|Music from the Hawkwind family tree - Part 14
Thanks to Graham for these reviews
This is Simon House's second album under the "Spiral Realms" banner, released
in 1995. He wrote all the material and plays most of it, accompanied by Len Del
Rio. The album starts promisingly enough with one of his excellent
effects-laden (i.e. spacey) violin pieces and it ends well with a couple of
stately, slow tunes, also dominated by the violin. In between though, the
keyboards and synth-led tracks are generally nondescript and veer dangerously
close to supermarket and elevator music territory.
"Cysergy" kicks things off impressively and "Rush Hour Betelgeuse 5"
maintains the ambient space rock mood, if slackening off the intensity slightly. From here though, things
go downhill. "View From Ganymede" drops the pace a bit further. Repetitive synth sequences and
over-sweet melody lines dominate the sound and the push the feel a bit too far towards muzak for my
"Sands of Mars" is even more laid back, with gentle washes of synth and ethereal violin: the overall effect
is soporific and it goes on way too long. "SF67" kicks off at the same funereal pace but the insistent
synth-bass at least imparts a sense of urgency. There is some spacey violin, but fairly deep in the mix most
of the time, along with plenty of sound effects. By the time the title track comes along, frankly it is all
starting to sound the same. Familiar melody motifs, some synthetic percussion, a few sound effects, some
slightly different textures on the synths, and very little sense of forward motion whatsoever. "Solar Wind"
has some nice slow passages, but generally fails to lift the feeling of deja vu hanging over the album.
"Parsecs" is better again, with a stately pace but a less cluttered mix, and a pleasantly melancholy melody
on the violin. "Ice Raiders Of Charon" is another slow and tasteful tune and a good ending to a partially
successful album. This was released on Cleopatra Hypnotic (CLEO9610-2) in 1995.
Worth A Listen: Spiral Realms - Crystal Jungles of Eos
This is Spiral Realms in a live setting on the Turner Space Ritual tour of 1995,
with the central axis of House and Del Rio augmented by Del Dettmar on
wood axe. While some of the studio material actually works better in the live
setting, the set sags badly mid-way through and never really recovers,
finishing as it does with an appalling version of the Floyd's "Interstellar
The opening "Cysergy" lacks the intensity of its studio counterpart (on
"Crystal Jungles of Eos") but the live sound is excellent, with the violin
carrying the melody. The over-sweet cocktail of sounds that spoils some of the studio recordings is
happily avoided. "Lunar Sea" originally appeared on Turner's "Prophets of Time" and maintains the mood
nicely. "1000 Years Under Solar Sails" was one of the less successful tracks on "A Trip To G9" but it is
atmospheric, if slow, in a live setting. "Tritium", also from the first album, works well enough live,
although this is a rather perfunctory reading.
"Solar Wind" lacked cohesion as a studio track and it drags here too; 8½ minutes seems to last 20 minutes!
The following "Del Dettmar Improvisation" proves conclusively that Del should stick to his wood axe. At
least, presumably it is his keyboard playing on the first half of this track; it is hard to imagine the other two
players getting quite as lost in front of a keyboard.
"The Forge Of Vulcan" at least brings us back to familiar territory although, stretched out to almost 7
minutes, it overstays its welcome. The set closes with "Interstellar Overdrive", an ill-advised cover version
if ever there was one. Where the Floyd original is intense and dynamic this is utterly flaccid and really
pointless. Imagine, take the original Floyd track, and strip off Syd Barrett's guitar. Now take away the
drums, and the bass. Play the opening riff a couple of times on keyboards, then add more synths and some
violin and keep going for 9 minutes. It really, really, doesn't work. Not quite as bad as Pinkwind doing
Hendrix, but close.
This was released on Cleopatra Hypnotic (CLP 9764-2) in 1996.
|Approach with caution: Spiral Realms - Solar Wind
Simon House did just one album with the Third Ear Band, the soundtrack
to Polanski's film of Macbeth, released in 1972. It was re-released on CD
by BGO (BGO CD 61) in 1990.
Over some light acoustic percussion, the strings and wind instruments
whine and squawk in what sounds like an extended tune-up session and it
goes on. And on. Okay, I'd be the first to admit that "Orgone
Accumulator" is not high art (whatever that is) but, mostly, these
folk-jazz-avant garde-medieval noodlings are really not to my taste. As the
backdrop to gothic images of doom and destruction (this is Macbeth,
sure it's great. To be fair, "Macbeth's Return", "At The Well", "Groom's Dance" and "Bair Baiting" are not
unpleasant tunes and "Fleance" is a decent folk ballad. Too much of the rest is just painful though. In any
case, this album tells you little or nothing about Simon House's musical development and certainly has
nothing to do with Hawkwind.
|Approach with caution: Third Ear Band - Music from Macbeth
Worth A Listen: Tubilah Dog - In Search of Plaice
Dating from 1998, this CD bears a well-known name
but the Hawkwind connections are probably limited
to the historical. Once upon a time Jerry Richards
had been a member of the band, but when this was
made was on board the mothership. Nonetheless the
Dogs were always within the overall ambit of
psychedelic space rock, and had supplied a slim
majority of the personnel in Hawkdog and the Agents
of Chaos - bands in which Dave Brock spent much
of 1988-89 playing the free festival circuit.
