lost is never gained again I've cast the spell that eternity chained No more to cry 'O mortal soul' The astral path is now your fortuitous role
It is doubtless a fool's errand to try and make sense of this, but I reckon five of those seven band members have different astrological signs (don't know for DikMik and Simon King) and the Space Ritual tour programme (reproduced in the 2007 Collector's Edition of Space Ritual Alive) goes into considerable detail about this Pythagorean "Sound of the Spheres." It even connects individual band members with specific heavenly bodies too, so I think "Seven signs rode on seven stars" could well be a reference to all this cobblers of Barney Bubbles' devising. However, as Dr. Johnson said, "Sir, there is no settling the point of precedency between a louse and a flea"...here endeth the digression.
Following on from the Silver Machine / 7 By 7 single is a full-on review of Space Ritual Alive, which is well described on a track-by-track basis, and concludes with another insightful summary of the album as "a somewhat desperate space odyssey away from a ravaged and repressive Earth, into an equally uncertain escape route". This is much better than just parroting the canned description of it representing the dreams of seven starfarers (that's definitely 6 too many) in suspended animation. The author also shows a nice touch in filling out his reviews of the music (such as the Urban Guerrilla / Brainbox Pollution 7" single) with narrative / historical details such as the floorboards of Nik's flat being ripped up by the bomb squad.
Despite the fact that the author had managed to see Hawkwind live by the time Hall of the Mountain Grill came out, Mr. Ashley does no more than mention the fact in order to draw an unfavourable comparison between HOTMG's studio recording of D-Rider, and the preceding live rendition(s) he had witnessed. This is something of a missed opportunity, since by his own admission Hawkwind had "always been primarily a live band". But this publication focuses on the albums as being their "characteristic product", and HOTMG is found wanting. This on account of its stylistic patchiness, occasioned by the democratic principle of allowing each individual band member to contribute a song. In fact this is a trait that has, to a greater or lesser extent, bedeviled every Hawkwind album: not necessarily on account of misplaced democratic sentiments, but because there have always been many different songwriters among the ranks. Anyway, HOTMG is found to be "bitty", but Warrior On The Edge Of Time, not. Considering the disjointed the running order and wildly differing styles of the tracks on WOTEOT, this strikes me as rather odd. (Not nearly as odd as likening Assault & Battery to the Bee Gees, though...) Still, the author is not wrong when he says that WOTEOT "marks the end of the...'Golden Age of Hawkwind'."
To be fair to Mr. Ashley, he does note near the end of this work that he sought to avoid re-covering the ground already dealt with by Kris Tait's "This Is Hawkwind, Do Not Panic", choosing instead to â€œanalyse and discuss mostly the music, with biographical and autobiographical detail...". The other criticism I have had, that Hawkwind as a live act has been neglected, is answered in the first of two postscripts to the main narrative. Headed "January 1974 Make Your Masques", this, like the opening chapter, has a pronounced biographical slant to the description of the author's first ever Hawkwind gig. Which is fair enough, such things loom large in the memory of the Dedicati. As an actual review of the gig, it's somewhat cursory, but as an account of a rite of passage could hardly be bettered. But something is left unsaid: the final postscript is titled "Goodbye Boys" but doesn't account for why the author ends his personal odyssey there and then. In a preceding mention of Hawkwind's various American tours he mentions Dave Brock having sold his guitar at the end of a show (this happened in 1978), and is thus aware of Hawkwind's post-WOTEOT career. Perhaps he felt, as many do, that they were never the same after Lemmy left, and then Bob Calvert, and then Nik, and so on. (What this overlooks is that they were never the same from one album, or even one track on an album, to the next!)
1975 may have been the end of the Golden Age, but Mr. Ashley's interest plainly didn't go with it, as he was sufficiently compelled to write this booklet 16 years later. Perhaps he'll publish a sequel...it would certainly be worth reading, as this was a well-written, enjoyable look back at a time that is now 40 years in the past. However dated everything else from that era may be, the music remains fresh, and by focusing his efforts on the music rather than the biographical, Mr. Ashley ensured that his book would remain equally verdant. Highly recommended.