|Hawkfest 2002 CD review
14th July 2005
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|This live CD is another variation on the general theme of “Hawkwind, Friends and Relations”, but in specific terms, features bands who played at the 1st Hawkfest in 2002, having been recorded live there.
This fact explains why I bought the CD; it’s for sentimental reasons, i.e. because I was there, rather than for any appreciation of the HF&R concept. I tend to avoid buying those kinds of albums, as they’re usually somewhat poor IMHO, possessed of the sole virtue of illustrating what a great band Hawkwind are, by comparison with their pale imitators. However, this CD manages to raise itself well above that standard with several strong musical performances and some that are stylistically so far removed from Hawkwind as to distance the whole album from the HF&R concept.
I have already reviewed some of these tracks on the Hawkwind CD Singles page, because they featured on the Hawkfest 2002 Sampler CD which I chose to regard as just one such. So I’ll be brief and hopefully not repeat myself.
Hawkwind open proceedings with Night Of The Hawks, clocking in at almost 14 minutes in length, the first couple of minutes of which are initially pastoral synths undermined by trademark disturbing / tension-building Hawkwindness. Dave intones “Earth Calling” a few times and Alan grunts atmospherically before the rhythm fades in with Tim Blake playing some tasteful two-chord synth parts. Dave’s vocals get the song proper under way, and the first verse is characterised by the interplay between Blake’s keyboards and Simon House’s brilliant violin. But once the second verse rolls around, Brock starts to dominate proceedings with his driving guitar chords: *this* is what makes it all hang together!
The opening two-chord synthiness is repeated at around the 11-minute mark as a somewhat twinkly middle section, but this benefits from some lead guitar from the Captain, which he mutates into accelerated, forceful strumming, propelling the song and the band back into the main riff. For me, this number is all about D.Brock esq. and why Hawkwind aren’t Hawkwind if he’s not there.
In terms of the album’s running order, it’s an interesting choice to put the only Hawkwind number on first. In effect it serves to throw down the gauntlet to all the other bands that follow on, and Proteus, who are up next with Evenstar / Cloud City struggle to pick it up, despite being allotted a generous 10 minutes and 11 seconds in which to do so. But this is more to do with *what* they are rather than *how* they perform: Proteus sound pretty much like mid-90’s Orbital, working a trance-inflected groove which just about overcomes my prejudice against rave music. Over a track of this length the fact that there’s a lot of variety and interchange of beats really helps the song to breathe as a piece of music.
One thing I should mention is the very skilful mixing, which sees Tribe Of Cro’s I Have No Life overlapping the fading strains of the outgoing Proteus track. I liked this lot when I saw them at the Hawkfest and their music doesn’t disappoint here, being a looping spacey jam, replete with glissando guitar, built around a bubbling bass that’s reminiscent of a more cosmic Shriekback, in a way. This intersection of space-rock and jazz-funk (far less crude than the Rudolph / Powell crimes of that ilk) bears promise for further, future discoveries should Tribe Of Cro choose to venture in that direction – though the whistle that starts being blown about halfway through this track is a major irritation and needs to die. Far more satisfactory is the Gong-ish lead guitar into which it segues, conjuring up touches of the “You” album. This is another long track, approaching 15 minutes, but contains enough textural variation that it doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Spacehead bring things back to a more Hawkwind-centric sound with Fire Dragons. This starts off with layers of pulsing, swooping synth which are displaced after three minutes by Mr.Dibs’ characteristic pumping, adenoidal bass tones and some tasty guitar atmospherics (K.Barton, I believe). The vocals are less successful for my money, but the bigger problem with this track is that it never really gets going – the whole thing sounds like a drawn-out intro, which you want to hear explode into the true blanga that Spacehead can do. Perhaps the problem is that we’re hearing this track out of context, compiled here (by Keith Kniveton) instead of being placed amidst Spacehead’s entire set…
Anyway, Spacehead having paved the way, Astralasia get to go next with their horrible version of Uncle Sam’s On Mars. This treatment first saw the light of day in 1994 and it sounds ten years or more out of date, with a primitive, yet frenetic, pounding bass drum that picks up where Disco left off in the late 70’s. As I mentioned in the Sampler CD review, Astralasia do a loud / quiet thing with the vocals, but I had forgotten to mention the guitar solo at around the five minute mark. The tonality of this is pure Brock, but it sounds like something he’d played had been sampled, and then skilfully cut up and spliced back together. That and the percussionless outro are the best part of this…but I wonder if Pete Pracownik, who guested with Astralasia on guitar at Hawkfest 2002, was actually playing this? Very good if so.
