|Music from the Hawkwind family tree - Part 33
Thanks to Graham P. for these reviews - except where noted otherwise, of course.
Worth a Listen (**) : Nik Turner - Live At Deeply Vale
Free Festival 1978
Given that this is from the period when Nik Turner started
setting the Egyptian Book of the Dead to music, this
bootleg quality audience recording of Nik's set, released on
Ozit Records (OZITCD 0053) in 2000, has several things
going for it. Firstly, a large proportion is instrumental,
consisting of apparently semi-improvised jams around the
Xitintoday album themes. Secondly, when the vocals are
present, they tend to be quite low in the mix. Thirdly,
although much of the set is rather ponderous stoner jazz
rock, with little editing or restraint - nothing here is shorter
han 8 minutes long and "Thoth" stretches to 15 minutes -
it is never worse than inconsequential and at best pleasingly atmospheric and spacey. "Hall Of Double
Truth" actually builds up a decent momentum after a slow start and "God Rock" almost swings in
places. In general full marks to the lead guitarist(s) but Nik also pulls his weight on sax and flute.
The performance captured here at Deeply Dale in July 1978 was probably a good deal more digestible*
than the performance offered by Sphynx in June of that year at the 1978 Windsor Science Fiction
Festival. If memory serves me well (or at all) Nik and crew headlined this event in full Egyptian mummy
regalia (i.e. head to toe bandages) and proceeded to baffle a small audience who had just been
entertained by Intergalactic Cabaret (i.e. selections from the Rocky Horror Picture Show).
(* Go here for a visual record of Nik and co at Deeply Dale, not dressed in bandages)
Well Worth a Listen (**½ ): Hawklords, Friends and
This is generally a sterling compilation, well worth buying,
but ½ a mark is docked for including too many readily
available tracks and for some slightly dubious marketing by
"Digital Age" by Earthlab is already known from Element and
is a nifty enough opening track, sounding for all the world
like a space-rock Undertones. Ron Tree channels the spirit of
Feargal Sharkey: you can virtually sing "My Perfect Cousin"
to this backing track and it is all good fun.
"Fly Into Night" by the original Nigel Potter-fronted Gunslinger is a straight-ahead rocker. The vocals are
styled after Geddy Lee-like, and the overall effect is thus unsurprisingly like early Rush crossed with
Motorhead. This has been previously available, albeit only on a self-issued CDR (Alien Heart), through
the long-since defunct Bedouin website. The sound appears to have been polished up a bit but is still
"Robot" is given a thorough live working over by the Hawklords but this is the version already available
on the Herne Bay live CD. Ron Tree does a fairly good job on vocals and instrumentally it is, well, solid,
which I guess is the problem. This clodhopping arrangement just isn't a patch on the Calvert and
Brock-led original from PXR5. "Felice" sounds initially like something from the mid-80s Hawks, with
some Huw-like guitar over keening synth, but it is instead an atypical but very listenable performance by
The next two tracks are Steve Swindells compositions, firstly the previously released DanMingo track
"My Secret Buddah", presented here in a longer version than had been previously available as a download.
This is a superb energetic but melancholic pop rock track with Steve on soulful form. "Outlaw" is from
one his "lost" albums, post-dating Fresh Blood. Where Flesh Blood rocked out (with Huw LL and Simon
King), this is a bit more restrained, albeit with a rough and ready punky feel to it.
Now, the contentious track, Robert Calvert's "The Naked And Transparent Man". Frenchy's blurb says:
"the real jewel is the Unreleased Track from Bob Calvert: the man who wrote 'Silver Machine', who was
the spirit of the HAWKLORDS, and he still manages to amaze us all from beyond the grave. He was a
true genius, the kind of man you work with once in your lifetime if you are lucky". Okay, few hawk fans
are going to dispute the God-like genius of the much-missed front man, but is this a new Bob Calvert
track? Not only is this a reading from Centigrade 232, and available on the CD of the same name, it is a
poem that has already been set to music once, by Dave Brock as part of the Brock-Calvert project.
Possibly this is a different recording of Bob reading the same poem (at least the tape ambience is
different) and I would say that the new musical treatment is definitely more sympathetic, allowing the
words to be heard more clearly. A very nice artefact therefore, but a little bit of honesty in the marketing
department wouldn't go amiss.
"Make Believe It Real" by Spirits Burning is not one I'd come across and is predictably packed full of
ex-Hawks: Bridget Wishart, Harvey Bainbridge, Danny Thompson, Simon House and Paul Hayles (a
Sonic Assassin). Equally predictably, it is nothing much to write home about. Pleasant but undemanding,
mid-paced and vaguely folksy in a new age kind of way.
