|Atomhenge Levitation 3CD Review
The latest Atomhenge release out of the blocks is a 3CD reissue of Levitation, with the most handsome
packaging yet of any of their excellent portfolio of reissued Hawkwind treasures. In time, this will revert to
being a single CD, but the first 3,000 copies are as you see here: a clamshell CD case (which opens
horizontally this time), three discs in card slip covers, a 36-page booklet, and three postcards. In terms of
value for money, it doesn't get any better than this.
Disc 1 is the core Levitation album, plus extras. Discs 2 and 3 comprise most of the live gig that took place
on December 18th 1980 at Lewisham Odeon, which also provided nearly all the content of the "This Is
Hawkwind, Do Not Panic" live album released in 1984, and also some of the tracks on "Zones", released
that same year. The set list of the 18/12/1980 gig on my site reveals yet more material that didn't make it
onto this aural document, and I'm going to take the liberty of quoting from an email I got from Vicky Powell
(she and husband Mark are the heroes behind Atomhenge) to indicate why this should be:
"...¦one guy commented on Hawklords Live that he didn't think it could be the whole gig. No, we had to
leave a few tracks off because the recording quality deteriorated vastly at various points etc. and would
have made for rather an odd listen and we would have been slated reviews wise if we had left it in.
Sometimes fans heard certain things at certain gigs but wouldn't have been aware it recorded very badly etc.
(and why should they be aware) and we really don't want to go down the road of just putting anything and
its mother out - will leave that area for others."
So there you are, fellow hairy-arsed Hawkwind fans: if ever Atomhenge put out a live recording that isn't
the full gig, this will be the reason why!
But back to the review...¦ the original Levitation LP had one of the most distinct sonic signatures of any
Hawkwind title, being one of the very earliest fully digitally recorded albums. The separation between
instruments was a great step forward, though it did sound a little odd (and still does) to hear this band,
whose basic sound is a driving, collective roar, captured in pristine high fidelity. It is almost a shock to hear
it remastered, because there's even more depth and top end clarity than anyone realised. The bass booms
with greater profundity, and guitars, keyboards and vocals all have an additional layer of glassy presence
when compared to earlier Levitations (vinyl and CD). And that is all that need be said about the original
album tracks...¦onto the extras, and on Disc 1 they are a somewhat motley collection, reflecting the
disjointed history of Hawkwind in the period that is being documented.
First up are the Hawklords tracks recorded at Rockfield studio in early 1979. This was almost a rump of
band, Bob Calvert having left, with a line-up of Dave Brock, Harvey Bainbridge, Simon King and Steve
Swindells. They certainly hit on an unusual direction, as the three tracks Douglas In The Jungle, Time Of
and British Tribal Music all reveal - amorphous jams full of strange twitterings and bleeps. Only Douglas In
The Jungle has any lyrics (the little that is discernable is pointedly aimed at manager Doug Smith) but none
of these three tracks can be regarded as classics. Somewhat more accomplished is the embryonic first
version of Who's Gonna Win The War which is somehow clanky, and the full length hypnotic / narcotic
groove of Valium 10. All these have been available before, but never collected into one, er, suite as here.
Nice to have.
We also get the single cut of Who's Gonna Win The War, sonically more familiar, recorded as it was by the
1980 line-up of Brock, Bainbridge, Lloyd-Langton, Baker and Blake (Huw and the four B's...¦) It is attended
by its' B-side Nuclear Toy, which is relatively throwaway, but has a nice guitar-dominated outro. OK.
Rounding off Disc 1 is the first previously unreleased track - a live 1980 recording of Brainstorm. This
fades in after Ginger Baker's drum solo, which should have many fans applauding Atomhenge's editorial
good taste, but as a result it's only five minutes long. And it's fairly run of the mill, to be honest. With so
many live renditions of Brainstorm out there, this one doesn't really add anything new. One interesting thing
I noticed is that the songwriting credits on the packaging give this one solely to Nik Turner. It's been billed
as a Brock / Turner composition on at least some previous outings.
Discs 2 and 3 comprise the live recording from Lewisham Odeon. As mentioned, much of this has already
seen the light of day, but again the remastering has brought out highs and lows not made very obvious on
earlier releases. For example, there's a moment of Brock's spoken instructions to someone offstage, at 6:34
on Levitation, that I've never noticed before. The tracks that were present on This Is Hawkwind Do Not
Panic are all here, with the exception of Stonehenge Decoded and Watching The Grass Grow, both actually
from another occasion (Stonehenge Free Festival 1984). One thing that has not changed from the last time
we heard this live recording is that it accurately represents what was evidently a stormer of a gig: it's a very
powerful live performance with the band in no mood for compromise, grinding out punishingly heavy
versions of their contemporary material. Listening to the live Levitation track, for example, it easily
outclasses the studio recording. The instrumental middle section simply steamrollers anything and anyone
who gets in the way.
Motorway City also presents some previously unheard passages, being given to us in uncut form. On the
Zones album, it was annoyingly faded out during Huw Lloyd-Langton's excellent guitar solo and here we get
the whole thing even if it's shorn of the entire first half of the solo as it appeared on then studio recording.
And you can actually see why the latter part of Motorway City was faded out when it was first released in
1984: Huw's solo transitions uneasily back into the hook that is the song's main motif, and the closing
couple of minutes of the song gallop along with everyone, particularly Mr. Baker, sounding at odds with
each other. It's more the arrangement that's the problem than any individual musical performance.
