Hawklords Barney Bubbles Memorial DVD

March 6th 2011
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On 29th November 2009 the dubiously-named Hawklords (Nik Turner and one of his accretions of ex-
Hawkwind members) played a gig in central London that was billed as a Barney Bubbles Memorial Benefit
concert.  This DVD comes from that occasion, and despite Nik's reputation for mustering half-baked /
unrehearsed / shambolic musical happenings, this is *astonishingly* good.

But before we get much farther, a word about the distribution and packaging.  The whole thing seems to
have been organised, managed and released by the band themselves and their various allies.  The DVD is
only available direct from the Paypal account of Dave Roberts, their merchandising guru (purchasing
information at the end of the review) and looking at the credits on the DVD, just about everyone involved
seems to be recognisable as an associate of Nik's Space Ritual / Inner City Unit camp.  You might therefore
say it's homegrown, but what the package lacks in gloss it makes up for in comprehensiveness.  For twenty
quid, you get the DVD, of about an hour and a half's duration (plus a bonus feature of still shots and gig
posters), which comes in a CD-style digipak case, printed in full colour with new graphics and a few
smallish photos.  There's also a 12-page booklet containing the lyrics to every song on the DVD, a few
more photos, the credits and some thematically appropriate graphics reflecting spacey motifs and some
early-70's Hawkwind style illustrations that are, well, a tribute to Barney Bubbles for sure.

That's not all, though.  The DVD arrived with an interesting assortment of bits'n'bobs that includes a card
advertising a subsequent 'Hawklords' gig, and a pamphlet created by Trev Hughes very much in the vein of
his Hawkfrendz publications.  This comprises reproductions of Bob Calvert's space poetry (even if some of
it was written by Michael Moorcock), Trev's graphics, ads for solo projects by the musicnauts on the
DVD, and for some of the bands who also played on the bill - but aren’t on the DVD.  (Thankfully :-O )

As for who is on the DVD, that would be Nik Turner, Alan Davey, Danny Thompson, Ron Tree, Jerry
Richards, Harvey Bainbridge, Steve Swindells and Adrian Shaw.  Of these, only Harvey and Steve were ever
in the real Hawklords, of course, but all of them have a sound pedigree as ex-members of Hawkwind, with
the weight of their time on board the mothership being concentrated on the 1980's and 90's.  And so you
might think that they would turn in a performance redolent of that era and material, or might perhaps
attempt to replicate the late 70's ethos that their assumed name would suggest.  But this is a big surprise:
instead, what they have done is something for which many Hawkwind fans have been yearning for years.  
They have resurrected the 1972 Space Ritual Alive set, and approach, and done it with aplomb.

There were moments of trepidation as this got under way, though.  Opening narration
Earth Calling lacks
atmospherics, as do all the spoken word numbers here.  Some of this may be ascribable to a slightly subpar
performance from Ron Tree, who seems to have been somewhat out of it - but he doesn't quite get the
massive cosmic backing of Steve and Harvey's synths, as evidenced on many of the fully instrumented
tracks.  And then they go into
Born To Go, and this begins on a slightly ropey note, with Dan Thompson at
first inexplicably missing the one snare drum beat that punctuates this most blanga of riffs.  He goes in for
Simon King's signature 2/2 timing a fair bit in this gig - maybe he knew Mr. King was in attendance (not
that the Hound Master appears or plays at all, more's the pity).  There is also a very uncharacteristic muffed
move on the part of Alan Davey, where he fails to pick up the unison riffing with the guitar the first time
they come back to the main riff.  But these are minor quibbles, and it's the almost last time that you can spot
a mistake on this DVD.  The band rapidly settle into the groove and maintain it throughout the gig, turning in
an accomplished, purposeful performance that is just brimming with power but never crosses the line into
bombast.

The sound is especially good, with the bass and guitar predominating as they should, but perfect clarity and
faultless mix levels are maintained on everything else -drums, vocals, sax- except perhaps the keyboards,
which tend to fade into the background behind the forceful assault of the stringed instruments.  Man of the
match is Jerry Richards, here covering all the guitar duties and revelling in the role.  We are used to hearing
him on lead guitar, not so much holding down the rhythm as well (always vital on Hawkwind material) - and
he has some massive shoes to fill in that respect.  He pulls it off superbly, and where there are guitar solos
worked into the material -during Born To Go for example- he usually flavours them with tastefully applied
wah pedal, as befits what is being evoked.  This particular song also exemplifies a feature of the treatment
of the Space Ritual Alive stuff, in that they don't overextend the songs and try to make each one of them
into a twenty minute jam.  Born To Go is actually concise and focused.