"Stream" shows that Harvey can do synth music that is both spacey and pleasingly melodic. A million
light years from Interstellar Chaos. Finally, two familiar Alan Davey-led tracks, "Vision Quest" by
Bedouin and "Angel Down". Both excellent but readily available elsewhere.
Now available from the usual sources (C&D Compact Disc Services, etc), on the newly revived
Flicknife label as SHARPCDA11051. Despite the comments above, this is a very welcome return and I
look forward to the unreleased Steve Swindells albums (and while we're talking about Steve's work, how
about a physical release for DanMingo and Demos For The Departed downloads?)
One of the Best : Huw Lloyd-Langton's LLG -
This is a startling and most welcome return to top
form and rude health. The brief and sometimes
shambling acoustic sets in support of the
mothership over the last few years (a consequence
of fragile health) are hopefully now a thing of the
past. On this album he is joined by bass player
Richard Gillespie, drummer Volder Von Hoff and,
on several tracks, keyboard/synth player Tim Rice
Williams, who sadly died shortly after the album's
completion. As usual, Marion Lloyd-Langtom
supplies many of the lyrics.
"Huw's Intro to Hard Graft (Part 1)" is a clear (and
clearly autobiographical) statement of purpose,
both lyrically and musically. Huw's evidently got
his guitar chops back in spades and, here, as on most of the album, his playing is all about texture and
feel, recalling the languid, creamy guitar sound from Night Air, but taking it to another level, brimming
with composure, confidence and inventiveness - he effectively solos continuously throughout these tracks
but doesn't waste a note. His singing, although world weary, is also relaxed, that of a man who has stared
into the abyss, come back and is content with his lot (although elsewhere on the album, the bleakness of
some of the lyrics suggests otherwise). The accompaniment is sympathetic: bass, drums and synth, the
latter particularly welcome as it provides the base from which Huw can take off on his flights of fancy.
"Hello Friend" has a similar feel, but without the synth parts, while "A Dream" again features the synth and
is just superb - making for an exceptionally strong opening trio of songs.
"PDT" should be familiar already, as it was available as a download ahead of the album. A mid-paced
rocker, with a deadly serious message about cancer treatment, it again features the basic three-piece.
Without the synth, Huw's playing carries the track and again, he is on top form. "Hey Mama" has a
relatively spare arrangement, featuring Huw on guitar and bass and one Reg Magale on drums. It is
pleasant but doesn't scale the heights of the preceding tracks.
"My Eyes See Only The Sea" features the full band and reprises the pastoral, reflective, ambience of the
first three tracks, while being perhaps less memorable. The three-piece band is featured again on "So
Long Too Long" and "Strange Flower", both instrumentally strong but with very bleak lyrics. The former
is however rather spoiled by the ill-advised superimposition of an incongruous rap by Mill Hill studio
engineer Philipe Ross. The album proper closes with "Hard Graft (Part 2)", which is a mainly
instrumental, not to say rather formless, jam, but resolves into a gentle acoustic closing section
(reminiscent of "Für Kirsty").
The remaining three tracks are billed as bonus blues tracks, all three being relaxed instrumentals: "So Long
Baby", "Slow Train Comin'" and "Cowboy Blues". Although in the blues idiom, all three are Huw's own
compositions. The first of these tracks dates back to the 1990s but the other two are new recordings,
"Slow Train...¦" being the pick of the bunch.
This CD is essential listening for any Hawkwind fan and was released by Allegro Music (i.e. the
Lloyd-Langton's own label) in 2010.
Worth a Listen : Amon Düül (UK) - Hawk Meets Penguin /
Meetings with Menmachines / Airs on a Shoestring
These three 1980s albums, along with Die Lösung and Fool Moon, have
been reissued on CD by Plastic Head. There are no bonus tracks but
there are detailed sleeve notes including a somewhat optimistic attempt
to portray these albums as part of the natural progression of the Amon
Düül story, along with rose-tinted track-by-track reviews of the
contents. Given that Amon Düül UK are related to Amon Düül II in
much the same way that Space Ritual are to Hawkwind, it might be
more realistic to see these as Dave Anderson solo albums. They feature
Amon Düül guitarist John Weinzierl with sometime Amon Düül bassist
Dave Anderson, backed by Guy Evans from VDGG on drums, Julie
Waring on vocals and various synth/keyboard players. To be fair, Hawk
Meets Penguin probably did set out to capture the Amon Düül II sound,
with mixed success, but the Wales-based collective then shifted to a
more song-based modus operandum, certainly valid and worth exploring
but arguably not much to do with the "real" Amon Düül.