Watching (while the revolution dies) is surprisingly
clean, featuring the clarity of a pulsing bass,
occasional blasts of crunch guitar and poppy
keyboards. The Irish sea shanty feeling is somewhat
reminiscent of the Pogues on the chorus but the
vocals sound like Jackie Leven of the much-maligned Doll By Doll.
Inside the Circle opens with some synthier moments: warm and resonant, but they have nothing to do with
the main part of the track which is a mellow guitar-based piece, almost countryish though the vocals are
more soulful than that. The songwriting thus far is very good, carving out distinctive numbers along very
traditional lines. I almost want to draw a Van Morrison comparison here.
Wyrd Romance also opens with spacey synths, and then goes into grungier territory with a subterranean
guitar / bass / drums workout, envelope-shifted lead guitar and layers of textural, spacey synth. This lopes
along nicely, with that bass again propelling the song - it's much more what I was expecting Tubilah Dog
to be, knowing their background and the track they did on one of the Hawkwind, Friends & Relations
albums. The coda is tense, anxious and sexual, culminating in an orgiastic blur of freakish guitar. Splendid!
Flowers In The Forest starts with some distant foreboding keyboards before pulling more of the celtic
influences out of the hat. This sounds like some sort of duet of generically ethnic stringed instruments,
with a nice undertone of menacing fuzzed guitar to stop it from becoming too safe and cosy.
Flat, Broke and Busted is yet another rootsy piece, with most of the ballast coming from acoustic guitars,
though there is again a sustained droning lead instrument which I can't identify (but it says here
"Northumbrian pipes"...¦). The folksy vocals suit this kind of arrangement perfectly, which never goes into
any kind of cliche because the individual tonality of the instruments and their placement in the mix is not
normal. Right at the end the acoustic guitars invoke echoes of 'You Know You're Only Dreaming', and
given the title of this album, perhaps ISOS was an influence. If so it's mostly well disguised!
Friends, with its understated vocals, prefigures the sort of thing Coldplay have been doing for the last
couple of years. But another unusual arrangement stops that comparison dead in its tracks: a throbbing
bass pedal is offset against distorted guitars low in the mix, alternated with reverberating crystalline
keyboard arpeggios. The vocals again get quite soulful on the chorus, and some "orchestral hit" type
samples punctuate all this quite effectively. I've made it sound like a dog's dinner but really, it works very
well and is utterly original without being at all strange!
Domitius - more dark, sweeping synth chords and some quavering mad lead guitar (?) make for a
drawn-out, unsettling intro. A sepulchral bell and widely-spaced bass drum beats insinuate themselves into
proceedings...¦then the vocals come in, suggestive of a Gregorian chant, as an entire layer of synth is
withdrawn at the exact same moment. Rather an odd transition, that. And it gets odder, with some dark,
grinding guitar welling up at about five and a half minutes...¦almost a Sabbath-type riff, where the timing is
off-kilter, giving the whole thing a psych / prog / gothic vibe.
O.W.V. is the last track, and initially the most Hawkwind-ish with a wash of keyboard over a tentative,
pulsing rhythm. But then some oddly-shaped squawking guitar chords and menacing semi-whispered
vocals reassert the originality of this whole album. The bridge and chorus vocals are almost proggish and
this makes me think of the Cardiacs (not a band I know very well) in terms of intent rather than sound,
Overall, a very interesting album. There's a definite progression from the traditional moves in the opening
tracks to a darker, twisted theme. It never totally rocks out, but isn't that kind of album anyway. I
suspect this one's a grower.
...and this brief review of the same album is by regular contributor Graham:
Unapologetically lightweight and not offering much for a space rock fan to get his/her teeth into, it is
nevertheless pleasant enough and probably ideal as low-key Sunday afternoon festival fare.
"Watching (While The Revolution Dies)" is an upbeat and drily humorous opener. The following "Inside the
Circle" is a sweet, relaxed - virtually comatose - ballad. A churning riff introduces "Wyrd Romance" but
the guitar is mixed a long way back behind clattering synthetic sounding drums and the languid vocals,
rather blunting its impact. "Flowers In The Forest" is a dreamy instrumental. "Flat, Broke And Busted" is
another sleepy ballad. "Friends" is somewhat more engaging with various extra instrumental colours and
another heavy riff buried a bit too deep in the mix. "Domitus" returns to coma-inducing mode, with
monastic chants over a negligible backing track. Halfway through though, a ponderous riff kicks in,
producing a strange and not entirely satisfactory hybrid. "OWV" again starts out in sleep mode, and again is
kick-started by the guitar riff, morphing into possibly the best song on the album, with alternating quite and
loud bits. Nine minutes comes and goes effortlessly.