Music from the Hawkwind family tree - Part 28

Thanks to Graham for these reviews - except where noted otherwise, of course
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The interest to Hawkfans here is the participation of Steve Swindells (lead vocals, keyboards) and Jerry Richards (guitar, vocals) alongside Jon Moss of Culture Club fame and Winston Blisset. Although the personnel is virtually the same as for Jerry´s Earthlab project this is a whole different kettle of fish.
The band website http://www.danmingo.com offers a confrontational introduction: “A hippy, a jew, a black and a gay; this bunch of old f**kers will blow you away!”. In terms of quality, no argument: this is an album of mature, reflective and finely constructed singer-songwriter/pop/adult-oriented rock songs. There is no space rock in evidence - possibly the closest they come is the heavy(ish) pysch of “Now Voyager”, and Jerry´s guitar work on the otherwise poppy “My Secret Buddha”.

While Jerry´s guitar work is excellent throughout, undoubtedly the key to this band´s sound is Steve Swindells´ lived-in and expressive voice. Thirty years on, he is clearly no longer the angry young man of the “Fresh Blood” l.p. (home of the original “Shot Down in the Night” and well worth tracking down on vinyl) but he still has a lot to say, the lyrical themes sometimes harking back to the sleazy low life tales on “Fresh Blood”

Aside from the tracks already mentioned, standouts include “Oh My God”, “Walking On Water” and “Angel”, the latter a celebratory ballad propelled by Jerry´s chiming guitars which deserves to be a hit single. “Me, Me, Me” and “You´re Strange” are both pretty sprightly and at the rockier end of the band´s musical spectrum. “Fifteen Seconds” is middleweight funk on which Jerry gets to stretch out a bit and Steve effortlessly gets away with some cheesy spoken word passages. “Watching The Lights” and “I Don´T Believe It” are both classy ballads.

If you can stomach song titles like “Men Don´t Cry” and sometimes risqué lyrics (e.g. “push, push, in the bush” – alright, maybe that´s totally innocent), and appreciate well-crafted music, that spans various pop and rock styles without sounding remotely like Hawkwind, you might just find this fine album is to your taste. The 22 songs together span almost 2 hours, probably too much for one sitting but worth repeated revisits.

This set is available only as a download (my copy came from iSOUND.com). No less than 10 of the 22 tracks are free downloads but don´t miss out on buying the whole album
One of the best: DanMingo – Leap of Faith–The Prequel
Worth A Listen: Steve Swindells – Demos for the Departed
Another download-only album, this is a bit more of a mixed bag. As the title suggests, many of these tracks are demos, although some are fully developed and a few feature full band arrangements. Steve´s voice and piano form the backbone. The style varies from AOR to soft pop songs which, 30 years ago, would have made single of the week on David Hamilton´s Radio 2 show.
There are some real clunkers (e.g. “B4 It’s Begun”, “My Pocket Guru”) but also some really good songs, like the top notch ballads “We Dance Alone” and “Barcelona”.

This album passed the girlfriend test (“it´s nice”) which is unusual for a Hawkwind-related release, so you have been warned!
Just about worth a listen (* ½ ) : Spirits Burning – Alien Injection
The cast of thousands involved in this dog´s dinner manages to produce something that is overall much less than the sum of its parts but which contain some moments of real interest for Hawkfans. What a cast it is too: joining Don Falcone and Daevid Allen, they include Bridget Wishart, Adrian Shaw, Captain Black, Steve Taylor, Pete Pavli, , Roger Neville-Neil, Michael Moorcock and, er, Brian Tawn. Despite all this input, the CD isn´t up to the standards of “Earthborn” and I´ll take Bridget singing her shopping list (or whatever) any day over some of the other vocalists featured here.  Furthermore, all is not as it seems, as will become apparent.

“Alien Injection”, “New Religion” and “Alpha
Harmony” are all percussive, effects-laden exercises in tuneless noise. “Every Gun Plays Its Own Tune” though is a Moorcock-Pavli composition and features MM on vocals with Pavli on cello and violin. However, all the Moorcock tunes featured here have been adorned with “new material by the crew”, whether or not that might be remotely appropriate.  More to the point, having also listened to the newly released Moorcock demos CD I will wager that there is no new Moorcock work here, Spirits Burning have simply tarted up the old demos.  

“Logger´s Revenge” is vaguely atmospheric if overlong (9 minutes) but Brian Tawn´s fragmented spoken vocals are very evidently sampled from his narration on the Hawkfan 12 LP. Pointless or what?

“Augustus” starts life as a relatively pleasing ambient/proggy instrumental featuring Steve Taylor on bass and drums before a clodhopping middle section breaks the mood but heralds a more dramatic second half. With sax and flute carrying the melody the overall effect is very King Crimson. “Future Memories” takes us back to unwelcome noise, with some irritating shouting over the doomy bass and drums.

