Hawkwind 1997 CD review

9th May 2005
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This CD was made available to Hawkwind passport holders only, and features live recordings (no
overdubs!) from the Autumn 1997 UK tour.  The only other place to hear live material of this vintage is on
the Punkcast site, and obviously the CD offers far higher audio quality.  The CD packaging is also very
informative, much more so than most Hawkwind CD's, and confirms the tracklist as follows;

Wheels (Your World)       Glasgow Garage 19/10/97
Phetamine Street          Leeds Irish Centre 27/10/97
Fantasy                   Norwich UEA 8/10/97
Alchemy                   Newport Centre 6/11/97
Love In Space (Rat Race)  Newport Centre 6/11/97
Aerospaceage Inferno      Liverpool Empire 23/10/97
Sonic Attack              Liverpool Empire 23/10/97
Blue Skin                 Colchester Charter Hall 10/10/97
Brainstorm                Liverpool Empire 23/10/97
Hawkwind In Your Area     Liverpool Empire 23/10/97
Reptoid Vision            Liverpool Empire 23/10/97
Ejection                  Paignton Festival 5/11/97
Gremlin Part II           Paignton Festival 5/11/97

As for personnel, the band at that time consisted of Dave Brock, Richard Chadwick, Ron Tree (covering
bass as well as vocals) and Jerry Richards on lead guitar.  Guests include Mr.Dibs (bass on Ejection),
Captain Rizz on vocals and Crum on keyboards.  While never having been personally all that enthused by the
direction of the 1997 version of Hawkwind, then as now, the band blended old classics with new material
and fleshed out the line-up with a number of guests: no question of anything so banal as the trio trotting out
their greatest hits.

The opening track
Wheels is a pummelling two-chord work out which, actually, pretty successfully blends
the thrashy quality of the contemporary band with classic Hawkwind moves.  Until the middle section, that
is, which abandons the rocky instrumental muscularity for a bit of Captain Rizz toasting over one of
Hawkwind's attempts at a dance groove.  There's also something quite irritating about the unvarying
repetition of an inflectionless "Do you really care?" as a vocal line.

Phetamine Street follows, and I recall this as one of the more successful cuts on the Distant Horizons
album, if not something I actually *liked* very much.  This live rendition is given enough pace to have made
it work, and Ron's bass actually pumps along pretty well, but far too low in the mix.  The whole thing is
thereby emasculated.  This enables it to transition fairly well into
Fantasy, which starts off as a three-chord
descending ballad and then transmutes into monotonal electronica overlaid with semi-ranting vocals intoning
lyrics which are intended at times to evoke the sensual, I suppose, but are merely faintly embarrassing.  
Alchemy is much better, being built around a stinging little Eastern-scale lead guitar riff from Jerry
Richards, and a 90's metal chord progression on the verses.  The rest of the band don't do much more than
keep up and fill in as appropriate, but it works well.

The next track,
Love In Space, is another matter, though.  I've come to regard this as a latter-day classic,
and here it's served up brilliantly with some excellent vocals and lead guitar from the Captain (and just a bit
of oppositional squalling from Jerry).  But before three minutes are up it diverts into the Rat Race middle
piece,which just skitters along awkwardly on a single chord, with that kind of dit-dah-dit-dah rhythm which
always feels as though it's going to fall apart at any moment. Rizz does the actual Rat Race rap, if it can be
dignified so far as to be called that.  This is, umm, valueless IMHO, though a mellow final couple of minutes
of Love In Space proper do at least provide some aural symmetry.

