|Leeds Irish Centre, 30th October 2006
Many thanks to Paul Eaton-Jones for this excellent critical review and photo from the gig
Hawkwind - Space rock's answer to Il Divo?
Autumn rolls round again so it must be time for a Hawkwind tour. Not having seen them since the Sheffield
Corporation gig in May of last year I'd sort of already decided to go down to the Astoria show this year.
But, as good fortune had it, they came back to the Irish Centre in Leeds after a break of four years. So a
quick belt down the M62 was in order. A friend, Debbie, had said she quite fancied seeing the band as I've
mentioned them on a number of occasions and because she's got back into gig going. The weeks up to
Leeds she'd seen Stiff Little Fingers and The Beautiful South and she had an idea that Hawkwind might be
fun to see. I think she imagined them as 'just another rock band'. My regular gig-going buddy, Karlos, had
made other arrangements and made his way to Leeds with a minibus full of yet more Hawkwind virgins.
Debbie and I picked up Gerry in Goole and our small, happy group sped towards Leeds to the
accompanying sounds of Alanis Morrissette and Blondie. It was a pleasure to meet Gerry as it is to meet any
member from the discussion group.
I was really looking forward to the show - well, sort of...¦ How many of you reading this have sometimes
*not* had that warm feeling at the thought of a Hawkwind gig or album release? Go on, own up. Yes,
there's one of you at the back. Another over there. That's right we can honest, we're all friends here. For
the first time in thirty two years I didn't get that wonderful rush of adrenaline at the prospect of going to see
Hawkwind. Why? I hear you ask. Simple, really. I knew that as there had been no hint from Mission
Control of a concept or new album to air I'd be seeing the same set the band have been playing for the past
two and a half years with one or two minor changes. That's not to say I dragged my sorry carcass from
Hull to Leeds out of duty or sense of loyalty: Hawkwind still thrill me and the prospect of seeing and hearing
them play was a wonderful thought, but once I'd bought my tickets I wasn't champing at the bit every day
for the following six weeks. You should have seen me in the lead-up to seeing them for the first time or in
the few weeks before The Hawkestra. (Or perhaps not! I was like a young girl going to see the re-formed
The band's musicianship has never been in doubt and these days we hearing it far more clearly. It's just that
they appear to have become content playing a set comprising favourites from the past and present. I
certainly welcome the airing of older material, and the mix of this with newer material makes for a very
interesting concert. But the set doesn't go anywhere or do anything. It just SITS there. As a one-off tour it's
fantastic but as a set five tours (?) in a row it's predictable, even, whisper it very quietly...boring. Anyway,
We arrived in good time to spend 30 minutes shivering outside the venue in the gathering darkness and
rising wind. Ah, the joys of gig-going. Finally the doors are opened and we rush straight to the ummm...
conveniences. Standing around certainly takes its toll. The Irish Centre is a fine place for a gig - plenty of
seating at the back of the hall, two side bars and only a small 'dance floor' and it's wider than it is deep and
feels all the more intimate for it. Looking around the room I can see a number of familiar faces from many
years of Hawk gigs but I don't know names though I do recognise Jill S..
In recent years the crowd has been an eclectic mix of ages and 'tribes'. Tonight however it's mainly the 40-
plus group 'straight citizens' with a smattering of younger faces, much younger in a couple of cases. There
were two ten year olds in Motorhead T-shirts with their father which was very good to see. There don't
seem to be as many women as there used to be at Hawkwind gigs. I've never seen them as a band that
appealed predominantly to guys and there was a time when the leather and lace bedecked girls and women
turned out in droves to see the 'Wind.
It was good to see that there was some new merchandise on sale. The two (?) new T-shirt designs were
pretty good, one was a polo/pique with the 'TMTYL' logo embroidered on the left breast, and a regular T-
shirt with the 'Take Me To Your Future' cover on the front. There is also a Doremi T on sale and b*gger
me, I completely forgot to buy one. The one I DO have is 35 years old and rather tight. It's still one of my
favourite designs - simple and elegant. An up-to-date programme would be nice as would a few badges.
