Hawkwind Family Tree CD review

4th January 2004
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These minor releases are getting ever more minor.  In my desperate quest to help fund Dave Brock's
pension plan, I bought the Hawkwind Family Tree CD today - partly out of delight that my local record
store actually stocks Hawkwind CD's, and this is the only one they had in stock that I didn't already own
(unauthorised atrocities not counted.)  So two cheers for the Las Vegas branch of Tower Records...

The packaging is OK, not lavish.  In a standard jewel case we get an 8-page booklet without any
biographical information, just some artwork for each of the featured artists.  And, er, that's it...a bit on the
thin side for what we've become used to for Hawkwind CD's, but this is not really a Hawkwind CD.  On
the back it says "...being a collection of solo works as performed by the members of the Starship
Hawkwind."  Well, some members of the crew are here, true, but the roll-call looks to be far from illustrious:

1.  Nile - The Paradogs
2.  Noctis Labyrithus - The Paradogs
3.  Jetstream - The Paradogs
4.  Squall - The Little Big Men
5.  Tuff On De Street - Ron Tree and Vital Chi
6.  Another Day - Liz Gizard
7.  Tripping Shipping  - Ron Tree
8.  The Auctioneer  - Dave Brock
9.  Space Show Biz  - Dave Brock
10.Voice Inside My Head  - Dave Brock
11.Moonbeams On Mars  - Dave Brock
12.Only Time Will Tell - Brock / Davey / Chadwick
13.Motorway City - Hawkwind

Let's deal with the preconceptions first.  First, it's taken me this long to buy this because there was always
something else more worth buying to get first.  I've never thought much of the Hawkwind Friends &
Relations type albums, and the preconception is that this is definitely one of that ilk.  The Hawkwind
contributions to such albums tend to be rag-tag or oddities, their Relations tend to be sub-Hawkwind at best,
and at worst (along with the Friends), downright execrable.  Looking at the track listing of this album, I
expect it to get better as it goes along, until  the album closes out with a couple of tracks that are actually
Hawkwind, or very nearly so in the case of Brock / Davey / Chadwick.  But look at the traps for the
unwary along the way: Jerry Richards' old band the Paradogs were, what, a thrashy 80's festival band?  
Richard Chadwick's techno project, Little Big Men....Liz Gizard, whoever that is (the name's not promising;
chicken's stomachs) and dear old Ron Tree.  And then there are Dave Brock solo tracks - which can
sometimes be very sketchy exercises indeed.  One of them, Voice Inside My Head, is a title that's been used
for a Hawkwind track.  It was an extra track on the Dojo CD release of The Chronicle Of The Black
Sword, and consisted of the "is he dead / where's his head" middle section from Brainstorm...the same thing
here?  Let's see....

The Paradogs
Nile starts off with a fast synthetic drumbeat and some decent chundering rhythm guitar before female
vocals low in the mix and some "found sounds" establish the vibe.  This is better than expected, but perhaps
I should have expected more: after all, Jerry's Star Nation project turned in a decent album ("The Silver
Age") not all that long ago.  This doesn't sound much like Hawkwind, not even the late 90's version in
which Jerry featured.  It has some potentially Hawkwind ingredients, in that it's a fusion of dance music and
hard rock, but the Paradogs (who consist of Jerry plus Alf Hardy) come out the other side in quite a
different place than Hawkwind would.  This is original.

Noctis Labyrinthus has one of those atmospheric spacey openings which normally do one of two things;
they either soften you up for some explosion of blanga, which is what I was hoping for here, or they
meander along in a cosmic sort of way until you realise that the intro isn't the intro, it's the song.  The latter
is the story with Noctis Labyrithus, and again, it's in a Hawkwind tradition but sounds nothing like that.  I
think I am quite impressed with the Paradogs - they're not at all what I was expecting, and to emphasise the
dance/hard rock fusion, their last track (Jetstream) pairs a rave beat with more metallic guitar outings,
ambient sounds and wordless female vocals.  It avoids sounding like a stereotypical 90's track, because the
hard rock credentials are solid, IMHO.  The only thing I can say that it "sounds like" is Star Nation...

The Little Big Men
Richard Chadwick's techno project features him alongside old Smart Pils sparring partner Steve Bemand.  
They just get the single track on this album and for my money one is enough.  It starts off spacily enough
but by about the 1 minute mark, the techno is going full blast.  Music to have a brain seizure by, and it
doesn't matter what instrumentation has been used, because I find it impossible to get past the pounding 2/2
beat which doesn't so much underpin this track as pin it down.  There is actually a guitar solo starting
around 4:15 but it doesn't help much.  Actually, I guess the reason I don't like this kind of stuff is because
everything else is subordinated to the percussive.  If there was more chordal texture, some melody, or even
just a sexual throb, it would become *musical*....which surprisingly, 'Squall' does at around 7:30.  A coda
consisting of acoustic guitars and synths takes us back to In Search Of  Space territory, reminding me of
Voco Kesh's rendition of We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago.  Very nice - but what has it got to do with
the preceding concerto of pneumatic drills?  I just don't get how you can mate that to this and call the
results a song.  The youth of today.  I ask you.