The old Hawkwind appear from behind the mask in the next number, a pounding, throbbing
.  It doesn't quite stand up to the later live recording of this song on the Space Out In London CD,
but with all due respect, Brock / Tree / Richards / Chadwick as a line-up is no match for Brock / Davey /
Blake / Brown / Chadwick.  There isn't the sensation of layers of musical depth inherent on the 2002 album,
nor the individual virtuosity.  The 1997 version's take on it is perhaps closer to Calvert's original with its
singular, unison riffing, but again the mix is a little on the "light" side, lacking something among the bass

Having mentioned Calvert, Ron Tree was much appreciated for his interest in and ability to resurrect Bobâ
€™s numbers into the live set.  In fact it became something of a millstone round his neck, and perhaps in an
effort to avoid "doing Bob" on
Sonic Attack, he goes in for some ill-advised vocal clowning.  It's the sort of
thing that Nik gave himself a bad name for during his 80's stint with Hawkwind.  Tiresome is the word.

Blue Skin injects a welcome slice of Alien 4 quality into proceedings, and it always surprises me that HW97
didn't turn out better than was the case, considering the degree of commonality between their line-up and
the one that had cut that album 2 years before: they even seemed to go for much the same sound, so
perhaps the differences were down to chemistry.  Anyway, this is a solid presentation of the song as it
appeared on the Alien 4 album, with Ron and Jerry doing their respective bits fairly well, as they mostly do
throughout this album, really.  For example, they shine on
Brainstorm, which is given a pretty un-spacey
arrangement, showing off Ron's voice (which this number really suits) and providing some very good two-
guitar interplay.  Jerry's lead guitar playing tends to be fairly derivative of what Huw Lloyd Langton had
been playing on this song during the 80's, and generally the feeling I get about Jerry is that his measure as a
musician is found in the work he does with writing and arranging material rather than as a lead guitarist.

These thoughts are driven out of my head by the way that Brainstorm gives way to
Hawkwind In Your
, which is frightful rubbish, really.  After all that cod reggae and Rizzisms, the riffy, thrashy Reptoid
almost comes as a relief, though the way that Ron introduces it is probably the best bit, in his
flattened, bored-sounding Leeds accent. "It's about a flesh-eating lizard, which we thought you ought to
know about."  But to be honest, this is another period piece of distinctly limited value.  There's a whole load
of duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh duh-duh-duh-DAH, and then another pedestrian mid-section in which
someone bellows pointless nonsense over a synthy monotone.  Time to fast-forward.

Mr.Dibs, possibly, does a tasty vocal intro to
Ejection, culminating in the "mea culpa / mea maxima culpa"
meltdown as the band launch into a decently melodic rendition of this Bob Calvert number, which is
musically quite pedestrian and thus sits well with much of the other material the band were playing in this
period.  Without having a dedicated keyboard player in the band, the arrangement, like most here, is focused
on drum / bass / guitar and thus is not at all "spacey".  And not for the first time, an unsuccessful vocal rant
is interjected into the middle of the song with Ron carrying the can for this one.  The band take it straight
The Gremlin, Part II - yet another nod to the Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters album, and again
there's a contrast with what the 2002 band did with it.  This version lacks conviction, failing to really punch
hard on the chromatic and/or atonal chording.  Ron's vocals are tuneful and musical without the venomous
note that the lyrics demand.

So this is a very interesting album for what it tells us about Hawkwind in 1997.  Unlike most versions of the
band, there was no Gestalt here - the whole was not greater than the sum of its parts, and despite the
individual talents of Ron Tree and Jerry Richards, the band does not seem to have "gelled" musically.  There
have been other Hawkwinds that functioned successfully without a keyboard player, but this one suffers in
that respect (- if Crum was here, as billed, he was mixed too low).  One wonders whether the relative
inactivity of the band after the 1997 tour didn't have something to do with this.  Anyway, this was probably
a good time to cast a backwards glance at this version of the band, the last one to have released a studio
album, as Hawkwind gear up for the release of Take Me To Your Leader this Autumn.  What we already
know from the samples on Mission Control is that it's going to be a far stronger effort than Distant Horizons
was, and rave reviews of recent live gigs contrast greatly with the evidence presented by this recording: to
wit, that Hawkwind 1997 were destined not to last.