CD1 completes with Jez Huggett's Band Of Gold playing Kansas City Blues – which is so not my cup of tea and totally unlike anything else on this album or anything else that was played at the entire Hawkfest for that matter. If you recall the old Dire Straits song Sultans Of Swing, it contains the line “They don’t give a damn about any trumpet-playing band / it ain’t what they call rock’n’roll” and that’s about where we are with this. There’s a walking double bass, drums played with brushes, some smooth piano low in the mix and lots of sax, of course. It’s very nice if you like that sort of thing, but it’s not for everyone, is it?! :-)
And so on to CD2 and Miss Bigfish by London band Bruise. This lot failed to make any impression on me when they played at the Hawkfest, but this has a previously unsuspected pop sensibility on the choruses, and a propulsive quality throughout: there is an overdriven guitar here, but its’ placement low in the mix keeps the overall sound smooth rather than raucous. The cool, feminine vocals are tonally somewhere in Chrissie Hynde territory but without her streetwise American inflections. Distractingly, the last minute or so of this track is overlaid by what sounds like a conversation among the audience, just below the threshold of intelligibility.
Connecting Routes follow with Intro, which is laidback crossover stuff: they themselves call it “roots rock reggae” and they achieve quite a bit of interaction with the crowd, who are heard for the one and only time on this album, cheering like a throng of thousands rather than hundreds. The distinctive reggae feel emphasises the 2nd and 4th beats of each bar, and there is lots of space in the arrangement. The bass is not so punishingly deep as to put this anywhere near heavy dub territory, and the individual instruments (guitar, organ and brass section) are all quite bright and cheerful sounding. It’s a cliché to describe this kind of thing as “sunny”, but Connecting Routes put the ‘festive’ into ‘festival’, here.
All of which makes Mr.Quimby’s Beard sound very overwrought as they kick off Mystery with a skirl of phase-shifted synth and dark guitar figures. However, the track at once relaxes into a spacious Ozrics- kind of pace although MQB’s sound is much more rock and supplies a double dose of space-rock credentials in place of the world music intonations. This is not some balls-to-the-wall workout, and in fact drags a little bit here and there, without a central platform of driving guitar or keyboard to anchor the song (which is 13 minutes in length!). The reggae-ish coda, coming so soon after the effortless bounce of Connecting Routes, is shown up for the pale imitation it is, especially as performed by space rock bands. This is something that ought to be left well alone.
Next, Bedouin perform their version of the Hawkwind number LSD and they are of course far from being anaemic, with their combination of rasping vocals, pulsating bass and solid rock guitar. This hasn’t the textural lushness of the original but instead substitutes bucketfuls of rock drive and swagger. Glenn Povey throws in a long meandering guitar solo of the Fast Eddie Clarke school somewhere in the middle, and not to be outdone, Alan’s Rickenbacker bass solo evokes Lemmy. Danny Thompson then slaps the snare drum around a bit but we’re spared the full horror of the drum solo as Bedouin instead launch into a fairly brief coda and close this out after 8 minutes and 23 seconds.
Who better to take on the baton than Litmus, with Invader. They were the first band to play at Hawkfest 2002 and in that sense were bottom of the bill: last, perhaps, but not least. Here they do their usual rip through four minutes of thrashing space rock, slashing guitars and punky vocals offset by twittering synths. It’s excellent stuff. And going straight from the festival’s opening act to the closing one, Huw Lloyd Langton’s Broken Bits Band, do Cardboard City. This is better than remembered: Huw’s jagged, over-distorted guitar sound is much more effective on this recording than it seemed on the night, and the ramshackle nature of his scratch line-up, which seemed at the time to be so loose as to be falling apart, here just makes for a loose feel. In fact, this whole thing is not a million miles away from a live Neil Young number, say ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ on the ‘Weld’ album. Huw’s in good voice too, and pulls together some decentish lead guitar throughout. Which is not bad considering he was recovering from Legionnaire’s disease and two broken wrists at the time!
To close out the album we have Mike Burro’s One-Eyed Bishops performing Hawkwind’s Hurry On Sundown. Musically it’s quite authentic sounding, if somewhat subdued with a line-up of acoustic guitar, bass, mournful vocals and washboard. The downbeat feel is alleviated halfway through by some electric lead guitar which is excellent, after which Mike goes into a bluesy vocal extemporisation and even exhorts Mr.Dibs (who’s on bass) to do a solo! In a rare outbreak of good taste, this doesn’t happen… :-) In fact, this track is a bit too redolent of good taste for my money, and I think should have discarded some of the restraint it displays, and gone for something a bit shoutier!
And now it is all over bar the shouting, and of course I’ve already given the game away by saying this album is a good deal better than the standard Hawkwind Friends & Relations type of proposition. One thing to point out is that the sleeve notes say “This CD aims to capture a little of this very special moment in time – and will surely rekindle warm memories for those who attended…” It absolutely succeeds in this, and just listening to this album, in my mind’s eye I could see the sea off in the distance and the farm away on the other side of the valley. This has given me some serious Hawkfest nostalgia and I think it’s high time that another one was arranged!!