Alan Davey, as you would expect, also does a top-notch job in picking up all the Space Ritual Alive bass
riffs, and this is probably the single biggest factor in giving you that feeling, on hearing these numbers, that
you are meeting an old friend for the first time in ages.  He handles the bulk of the bass duties, but yields to
Adrian Shaw on a couple of numbers, including Master of the Universe and a lengthy Steppenwolf.  Both of
them play on the closing track, Silver Machine, which by the way is also the least convincing song in the
entire set.  Ron Tree makes a complete hash of the phrasing, and the band lose some of their tautness,
settling back into a slightly too pedestrian pace and cartoonish vocals (not just Ron's - Jerry Richards’
backing vocals aren't helping).  What we end up with is a karaoke version of the best known Hawkwind
song, instead of the pulsating stormer that would have made the perfect ending to the gig, and the DVD.

But I am jumping ahead, and there is much to enjoy before we get to the close of the show.  Coming next
after Born To Go is
Orgone Accumulator, and here the tables are turned in that (unlike some renditions
done by the real Hawkwind in recent years) this one is not karaoke in any way: it's rock solid.  The faithful
inclusion of the original mid-song variation in the bass chords is a joy to hear, and the way the band lower
the intensity of the midsection jam, dropping down to halting, staccato guitar chords before swelling back
into the main riff, is spot on. .Nik takes lead vocals, steps back to allow Jerry Richards to pull out a spacey
wah'd guitar solo, and only then comes back with a sax break.  There's none of this playing all over
everybody else for which he is often criticised (and I think no longer does).

It's followed by
Ten Seconds of Forever, which ought to be a tour de force for Ron Tree, but...it isn’t.  
He reads the lyrics from a sheet of paper, somewhat hunched over, as he is for this entire performance,
actually - he never rises to the challenge of fronting the band, or seems to engage with the audience.  He
does at least articulate the words with complete clarity, but despite his talent for emulating Robert Calvert's
role within Hawkwind, Ron is perhaps undone by the remarkable simulacrum that the ‘Hawklords' have
achieved with the Space Ritual Alive-era material, in particular.  They do this stuff so well that you can tell
it's not Bob Calvert...the poetry is there but the swazzle isn't.  This isn't entirely Ron's fault, but he does
seem to have been at less than full effectiveness on the night in question.  A case in point is the way Ten
Seconds Of Forever closes out: where Calvert confined himself to (I think) three sonorous repetitions of the
word "...never...", Ron puts in seven or eight of them, with Nik chiming in hamfistedly, as the atmosphere
dwindles and fizzles out.  But with marked artifice, the ‘never's become 'ever's, each one following the
last with greater pace and animation, as the band crank out the opening riff of
Brainstorm.

This song has mutated into becoming the highlight of Nik Turner's career.  He sings it, of course, and
windmills his upper limbs about somewhat alarmingly, while Ron stands about disconsolately, nursing a half-
drunk pint.  The synth section's spacey swoops are heard here and there, and we see Steve Swindells
bopping about behind his keyboards during Jerry Richards' meandering guitar solo, underpinned by Alan
Davey's thrumming bass chords - *exactly* the way Brainstorm ought to be.  We also get a brief look at
mad professor Harvey Bainbridge during the staccato breakdown, over which Nik pulls out a suitably
flowing sax solo.  However, in contrast to what I said earlier about Born To Go, this does wander off a bit,
and could have done with ending about five minutes earlier than it actually does.

There's something of a lull in the dynamics of the show at this point, with
I Am The Reptoid.  It's done
here as a brief narration (not brief enough, actually), and again there is a problem with lack of effective
backing.  But it does serve to make the succeeding track,
Seven By Seven all the more splendid.  Jerry
Richards does the right thing by this song, ushering it in with the plaintive lightly strummed minor chords,
before the band roll into the majestic main chord progression.  Ron handles the vocals and is much more at
home doing the straight-ahead stuff that is required, but does it sitting down, unfortunately, and he, Jerry
and Nik manage to reduce the vocals on the chorus to ensemble howling.  This song has been paced slightly
slower than the original, which makes it drag a little during the quieter passages, but the full whack is right
on the mark.  There's even a flute solo from Nik!

Master of the Universe is the next classic Hawkwind number to roll off the production line, and for the first
time the dancers emerge.  One lady holds up what is supposed to be a crescent moon, I think, and does the
mad staring eyes thing, but is otherwise fairly immobile.  Another throws herself about enthusiastically in a
way that I find rather offputting - the effect has nothing of the erotic in it, despite the thrusting of bosoms
and the exaggeratedly feminine attire of flowers entwined in her hair, tight bodice, filmy layers of chiffon
skirting and the rustling silks she flails from her arms.  She pulls weird faces.  Angel Fallon, Space Ritual's
dancer, is also on stage gyrating in a sparkly dress and a spiky feathered headpiece - more a Statue of
Liberty on acid than a Fallen Angel, but we don't get to see much of her as she is off to stage left, where
there is less camera action.  What we do get is nice visual contrast of the performers on stage illuminated in
green, against the blue back projections.  This, the compact riffing of the Richards / Shaw combination and
Nik's melodic sax workout give the whole thing a cool jazzy vibe in place of the punked-out rage that MotU
sometimes develops.  The ending is perfect, though, with the band tautly executing the three-chord ascent
into a slamming, pumped crescendo.