Now things get interesting again, with a version of “The Entropy Tango” by Moorcock and Pavli. Of course though it is just the demo with a set of new clothes on top. ”Another World” is a pretty tune with lyrics and vocals by Bridget. “The Hawk” ups the tempo nicely, propelled by Graham Clark´s violin and Jerry Jeter´s guitars. “Imported Serpents” is another instrumental, the sound dominated by Purjah on guitars. The inconsequential “Ingleborough” is Moorcock and Pavli again.  Roger Neville-Neil (“Heads” lyrics) wrote the fragmentary lyric of “Upturned Dolphin” and probably wishes he hadn´t. Bridget sings the hypnotic and folky “Salome”. This followed by the frankly dreadful Moorcock-Pavli dirge “Montfalcon” . The CD closes with the woozy pastoral acoustic reverie of “Heaven (Is One Quality Tree For The Road)”.

The CD appears on Black Widow Records (BWRCD 103-2).
Worth a listen, if only once (**) : Michael Moorcock & The Deep Fix – The Entropy Tango and Gloriana Demo Sessions
This CD was released on Noh Poetry Records (NP R008) in 2008, the executive producer being one Don Falcone, which may explain how some of these demos also wound up on the Spirits Burning CD.

It is what it says on the tin, two sets of unadorned demos. “The Entropy Tango” itself is a promising start to the first set and “Through The Megaflow” has a nice tune but the other six demos from this section are unmemorable and the sound is uniformly poor. There are then three bonus tracks, including another version of “Megaflow, and “The Tale Of The Entropy Tango”, which is the sequence of fragments lifted from Hawkfan 12, complete with Brian Tawn´s narration.
“Brief Intermission” is taking the piss, being 10 seconds of silence, and leads into the Gloriana demo sessions. This is mainly fragments, including several untitled instrumentals, and only “John Dee´s Song” (by far the longest piece at 10+ minutes) shows any signs of being a memorable composition.

Nevertheless, an interesting historical document.
Just about worth a listen (* ½ ) : Inner City Unit – The Fury of ICU
Twenty-plus years after the event, The Fury of ICU catches ICU Mk I (Nik, Trev, Fed, Dino) live. Certainly raucous, it all just sounds a bit strange now. ICU kick off with “Johnny B Goode”, just to show they aren’t Hawkwind, before running through “Sid’s Song”, “Epitaph to the Hippies”, “Space Invaders” and “Man of Steel”, three out of four being from The Maximum Effect which was presumably current at the time. They next tackle The Shadows on “The Savage” and (rather more successfully) Link Wray on “Good Lovin’”, on which Nik goes into full sax freakout mode.
Trev’s rather sullen announcement of “Master of the Universe” suggests that audience reaction hasn’t been all they hoped for and he gives the old HW chestnut a good bit of fretboard welly, propelling an extended heavy metal version a million miles away from the punky remake on Passout. Trev similarly cuts lose on a suitably clodhopping “Wild Thing” - and there you have it: a fabulous comedy/punk/space rock band that really wanted to play pub rock and heavy metal. Disappointing.
One of the best: Inner City Unit – The President’s Tapes
The Presidents Tapes was released as an LP on the Flicknife label back in 1985, in a rather fetching pink cover. The line-up is Turner, Dead Fred, Steve Pond and Mick Stupp. This has a generally heavier feel than previous albums and the ponderous 7-minute opener “Stonehenge Who Knows” suggests that ICU had morphed from a comedy punk band to purveyers of stoner rock. The mournful mood is underpinned by organ, fiddle and flute colourings and it is rather good, if atypical of ICU. However, things lighten up considerably after this and Nik remembers his sense of humour, to the extent that the album quite possibly eclipses “Maximum Effect” as the best of the ICU albums.
Indeed, the title track indicates that Nik’s sense of (black) humour is alive and well, and we can guess that this brilliantly concise commentary on the state of the world is not unrelated to intellectual giant Ronald Reagan winning a second term in the White House in 1985. “Newspeak” is less memorable, featuring a heavy rhythm track over which the band recites a series of contemporary acronyms and someone gets to do silly voices.

“Europaville” has Nik intoning his tongue-in-cheek anti-US lyrics over a martial stomp and if there’s a bit too much shouting and not enough music, some of the rhyming couplets are sublime (“all you freaks is gonna die / because Uncle Sam’s a really heavy guy...” and “he said I’m gonna shoot your horse / because Uncle Sam has really got the force”). “Fungus Among Us” is pure rock’n’roll silliness, rediscovering the lightness of touch that graced parts of the Mark 1 albums.