To see where this all comes from it is worth going back to the first two
Amon Düül II albums, on which Dave Anderson played bass. On
Phallus Dei (which means exactly what you think it means), Amon Düül
established a penchant for atmospheric rock music, sometimes spacey
(early Pink Floyd is often a fair reference point) but with a tendency
towards formlessness and stretching ideas out way past breaking point.
Some of it is excellent, other parts sufficiently cacophonous to be
headache inducing: the title track falls into both categories over its
sprawling 20-minute span. The weakest link is almost always the vocals:
rarely sung, frequently spoken or shouted, and often very silly indeed,
replete with deranged whoops and laughing. OK, unlike Focus, they
don't actually yodel but sometimes they make Mark Smith of The Fall
sound like Frank Sinatra. Third song "Luzifers Ghilom" is fairly typical:
an inventive and propulsive instrumental track which is rather spoiled by
spoken and shouted vocals. Yeti offers more of the same; both albums are approximately an hour in length
and occasionally it feels more like a year.
Turning back to Amon Düül (UK), Hawk meets Penguin starts promisingly: "One Moment of Anger is Two
Pints of Blood" is genuinely melodic and atmospheric and not overlong despite clocking in at 12 minutes
plus. However, on the 23½ minute title track they rapidly descend into a seemingly randomised collage of
comedy vocals and formless noodling. Maybe this is what Amon Düül did, rather too often, but, to be
brutally honest, it sounds like they are taking the piss.
On the other hand, Meetings With Menmachines develops a very different approach and bears repeated
listening. It features short, concise, songs. All are well-structured, pleasant, mid-paced, not to say polite,
and sometimes rather poppy. The vocals are almost all provided by Julie Waring, whose high-pitched voice
is not hugely expressive but ably carries the melodic content of the songs. A curious feature of several
songs is that while the main parts of the songs stick to a guitar-bass-drums format, they have apparently
unrelated synth tracks bolted on as introductory sections. "Pioneer", about an airman, is pleasant, if a bit
anodyne. On "The Old One", Weinzierl is more sprightly and inventive with his guitar lines, although the
downside is that Julie Waring seems to struggle to find space for her vocals; nevertheless, a good track.
"Marcus Leid" is very 80s pop, with the synths running right through for a change: it exudes an innocent
charm and has a lyric about Joan of Arc. "The Song" is short and poppy while â€œThings Aren't Always
What They Seem" is part gently wistful, part creepy, and another of the highlights of the album. "Burundi
Drummer's Nightmare" is altogether more dynamic, and features Dave Anderson on growled male vocal
alongside the usual female vocals.
This song-based approach reached its peak on Die Losung (helped obviously by the fact that Bob Calvert
sang his own lyrics on most of the tracks) but the band lost focus badly on Fool Moon. Airs On A
Shoestring is a kind of Best Of, cherry-picking, well, two of the less exciting tracks from Meetings
("Pioneer" and "Marcus Leid"), the better of the two Penguin tracks and the non-descript "Hymn for the
Hardcore" from Fool Moon, along with an unfamiliar and mainly instrumental track called "Olaf (Where's
My $20,000?)" which is kind of okay apart from some screechy vocals.
Finally, and despite the slightly hit-and-miss nature of the compositions, on the whole I rather like these
Amon Düül (UK) albums. Hawkwind completists may note that they are currently available through dealers
affiliated with Amazon at something like £3 apiece. Plastic Head could also do worse than re-release the
Ballet Dancer album by 4X, another of Dave Anderson's studio experiments.
One of the Best : Huw Lloyd-Langton's LLG -
Live in Gravesend 5/11/10
This double CD is at present only available through
Huw's website although it should also get a full
release. It is a recording of a private gig and almost
inevitably features a totally different LLG to that
featured on Hard Graft. Here Huw is joined by
Saun Longueira on bass, Mick Stanger on double
mandolin and backing vocals, and Rich Stevens on
drums and percussion, for what is basically a
greatest hits set - the only newish track is "Hello
Friend" from Hard Graft.
Disc 1 features "Waiting For Tomorrow", "Rocky
Paths", "Night Air", "Lonely Man", "Outside The
Law", "Got Your Number" and "Talk To You". Disc
2 has "Psychedelic Warlord", "Dragons & Fables", "Moonglum", "Hurry On Sundown", "Hello Friend" and
Huw's vocals are sometimes a touch shaky, most obviously on "Night Air" where he just can't capture the
original's grandeur, but on, say "Smokestack Lightning", the relaxed half-spoken vocals work perfectly.
