|Music from the Hawkwind family tree - Part 16
Thanks to Graham for these reviews
A nicely played and nicely produced CDR of the
alternative Hawkwind. The overall feel is organic
and relaxed, with a set of familiar songs taken at a
fairly leisurely pace. The sleeve notes offer a bit of
self-mythologizing and Dave Anderson finally gets
his writer's credit on 'Master Of The Universe'.
Just one inevitable gripe: there is nothing new here.
The only unfamiliar title ('Cosmic Chant') is basically
a jam with Nik Turner doing the "Ghost Dance"
vocals. Yes, as the sleeve notes tell us, Nik "wrote
seminal underground Hawkwind anthems 'Master Of
The Universe", "Brainstorm' and 'D-Rider'...¦" and all
are present and correct here, along with â
€œWatching The Grass Grow", the token Calvert
track ('Ejection') and the inevitable 'Sonic Attack'
and 'Silver Machine'. Only the inclusion of 'Born To
Go' is even mildly surprising. This is a fine piece of
nostalgia and, furthermore, the band have evolved a distinctive sound - something akin to the original
Space Ritual era Hawkwind but with a lead guitarist. It is a million times better than "2001 A Space
Odyssey Live" and better than the live offerings of almost all of the pick-up bands Nik Turner has recorded
with over the years. Space Ritual have, on this evidence, finely honed their performances to a satisfying
degree and should be well worth catching live. (How about a trip north of the border for a change?)
As is the case with the mothership though, the absence of new studio material in the marketplace makes it
hard to think of them as anything more than a nostalgia act. With the continued non-appearance of Brock
and Co's TMTYL (perhaps doomed to go the way of the Earth Ritual, Death Generator, or Mars projects),
and no sign of Space Ritual's studio opus, it looks like both bands are doomed to grind out a few years
more twilight existence touring third rate venues before finally retiring. Please prove me wrong!
Worth A Listen: Space Ritual - Live at the Venusian Electric Ballroom
The link with Hawkwind is pretty tenuous here:
both featured artists have performed alongside Nik
Turner outside Hawkwind and Ron Tree puts in a
guest appearance on two songs.
Trev Thoms has contributed to some of the worst
Hawkwind-related releases of recent years (Bajina
for example). He also appeared on some of the best,
including Inner City Unit's magnum opus The
Maximum Effect as well as producing some good
but low key solo material. This live album places the
emphasis on the latter, with live acoustic
performances of several songs from the God and
Man set. Jackie Windmill proves to have an
excellent voice and sings lead on some of her own
songs as well as providing backing vocals on Judge
There are some mis-steps: the opening 'Wey Hey Hey O Weya' does what it says on the tin and no more,
with Jackie chanting to the accompaniment of a didgeridoo. 'Raj Neesh' is the token ICU track and sounds
out of place. Jackie Windmill's poetry reading is also not a high point. Otherwise, it's all very relaxed,
pleasant and folky until Ron Tree appears and treats us to some tuneless ranting. 'Negative Positive' might
have worked in the 1997 era punk-thrash version of Hawkwind but is rubbish as an acoustic number.
'Number One' is only marginally better. Trev then rescues proceedings with the closing sea shanty 'Battle'.
Despite the two tracks here (and the entire Bajina project), Ron and Trev are capable of excellent joint
performances - if the samples on the MOAB website are anything to go by. Sadly, Live at Glastonbury
would be improved by excising Ron's appearance. The CDR is available direct from Real Festival Music
|Worth A Listen: Judge Trev and Jackie Windmill - Live at Glastonbury
|Worth A Listen: Robert Calvert - Hype
Featuring an all-star cast of Simon House, Michael
Moorcock, Nik Turner, Trev Thoms, Pete Pavli
and erstwhile Bethnal members George Csapo, Pete
Dowling and Nick Michaels, Bob Calvert released
this album in 1982 to accompany his novel of the
same name. It was subtitled "The Songs of Tom
Mahler" - who was the hero of the book, a rock
star cynically exploited by his record company.
This comes across as rather a scrappy way to put
an album together, and it's as far from space rock
as you can get: Over My Head is a case in point,
comprising as it does a sparse, 60's bubblegum vibe
with a clanging guitar and chiming keyboards.
Ambitious continues in the same vein, though for
the first time I can hear why Calvert's vocals used
to be compared to those of Bryan Ferry. In fact
this could almost be an early Roxy Music number,
with the quavering keyboard and mannered vocals.
However it's more minimalistic than anything Roxy were doing, and the 50's / 60's chord progression (it's
almost doo-wop without the vocal arrangements) is quite different to their 70's decadence.
It's The Same leavens these elements with a more direct, new-wave influenced vocal, but by now has
established the overall *initial* direction of the album, with the 60's pop overtones and Ferryish vocal style.
