Hawkwind 40th Anniversary Promo CD Review
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This limited edition CD was given away to all who attended the band’s 40th anniversary party at the Porchester Hall in Bayswater on 28th and 29th August 2009, as part of a generous “goodie bag”.  In fact it seems to have been pressed up by Voiceprint Records, slightly surprisingly.  I thought there was no longer any functioning relationship between them and the band, but obviously I was wrong (often the case).  Anyway, a nice gesture all round, especially as the CD presents some previously unavailable versions, and also functions as a memorial tribute to the late Jason Stuart, who died a year ago.  His contributions are very evident here.

In recent months the band seemed to have embarked on a policy of using their Myspace page to air re-recordings and even new songs.  Quite a bit of this material appears to have found its way onto this CD, giving it a permanence and a presence that one somehow never ascribes to online content.  (Says a lot for my website, doesn’t it :-)  In fact I have been only dimly aware of what tracks have been uploaded to the band’s official Myspace page, but in any case have the impression that it comprised a lot of re-recorded old material aimed more at hardcore cognoscenti than potential new fans.  As the former are pretty much the constituency who attended at Porchester Hall, it makes perfect sense to have burned these tracks to just such a promo CD.  And here is the tracklist:

1.  The War
2.  Ode To A Crystal Set
3.  Spirit Of The Age
4.  Starshine
5.  Time and Confusion
6.  Paradox
7.  Something’s Going On
8.  Lighthouse
9.  Space Love
10. Diana Park
11. The Right To Decide


Amusingly, when loaded into my car’s CD player, the display shows the album’s title as “For Fuck’s Sake”, but I thought I would stick with the more anodyne title given above – both here and in the Hawkwind Codex, which has been updated to include the contents :-)  Another thing to note about the CD is that the volume at which it plays seems very low compared to other discs.  But it was free, so anyone who’s that bothered about it could just ask for their money back…

Opening track
The War is a reworking of Who’s Gonna Win The War, and serves as a prime example of how Hawkwind remain lyrically relevant decades after these songs first saw the light of day.  In 1979, at the height of the Cold War, the spectre of a nuclear holocaust was evoked – “dust clouds they are gathering, to obliterate the guns…”  Thirty years later it is a different war (Afghanistan) but the message is more relevant than ever.  It’s less rhetorical this time around, with body bags being filled, and to make the point, the question “who’s going to win the war?” is answered with the distant, sombre response “…No-one…”

Musically this is a smoother rendition than the one that appeared on Levitation.  Jason’s participation is evident from the gently rolling skeins of piano, which work well on this particular song.  I was not an out-and-out fan of that particular influence that he brought to bear on Hawkwind: sometimes I felt the jazzy, cocktail lounge tinkling was completely at odds with their mission to obliterate everything in their path, but no complaints here.  This rendition has a plaintive, yearning quality, accentuated by Richard Chadwick’s lead vocals, and plentiful melodic lead guitar figures from Dave Brock.

Ode To A Crystal Set might have easily featured on last year’s “Brock / Calvert Project” CD, and at first I thought it did.  Bob Calvert’s spoken word narration is already familiar from the Ramblings At Dawn samples online, but this is the first time it has been set to music in this way (unless you count live performance such as at Reading Festival in 1975).  It shouldn’t be confused with Ode To A Timeflower which *did* feature on the Brock / Calvert Project.  There’s something about Calvert’s measured, sonorous delivery that really brings it to life, and the understated musical backdrop lets the prose really breathe.  It’s all synth (plus scattered jazzy percussion) behind the vocals and some of it is distinctly, well, crystalline, though there is some soft piano at the end there.  Very tastefully done.

Spirit Of The Age…this needed a reference check, and I dug out both versions of the eponymous 2005 single to establish of which one this is a reissue.  First I played the live version, and was taken aback by how horrid it sounded!  Then the “radio edit” single proved to be the same as this, but as the name suggests that wasn’t the entire recording, which *did* appear on Take Me To Your Leader.  So to cut through my convoluted prose, the version that’s here on the promo CD is the full-length 2005 recording, as included on Take Me To Your Leader, and shown, with accompanying video, on Matthew Wright’s Channel 5 TV talk show at the time.  Matthew is on it, of course, singing the first verse and muddling the lyrics slightly, substituting “My android replica…” for “Your android replica…”  It still sounds good, a valid update of a 30 year old song (complete with squeaky female android noises from Lene Lovich) but misses the insouciance of Bob Calvert’s sprechtesgang vocal on the 1977 Quark Strangeness and Charm original.  Well, that was a rather hard act to follow.

Starshine is a new track, a seven minute long spacey / ambient instrumental.  It has echoes of some 90’s Hawaii-themed Hawkwind instrumentals (Kauai and Going to Hawaii…not Waimea Canyon Drive!) with what I think are Alan Davey’s synth voices very much to the fore.  A muted / distorted / effected guitar off in the semi-distance comes closest to providing a melodic lead.  In general this track doesn’t actually do very much, but it doesn’t need to either…makes for very pleasant / relaxing background sounds.

