Quark Strangeness & Charm, Atomhenge reissue CD review
By now the template for these brilliantly conceived reissues of the back catalogue is becoming familiar.  Iâ
€™m comparing this very directly with the "Hawklords: 25 Years On" CD that Atomhenge reissued a couple
of months ago.  Once again we are presented with a vintage Hawkwind album (and Quark is in the top 3 of
their entire ouvre for my money) that is expanded to a 2CD format, with extra previously unreleased tracks
and deluxe packaging, inclusive of a full-colour 24 page booklet.  And...¦I'm terribly sorry...¦I've just come!

Like the Hawklords reissue, the whole thing is encased in a cardboard jacket (scanned above), but this one
does not quite slavishly reproduce the original album cover art.  The front is mostly the same (slightly
different placement of the title text) but the back zooms in on a part of the original image and overlays the
album details (tracklisting etc) on it, rather creatively, resulting in a pleasing piece of graphic design.  (Well I
like this sort of thing, anyway.)  Initially I was disappointed not to see the insouciant figure of the napping
technician, who you may remember as being constructed out of an empty lab coat draped on a chair, with a
book or manual covering the place where his face would be: a brilliant visual joke straight out of Bob
Calvert's fund of bitingly witty observations concerning science and technology.  Wrong album, but "it's the
time of the tiny creep / who pulls the levers as he falls asleep".  But not to worry, he (the technician) is to be
found on the back cover of the booklet inside the jewel case, which offers a simulacrum of the original
album art

Inside the booklet, once again a good chunk of it presents copious sleeve notes newly written by Atomhenge
supremo Mark Powell.  They come after a reproduction of the original sleeve notes handwritten by Dave
Brock and a set of credits for the album which is not as comprehensively detailed as on some of the earlier
Atomhenge reissues.  But such is the quality of their product, we can be sure that it will only be because the
source data is not to hand.  The remainder of the booklet reproduces the lyrics from the original vinyl
album's inner sleeve (typewritten onto graph paper, as they were) and the contents of the 1977 Quark tour
programme.  So there are many familiar photos scattered throughout, and included are the images of the six
colour 35mm slides that came with German copies of the original release.  It is not widely known but these
images were taken by Big Dave Williams (RIP) and some of his other photos are on my site at
Gallery 418: Atomhenge 20/9/76

It is probably because I keep getting distracted by these asides, but the original Quark album on CD1 seems
to rush past (I think it only lasts about 40 minutes) and the only thing to say is how good the sound quality
is.  As with the Hawklords CD and the other reissues, the 24-bit digital remastering brings out the depth and
musical punch of the recordings, which scream "70's analogue!" at you.  Is it at the expense of a little bit of
top end?  I'm not yet sure about that, and would need to listen to this on a few different systems to know if
it really is missing a few treble frequencies.  Either way, what this remastering brings out is that they didn't
*need* to swagger, there is just so much power in this material and in the overall sound that Hawkwind had
at the time.

But never mind the original album, I already have it (four times over, now...¦) and I'm here for the extra
tracks.  They start off on CD1, immediately after the original album has concluded, with a "live studio
version" of Damnation Alley, recorded at Rockfield Studios on 14th January 1977 according to the credits in
the booklet.  It very much sounds to me like Paul Rudolph is playing the bass on this, and since I think he
left the band in January 1977, this may be his last hurrah with Hawkwind.  There is certainly a slightly
pedestrian quality to it, and as he got fired for playing the bass sitting down (see the
Brock / Calvert
Interview, 1977) this could be the smoking gun.  Bob Calvert's vocal is also slightly below par.  The
arrangement is fairly similar to the final version, but Simon House's superb middle section is rather leadenly
executed and features a Brock solo rather than violin.  There's an almost ambient section towards the end
with Time-For-Sale type chunterings on the bass and some ineffectual Latin-accented handclaps.  Overall,
you can see why they kept going on this number, in search of the definitive version.

Next up is "A minor Jam session", again from Rockfield but laid down on 28/1/1977.  Er, this is well titled,
though it's quite interesting to listen to, being based around a two-chord guitar riff that has similarities with
Honky Dorky, though that guitar sound is bit rough, like a pair of trousers that are out at the arse. Lots of
heavy, swirling keyboard sounds and flanging or chorus on the bass.give this a soupy tone, and after
gracefully falling apart, it comes charging back like a souped-up Earth Calling.  Then Mr.House goes all Rick
Wakeman on the keyboards before the fade.  Lack of a compelling musical hook is what keeps this in the
minor leagues.