However, the following track (Hanging Out On The Seafront) pulls a foreboding element into this mix,
with dark, staccato verses which aren't completely lightened by the slightly chirpier chorus. This one ends
strongly with vamped violins and restrained seagulling synths swelling with subtle menace.
Sensitive features (semi-) distorted guitars for the first time, but once again there's so much space left in
the mix that this seems to just emphasise the starkness of the arrangements. The actual recording quality is
excellent throughout, though, making clear that the minimalism is by design and not on account of tight
recording budgets. Nik gets a blast of his own right at the end, and it's nicely produced, being fat and
bright. Whereas the following track, Evil Rock is anything but. It's an old-fashioned number which even in
1982 might have sounded somewhat geriatric. Nik Turner's greasy sax solo is probably the best thing about
it, but there is a real Calvert pedigree to this song, which sits easily alongside other of his musical
compositions like The Right Stuff or Only The Dead Dreams Of The Cold War Kid. Neither of those had a
honky-tonk piano, like this does, though.
We Like To Be Frightened - ooh, some synthesizer, and a song with a bit of bounce to it too. Like many
of Calvert's solo songs, musically it's unexceptional, having a fairly unremarkable chord progression. The
real skill, as ever, is in the lyrics, and although this particular song doesn't have any message, there are
some trademark clever rhyming couplets like "With a dangerous dental arrangement / Count Dracula
showed us what 'strange' meant".
Teen Ballad Of Deano returns to the archetypal pop moves and even throws a nod lyrically to the
Shangri-La's (Leader Of The Pack, anyone?). The prevalence of these influences on this album, along with
the seeming autobiographical element of some of the lyrics (Margate is evoked in "Hanging Out On The
Seafront") suggest Calvert was going back to his roots for some of this material. But the album does not
just dwell on the early 60's, but smoothly conjoins this to what was then an up-to-the-minute vibe: Flight
105 is more contemporary synth-pop, though much darker than the Casio-inspired rubbish that was
troubling the charts in 1982. There's a touch of Weimar-style cabaret in the world-weariness of the vocals,
though oddly, the effect is once again to recall the Roxy Music comparison - this might be "A Song For
Europe"'s minimalistic little brother.
The Luminous Green Glow Of The Dials Of The Dashboard (At Night) continues with the then-current
sound of electronic drums and crystalline synth. This one is more in the vein of Ultravox as they were
before Midge Ure joined them. It has a more European feel than the earlier tracks on this album, and there's
a real progression at work, with Greenfly And The Rose working this groove a little deeper, into a real piece
of early 80's electro-pop, which is then fully expressed on Lord Of The Hornets, in terms of the electronic
instrumentation. The vocals have that Ferryesque quaver to them, and this is perhaps the only song on the
album that has any echo of Bob's 1970's work to it. Overall, "Hype" seems almost like a determined attempt
to exorcise that era and the shade of Hawkwind, so studiously does it strive to avoid space rock, both
lyrically and musically. Whether or not this was conscious I don't know, but musically this album connects
the 60's to the 80's without going through the 70's, and shows a side of Bob Calvert that is largely not
discernible from his work with Hawkwind. It's not his best work but it is worth a listen.
This CDR (POA27CD - The Life Central Force) is mostly
instrumental, in the ambient / trance mode. The first seven
tracks are all relatively short and pleasantly melodic. The
first is called "Paradox" and, with its use of synths and
sequencers, is a dead-ringer for mid-1970s Tangerine
Dream, as is track 4 ("Rise Into The Sky") and, actually,
most of the other tracks too. Only the slightly more modern
electronic percussion gives away the recent origin of the
material. Track 8 features some gentle organ textures
and somebody explaining repeatedly that "Peace is a state of
being" - which is either relaxing or rather irritating
depending on your own state of being at the time.
The Hawkwind connection is that Nik Turner recites some
|Approach With Caution: T30 Control - Blade Of The Sun
words during the closing "Sunphazer Suite". Stretched out over 22 minutes, this builds gradually and
promisingly for five minutes, with sequencer tracks coming in and increasing in intensity. Unfortunately it
then slows right down again and Mr Turner enters at just past the 7-minute mark to recite the "Blade
Chant", accompanied by various spacey sounds effects - a bit reminiscent of the spoken tracks on
WOTEOT but lacking their intensity and aggression. Almost half-way through now and the track consists
of nothing but a few random effects. Just as you want to reach for the "stop" button, the synths and
sequencers finally come back in and the earlier pattern is repeated: five minutes of promising material
before it runs out of inspiration and energy again. Turner briefly reappears near the end.
