Remembering Huw

I never met Huw, and don't feel qualified to write an obituary of him.  But I wanted to say *something*,
however maladroit it may turn out to be
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Last week, we heard that Huw Lloyd-Langton had died, on Wednesday December 6th 2012.  Huw had
apparently been fighting throat cancer for two years, unbeknown to those outside of his close friends and
family.  To most of us, therefore, the news of his passing comes as a horrible shock.

Not that anyone would have assumed Huw was a well man.  For the last ten years or so, his health has
seemed to be compromised in one way or another - Legionnaire's Disease; broken bones; hospitalization for a
kidney infection.  He has been increasingly frail as a consequence - even at the 2007 Hawkfest (when
apparently restored to full health) he seemed skinnier than a rail.

As well as illness, Huw and his family had also been hit with the bereavement of losing his daughter Louise,
within the last few years.  Despite these many blows, Huw kept bouncing back, turning in some of his
greatest triumphs over adversity, in what turned out to be the last few years of his life.  Among them were the
regeneration of the Lloyd-Langton Group, the release of an album of classical guitar recordings, session work,
collaborations, and of course numerous appearances in support of, and onstage with, Hawkwind.

As I mentioned, this personal remembrance isn't meant to be an obituary of Huw, nor a history of his work.  
There is a very good obituary by Ian Abrahams which appeared in
The Independent today.  And for a more
rounded look back at Huw's career, his own
Huw Lloyd-Langton website is the place to go.  My concern
then, is to observe his musical contribution to Hawkwind, and of course it is for this that he'll be most widely
remembered.

Although not a founder member, Huw was on board in time to record the first album way back in 1970.  His
part in the proceedings was overshadowed, not least by some lead guitar duties being taken on by producer
Dick Taylor (ex-Pretty Things).  For a better representation of Huw's early days with the band, listen to the
version of Hurry on Sundown on the Text of Festival album.  There's a wonderful psychedelic guitar solo
here which more than makes up for the scratchy sound quality.  This track, part of a BBC session recorded at
Maida Vale studios on 18/08/1970, seems to have been taped from the radio broadcast on John Peel's Top
Gear (nothing to do with Jeremy Clarkson!) on 19/09/1970.

However Huw's tenure was by then over, ending after Hawkwind's appearance at the 1970 Isle of Wight
festival.  It's well known that some idiot spiked his apple juice with LSD.  In those days people assumed they
were doing the victim a favour: now it would be seen for what it was, an assault.  The result was Huw
withdrawing from Hawkwind and going on to a number of medium-to-high profile adventures.  By the end of
the decade, however, he was teaching guitar at a high school in Streatham -not the stuff that rock'n'roll
dreams are made of- when he got the call to rejoin Hawkwind.  Huw needed to be reassured that he wouldn't
be stepping back into some drug-fuelled orgy of spaceships and synthesizers.  (Erm...)  Whether or not this
would have provided the necessary comfort I don't know, but on being told that Tim Blake had also rejoined,
Huw apparently had trouble placing just who "Tim Blake" was.  It wasn't until he met up with his new / old
bandmates that recognition dawned: "It's Gollum!"  (Surely they don't still call Tim that.  Very unkind.)

Although the contractless 1979 reinvention of the band was conceived by Dave Brock in reaction against the â
€œarmchair Hawkwind" of the preceding 'Hawklords' period, this change of direction serendipitously chimed
with the times.  The New Wave of British Heavy Metal was stirring.  Without being in any way contrived, the
Live '79 album demonstrates how a renewed and recharged Hawkwind struck analogies with the pumped-up
pogo pace of punk rock, merging with the heavy metal moves of the burgeoning NWOBHM.  Huw's presence
as a bona fide lead guitarist was perhaps the main reason why Hawkwind did so well commercially in this
period, from 1979 to 1982.  Listen to the Live '79 version of Master of the Universe for an example of the
band's raw, rocked-out aggression.