Visually, here is one of the few areas of the DVD in which you can see there were some budgetary
limitations to be considered.  The footage is ever so slightly grainy, the camera angles and editing are
somewhat run-of-the-mill in a way that suggests the video production could be characterised as the work of
skillful and enthusiastic amateurs.  I'm not saying this to denigrate the work that has been done - this is a
great achievement.  But when you contrast the visuals with those of expensively / professionally shot
concert footage (say on Hawkwind's Knights of Space DVD) then the difference is apparent.  Other aspects
of the show are not subject to the same comparison: for example, the stage lighting and light show are quite
the equal of what you would expect to see at a proper Hawkwind gig.  The full stage shots from distance
(about halfway back, for the most part) are where you can see the back-projected blue-/ green- tinged
tunnel effects and panning starfields.  The close-ups are done from the side of the stage (predominantly the
right side) and seem to pick up more red and yellow tones (from the footlights?) and colour wheel effects
skimming over the heads and torsos of Alan, Nik, Ron and Jerry.  And there's a mirrorball.  I forgot to
mention the mirrorball.

After MotU, we move straight into what is perhaps the oddest inclusion in the set:
Opa-Loka.  The flanged
keyboards and semi-muted half guitar chords with which it starts don't quite strike the right note, but the
rhythm section comes to the rescue with Danny Thompson laying down the motorik beat and Alan Davey
pumping the single bass note in perfect time.  Nik lays down another flute solo over this, and the keyboards
come good with a wash of warm textured chords and celestial sweeps.  This is graceful.

A few stage announcements concerning absent friends include an off-colour comment from Alan Davey
about Stacia, before proceedings restart with
You Shouldn't Do That, arranged as per the Roadhawks /
Space Ritual Alive bonus version, rather than the more organic studio recording from In Search Of Space.  
There's a split screen effect at this point, with shots from stage left, stage right and the back of the hall
showing side-by-side.  The band doesn't quite pull off the intense midsection pummeling where Brock, King
and Lemmy were all hammering together in a couple of minutes of metal madness.  But they do pull out the
crescendo'd two chord coda, which starts off mellow and gradually winds up the tension and the pace to
climax with a sobbing, shuddering maelstrom of noise.  Well, that description was more befitting of the way
it was done in 1972.  Here, it's a little tamer, but you can see precisely what they were aiming for, and they
got about 90% of it...  Which would get you an 'A' if you scored that on your Hawkwind GCSE, so well
done, boys.  This coda, by the way, is titled as
Addicted To You and comprises these lyrics: "I...I'm
addicted to you / We...we're addicted to you".  The songwriting credit is given to Tree, Richards, Davey,
Thompson, Swindells, Turner and Bainbridge, so I assume those lyrics are new.  I've certainly never been
able to decipher what was on the Roadhawks version of You Shouldn't Do That, and I guess neither could
they.

Adrian Shaw returns for
Steppenwolf, and this is probably Ron Tree's best segment.  We get a close-up of
his face in suitably demonic shades of red, and he declaims the lyrics really well, despite unfortunately
reading them off a sheet of paper.  Tony Crerar, who was once Elric on Hawkwind's Chronicle of the Black
Sword tour, comes out to do some mime in a (1978) Hawklords-style paper biohazard suit.  Not much of a
connection with the lyrics, there, but the musical execution is highly faithful to the original.  The oddest note
that is struck is probably the final one in Nik's repeated saxophone hook, which drops down to an unusual
musical interval that sounds almost dissonant and minor.

At this point Nik does the band introductions, and extended thanks to the crew, other bands who played,
members of his family who assisted with the event, and so on.  I've already mentioned that the final number
of the set,
Silver Machine, suffers a loss of intensity when compared with what has preceded it, and
perhaps it's because it comes after this overlong halt in proceedings.  There's a definite loss of momentum,
but to be fair it isn't immediately apparent.  Silver Machine starts off well enough with a reasonably crisp
first verse and chorus.  It's on the second verse, which Ron starts during the chorus riff (cutting off Nik's
first sax solo), that things start to go off the boil.  But I would be overstating the case were I too critical of
this number.  Everyone's on stage, they jam it out, the lightshow is going full blast with strobes flashing,
and the band pull off a juddering finale to finish proceedings.

So that's it, and I was impressed.  Despite the intention of this being a Barney Bubbles Memorial, I think
what it actually turned into is a tribute to Hawkwind as they were in their commercial heyday.  Irrespective
of the politics, this is a must-have for anyone who loves early 70's Hawkwind, and the Space Ritual Alive
album in particular.  You can buy it at hawklords@hotmail.co.uk (Paypal) and believe me, it's well worth
the money.  Kudos to everyone involved, you did a brilliant job and will make a lot of Hawkwind fans very
happy.  9/10.