|Nik Turner's Space Ritual 1994 video review
6th October 2004
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|1994 was the year that Nik Turner put together a band with reasonably strong Hawkwind credentials, and rock-solid Space Rock ones, to tour the USA. Consisting of Nik himself, plus Del Dettmar and Alan Powell, the ex-Hawks were joined by Helios Creed on lead guitar and Pressurehed members Len Del Rio (synth), Tommy Grenas (guitar), Paul Fox (bass) and Paul Della Felle (drums). Oh, and Genesis P-Orridge guested too. I’d been aware that a live album had come out of this, but didn’t know until recently that Cleopatra Records had put out a video of it in 1995.
The reason I’m writing this, of course, is that I’ve got hold of a copy of the video, and a very Hawkwindish affair it is too. Recorded at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on February 15th 1994, the tracklist is: Ejection, D-Rider, Master Of The Universe, The Awakening, The Right Stuff, Armour for Everyday, Nirbasion Annasion (a Helios Creed number), You Shouldn’t Do That, Orgone Accumulator and Silver Machine.
Ejection opens with a taped segment from the Captain Lockheed album, same as on the ‘Out & Intake’ album, before this surprisingly clean-cut band cuts into the track proper. Although I had initial misgivings based on the slightly amateurish graphics right at the start of the tape, the audio and picture quality are both excellent – obviously professionally
|done. The sound of the band is much more incisive than the mid-70’s Hawkwind that the tracklist suggests they’re emulating – the guitar of Helios Creed has a biting, 90’s quality to it but doesn’t completely overshadow everything else that’s going on, with some tasteful analogue synth sounds complementing this touch of modernity. Nik is in hippy nightmare mode, shaven head and goggles, as you see him on Photo Gallery 123 – The Turner Exhibition.
Del Dettmar is also well to the fore, visually if not audibly. Being clean-shaven at the time he is much less gnomic, and makes much ado with his pickaxe-handle-turned-theremin. Although I can’t actually pick this out of the overall sound when the band are pumping, some crystalline quavering tones at the end of Nik’s excellent sax solo may well be provided by Del. Helios Creed also throws down a very good guitar solo, fluid and melodic despite the notes-per-secondometer reaching up towards the red. Fittingly, the crowd cheer rousingly at the end of the number.
D-Rider opens with plenty of washes of synth, more of what must be Del’s theremin, some palm-muted rhythm guitar, tasteful flute from Nik, and a decent facsimile of Lemmy’s old bass run from Paul Fox. Thus far it’s all somewhat staccato, and even when Nik’s treated vocals begin it still sounds like an intro, until the magnificent chorus. Which doesn’t quite have the majesty of the original with its brain-damaging heavy phasing, but the band sound forceful and dynamic, without the soupiness that Hawkwind have sometimes produced in a live setting..
The visuals, however, aren’t in the same league, despite a curvaceous dancer called Stacey (not Stacia) and decent stage lighting – so the video itself tries to make up for this by lacing D-Rider with special effects, which I personally always find annoying. Much better to have the special effects happening on the stage, as part of a lightshow – or if this *is* the lightshow, I’d rather see it behind the band than superimposed on them. But there’s always the strange spectacle of Nik Turner to look at – on this track he’s donned his skateboarder’s helmet, but so far has not been all that energetic. I suppose if you’re taking on the lead vocals and playing sax and flute, you can’t throw yourself around all that much, and actually this is a blessing…compared to his performance with Hawkwind on the 1984 Solstice at Stonehenge DVD, here he’s a model of restraint, with the looniness confined to hand gestures
Master Of The Universe doesn’t quite work as well as it might musically, due to the guitarist (Creed, I think) not quite getting the rhythm right, or putting his own spin on it, anyway. The cheap special effects are now running rampant, with what looks like a packet of gold stars from WH Smith falling across the screen. These even obscure the yellow greasepainted visage of the drummer, who’d entertainingly looked as if he was concealing his face behind the skull of a dead monkey. The song itself is pretty undifferentiated, basically turning into an overlong formless thrash - but at least it’s paced nicely, being fast enough to make it listenable if unenthralling.