This is probably of interest only to fans of Tangerine Dream and to Hawkwind completists. It is available
from C&D Compact Disc Services.
|One Of The Best: Adrian Shaw - String Theory
Mirrors opens with a sludgefest of dark distorted
guitars, sounding detuned - a great way to
introduce the hallmark Shaw sound without the
murky implications of some of the production
techniques on his previous albums. There's also a
little skirl of Brian May-esque lead guitar squalls,
and Shaw's own ensemble'd vocals, which like the
unison guitar / bass, tend to dwell in the lower
register. Some tasteful greasily traditional keyboard
parts round this out to make a pretty perfect Adrian
Shaw track, i.e. three-minutes of dark psychedelic
Thirty Two relies on some warped organ sounds,
laden with hefty swoops of portamento on the
verses, to underpin Adrian's measured vocal
phrasing. This is leavened on the chorus parts by
acoustic guitar arpeggios and nimble bass runs - which oddly, are something one rarely hears on Ade's
recent work. The vocal line is no more upbeat than on the verses, but the entire mood is lifted by the
change of arrangement. This continues into the tasteful guitar solo (by Paul Simmons) which has a touch
of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" about it, but lasts six times as long, fading the song out on the eight
Another Shaw trademark is the sudden juxtaposition of musical styles, and here the countryish Do It
Again does it, er, again. It's more country rock than true country and western: the lyrics thankfully avoid
the "git-yore-tongue-outta-mah-mouth-cuz-ah'm-kissin'-you-goodbye" paradigm :-) This is one of the
briefest numbers here but is quite beautiful, with another ensemble vocal arrangement that reminds me of
'Rhododendron Mile' on Ade's "Look Out" album - it's the melodies he picks out (they're very difficult to
sing) as well as the harmonisation that makes this stuff unique. Next we go into more orchestral psych
territory with Cotham Hill -think of the classical instrumentation that George Martin used to deploy on
the Beatles' latter-day records- though this I am sure was played on a keyboard rather than by stuffing a
fifteen-strong tuxedo'd string section into a cramped studio somewhere in Walthamstow. This song really
consists of no more than these vamped arrangements and another deft vocal line, replete with unexpected
melodic twists and turns that Shaw has made into one of his defining motifs. But it needs nothing else,
being yet another understated masterpiece.
Bide My Time eases us back into more claustrophobic confines, again with some dark bubbling keyboard
parts offsetting wild flights of wah'd lead guitar: they pretty much take turns in the limelight. The vocal
parts are more pedestrian, and keep the song anchored to reality. And unlike some of the earlier work in
Ade's solo career, there is plenty of space left in the arrangement, so that the whole thing never feels
soupy. He has also now mastered the art of arranging slower numbers so that they don't drag, as
evidenced on Lost For Words, a generally unremarkable number in the context of this album: but as with
everything else here, listen carefully, and you have a clever little oddity on your hands, which never does
quite what it ought to...
It's almost a relief to say that I don't like Stirrup Cup much, but it's also a pity since this departs from the
highly standardised production of the rest of the CD, placing reverb-shrouded multitrack vocals high in
the mix and dead-centre. Often, individual layers of these numbers appear to be biased towards left or
right, but I think it's a clever psychological effect, achieved I know not how. Purely subjective on my
part - I'm just none too taken with the song itself. Oak and Brass, the succeeding number, also does not
float my boat particularly, being a coupling of piano and vocal which for my money only begins to get
interesting when the strings and woodwind voices start to blend in. Unusually, the vocals falter a bit here,
Non-Stop Dancing ups the weirdness quotient with looping keyboard parts which quickly usher in some
distorted rhythm guitars and phased-shifted vocals. This song inhabits some kind of weird interior
universe with no connection to the outside world, and so doesn't obey any of the normal rules of rock
songs, rather splendidly. Bari Watts contributes another suitably unhinged, meandering guitar solo which
perfectly complements the vibe. But there's an utterly different vibe on the next song, which is also the
last cut on the album: Saving Grace pulses along with tabla and sitar overlaid with vocal samples and
interspersed with mad subvocalized interludes...¦a nightmare from the Indian restaurant at the end of the
universe, which suddenly metamorphoses at 3:21 into a tasty psych/rock song, as close as Mr. Shaw gets
to conventional - which is really not very close. This squelches along very satisfyingly for a while, but
just keeps going and going until you realise it's turned into a major psychedelic opus, clocking in at over
18 minutes! Interest is sustained by the constant evolution of lead guitar parts, which are provided by no
less honourable a roster than Bari Watts, John Perry (ex-Only Ones) Ade's son Aaron and Nick Saloman
(Bevis Frond). A very smart move to interchange and rotate all these guitarists, since even the most
prodigiously talented individual would likely start to pall over this timeframe.
In conclusion, it seems that with each album he releases, Adrian Shaw hones his songwriting and
production skills yet further, with the result that each effort is simpler, and yet better than the previous
one: progressive in the finest sense of the term (though I night quibble about the relative merits of
"Displaced Person" surpassing those of its' successor "Look Out"). This stuff is never going to take the
top 40 by storm, but what this artist is doing is searching for his own particular Holy Grail and getting
closer all the time. One day he'll find it and *that* will be an album to hear, as is this. Excellent.