The support band were a three-piece called Bruise and they were very good. I was initially reminded of a
Gaelic-style band though much heavier and the vocals sort of brought to mind Renaissance. They did a fine
version of 'Silver Machine' as a mid-tempo piece that appeared slightly tongue-in-cheek and suffered only
from the fact that the microphone kept falling off as the female vocalist was trying to sing. She was a good
lead guitarist and backing vocals were supplied by the drummer who laid down a solid beat and quite a few
good runs around the kit. The bass player was also very competent and filled out the overall sound. A band
to catch again if they're in your area.
During the interval various roadies and guitar technicians wandered about the stage often to no obvious
purpose and didn't seem in any great hurry to get things moving - in contrast to the audience who, for
seasoned Hawkwind fans, were getting a bit restless. At 21:30 the house lights dimmed and the backcloth
was lit up by a spot which turned into the 'wormhole' effect that is well known to those who watch Horizon
or Star Trek. Then the band are on and more or less straight into 'The Right Stuff'. I think this is a great
show opener. Lots of heavy guitar, fast drumming and a bass that's just a bit too intrusive but which sorts
itself out fairly quickly. The change of rhythm halfway through is accompanied by the Apollo XI mission
control commentary, pictures of a Saturn V take off and of course the Bell X-1 aircraft (just in case there
are some out there who didn't know Chuck Yeager, his test pilot buddies, who flew the X-1, and the
original N.A.S.A. crews were thought to have 'The Right Stuff').
Next song is 'Psychedelic Warlords', which has become a firm crowd favourite over the past four years or
so. This was as usual heavy but tuneful with Dave playing some really good lead breaks. The bass solo in
the middle didn't seem as long as before and seemed to lose its way a bit. But this is still a great song and as
relevant as ever. Then we have an instrumental (Elfin?) and from the right a weird looking...¦THING creeps
across the stage. At first it's a bit difficult to work out what it's supposed to be. Mainly green with BIG red
bug-eyes and black and red arms it meanders across the stage to no great effect, I have to say. So after
hitting the ground running everything then falls flat on its face. I'd known that 'Orgone Accumulator' was in
the set and was looking forward to hearing it again. Oh dear, what a disappointment. It was basically a
lightweight pop song that shuffled along without any dynamic component. The vocals hardly moved from
the starting note and it seemed, and I stress seemed, that the guys couldn't be bothered with it. A case of
'I've started so I'll finish'. The middle part with the, "ooooo, ooo, ooo, oooooo" from 'You Know You're
Only Dreaming' was a nice touch and ought to have been the full song and then it was back to 'Orgone...' I
was glad when it stopped. (I mean stopped rather than ended.)
Then, from a personal point of view, things went even further downhill. Bloody 'Paradox'! I always
welcome a new take on old favourites and most work. This does not. The quiet piano (no pun intended)
intro with (almost) a capella vocals has become irksome and it tries too hard to be different it's almost as
though the band are thinking, "let's show we can do sensitive and light and shade". Guys, guys, you do it
SO well in other songs without any hint of contrivance. The middle part of 'The Right Stuff' with its change
of pace and rhythm works perfectly. A song later in the set, 'Infinity', is a wonderful example of light and
shade and quiet and sensitive. As are 'Be Yourself', 'Damnation Alley', 'Dust Of Time' and others too many
to mention. For me 'Paradox' should revert to the original form or be kicked into touch. Dave's lead guitar
was, however, superb.
By now I'm beginning to think that this is going to a stinker. Then victory is snatched from the jaws of
defeat! Dave introduces the next song, "It was written by Bob Calvert and is called Robot". He then comes
to the front of the stage minus guitar, grabs the mic stand amid a deafening cacophony of electronics and
pounding bass. From the right side of the stage Fly Boy makes a return and tries to menace Dave as he's
singing. At the end of the vocals Dave picks up his guitar and lets rip some wonderful heavy riffing while
the bass and drums slug out a repetitive rhythm. The synths come in with some sweeping soundscapes as
Richard speaks the, "I am only a robot' lyric and recites Asimov's Three Laws Of Robotics and starts to
sound a little like Davros! Then the rest of the band come back as he shouts out R.O.B.O.T over and over
as the letters are projected behind him. Dave is giving his guitar the old figure of eight pattern to wonderful
effect. Absolutely brilliant.
