Just as there is a plethora of live Hawkwind CD's from 1989-90, 1972 is also starting to look a little crowded. Joining the ranks of Greasy Truckers, Hawkwind at the BBC, Space Ritual Alive and Space Ritual Sundown V2, here now is Leave No Star Unturned: recorded live at Cambridge Corn Exchange on the 27th of January, 1972. The existence of this recording has long been known, and sometimes erroneously dated to February 1971. But its provenance could not be better documented (see the Spaceward Studios history at http://www.spacewardstudios.ukf.net/stories.htm), this having been recorded on a makeshift basis by a couple of college students. And since the news first crept out that this recording was to be released on CD, there has been a certain amount of controversy surrounding it.
On the one hand, the record label say they have legally sub-licensed the content from EMI, and this claim has been endorsed by Hawkwind biographer Ian Abrahams (who also wrote the sleeve notes). Their contention is that royalties will be paid to EMI who will then disburse these to the musicians involved. On the other hand, Hawkwind's official word on the subject is that this is an unauthorised release from which they will see no proceeds. Unfortunately, this announcement was made *after* I (and probably many other fans) had already ordered the CD. I suppose I could have cancelled the order, but...¦I didnâ€™t. It certainly occupies a grey area, and each prospective buyer would need to make up his or her own mind as to whether or not it's an ethical purchase.
But that was all weeks and months ago, which seems an eternity (never mind the intervening 39 years since the Revox rolled) when you've ordered a CD and are checking the post every day to see if it's turned up. At last the thing arrives (thank you, CD Services) and what a peculiar shape it is. Although itâ€™s been described as coming in a "long box", the packaging is about the size of a (very slim) paperback book. Or to be slightly more modern about it, it's actually the same size as a DVD case, albeit thinner. The outermost part of it is a card sleeve bearing a rather uninspired design: within are a cardboard tray, a well known 1972 United Artists PR photo printed up as a postcard, the 20-page colour booklet and the CD itself in a slip cover. Most of the photos liberally adorning this material were taken by JÃ¶rgen Angel (with some live snaps from Doug Anderson), and the entire package is nice enough to give it the *feel* of a legitimate release, unlike the majority of pirated / bootleggy CD's that have done so much to tarnish Hawkwind's name. Will this be any better?
The CD opens with an upward swirl of cacophony that resolves after a minute or so into You Shouldnâ €™t Do That. The sound quality is decent and acceptable, but not high fidelity by any means: it retains some muddiness despite the remastering and is further compromised by what sounds like boomy venue acoustics and a few momentary signal dropouts. The audio quality is about where the Greasy Truckers album was before it too was freshened up for reissue. The song itself is arranged similarly to other contemporary live recordings of YSDT (think sub-Roadhawks) but is yet more primitive, with a bludgeoning aural assault. Every instrument plays in unison for the most part, though Lemmy does do his little wander off mid-number, before returning to the headbanging lockstep that came of the telepathic understanding he shared with Dave Brock. Whose turn it then is to mix it up a bit, crunching down on the wah pedal in combination with double-time muted chording.
Which in one or two spots, is not all that far. Earth Calling sees the band apparently accompanied by a drunk who'd climbed on stage and managed to get hold of a microphone...¦but it's just another effect, and the lowest budget of them all. (Silly voices? Really?) Then there's a desultory minute or so of aimless cosmic tootling before Silver Machine livens things up. Perhaps for the first time ever, the musical quality of it gleams like a lost ring glimpsed in the mud. The boogie rifferama is a step up from the ensemble clubbing of other tracks, given Brock's alternation of 6th and 7th chords (you know, that Status Quo thing) with Lemmy just thrumming along on the root note, always simple but laden with a bootful of low-end swagger. The vocals are Calvert's and not half bad - where his insouciant delivery plumbed the ridiculous on the Greasy Truckers remaster, here he musters enough conviction to not sound out of place.
Silver Machine ends somewhat abruptly and an overwrought Welcome to the Future is deployed. The band had not yet developed this into the ascending chromatic finale that so excellently concluded the Space Ritual Alive album (and which, in my mind's ear I always want / expect to hear mutating into the version of Born to Go that kickstarts that album.) I nearly get my wish here, with Born to Go following on from Welcome to the Future, but there's a lot of audience applause separating them and Born to Go in any case opens with over three minutes of instruments being tuned. (See, they did do that.) Once they get going...¦it's again very similar to the Greasy Truckers version (which after all was also recorded live, a mere nineteen days after this occasion). And not a patch on the Space Ritual Alive version, which really sums up the problem with putting out live Hawkwind albums from this period.
Nothing is going to top what they've already done, and to be fair I don't think the record company that's issued this release are expecting to conquer the world with it. It's been put out because thereâ€™s an unquenchable demand from the hardcore fanbase for this kind of thing. Anyone who collects Hawkwind audience recordings (this sounds about as good as a reasonably superior instance of such a thing) will want and enjoy this CD. It's probably not going to find its way onto the shelves of whatever wretched emporia still sell CDs on UK high streets these days, so the likelihood of casual buyers hearing this as their first exposure to Hawkwind is low. But if they did, it might not win many converts (unlike Space Ritual Alive) but nor would it spawn Yuri-Gagarin levels of repulsion. And if you have to choose, Greasy Truckers edges ahead of this album. Too late to cancel my order now, though :-/ 7/10.