Time and Confusion dates of course from Arthur Brown’s tenure with the band in 2002-2003 and in fact is the same as the version included on Spaced Out In London, which was recorded on 13/12/2002 at Walthamstow.  Though it is a slightly different edit, omitting a curious “bong” noise at the very beginning, and seeming to have a longer fade out.  The track time is about 15 seconds longer than it was on  Spaced Out In London, so I’ve noted it as a different edit of the same recording in the Hawkwind Codex.   It’s quite a successful fusion of Arthur’s material with Hawkwind’s style, and starts off with a lazy, laidback jazzy vibe, with (very unusually) a clean guitar sound fairly high in the mix.  About two thirds of the way through, this gives way to slamming, distorted rhythm guitar punching out a three-chord riff that could be an entirely Hawkwind addition.  Not having heard Arthur Brown’s original recording of this song, I can’t say if it is or not.

Paradox – this is the 2005 version that appeared on one of the Spirit Of The Age singles (I think the Radio Edit version) and subsequently as a bonus track on Take Me To Your Leader (when it was reissued in digipak format under the Dark Peak imprint).  It emphasises the melodic side of the song, with what I still think are over-syrupy vocals and piano.  But while I prefer the slightly greasy / queasy qualities of the original recording, it’s another one of those subjective calls.  What is not disputable is that this re-recording is a very different take on the original idea, as with most (all?) examples of Hawkwind revisiting their back catalogue.  I’ve previously expressed my doubts about the wisdom of returning to past glories in this way, but one has to take into account the length of time the band has been going and the implausibility of them being able to churn out new material by the bucketload, as they were still doing 30 years ago (a whole decade into their career). 

Something’s Going On comes from Dave Brock’s 1995 solo album Strange Trips and Pipe Dreams.  It’s one of the most musically accomplished tracks from that album, and starts off with the Captain intoning in a cut-glass upper middle class accent (definitely Received Pronunciation) “I say, old chap…” before he is rudely interrupted by a squall of space rock uproar, and the track settles into a satisfyingly dense and foreboding two-chord synth pattern, with tension-laden ascending guitars and, er, a didgeridoo .  All of which fades out with a voice sample of what sounds like a blinded homicidal robot saying “Where are you?” as it gropes unsighted for its terrified victim (I must stop smoking that stuff).  The song actually then goes into a languid coda of celestial keyboard chords, looping synth figures and almost sub-audible vocal samples.   It hadn’t occurred to me before that this track (well, the mellow intro, at any rate) shows the jazzy cocktail lounge influences in Hawkwind long predate Jason Stuart’s arrival in the ranks.   I should say “Oi, Brock, no!”  But I never do.

Lighthouse – it’s the old Tim Blake classic, once again taken down, dusted off and performed by Hawkwind with Tim along as one of the band rather than out front.  Here Dave Brock takes the lead vocal, and again this rendition is smoothed out from versions of yore.  On the Live ’79 album, this song transformed in fairly quick duration from a Blake solo piece to an ensemble workout.  The remake doesn’t have the dynamics of that but it’s perhaps a more successful reading of the song, and really sounds like a band doing it rather than one individual!

Space Love must be one of my least favourite Hawkwind numbers.  It sounds to me like someone assembled it from scraps found on the cutting room floor (to use a metaphor from the wrong industry).  Is there a sample from Ghost Dance buried deep in the mix here?  Something in the background on the choruses sounds like Native American whooping.  For the rest of it, well there’s a suggestion of mid-70’s plodding boogie as done more successfully on Brainbox Pollution or Urban Guerilla.  But like it or not, this is a new Hawkwind track and it deserves to be included on this compilation after its’ previous outing on the band’s Myspace page.  Plenty of people greeted it with a thumbs up when it was first put there, so take my griping with a pinch of salt, if you like.

Diana Park.  From 1999’s In Your Area, this is another vaguely kon-tiki instrumental that is really pretty unremarkable.  It isn’t actually as good as Starshine, the new track featured earlier, indicating the band have learned how to do this ambient stuff much better in the last ten years.  In fact I had to go back and check that Starshine and Diana Park aren’t actually alternate retitlings of the same thing – they’re not, the chord sequences and melodies differ, but it’s the same basic palette of ideas at work. 

The Right To Decide.  The last track, and to my cloth-covered ears this sounds like a live tape from the rehearsal room, but what a performance!  The sound quality is slightly muzzy but the thick churning guitar is right atop of the beat and the band are *cooking* in the way they almost always do in live performance, as opposed to in the studio.  The instrumental middle section is kind of underpowered, and comes off as a bit ropey by comparison to the splendid original, but there is no problem at all with the verses / choruses that comprise the bulk of the song.  It’s a shame that the overall CD volume is very low, as this is one that really needs to be cranked up and blasted out, preferably at complaining neighbours, for whom the lyrical content would be well suited.

So that is it for this promo CD, and what a nice present from the band / label to the fans to celebrate Hawkwind’s 40th birthday.  It’s not the strongest album ever released in the Motherhip’s name, even amongst compilations, but the 2 or 3 completely new tracks and similar number of interesting reworkings of older material make it a must-have for the dedicated (as the prices on E-Bay are or will soon be proving). Thanks to all who made it happen.