'Out Here We Are' was next up and this has come on in leaps and bounds since I first heard it at the Astoria
in '04. Dave suddenly sits down out of sight and a female figure joins Fly Boy and they move around to the
music in the way that only Hawkwind dancers can do (take that as you will!) Jason's playing was
outstanding and for his pains at the end of the piece Dave and Alan threatened to reveal something about
him. Suggestions from the crowd include, "He's got no hair!" and, "He's homosexual!". "No, no!", Dave
hurriedly responded. Turned out to be that he's a singing chef and has appeared on BBC 2. Very racy! The
next song, Greenback Massacre, wasn't something I was looking forward to and though it was the best
version yet, I was glad when it crashed to a finish. Dave's guitar was lost in the mix and the bass was too
overpowering. This is another one they could drop from the set or make it more Hawkwindish by slowing it
down, making it heavier and having a less shouty vocal delivery. It could be a Hawkwind song as it fits well
with the typical Hawkwind topics i.e. ruthless capitalism, the overbearing state, etc..
Then we get something that is becoming a feature of Hawkwind gigs - Dave doing a recitation. Rather than
the Calvert / Moorcock pieces of yesteryear he's doing 'classical' soliloquies. 'Now Is The Winter Of Our
Discontent' has been in and out of the set for a while now and I love these additions. We are treated to
Puck's poem from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. Dave even drops in a reference to Hawkwind
themselves. Instead of "And Robin shall restore amends", it's "And HAWKWIND shall restore amends". As
with a lot of his narration's he always seems on the verge of breaking into gales of laughter as though he
can't believe he's doing 'serious' stuff. He does, just, keep it together. The finish is greeted with a huge
round of applause so these pieces are obviously popular.
Things really picked up as from the very old we move to the merely old with 'Lord Of Light' as the next
piece. I've always enjoyed this track though it has never attained the heaviness of the original. This was a
great, if short, version. Dave and Richard shared lead vocals and harmonised very well. Alan played a very
good bass melody underneath Dave's phased lead and rhythm guitar and Richard's solid drumming. This is a
far better version than what we got during the Alien 4 tour. The images projected behind the band were
stunning and relevant. We were treated to Hubble pictures of Centaurus A; M31, the Andromeda galaxy;
Jupiter and the Triffid nebula. Fantastic. Next was a number they've not played for fifteen or sixteen years
since Bridget was in the band - 'Images'. Richard took the lead and what a superb job he made. Lots of little
vocal embellishments here and there. Very tuneful. The break down in the middle where the lyric is, "It's
gone now", "It twists the soul" etc. was accompanied by projections of H-bomb explosions, the picket line
at Grunwick from 1977, Big Brother's face (Orwell's Big Brother, that is, not Channel 4's) and images of the
Moon. Dave played some very good melody guitar runs and his rhythm during the vocal parts was typical
Brock. The song finished with the stop-start-stop-start section as on Space Bandits. No one missed a beat
and everything was tight and spot-on. A difficult thing to pull off - just what you'd want the band's critics to
see and hear.
For many people I've spoken to the next song was the highlight of the evening. As far as I'm aware 'Infinity'
has never been played live. Surprising really when you think that it's one their oldest numbers having been
written by Robert Calvert at the time of 'The Space Ritual' and 'Doremi'. (Check out The Space Ritual
programme.). As the Dave gently strums the opening chords, Karlos wanders over to me with a big
contented grin on his face. Jason plays some electronics that conjure up a bucolic scene and they flitter and
flutter like butterflies around Dave's guitar which almost sounds acoustic. A lot of us which he'd drag his
12-string out once in a while and treat us to 'Space Is Deep', ˜Down Through The Night' and 'The
Demented Man'. Alan and Richard provided a gentle unobtrusive background while Dave played a very
pleasant lead melody. The projected scenes are of Stonehenge; M42 in Orion; the Rosette nebula, which
blends into the Eagle nebula; The Pillars of Creation; and the Pleiades. Stunning. All of this adds to the
overall feeling of mysticism and mystery. It finishes to rapturous applause and Dave says, "See, we can do
songs about love not just about space". Karlos sort of destroys the moment by shouting out, "About f***ing
time". Dave then introduces the next song by saying , "This is relevant as it's all about oil, petrodollars etc.