Then we have Spirit Of The Age (Demo excerpt) and this too is interesting.  It strikes more of the slightly
ambient / jazzy notes hinted at on the previous two tracks.  The sound is dominated by slightly naff disco
runs on the bass and smooth washes of organ that almost overpower the mix, guitar being limited to a few
lead motifs.  It's all over fairly quickly and then CD1 closes out with Hash Cake Cut, which is already well
known under the briefer title Hash Cake.

CD2 opens with another Damnation Alley, this one subtitled "(First studio version)".  It has the urgency
missing from the live studio version, though perhaps is a shade lacking in aggression.  Once again the House
middle section is in an embryonic, violinless stage of development - though Brock's melodic, wandering solo
isn't half bad.  Calvert's vocal delivery is closer to the finished article though his anti-radiation tomb only has
six wheels in this early prototype.  It also fades out unconvincingly in a way that suggests the band haven't
quite finished writing the song.

Spirit Of The Age (Full extended version) is, by contrast, entirely convincing, with the tremolo-effect guitar
dominating the mix.  It starts without the long faded-in back of fuzzy sound effects, and the bass and
keyboards punctuate the chord changes as the song gets off the ground.  Brock's backing vocals outdo
Calvert's slightly strangled lead vox, though he seems to find his groove in what here was the second verse
but later became the first.  Here and on the succeeding chorus the band are really motoring, and so it
continues.  The warmer and more fluid bass playing suggests that Adrian Shaw has taken over the role and
as this version progresses it sounds almost exactly like the final result, but is if anything, more exciting with
the heavier mix.  There is not any lack of keyboard texture, it can all be heard perfectly, but this is all about
the rhythm guitar.  (Even if it fades out on a raft of lead guitar.)  This is the best yet of the previously
unreleased tracks on this CD.

But it isn't the most original.  That honour probably goes to The Days Of The Underground (First version)
which is a startling alternate to the more familiar arrangement, in that it is developed around an excellent
acoustic rhythm guitar.  The vocals are a little over-histrionic, but this could have worked so well on the
finished album, fitting in like The Only Ones did on Hawklords: 25 Years On.  Excellent.

The next track is titled Quark Strangeness & Charm / Uncle Sam's On Mars, and the first part of it is pretty
close to the finished version - slightly faster and with a more brittle sound, but the bass parts and guitar solo
sound identical.  Perhaps it was just remixed and mastered differently, and where the final version faded out,
this drops down to a subdued pulse before Mr. Brock starts doing his fusion of lead and rhythm guitar.  
(Like the stuff Pete Townsend did in The Who, this is achieved by throwing rapid chord changes in
unexpected shapes and places.)  Again, Bob Calvert's lyrics and vocal delivery have some distance to evolve
yet, and the overall arrangement isn't very fluid, with stuttering drums and hyperthyroidal bass thrumming
away monotonally.  This one still had a way to go.

An extended, mellow Fable Of A Failed Race has a brittle opening passage lacking any bass guitar, but then
layers on much more of the vocal backing as Mr. Shaw makes his appearance.  Once it gets up and running,
this sounds very similar to the final version which could be no more than a remix / edit of this.  The guitar
solo comes in straight after the last vocal lines, but is utterly familiar and could just have been faded in on
the final mix - though it then goes somewhere we've not heard before so I can't be sure either way.  I have
rather more certainty as regards Damnation Alley (Alternate harmony vocal version) where I can't hear the
difference at all: definitely a subversion for the Codex.

The album completes with three live recordings from September-October 1977.  They are Spirit of The Age
(previously heard on Weird 102, a marvellous version full of punky energy), Robot (as on Weird 103, also
brimming with vitality) and High Rise (Weird 103).   But these are just making up the numbers, really - the
real interest in this reissue comes from the run of previously unreleased tracks that comprise the end of CD1
and the beginning and middle of CD2.  Yes, they're mostly snapshots, but they capture stages in the
evolution of some of Hawkwind's strongest studio material.  Sometimes the arrangements came together at
once, and other numbers took longer to develop into final form.   These ten recordings also portray a crucial
change in personnel with Paul Rudolph being replaced by a far more accomplished bassist, Adrian Shaw.  
It's fair comment to say that it takes Adrian's contribution to really make most of these numbers come alive.  
I for one didn't really comprehend the extent to which Quark Strangeness & Charm was conceived while
Rudolph was still in the band, and so Atomhenge have taught us something new as well as brought another
excellent reissue back to the market.  I think they ought to be dragged onstage to receive the acclamation of
the faithful sometime this summer!
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