|Music from the Hawkwind family tree - Part 10
This piece was written by...me...again...
This band was basically a collaboration between
Jerry Richards and Richard Chadwick, with Steves
Hayes and Taylor, Ron Tree guesting on vocals, and
a couple of others participating also. (I'd like to
mention Sophie the Turtle Woman, who wrote some
of the lyrics, because of her great name.) This CD
was released in 2002, I think.
The Everlasting Blim cuts in with hard rock guitar
riffing, wandering almost into Aerosmith territory in
a couple of places: but the arrangement isn't as
gonzo as most metal bands would employ. Ambient
keyboards and vocal samples serve to differentiate
this from anything mainstream, and when the guitar
backs off, there's a pretty mellow track behind it.
But overall this is a good, pacey opener which sets
out Star Nation's stall well, if not being altogether
representative of what is to follow..
Hey! That's My Blanket maintains the rock credentials in a more laidback style, bringing more in the way
of keyboards to the fore, alongside the guitar. With the more spacious arrangement, Richard's drums also
get a better hearing. As a song, this one meanders a bit. The unfocussed quality continues into Is This
Your Tent?, which features snatches of various monologues over a bass drum beat and some distant
keyboard chords. Finally this kicks into a sexy little shuffling loop with some funked-out lead guitar, a
reprise of one of themes from the opening track, a brief rap and then a hoarse vocal refrain from Richard
of "Why wait?" The lyrics are printed in the accompanying booklet, and they're rather good - some social
comment to be had.
The next number, Snarl is brewed from the same ingredients, namely distorted guitar, mellow keyboards,
odd samples and a taste for dancey drum parts. To these are added a smooth sax, before the song seems
to peter out in a miasma of unrelated samples. Just then the original riff comes back in with some of
Richard's homegrown vocals. His voice may not be the strongest, but it sits well in Star Nation's unusual
sound, which is basically a fusion of several unlikely elements.
Star Rats is lyrically the most interesting song on the album as I think it's a commentary on Hawkwind:
"The things they used to do which everybody liked they don't do no more. Some moved for change whilst
others stayed the same, so they made new old things." I may be completely wrong about this of course.
Musically, this a slow, gentle ramble through something not totally removed from country music, but with
reverberating synths and violined guitar instead of cheesey cowboy motifs.
Chrononaut cranks the pace back up with another characteristic spacey fusion of dance music and hard
rock, which is what I think Star Nation are, basically. The vocal melody line is reminiscent of the
Glorious Om Riff, found on any number of Gong albums. A staccato midsection features more sampled
talking, where I can't make out what's being said, partly because I don't want to try: these work well as
just another instrument, and they're also just a little too low in the mix to be particularly accessible. Some
soaring lead guitar then accompanies vocal parts that are generally in the same area as a lot of 90's
Invisible Girl is one of those songs that seems to take a long time to get going. What seems to be an intro
merely continues with the vocals (the best sung yet) overlaid on this rather stop-start riff. Once the vocals
fall away, more guitar and some aggressive synth voices come in, making this the closest that Star Nation
get to actual space rock. However, their propensity for mellow moves epitomises this band as much as
the dance/hard rock fusion does, and even here it's present in the sax, and in the essentially chilled rhythm.
The Silver Age is the last track and Richard's punk origins come to the fore with some raspier vocals
which contend with hyperactive, slashing rhythm guitar. However there is a middle section which is
basically techno - not as out of place as that might sound, since the band manage the integration of wildly
varying elements very well. The final section of the song illustrates this nicely with grinding guitar riffs
accompanying the rave rhythm, before it all ends in a warped synth loop.
Overall a successful album, and a unique one: Star Nation sound like nobody else. However there is one
thing that bothers me about the CD and that is the tonal range it occupies. It's not so much that it's
narrow, but more that some frequencies seems to be missing altogether - no really low lows or high
highs. One consequence of this is that it sounds somewhat samey all the way through, as though each
track was recorded one after the other, with no changes being made to the equalization on any of the
instruments. This is subjective and I do listen to this album fairly often, as it happens, so it obviously can't
bother me all that much!
Some of the best: Star Nation - The Silver Age
Some of the best: Starfield - Return To Earth
Starring sometime Hawkwind guest Keith Kniveton,
in his alter-ego guise as Captain Bl@ck, Starfield is a
partnership between Keith and Danny Faulkner.
Between them they cover the entire panoply of
instruments, and this album isn't just a vehicle for
Keith's skillful EMS synth playing. See the Keith
Kniveton Q&A page for some background detail
and information on how to purchase this album.
Opening number The Starfields sets the tone for the
entire CD with some classic space rock moves -
drifting curtains of synth heralding a riffing rhythm
guitar, fluid bass runs, esoteric effects, and
everything based around a single, simple riff. That
might sound like a recipe for Hawkwind wannabes,
but actually it doesn't sound like Hawkwind, as
Starfield carve out a distinctive sound from the off.
It's a sound in which layers of classic early 70's
synth ride over a darksome drum-bass-guitar rhythm section, but are perfectly placed in the mix. The
clarity of the recording is awe-inspiring.