It's time we kicked the Americans off our bases", and that if he were in charge things would be different.
Then Richard and Alan chip in with the comment that Dave ought to be in parliament though he should
probably start off in local government. This brings much laughter and merriment in the crowd and on stage.
It's the last song of the main set, and 'Hassan-i-Sahba' is everything we've come to expect from it. Heavy!
Weird! During the 'Space Is Their Palestine' middle section, cannabis leaves fall down the projection screen,
the male dancer comes back painted green all over, lights flash and synthesizers play rising and falling
arpeggios Brilliant. Dave's heavy riffing brings everyone back for the final verse and chorus and the song
The band troop off and the crowd start the age-old chant of, "Hawkwind. Hawkwind. Hawkwind." We
stamp feet, clap hands and keep on shouting. After a minute or so I stop. After thirty two years I realise that
they will come back so I'm quite prepared to leave the chanting to the younger members of the crowd - for
me, this time the show ended to enthusiastic yet polite applause. Please don't take me for a tight-arse
because I DO show my appreciation though I'm more restrained these days! After a couple of minutes they
come back and Dave says 'We'll do a number you can all sing along to - Spirit Of The Age. It's a simple
song, it goes, "Spirit of the Age'." (Laughs.) And of course we did - loudly and proudly and bouncing along
with the rhythm.
I'm so glad this is still part of the set and is a closer rather than an opener. It feels as fresh and vibrant as it
always has done and since Dave has started playing the melody it is wonderful. I find it very emotional and
still get a lump in my throat, as I've written before. Don't know why, though. If I have a complaint about
'Spirit...' it's that it's, a) too short and, b) I'd like to hear a slightly different melody line plus some of the
chugging rhythm sound that Dave used in '77-'79. But then, I wanted to play on the wing for the Wales
rugby union side as a youth!! [There's no accounting for taste - Steve]
Next there's a long, spacey, section that has underwater-type sounds threaded through it before Alanâ€™s
bass thunders out a line that resolves itself into the introduction of Motorhead. What a joy to hear this at
last. The crowd are absolutely delirious with delight as Alan again has the chance to emulate Lemmy as he
does on 'The Watcher'. His vocal style fits 'Motorhead' perfectly. The version we're treated to is the least
well known one from the 'Valium Ten" EP. A heavy, mid-tempo, song with Dave and Alan giving their
fingers the chance to wander up and down the neck of their instruments, producing some tasty lines. Jason
throws in plenty of synth sounds and spacey electronics. This too is a song I'd like to see given a long run
in the set. Then the show is over.
So, was it a good gig? Yes and no. My friend Debbie was overwhelmed and blown away. She said she's
had a superb time and was utterly surprised. As I said at the top, I think she was expecting a 'regular' rock
concert. Karlos was thrilled by the inclusion of 'Infinity', as were many in the crowd. A couple of weeks
later I spoke to one of the Hawkwind virgins he took with him. She, too, was amazed with the band, the
show and the visuals. She said it had 'War Of The Worlds' feel, which was good. My reservations stem
from the fact that we get practically the same set every year - highlights from the shows, as it were, hence
the subtitle. It *is* four guys giving the crowd essentially hits from the grand operas rather than the grand
opera itself. Their professionalism, ability, commitment, ingenuity etc. is not in doubt it's just that it's
become easy for them. I know they put a huge amount of effort into rehearsing and then touring. So by
easy I mean that they're playing songs they know so well. I'd love to see the big concept, the grand idea, the
Over the past seven or eight years I've wondered why they no longer fill the big city halls. One answer I've
come up with is that as the fan-base has grown older with the band other responsibilities have taken
precedence over gig-going. With a few exceptions many fans with families maybe can't afford the time to
travel sometimes many miles to an obscure venue. (Was Holmfirth EVER on ANY band's schedule?)