“ICU” is power punk with a singalong chorus, and is followed by the primal bad-trip weirdness of “World of LSD”. The ponderous pop metal instrumentation and bizarre chorus (“everything’s groovy”) of the following “Big Foot” distracts from the curious lyric, which is about someone (unidentified) whose head is disconnected from reality. Finally, “Zodiac” is basically a beefed-up surf instrumental, and a pretty good way to end the album.

Why isn’t this out on CD yet?
Worth A Listen: Inner City Unit – Live Salford ’85
[Note: the image to the left is of ICU's Salford 85 video, but I am not certain that the download which Graham reviews is the same as the bootleg soundtrack to that video...]

Dead Fred has a web page (www.deadfred.co.uk or www.doremi.co.uk) on which he used to have downloads of the entire ICU catalogue. However, first New Anatomy disappeared (the link now just takes you to the letter, threatening legal action, which led to their removal), then all the other studio albums, along with two singles and the Blood & Bone E.P. However, some goodies remain, specifically the Live in Salford ’85 set, a few 1980 live tracks, and four tracks labelled “Last Ever Demos” (the work of Dead Fred and Steve Pond).

Live Salford ’85 sees the Mk II band towards the end of its life, playing a set derived mainly from the Mk II releases (New Anatomy, Blood & Bone, President Tapes) although Nik’s stage announcements indicate that New Anatomy had only just been released. There are also a few first album songs, a Calvert tune and
a version of “Brainstorm”.  The sound is generally good, although with some distortion and feedback evident and (at least at the start) there is a tendency to bludgeon all the songs into submission. The set kicks off with heavy versions of “Watching the Grass Grow” and “Bucket Song”. “Space Invaders” similarly lacks subtlety. The coupling of “Lonesome Train” / “Solitary Astrid” suggests that the band can change pace if they have to, with the latter in particular working quite well (complete with a few bars of Mud’s “Tiger feet”) apart from some irritating sounds effects. “Ejection” is suitably energetic, “World of LSD” slightly less strange in its live incarnation.

“King Bee” is macho posturing set to a Neanderthal glam beat (the riff is akin to Blockbuster or Jean Genie) but Nick carries off the vocals with some aplomb and then takes his sax solo into a jam on The Doors’ “People Are Strange”.  “Forbidden Planet” is just a bit limp but “Fungus Among Us” (dedicated by Nik to consumers of fungi) manages an appropriate rock’n’roll feel. The band slows down again for “Little Black Egg”, which sounds directionless and formless. “Cybernetic Love” and “Help Sharks” raise the collective pulse again. The set closes with a rough and ready version of “Brainstorm” incorporating an uncredited “Ghost Dance”. This altogether a better memento of ICU than The Fury CD.

Aside from this set, five tracks survive on the Doremi website from a 1980 gig in London (“OB City Muse”, “Solitary Astrid”, “Polyetheline”, “Amyl Nitrate”, “Nuclear Waste”), all from the first album and all reasonably faithful to the album sound, complete with excursions into comedy voice-overs, reggae, and quotes from the theme tune of the Z Cars t.v. series (the latter both on the excellent “Amyl Nitrate”). Nik reminds us that “Solitary Ashtray” was written for German terrorist Astrid Proll, to help her defence fund although Nik says he doesn’t actually approve of blowing people up…

Previously available on the site were both sides of the first two singles Solitary Ashtray / So Try Asid and Paradise Beach / Amyl Nitrate. So Try Asid is a “dub” version of “Solitary Ashtray”, while the excellent “Paradise Beach” abuses Wagner in much the same way that the Ersatz album did, with Nik rapping over the top about radioactive babies, etc. Then there were “Raj Neesh (Bucket Song)” and “Human Beings”, the two ICU songs that got onto the Friends & Relations compilations. About the only thing to recommend the latter is that it comes in two different versions, “as released” (with chipmunk vocals) and the much slower and duller “correct speed” version.

Finally there are the “Last Ever Demos”, four tracks that are the work of Dead Fred and Steve Pond. Solid and tuneful rather than replete with anarchic humour, “Chicken Run”, “Me”, “Owsley’s World” and, especially,  “21st Hell” would all have sounded fine as ICU tracks
One of the best: Alan Davey – Eclectic Devils
Two years on from Human on the Outside, Alan Davey’s new project shows he has not run out of energy and inspiration but he has lightened up and, dare I say it, tentatively embraced the mainstream.

“Angel Down” is a predictably complex and epic opening number, with the gentle pastoral first section leading into a verse-chorus structure built around a percussive and uncompromising riff. The vocal melody is fairly pedestrian but the arrangement is superb, especially in the 2 ½ minute instrumental break, and the song gains immeasurably from liberal application of Simon House’s violin. In places it even feels like Warrior
era Hawkwind. Eight minutes passes rapidly by.

