Solstice at Stonehenge 1984 - 20th Anniversary DVD Review

Thanks to amazon.co.uk for my copy - which, by the way is Region 0 / NTSC (not PAL!)
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It was twenty years ago today, that Captain Brock taught the band to play...well, twenty years ago last
Monday to be precise.  To commemorate two decades since the last ever Stonehenge Free Festival, Cherry
Red Records have reissued Hawkwind's "Solstice At Stonehenge 1984" on DVD.  Being a special edition, it
contains virtually their entire performance from 20th / 21st June 1984, thus surpassing the earlier VHS
release (which I reviewed on the
Hawkwind DVDs page, even though it wasn't a DVD).

On the VHS video, the tracklist was Stonehenge Decoded, Ghost Dance, Watching The Grass Grow,
Utopia, Social Alliance, Uncle Sams On Mars, Sonic Attack, The Right Stuff, Dawn and In The Morning.  
To these the DVD adds Angels of Death, Born To Go, Night of the Hawks, Motorway City, Ejection and
Brainstorm.  So the first reaction is to wonder why the best material had been omitted from the video...but
no matter, it's here now.

This DVD seems to work better as a record of the festival than it does as a Hawkwind concert film.  It
comes across as a full 24 hours at the fest, with the opening sequence panning slowly around the site in the
very early morning, looking cold and grey with a handful of people wandering around wrapped in blankets.  
I well remember being out and about at that time of the day at the Fest, and it looks just like I remember -
bleak, chilly, ramshackle, and yet picturesque.  I'd guess this opening footage was filmed before the sun
came up, i.e. at 5am or so.  Over a soundtrack of the introductory strains of 'Ghost Dance', we see the site
waking up slowly, with some good footage of the sun rising over the apex of the pyramid stage, as
Hawkwind set up their equipment there.  Cars and bikes thread through the encampment, we see
Stonehenge in the distance and a motley variety of punks and hippies lining up to fill their water containers
at a standpipe. Now this all seems very idyllic (especially to those of us suffering from middle-aged
nostalgia) but then we behold...Nik Turner pooing.  He appears to wander over to a trough in the middle of
a field, drop his shorts and climb up onto it, where he proceeds to gurn and strain furiously for the benefit
of the camera.  Roy Harper comes over and gestures cryptically in a way that makes Nik quake with
laughter, and he very nearly keels over backwards into the trough...

By now everyone is awake and the footage shows the colourful jumble of tents and vehicles that turned the
festival into a small town by the early 80's.  The opening title is projected over this, with the drawn-out
synthy / percussive opening to Ghost Dance continuing uninterrupted.  But the visuals cut to Hawkwind
coming on stage at night, Nik grabbing the limelight with this skateboarder's helmet and kaftan, ringed by
six young and vaguely punky women, dressed in virginal white slips.  They dance in a ring around Nik,
flailing their arms as the occasion demands.  This is the sort of Hawkwind I don't like all that much, being
loose to the point of shambolic, but that's just an opinion.  (It sounds very like the live side of the 1983
'Zones' album.)  Matters pick up as they move into Angels of Death - this, like all the newly released tracks
on this DVD, is more yer classic Hawkwind number, but the performance is as chaotic as the festival
surroundings. To be sure, there are some good reasons for this, with Alan Davey and Danny Thompson
both making their debuts, and Dave at one point complaining that the stage monitors aren't loud enough and
that he can't tell if he's singing in tune or not.  This may be why Alan sings so badly throughout.  It could be
his rawness showing through, too...he pretty much ruins Night Of The Hawks.  Danny makes no obvious
mistakes, and Alan's bass playing is very assured even if his singing's shot.

For the record, the other people on stage whom I've yet to mention are Huw Lloyd Langton and Harvey
Bainbridge, who stands out in a couple of places with some excellent keyboards on Angels of Death and
Night Of The Hawks.  As far as Huwie is concerned, this is a competent but not breathtaking performance.  
His solo during Motorway City, for example, is pleasantly melodic rather than the searing version he pulled
off on the Live 79 album.

Born To Go hasn't the thrust of the original Space Ritual version, of course, but the cameraman has
obviously spotted that one of the vestal virgins is a real babe underneath the pancake punk make-up and
matted hair.  We get a couple of close-ups of her, for no other apparent reason.  I'm not complaining…it
beats the sight of Nik writhing around, now sans kaftan, in his skintight white body suit.  We also get a
moustached mime artist who looks like an England cricketer from the mid 1970's, fire eaters, jugglers, and a
strange male dancer (later on) with half his face painted and a nice line in constipatory grimace.  Actually he
was pretty good, but as always with these circus-like stage shenanigans, I have no idea what it’s meant
to convey.

One gets the idea that Nik too is not completely au fait with what's going on, though he had by this time
been back in the Hawkwind fold for a couple of years.  On some numbers he doesn't cover any of the
vocals except for the refrain that he seems to pick up from Alan Davey's toneless bellowing alongside him.  
So Nik spends a fair amount of time slowly raising and lowering his arms, and ambling about the stage in a
distracted kind of way.  It's not until the middle section of Social Alliance that he gets his sax out.  He toots
away in a surprisingly mellow fashion - whatever accusations there were concerning his overplaying when
he first left the band (1976) that does not seem to have been a problem in his 1980's stint.