The Awakening is narrated by Nik in a bizarre acid-drenched version of the old BBC Test Card. He’s portrayed in a circular section in the center of the screen while multicoloured flashes and bars of light corsucate around him. Nik does this quite well, managing to restrain the temptation to go in for one of his funny voices – and then it’s straight into The Right Stuff, which begins brilliantly with a swooping synth voice or theremin, reminiscent of the original Space Rituals of DikMik and his audio generator. (I think it's Del doing this, and the interesting thing is that he's recreating not his own musical past, but his erstwhile colleague's.) The rhythm section turn in another faultlessly solid underpinning, and other members of the band get to take a turn at the vocals during Nik’s sax soloing, and even in alternation with Nik himself. This shows that the band had rehearsed hard, or at least had honed their act by the time the tour had reached San Francisco – either way, they’re notably very, very tight, which hasn’t always been the case with some of Nik’s long-distance collaborations (understandably).
Genesis P-Orridge, looking like a Poll Tax Rioter, reads Armour for Everyday from a lyric sheet within another rendition of the BBC Test Card on acid. Behind him the musical backing is limited to some spooky sweeps, presumably from Del Dettmar, but Genesis’s vocals don’t live up to the rest of the ensemble. He sounds like one of the narrators on Play School, at once overly happy and terribly condescending. “My armour protects me!” And now, let’s see what’s happening through the round window! True, he does start to shout and roar more effectively towards the end, but by now this has gone on too long. Helios Creed’s Nirbasion Annasion is up next and at first this continues the mood of these pieces being an interlude in the performance rather than part of it. He opens with some pleasantly tripped-out distorted lead guitar which has a fleeting Ozrics flavour: this subsides as the rest of the band come in and render an eastern-tinged space-rock workout, with flute from Nik being as good as Helios’s vocals are bad. I suppose he’s allowed to do what he wants on his own song, and this number is very Hawkwind-sounding indeed – could have slotted in on Electric Tepee quite well.
You Shouldn’t Do That starts off awash in those special effects again, and consist of the 2 guitarists setting up the riff to be joined by the bass and drums (another brilliant stroke here with Dave Anderson’s original bassline being used) and then the synth & theremin. They’ve gone for the feel of the ‘In Search Of Space’ version of this number on the verses, but with the more thrusting, powerful sound of this band, the three-chord interlude that serves as a wordless chorus throws a nod in the direction of the blanga rendition first heard on the Roadhawks album. The welter of screen effects is I guess meant to convey the hypnotic quality of this number, but the only service they do as far as I’m concerned is to conceal Del Dettmar’s rather embarrassing hand movements on the long neck of his theremin. Which reminds me, there’s been no sign of Alan Powell as yet – I think he must have been a guest on this tour, or maybe only at one or two gigs on it, rather than a fully integrated member of the band.
You Shouldn’t Do That peters out into a chaotic breakdown and the band barely pause before launching into a rocking version of Orgone Accumulator. They live up to their name as Nik Turner’s Space Ritual all right, playing an arrangement that’s a supercharged 90’s version but faithful to the original. The only downside is that the video decides to do another special effect, and shows the band in a narrow horizontal strip across the screen with tedious multicoloured blobs happening above and below it. Helios Creed plays the best lead guitar I’ve heard applied to this particular number. In fact, his lead playing is better here than I’ve heard on his own albums or with Chrome. (He was in Chrome, wasn’t he?)
Silver Machine rounds out proceedings and unfortunately Nik lets his instincts break surface, inserting a long first verse of new lyrics about himself! A shame as Tommy Grenas is showing off his ability to put out a sympathetic nod to Dave Brock’s guitar playing, really the first time he’s stood out. It fades out behind the closing credits, but then there’s an extra bit of something, uncredited and tacked onto the end of the tape. This looks like it might be from a different gig, as the lighting is more subdued, and Nik appears to be singing from inside a sack – all this silly stuff just makes him look talentless, and I really wish he wouldn’t do it. The song is not something I recognize but chunders along on a two-chord riff for a few minutes before Nik emerges to play some more tasteful flute – and it ends there. This really is the end.
Overall this is a much, much stronger performance than expected and shows how good Nik can be when he plays it straight. Having a shit-hot, tightly rehearsed band behind him is a huge part of this, and I’d recommend this video to anyone and everyone. Cleopatra, what about a DVD reissue of it?