Energise starts out with these same elements, including some very Brockish guitar stylings, and a rhythmic
reminder of Opa Loka. But the vocals are quite un-Hawkwindlike, and the guitar chord progressions on the
bridge are also off into some other territory. The vocals here were brought to mind when listening to the
new Litmus CD the other evening (an uncanny resemblance, which was really what prompted me to get
this CD out and include it in this "Music from the Hawkwind family tree" series). They are somewhat
unmusical without being shouty, and actually become quite tuneful with repetitive calls of "energise"
towards the end of the track. I guess there is not a whole lot of tonal range in Danny's voice, but he covers
the ground more than adequately - it just seems that your classic rock song is not what suits his vocal
Forest of Dreams is a brief sexual throb overlaid with cosmic twitterings. These merge into In The Trees,
with an uptempo jungle beat and excellent panned / phased keyboards reminiscent of bits of Pink Floyd's
"On The Run". The distant, wordless vocals are heavily reverb'd and show the production talents of Keith
and Danny. This track evokes the feeling of free-falling down a bottomless hole, but then broadens out for
the last couple of minutes with some absolutely majestic synth chords.
River of the Sun is heralded by thunder, then expansive spacey synth and echoing vocals which suit
Danny's voice much better than the more conventional Energise. Keith's synths loop slowly and powerfully
with just the perfect degree of reverberation. This never collapses into a boomy mess due to the superb
Return To Earth being the title track, one might expect it to be the standout, which it isn't. Another more
conventional number, with a cantering rhythm and stabbing guitar chords underpinning the vocals, it then
gives way to a middle section with a middle-eastern scale keyboard solo, which is pure mid-70's vintage.
Those guitar parts are really *very* Brock-influenced, but saved from being derivative by having a
distinctive, semi-distorted tone which lets the brash, middley and not overly-sustained character of the
instrument come through.
The best thing about this number is the cosmic synthy ending which merges seamlessly into Underwater
Caverns, a classy synth instrumental with distant guitar figures, washes of aquatic white noise, and an
almost dancey groove provided by the drum programming. This has the power of a Vangelis or Tomita
track, but is far more spacey than the two of them put together. It lasts for eight and a half minutes and I
wish it was longer.
Until, that is, the beautiful two-chord opening of Kingdom of Reality starts up. Having multiple echoed
synth voices sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it's brilliantly managed, and the lush quality of the voices
used, especially on those intermittent chords imbue this fairly brief number with a totally spaced-out
Spiritualise takes us back to a rockier place, with the strongest opening yet, kicking in with plaintive guitar
chords over celestial choral keyboards. A pulsing bass rhythm and incidental synth burbles are joined by
wah'd lead guitar. This could have been a superior cut on the Alien 4 album, but the main section of the
song is really pretty pedestrian compared with the intro, which reappears as a middle section. The closing
section features some tasteful washes of lead synth and the pulsing bass before mutating into...¦
...¦Do You Hear Voices? Which is the obligatory funny noises track, although it does manage to be quite
atmospheric in its brief existence. Then it's onto Telepathy, which is sub-Electric Tepee, with distant
vocals, pumping bass and lots of guitar chording. This is still good music, but doesn't scale the heights of
some other tracks earlier in the album. Best bit; a sawtooth keyboard or guitar part which almost sounds
like Simon House in a particularly vengeful mood taking it out on his violin.
Starfield are a middling-to-good rock band, but a *great* synth group: some of the synthesizer here is the
best I've heard anywhere. I haven't heard anything from this band in a long while and hope they're still a
going concern. A second album was due (sort of) earlier this year and will hopefully appear one day. They
also did a strangely shaped CD single called Insomniac, which featured Richard Chadwick on drums and
was quite different to the album, more like something Porcupine Tree would have put out. A beautiful,
plaintive ballad in other words, with spacey overtones - in this case, a reverb-laden guitar solo takes the
spotlight instead of Keith's synths. Compared to the album it's very atypical, but perhaps represents a side
of Starfield that we've yet to hear in depth.
Response from Captain Bl@ck:
"You f***ing cloth-eared twat..." Just kidding, this is what he really said:
"Ruler Of The Sun was originally an acoustic guitar number, in fact you can still just hear the guitar
breaking through on the vocal mic right at the start. And so was Kingdom of Reality, which I cut up with an
old Casio sampler. Incidently, the 'sawtooth buzz' you (and others!) mention on Telepathy is a guitar
through an ARP 2600 Synth. One or two of the numbers were done almost entirely on 4-track cassette (In
The Trees) then copied onto 16 track tape."
He then went on to provide the following detailed comments on each track:
The Starfields: This was just me, towards the end of recording the album, with a Jupiter 6 pattern and some
basic guitar and bass riffs. Surprisingly, a lot of people like this one.
Energise: Dan's lyrics and riff, originally done as a demo on 4-track cassette, completely re-recorded on 16
track and extended with my middle section. When Dan heard the final mix, he said "I never knew we had so
much power". The first song we worked on together, actually.
Forest Of Dreams: Just me and an EMS Synthi, with the sequencer controlling the filter rather than the
In The Trees: Dan starting programming this tribal pattern and said "Trust me, this'll work". He was right.