“Strung Out” is a slighter and sparser composition, morphing into lightweight pop from the middle onwards – there is a proper chorus with the vocals sweetened by addition of a female singer (Isobel from Bruise?). House’s violin keening away in the background just about reminds us of the Hawkwind connection. Nice light relief.

Spacey sound effects, heavy riffing and hoarse vocals are back for “Shadow Echo” although there is a rather sprightly Quo-like boogie section in the middle. “Too High” sounds like power pop, apart from Alan’s gruff singing and a serious lyrical theme (“you can’t fix the world if all you do is dope”). Isobel (?) sings the wistful, tasteful and rather excellent “Encounter”. “Waste of Time” starts with a plucked harp, suggesting a further retreat from familiar territory but the guitar and, especially, the violin work on this instrumental track soon restore order and again conjure up images of Warrior era Hawkwind.

“Alien Vein” is just sound effects and treated voices. Not good. “Waste of Space” is a short and reasonably lively instrumental piece again heavily reliant on the House violin. The title track broods: it is slow, understated and measured with only some of the lyrics (“you can do me”, etc) lacking any sense of gravitas. The pace picks up for the closing “Ya Know You Should”, a heavy song complete with a proper chorus.

This is a very good album indeed and light years ahead of his early stuff. Play this back to back with “The Final Call”, on which only “Stan’s Orbital Salvage” really stands up now as a composition,  and you can hear how Alan has moved beyond simple repetition and whooshing noises cranked up to 11 to much more sophisticated writing (although: Gunslinger!).
One of the best: Steve Swindells – Fresh Blood
It is almost 20 years since I bought this album on vinyl but its appearance on CD justifies another listen. Ian Abrahams already gave this a 4-star review in Record Collector and highlights the Springsteen comparison as well as the obvious Hawkwind connection (Lloyd-Langton and King on board).

Back in 1980 I knew nothing of Springsteen and cared less. I saw this (and still do to some extent) as a street smart and punky Billy Joel singing well-observed slice-of-life songs. I can also hear the pop of Steve’s former band Pilot in the arrangements (although mercifully without the handclaps that were apparently obligatory in
the mid-1970s). As much as anything I am reminded of the Tom Robinson Band - this is not just lazy stereotyping as there is something of TRB in the vocal delivery and aggressive musical settings. However, I’d also say there is a subtlety, soulfulness and humour here that TRB never managed.  It says a lot for the strength of Steve’s identity though that there is not a shred of Hawkwind influence in evidence, at least until the last song, his own version of the peerless “Shot Down In The Night” – and the obvious conclusion is that Steve Swindells brought far more to Hawkwind than he took from them.

The first three numbers (“Turn It On Turn It Off”, “Fresh Blood” and “I Feel Alive”) are upbeat and up-tempo. Track 4 though (“Low Life Joe”) is harder and darker while “Bitter and Twisted” is gleefully sleazy. The best is saved until the last though, firstly the superbly self-assured ballad “Down on Love Street”, and then two anti-authoritarian diatribes, the self-explanatory “Figures of Authority”, and of course the pumped up charge of “Shot Down In The Night”.
Worth A Listen: Tim Blake – Live Waterfalls in Space – Exeter 2006
Downloadable from Tim’s website, this seven track performance features Tim performing alongside blind pianist Jean-Phillipe Rykiel.

Don’t be fooled by the titles, there is nothing totally new here. “An African New-Age” is “Song for a New Age”, “Lasers in Your Heart” is “Lighthouse”, and “Yannis Glyttr” is “New Jerusalem”, all from the latter album. Then we have “Byzantium Dancing” and the title track from Tide of the Century. “That’s The Spirit” is the Hawkwind track of almost the same name, while “Moon Goddess” is a Gong track.
The performances are excellent and that bit more exciting than pure solo renditions of these (mostly) familiar pieces. There are also two lengthy rehearsal pieces from 1978 available, again with Jean-Phillipe Rykiel. “From Jupiter to Jerusalem” includes an excerpt from Tide of the Century’s “Crystal Island” while the second piece (“From Outta Space”) takes in “Lighthouse” and part of “New Jerusalem”.
Worth A Listen: Syren - Dehumanized
Finally, if only because it is programmed next on my i-Tunes, a plug for “Dehumanized” by Syren: strident and expressive vocals, choppy acoustic guitar, solid drumming, sinuous fretless bass high in the mix, and decent songs, especially the title track. They may have nothing to do with the sound of Hawkwind but they deserved their guest spot at the 2008 Hawkfest (and not just for their shameless marketing ploy)

[I rather liked their shameless marketing ploy, personally]