|Music from the Hawkwind family tree - Part 3
Many thanks to Graham who penned this piece - which is the third installment in the series...!
The definitive Inner City Unit album, mixing punk,
folk, reggae, jazz, rock'n'roll, satire, politics and pure
comedy: the Bonzo Dog Band re-invented as a punk
band against the background of Maggie's Tory
government. This bursts with energy, invention and
humour. They were never as good again. The line up
is Nik Turner (wind, vocals), Trev Thoms (guitar,
vocals), Dead Fred (bass, vocals) and Dino Ferrari
(drums, vocals) plus various guests.
The first track, "Bones of Elvis", builds slowly, with
almost 30 seconds of near silence before a military
drumbeat and bugle call (on cornet) leads us into Nik's
wonderfully tasteless rap about what really happened
to Elvis and the American dream, wedded to a terrace
chant chorus and call-and-response repetition of the
title phrase: E - everlasting, L - life, V -via, I - induced,
S -suspended animation. Classic! "Man of Steel" mixes
a chopped guitar riff, jazz saxophone and another wonderful lyric but doesn't quite scale the heights of the
opening track. "Beer, Baccy and Benidorm" takes us off for a cheapo holiday on the Costa del Sol, with
another terrace chant chorus. The music fades out into Bonzo-ish dialogue before the chorus comes back at
the end. "Virgin Love" ups the tempo - more rock'n'roll and less humour, with Captain Sensible guesting on
guitar, Nik on sax and (at a guess) Trev Thoms taking the lead vocal.
Next up is the second truly fabulous track, "Two Worlds". A great reggae beat and another far out Turner
lyric ("in my world teleology rules ...¦ in my world rock'n'roll-ology rules, okay"). The band now shows its
dance band credentials with a suitably lively take on "In The Mood (Nude)". This is mainly instrumental with
the sax taking the lead although some dialogue is buried deep in the mix.
The first track on the original side 2, "Epitaph to the Hippies" is another heavier track (written by Thoms)
with prominent sax. I don't know what its about ("we're going to the same place, drive the same car in the
same race") but it's good. "Sid's Song" kicks off with a minor key reggae riff. Credited to (Dead Fred)
Reeves this is in fact a traditional folk song re-tooled in the ICU mould. A flute solo emphasises the
melancholy feel of the track and the high standards are maintained.
"Night Life" has a stomping beat, dumb lyric ("conversation's not my style") and again a terrace chant
chorus but doesn't match the levity of some of the earlier tracks. "Remember Walking in the Sand" is
another light-hearted revival, complete with "girlie" backing vocals conjuring up visions of the Shangri-Las
and an instrumental break with "amusing" dialogue in the background. â€œSkinheads in Leningrad" is as
subtle as it sounds, with raucous guitars and yobbish vocals ("oi!"). A short Turner rap and an instrumental
break lighten the mood briefly before the skinheads return in force. "Metal" is another un-subtle track, with a
turgid metal arrangement and Turner ranting about something or other over the top. A slightly weak ending
to a first rate album.
The original album appeared on Avatar Records (AALP5004) in 1981 and it was "re-issued" on CDR by
Trev Thoms as REAL CD 004 (see the Real Festival Music website).
Some of the best: Inner City Unit - The Maximum Effect
The main interest here is Bob Calvert's guest
appearance and the obvious starting point is the track
"Steppenwolf", which features Bob's singing and
lyrics - recognisable as lines which would later
appear on the classic Hawkwind track, but apparently
sung in random order, completely destroying any
narrative structure - and you will wait in vain for any
crunching rhythm guitar riff or any sense of menace.
On the original LP, the title track stretched across the
whole of side 1 and included a short passage called â
€œMessengers of Morpheus", which featured Bob
Calvert's vocals. This is programmed as a separate
track on the CD. Bob recites a semi-comprehensible
lyric over some unpleasant sound effects. Imagine
something pitched half-way between "Sonic Attack"
and "Several Species Of Small Furry Animals
Gathered Together In A Cave And Grooving With A
Worth A Listen: Inner City Unit - New Anatomy
After departing from Hawkwind for the second time,
Nik Turner reformed ICU to produce this 1984
album. Dead Fred was still on board but Steve Pond
replaced Trev Thoms on guitars, Dave Anderson
stepped in on bass and a drum machine completed
the rhythm section. All the right ingredients seemed
to be present and correct: the rock'n'roll, jazz and
folk influences, and some outlandish lyrics. However,
the record lacks the wit and invention of previous
albums and definitely has none of their energy. As
admitted on www.innercityunit.com, it is â€œnot the
best album in the world".
There are a few highlights. "Beyond the Stars"
introduces some typical "comedy sci-fi" lyrics
("virgins on Venus, masochists on Mars...¦"). "Help
Sharks" is the most dynamic track and perhaps
closest to the classic ICU sound. "Lonesome Train" is
also quite lively and both "Forbidden Planet" and "Stop the City" remind us that ICU had something to say.
The last two audio tracks are mainly instrumental and may just send you to sleep - but you will certainly be
woken up by the final track, which is a Spectrum (computer) programme!
Approach With Caution: Adrian Wagner - Distances Between Us
Pict"! The CD also includes a previously unreleased single, no less, on which Bob Calvert sang: "Stranger in
a Strange Land" is not unpleasant but is unlikely to have bothered chart compilers.
The other track that has a bit of energy is "Amazon Woman", which comes across as a neat pastiche of the
politically incorrect Joe Tex song "Ain't Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman)".
I can't in all honesty claim that I like much of the music on this album but it is of unquestionable historical
interest. Part of the problem is the lack of a rhythm track on some of the tunes and, in defence of Mr
Wagner, he explains in the CD booklet that "in their stupidity, Atlantic had me remove the original
percussion". He also explains that the CD reissue is partly to commemorate Robert Calvert's death, and 10%
of the profits go to Nicholas Calvert. This album was originally released in 1974 on Atlantic. I bought the
CD reissue (MS 112) directly from Adrian Wagner (it can be ordered on-line) and it came with a free
sampler of music from his other albums.