What was Circles on "...¦Do Not Panic" is here retitled (correctly) as The 5th Second of Forever, and it
segues into Dust Of Time, which we've not heard before - except for the pastoral middle passage which
surfaced as "The Island" on the Zones album. Both the 5th Second of Forever and Dust Of Time feature
some very hoarse vocals from Dave Brock, far from being his best singing. Again, I can see why this
hasn't been available before now. As for the song itself, it's really a piece of leaden clumping, for my
money. I like the way that Brock's grinding slabs of rhythm guitar are completely at odds with Huw's
soaring lead parts, but that chord progression that heralds the pastoral interlude has always seemed
contrived to me. Oh well, it's not possible to like *everything* they've ever done...¦is it? It is at least done
with more conviction as Dust Of Time comes to a close, and with it Disc 2...¦
Running Through The Back Brain and Dangerous Vision are both as heard before on Zones. I've always
had a soft spot for these two tracks (I don't mean a large stinking bog in the west of Ireland) though they
are hardly classics. Lyrically the former comes across as a Moorcock treatise on schizophrenia, and
Dangerous Vision is Keith Hale's only known songwriting contribution to Hawkwind. It really doesn't sound
like Hawkwind as a result, but it has something (Barry Manilow-ish?), whatever Manfred Scholido has to
say to the contrary.
Who's Gonna Win The War is completely new, and to my surprise it's in no way sub-par - this is a very
sprightly, full-sounding, measured track, whose arrangement is perfectly suited to the crystal-clear
recording that was achieved. To be sure, it's not anything other, qualitatively, than a live rendition of what
they put on the studio album, but the washes of keyboard and Huw's wonderful lead guitar sound jump out
as something special. For once, Brock's active (treble-boosted) rhythm guitar works exactly as intended
too, and even Ginger strikes the right note with his martially flavoured snare rolls...¦it's amazing how
obtrusive his drumming is, actually. It must be just my familiarity with the material that the years have
imparted, but hearing him flooding all over these songs - well, it strikes me now that Ginger in the studio
was A Good Thing, but live, he didn't quite fit the mould. Nor would he have had any interest in doing so,
World Of Tiers is another new version, and it starts off with a short narration from Harvey which actually
sets the scene and provides some kind of rationale for the title. Again, it's a live version of what was on the
studio album, but there's a bit more in the way of keyboard flourishes. This is all right. I've omitted to
mention the two preceding tracks, Psi Power and Shot Down In The Night because there's nothing new to
say about them - see This Is Hawkwind, Do Not Panic. Similarly, the closing track is Space Chase as heard
on that album, say no more.
Time to sum up, and this is another class release from Atomhenge. There's relatively little that's truly new
here, but what can we realistically expect of a haul through the archives of a band that's been around, and
been heavily exploited, for forty years? The packaging is faultless, the sound quality lifted to a new level,
and as always the service from Atomhenge's parent company Cherry Red Records, is fantastic. I got my
copy (sent to Las Vegas) before PedalBin, and he lives in Farnborough! (Mind you, who didn't get their
copy before him...¦) Hawkwind fans really couldn't ask for any more. Cheers Mark and Vicky!
Here's another review (written before mine, actually) by Graham Hawker. Thanks Graham!
Levitation Limited Expanded Edition
The expanded version has three CDs. Firstly we get the album, plus the Hawklords Rockfield Session from
1979 and Nuclear Toy, the single version of Who's Gonna Win the War and Brainstorm Live from 1980. I
can't wait to hear Brainstorm - I seem to remember this is where Ginger Baker played his solo - what a treat!
Then it's two CDs from the Lewisham Odeon gig of 1980. At least there's no reason to buy the Do Not
Panic album on CD now, if it does get re-released. Levitation might be one of Hawkwind's better albums
from the 1980's. It's no classic, as the preceding Charisma days were and we're really missing Calvert's
lyrics. We get the excellent Motorway City...¦.sorry we get the excellent Motor Way City apparently, and
Circles, renamed as the truly cosmic 5th Second of Forever, and a number of decent tracks with only
Space Chase letting the side down.
The Hawklords sessions have been around before. Not sure where, I've lost track. Valium 10 and Time Of
are rather excellent jam fests. Douglas in the Jungle and British Tribal Music are not. That's not in the "oh
look there's some paint drying, lets watch that instead". Overall I probably prefer the less refined version of
Who's Gonna Win the War included here.
I really can't tell you how terrible Nuclear Toy is. Some sort of unfinished version with vocodor vocals.
Calling it a mess is a disservice to messes everywhere. We get the single version of Who's Gonna Win the
War and to round off, Brainstorm. At least we only get a few seconds of Baker's solo, phew, and 5 minutes
of over familiar territory. Move along now - nothing to see here. This track was good once (and only once).
So beyond the album and a couple of Hawklords tracks, which you might already have, it's not a very
exciting collection of additional tracks.
So off to Lewisham. Do Not Panic. For that is where you'll hear eight of the thirteen tracks (one is a double
header of Circles (sic) and Dust of Time) and Zones where you'll hear two, Running Through The Back
Brain (we get a "my" rather than a "the" here) and Dangerous Vision, plus part of Dust of Time and perhaps
part of Motorway City. Sorry can't get the vinyl out at present to check. At least we get the full versions of
these last two plus World of Tiers as completely new, perhaps. You can argue most tracks are available
elsewhere but then Do Not Panic is not currently available and if it does get re-released there's now very
little need to buy it. So these live CDs are worthwhile.
It's a good recording though and a good concert and quite rightly concentrates on Levitation tracks. I've
always liked Running Through The Back Brain and Dangerous Vision and so there's no need to get Zones
either. However, as usual, the track credits are stupid. There was this bloke called Calvert. He was in the
band. He co-wrote many songs including two on these CDs. Meanwhile I do believe Steve Swindells wrote
Shot Down In The Night. Who'd have guessed?
One other thing. The CDs are mastered really loudly which as everyone should know is not a good idea but
a sad fashion of the terminally clueless.