The samples are from the Amazon rain forest. The end section was me with a vocoder, reciting a poem
based on Last Of The Mohicans.
Ruler Of The Sun: One of Dan's old acoustic numbers, chopped up and layered with some JD800 and
arabic calls to prayer.
Return To Earth: The drum pattern came from a jam we had as a four-piece at Wadebridge Town Hall. Dan
wrote the first two verses, I wrote the third. The middle section is done on a Jupiter 6 and an OSCar.
Underwater Caverns: I'd bought this drum machine at the time which had all these techno and jungle
patterns in it, and I thought it would be interesting to link it up to the synths...the only track on the album to
be mixed on headphones.
Kingdom Of Reality: I wrote a poem which Dan recited, and which we both hated when we heard the
playback. So I chopped it up, sampled the acoustic guitar and stuck bits of it back together, then fed the
whole thing through the EMS.
Spiritualise: Another one that's just me, again based on a Jupiter 6 pattern. I like the dynamics in this. A
friend of mine said it reminded him of Flight Of the Navigator, another one said it sounded like U2.
Do You Hear Voices?: I saw this Outer Limits programme about a deaf girl who could hear voices in her
head. Lots of Wavestation here.
Telepathy: To me, the best track on the album, at least the one I'm most proud of. I remember spending
ages getting the guitars right on this. Every mix I did sounded totally different, there's so much going on,
but I was pleased with the end result. Dan's first attempt at harmonising with himself, and I think he did a
good job, actually.
Underwater Caverns Revisited: On the limited edition version of the platter was this bonus track. Actually
nothing like Underwater Caverns, this was done in 5/4 time with a 4/4 sequence overlaying it, so you get
these points in time where things meet up every 20 bars, then it changes again. Dan's riffing, my synths.
Very powerful, I thought.
Insomniac: Starfield's prog rock opus? Dan wrote this song about someone we all know. Lots of people
heard the demo and liked it, so we did it again with Dillon on lead guitar, who impressed us immediately.
Richard came down and played drums and did an amazing job. I dropped the wall-of-synths in favour of
some mellotron, which gives it a classy edge, I think.
Graham's taken a look at this, too...
Somewhere out there the spirit of Hawkwind persists - and a good deal of it finds its way into this album
by a collective of Hawks, ex-Hawks and Hawk-guests. Richard Chadwick and Jerry Richards are joined by
Steve Hayes (synth) and Steve Taylor (bass), plus guest vocals from Ron Tree. I know Steve Starfarer has
already written a review of this one but this is my take on it.
"The Everlasting Blim" gets things off to an excellent start. It opens with heavy riffing and a really dense
sound a la U2 before Richard's laid-back vocals float in over the top. There are also some spoken word
(rapped) vocals further down in the mix. "Hey That's My Blanket" is slower and more relaxed, almost a
ballad but with heavy, spacey, backing. In fact, the instrumentation and feel are pure space rock - a bit
reminiscent of, say, "Space Is Deep" on Space Ritual. An outstanding start to the album.
"Is This Your Tent?" unfortunately dissipates the momentum and is more of a sound collage than a song,
complete with spoken word ramblings by assorted festival goers. Around 4½ minutes in, it actually turns
into a song but continues to switch bewilderingly between heavy rock, rap, dreamy ballad, and further
spoken word passages for another four minutes. "Snarl" is slightly a more conventional track: it starts out
with some taut riffing and prominent percussion before Richard's vocals come in. Then everything but
percussion and bass drops out for some tasteful guitar soloing followed by a relaxed and jazzy mid-section
featuring sax (by Alex Hart). Then it's back to the riffing and more of Richard's vocals. Not bad.
"Star Rats" is a pleasantly melancholy ballad, with tasteful guitar and synth textures. "Chrononaut" is a
complete contrast, with a pulsing rhythm, heavy riffing and chanted vocals interspersed with some lighter
spoken passages. The lyrics have a suitably sci-fi orientation. In fact this sounds like classic Hawkwind -
"Invisible Girl" features a wonderfully whimsical lyric mixing the mundane with the fantastic. Richard's
delivery and the understated instrumentation are spot on too. The title track starts out as something akin to
the mothership's "Death Trap", and I'd guess that's Ron Tree on lead vocals adding to the authentic
Hawkwind feel, although this is the thrashy Hawkwind of Distant Horizons rather than the classic model.
The "comedic" spoken word samples are a bit irritating too, but again though there is a slower, more
relaxed, mid-section before the heavy riffing comes back.
Overall this is a richly textured and original album. The frequent references to dance and ambient music
could have resulted in something like Psychedelic Warriors or IITBOTFTBD. This album scores more
highly because it relies less on repetitive sequences, has a more organic and relaxed feel, and above all is
packed full of ideas (even if some sound rather familiar). I'd almost go so far as to say that this is the most
musically interesting current grouping of Hawk persons, certainly in terms of producing new music. Full
marks too for the "pop-up" artwork in the CD booklet! Silver Age was a private pressing issued in 2002.
Worth your attention and your money.
Cheers, Graham...now your humble webmaster resumes...