Huw's work on Live '79 was really the first time that Hawkwind were putting proper guitar solos into the
spotlight.  The studio album that followed, 1980's Levitation, probably showed Huw at the peak of his
powers.  Although only one track on the album (Space Chase) comes across as a HLL composition, many of
the others would be unimaginable without Huw's contribution.  5th Second of Forever being a fine example:
topped and tailed by Huw's neo-classical acoustic guitar picking, the main riff of the song is built around two
chords slammed out by Dave Brock, whose vicious slabs of snarl are wonderfully contrasted by Huw's
soaring leads.  Brock and Lloyd-Langton made an excellent team.  As utterly dissimilar as their respective
styles were, the two guitarists also favoured contrasting guitar tones.  Brock's bright, brash, heavily distorted
sound was offset by Huw's preference for cleaner, sustained, bluesier tones.   While his sound attained a
glassy clarity at times, it was never brittle, sometimes going into dark, throaty territory.  Nowhere better than
on his slow, searing solo in the middle section of Motorway City, where it sounds as though he stood close to
a cranked valve amp to get that surging element of controlled feedback in his guitar tone.

Huw went on to play almost a dominant role in the music that Hawkwind made in the 1980's.  Their studio
albums of that decade showcase his songs here and there, but his lead guitar playing is ubiquitous throughout
(though starting to tail off with 1988's Xenon Codex). The overall sound of the albums Sonic Attack (1981),
Choose Your Masques (1982) and the Chronicle of the Black Sword (1985) would be unimaginably different
had Huw not been on board.  The evidence is that he was just as vital to the band's sound in live performance,
his apotheosis perhaps being on 1987's Live Chronicles.  (This was the one I pulled out and played from
beginning to end, when I heard the news that Huw had died.)  It also contains one of Huw's best-ever songs,
that mystifyingly never made it onto the preceding CotBS studio album: Moonglum.

Another example of Huw's songwriting that seem to have been overlooked is his composition "Dragons and
Fables", which appeared on the 1984 'Earth Ritual' EP.  This one he himself neglected, never seeming to
include it in his latter-day acoustic sets, where you feel it would have worked very well, and probably better
than the always-present "Rocky Paths".  Had they seen fit, it would have twinned very nicely with Alan
Davey's song Sword of the East during live Hawkwind sets in the latter half of the 80’s.

But, as noted, from about 1988 onwards, Huw seemed to be fading from the forefront of what Hawkwind
were doing as a band.  Although Xenon Codex does contain one of Huw's numbers (Tides), it's a guitarist's
piece - instrumental and atmospheric, rather than a full-blown song such as those Huw had contributed to
Choose Your Masques.  His role as the band's secondary songwriter seems to have diminished, with Alan
Davey taking over that position.  After playing the Bob Calvert Memorial show in March 1989, Huw left,
having done an entire decade's service, in which he provided some of the most definitive elements of 80's
Hawkwind.

After many years away from the Mothership, Huw took a first tentative step towards reuniting with
Hawkwind in 1997, performing a support slot and joining them onstage at Blackheath Concert Halls on June
6th, 1997.  There was admittedly a dalliance with Nik Turner's alternative grouping of former Hawkwind
members around the turn of the Millennium, but before long Huw was back with Hawkwind proper, rejoining
them on the Spring 2001 tour.  He stayed in the ranks until the end of 2002, when his health issues forced a
second curtailment of his time with the band.  Sadly, these had also begun to affect his playing.  The 'Out of
the Shadows' DVD from December 2002 reveals Huw adopting a more minimal style in response.  Gone are
the intricate, speedy solos of the 80's, and in comes a more textural colouring of what the band are doing.

As mentioned earlier, Huw went on to rebuild during the years that followed, and his association with
Hawkwind continued; but never again as a member of the band, always a friend, and guest.  He was
nonetheless rapturously received at the many shows he played, you could tell that the fans loved him.  Huw's
last Hawkwind-related appearance was a charity event - an
acoustic set with Dave Brock, in support of
Devon Air Ambulance, at Connaught Gardens in Sidmouth, on 8th August 2012.

Hawkwind have opened a
book of condolences on the official Hawkwindforum site, and the many
comments there reveal how much he meant to so many people.  It's notable how often his friendly,
approachable nature is appreciated as much as his musical prowess.  He was a teacher, an inspiration, and
much more than just a musician.   I've only covered a small part of his legacy, here.

RIP Huwie - and thank you for everything you gave us.