Ron Tree & Liz Gizard
Tuff On De Street is a live track kicking off with some industrial sounding percussion and motorcycle
revving before a bowel-loosening robotic drum'n'bass riff establishes itself: which turns out to be Another
Day by Liz Gizard.  (I must confess that I was expecting some sort of 80's free fest shrieking harpy, but
nothing of the sort!)  The song doesn't really go anywhere much after that, but settles for straddling the
boundaries of industrial and space rock.  This would be good in a darkened hall at extreme volume - not
quite the same being played on a laptop while I type, but there you go.

Ron Tree returns with Tripping Shipping, which is basically the shipping (weather) forecast overlaid with a
bunch of funny noises.  Towards the end these create their own logic and it's quite an enjoyable wander
through the wilder regions of Ron's imagination -reminds me of a long-untended garden- but on the basis of
this, Ron needs to be in a band and not working as a solo artist.  (I wish him success with M.O.A.B.!)

Dave Brock
At this point one would expect the standard to go up, or at least become more familiar.  The Auctioneer is
another track with a 2/2 beat, and I've heard the backing music, or something like it, on one of his solo
albums.  Standard Brock solo fare, drum programming and synth samples with a bit of guitar chucked in,
and no vocals.  Space Show Biz is more of the same but so brief that blink and you'll miss it.

Voice Inside My Head is more like it.  It *is* a Brock solo track characterised by all the aforementioned
elements (no Brainstorm retread after all) but more satisfactory as the ideas are drawn out to greater length.  
There's some stuttered wah guitar, treated vocals intoning a chant-like repetition of a few lines, and the
usual drum / synth stuff.  This would make a perfectly acceptable track on one of the Captain's solo albums
like Memos and Demos or Strange Trips and Pipe Dreams.  Moonbeams On Mars is the last of the Brock
solo tracks and it too exemplifies what he does when not working within the context of Hawkwind.  It's
more ambient than Voice Inside My Head due to the absence of vocals, although there is some distant
wordless baritone singing that I think may have featured previously on the 1992 track LSD.  The dominant
motif here is a shuffling drum loop matched against a laidback keyboard riff, with colour and texture
provided by the usual drifting cloud of samples and synth parts.

Hawkwind
We'll assume that Brock / Davey / Chadwick *is* Hawkwind, because they are the core of the band and
were 100% of the membership of Hawkwind between 1991 and 1995.  So what do they do with 'Only Time
Will Tell'?  They hark back to the trio days, that's what, with another ambient excursion, distinguished from
the preceding Brock track mainly by the more lush production.  This is not quite sunk to the level of It Is
The Business Of The Future To Be Dangerous, but sounds instead more reminiscent of one of the filler
tracks on 1992's Electric Tepee album.  There isn't much in the way of a tune, and the drums are the
highest in the mix, but where this track is far preferable to The Little Big Men's 'Squall' is in it's inclusion of
texture.  Oh all right then, the drums don't give me a migraine, either.

At last we get some proper space rock with a hitherto unheard live version of Motoroway City.  Dave sings
a strange high-pitched vocal line, sounding as though it was intended to get mainstream U.S. rock radio play
- but Bob Seger it ain't.  The pace of this version is slightly slower than all the others out there, and Dave
takes advantage to to riff around the chords with some 7th/6th pairings before a strangely muted middle
section, quite different to what they've done with this before.  Actually, it's odd to hear a version of this
song without Huw Lloyd Langton playing on it - his lead parts are missed, but Dave makes up for it by
occupying the vacated space with some inspired rhythm.  At a guess Harvey is on bass, and I don't know
who is playing the toytown keyboards.  An altogether rather odd version of an old favourite, and neither is
the sound quality pristine: this sounds like a bootleg.  But it's a new twist on this number, and well worth
hearing.

Conclusion
So one track is well worth hearing - is the album worth buying?  It depends (as ever).  Fans of Dave
Brock's solo work will definitely want to get this album as there are two solid new slabs of what he does
when he's at home.  The Hawkwind tracks are OK, not that great....the best thing here is probably the
Paradogs tracks, and the rest I would describe as being of negligeable interest, with the first half of the
Little Big Men number being downright horrible.  You might like it, though.  Looking back I see that a
number of my preconceptions were wrong, and it's always a good thing to have these overturned.  One was
accurate though, and that was the characterisation of the Hawkwind Family Tree as another Hawkwind
Friends & Relations album.  That's exactly what it is, so for anyone who liked those, this is more of the
same.