This was of course filmed twenty years ago, when the technology was just starting to become affordable,
and so the film quality is not up to the standard of more recent DVD's.  But the lighting was good - there's
no light show, but a fairly extensive setup of stage lights, and even if the stage monitors weren’t audible,
the PA sound seems to have been quite decent, with all the instruments audible and well balanced.  (The
only thing that isn't balanced is Alan's vocal mic, unfortunately, being too loud at first, and then too quiet
later on.)  There are at least two cameras being used, one from each side of the stage, and we get to see
plenty of Nik, Dave, Alan, and the dancers weaving their arms around during Motorway City, for example.  
Huw is not so visible, and we barely see Harvey at all.  The couple of views that we do get of Danny
Thompson show him with short hair!

I mentioned that this DVD consists of virtually the entire gig.  Looking at the set list for 20/6/84 (where else
but
here on my site, of course) there are some numbers listed that aren't on this DVD...and some that are
get faded out, such as Motorway City.  There's also an edit in the middle of Uncle Sam's On Mars, clearly
audible / visible as a fade-out and fade-in, but in general these do not detract from the DVD.  A few
numbers should perhaps have been faded out, as they drag on a bit.  The one I'm thinking of is the very
tedious 'Dawn' which is basically just some gentle ambient noise, behind an unenthralling Nik + Dancers
piece of performance art, with the ladies dumbly beholding Nik laying chained on the stage, a doped-out
Houdini.  Alan Davey stands uncomfortably by wondering whether he dare join in.  The best bit is when he
does a little bass run in the middle of the song, but maybe somebody directed a meaningful glare in his
direction, as he doesn't do it again.

Brainstorm (to backtrack slightly) is a number that could here have been excellent, as it's really one of Nik's:
but it's of a piece with the rest of this performance, with a punkish, chaotic delivery, featuring a meandering
middle section used as an aural backdrop for Nik's shenanigans.  He's doing something with a green branch
to one of the dancers (the comely one, I think) who's laying prone on the stage.  She and the other dancers
then get their own back on Nik by arraigning themselves in a circle around him and clubbing him with more
of these same branches - tentatively at first, but with increasing enthusiasm as Nik curls tighter into the
foetal position.  I must slow the DVD down and zoom in to see if I can spot any flecks of spittle around
their mouths.

Sonic Attack, rather histrionically intoned by Mr. Turner, follows, and then segues into The Right Stuff.  
This has Dave singing the lead vocals, with Alan joining on the refrain, and it's here that Alan's vocals have
been turned down too low.  This is not a particularly vintage vocal performance from the Captain, either,
and he asks the audience, "Am I singing in choon?  Yes?  No?"  Meanwhile, we get another rambling sax
solo from Nik as the stage is engulfed by smoke - hopefully from a dry ice machine and not the ubiquitous
woodsmoke that tended to envelope the festival, sending one home stinking like a medieval charcoalmaker.

As with "Watching The Grass Grow" (which was slotted in between Born To Go and Night Of The
Hawks), the last track here, called "In The Morning", is already familiar.  Retitled as "Stonehenge Decoded",
it featured on the 12" EP that came as part of the "This Is Hawkwind, Do Not Panicâ€� album.  Unlike the
opening ambient tinklings of "Ghost Dance", this is a synth-based instrumental jam that really works, and
Nik does some excellent sax soloing, atmospheric and plaintive, in perfect keeping with the song.  We also
see Nik in close-up, and by now it's early morning - he's wearing that ghastly albino letterbox face make-up
with a rectangle, encompassing the part of his face around the eyes and nose, done out in black
greasepaint.  As Nik plays these haunting sax figures, his pale eyes glimmer out of this box of night, gazing
into the lightening distance (camera cuts to a view of Stonehenge).  There's something very musicianly
about the sense of absence that this conveys.  Nik seems at last to have lost the contrived need to perform,
and plays some of the best music he's done in Hawkwind as a result.

After that, the closing shots of the festival site are the same as were on the VHS video, with more of "In
The Morning" as a soundtrack.  This footage is in broad daylight and the festivalgoers are out in force;
mohicans, mullets and matted tresses everywhere.  They don't make 'em like that any more, and seeing
footage of the Fest is for my money the best thing about this DVD.  But it is nice to have a fuller record of
Hawkwind's performance there than the old VHS video provided, and this *is* a better product for the
inclusion of the extra numbers.  I rated the old video at 5/10 and I can't say this is twice as good, but it
maybe deserves 7/10.
I nearly forgot the sleeve notes.  Here they are:

The story goes that, according to British law, any festival that runs for 13 consecutive years enters the
statute books under an ancient charter and becomes a public festival for all time.   The Summer Solstice of
1984 marked the twelfth anniversary of the Stonehenge free festival.  Headlining the show were space
rockers Hawkwind.  As usual the festival was a peaceful affair, attracting thousands of freedom loving folk
in search of loud music, good fun and mind-altering substances.  Fast-forward twelve months and it was an
entirely different story.  The authorities launched a massive operation, moving in with force to prevent the
festival from happening, resulting in the fencing off of Britain's most famous ancient monument and an end
to the free festival.

Fortune would have it that home video pioneers Jettisoundz had arranged to record the events of the 21st
June 1984.  The DVD features Hawkwind's improvised performance of 'Ritual of Light and Dark' on the
eve of the solstice which continued after dawn, following the celebrated invasion of the Stones.  In spite of
the laidback party ambiance this remains one of the band's most poignant sets in their thirty-odd year career.

The classic line-up of Dave Brock, Nik Turner, Harvey Bainbridge, Huw Lloyd Langton, Alan Davey and
Danny Thompson makes this recording all the more important.  Released for the first time on DVD exactly
20 years to the day of the festival, 'Solstice at Stonehenge' is by far the most historically significant of
Hawkwind's audio / visual output and should be cherished by fans, collectors and the curious alike.  Love
and peace!

-Richard J. King