There's no reason to think that the legion of fans that followed the band from the early 1970's has died off,
turned away from music or whatever. They must still be there but the prospect of driving miles is a turn
off. If the band returned to the big cities and bigger venues than they play now then surely the old fans will
be willing to travel into town and rekindle their distant, youthful memories.
A few other random thoughts
When the band play Calvert numbers nobody 'sings' them in the same way. We all know Robert employed
something called Sprechtesang (speech singing) which added a certain menace to most of his songs.
Something I've noticed in recent years is that when they do Calvert numbers in place of Robert's menace,
vocal and physical presence, they use music and, in particular, synthesized 'mood' music to indicate
menace. This was very noticeable during the instrumental part of 'Robot'. In my opinion it is extremely
effective whether it's done intentionally or not.
If I was going to compile a set list (hey guys, why not hold a competition and the winner does JUST
that???) I'd choose from the following:- The Right Stuff / Angels Of Death / Robot / Uncle Sam's On Mars /
Psychedelic Warlords / Images / Infinity / To Love A Machine (without the jazz ending and lasting ten
minutes) / Brainstorm / Hassan-i-Sahba / Spirit Of The Age / Motorhead / Lord Of Light / Born To Go /
Master Of The Universe / The Demented Man / You Know You're Only Dreaming / Space Is Deep / Down
Through The Night / Wheels / PXR5 / Treadmill / Ship Of Dreams / Imhotep (Tubilah Dog/Agents Of
Chaos number) / The Only Ones / You Shouldn't Do That (with the Seeing It As You Really Are coda). Oh
yes, and a return to two/two and half hour gigs with lower lighting.
Professional and non-professional musicians
I don't mean paid versus unpaid, professional versus amateur here. Hawkwind have over the years,
unfortunately, had the tag of being untogether, sloppy, unimaginative etc. plus being drug users and playing
under the influence. Well, in thirty years I've never seen a gig when the members have been bombed out.
They have always been professional and intent on giving their audiences what they want. They've never
courted publicity and only recently appeared on daytime radio in order to give interviews. Contrast this with
a couple of the 'happening' acts, Amie Winehouse and Lily Allen. The time I saw Amie Winehouse on
television she was so drunk as to be incomprehensible and so unprofessional as to defy belief; and Lily Allen
hit the headlines recently in America when she admitted on radio that she had taken drugs and it was cool.
Today on my local BBC radio station her new single was played a couple of times. Anyone heard it? The girl
ought to learn how to sing in time to the music. What a shocker. Sounds like a first-time rehearsal piece.
And as for Pete Doherty... It's the fact that these people revel in their notoriety and are lauded by the
mainstream and music press for it, that annoys me. Their music leaves me cold in all honesty but that's not
really the point. When one thinks how Hawkwind have been treated by the press, ignored or vilified, then I
think we have a right feel aggrieved. Yes, the cult of personality is alive and well and conning the (record
buying) public into thinking they're being coooool, maaaan. End of rant!
So once again at the end of a review I ask the question:- whither Hawkwind? They CAN continue for quite
some time doing what they have been doing for the past five years or so but to possibly slowly declining
audiences. All loyal Hawkfans for sure but playing smaller and smaller venues. Will they ever play the
thousand / fifteen hundred-seater city halls again? Possibly, maybe, perhaps. Then again possibly not. But,
but, they most certainly CAN imagine, write and perform the big concepts, the big ideas, the present day
concerns AND the typical Hawkwind / Moorcock phantasmagoria. They have to do it to keep things fresh,
to attract new fans and keep the old ones coming even as age and commitments take their toll. They've done
it before and by Arioch they can do it again.