His guitar playing is excellent throughout, the band is solid and the presence of a second lead instrument
(as on Hard Graft) makes for a pleasingly full sound. Occasional liberties are taken with songs
arrangements too - "Moonglum" benefits from some new embellishments and sounds fresher for it.
Overall, the sound quality is pretty decent too.
One small niggle for those used to cherry-picking the best tracks for listening on the iPod: at least on my
copy, both discs are sequenced as single continuous tracks. However this isn't necessarily a bad thing
because there are no weak links here and almost 110 minutes of music slip past effortlessly. Definitely
one of the best recent Hawkwind-related releases, up there with Hard Graft.
Worth a Listen: Dave Brock - Strange Trips and
Pipe Dreams (Atomhenge reissue)
A rather low key re-release from Atomhenge,
which loses the original rather fine "digipak" card
casing and replaces it with a standard jewel case.
There is a meagre one bonus track, "You Burn Me
Up", which has appeared at least twice elsewhere.
The sleeve notes helpfully suggest that the bonus
track was only previously released on The Elf and
the Hawk (where it appears as "Burn Me Up") but it
also appeared on SpaceBrock (a solo album in all
The notes also tell us that "Strange Trips..." was
the last Brock solo album to date, conveniently
forgetting "Memos and Demos". However, they do
contain the transcript of an apparently new interview with Dave Brock, which worth reading for an
insight into his working methods. Despite the optimistic assessment in the sleeve notes, this is probably
not Brock's best solo work (although "Bosnia" in particular is good) - personally I prefer the more
organic sounding "Agents of Chaos". It is a worthwhile purchase if for some reason you don't own a
copy of the original release but otherwise probably one for completists.
[Graham evidently forgets that he reviewed (the original release of) this album on Music from the
Hawkwind family tree, Part 31. I took a stab at it too, a long time ago on this page]
Just About Worth a Listen :
Head Cat - Lemmy, Slim Jim
& Danny B (*½) / Fool's
Paradise (*) / Walk the
Walk...Talk the Talk (**)
The Head Cat apparently grew
out of a collaboration by its
three members (Lemmy, Slim
Jim Phantom and Danny B.
Harvey) on Swing Cats, A
Special Tribute to Elvis, with the three principals staying on in the studio to cut the Lemmy, Slim Jim and
Danny B album - the sleeve of which obviously owes a debt to Elvis. This first album consists entirely of
cover versions of early rock'n'roll tunes, dominated by Buddy Holly material, with a sprightly but
lightweight rockabilly sound. To these ears, the Head Cat are most convincing on Johnny Cash's "Big
River" and rather less so on the Buddy Holly Material. Lemmy may be having fun, but his voice sounds a
bit thin and strained (a problem solved on "Heartbreak Hotel" by doing an instrumental version). Anyway,
if you don't like Buddy Holly you might be advised to pass over this one. Fool's Paradise, released six
years later, is simply a reissue of the bulk of the first album, re-sequenced and losing 3 of the original 18
tracks - and with something of an image make-over on the sleeve.
A decade on, the second Head
Cat album, Walk the Walk...Talk
the Talk, follows the blueprint of
the first in the sense of (mainly)
covering classic rock'n'roll tunes
but, as is clear on the opening
"American Beat", this is a much
heavier and harder-edged
performance, more likely to
appeal to fans of Lemmy's day
Indeed, the grungier the backing gets, the more Lemmy slips into his gravelly Motorhead voice. Checking
the credits, one of the key differences here is that Lemmy plays bass - his instrumental contribution was
limited to acoustic guitar and harmonica on the first album. The songs include two originals ("American
Beat" and "The Eagle Flies on Friday") and the choice of cover versions has moved on from Buddy Holly
to take in Eddie Cochran, Chuck Berry and Robert Johnson, among others.
As always with this kind of thing, you do wonder if the cover versions add significantly to the originals -
or indeed to previous cover versions - but Head Cat are the real deal and sound effortlessly authentic.
"Shaking All Over" is a case in point. The original by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates appeared on a recent
Mojo magazine compilation and sounds lightweight and almost excessively melodic compared to Head Cat.
Two versions by the reformed Pirates from the late 70s (also recently re-released, on the Shakin' With
The Devil compilation) are a good deal heavier than the original and there is also of course an excellent live
version on the Who's Live At Leeds. Head Cat's take is solid, almost Motorhead-lite, if slightly ponderous
compared to the Pirates, but they certainly hold their own. "Crossroads" is another one that is difficult to
impress with: probably most people of a certain age know this Robert Johnson composition as one that
Cream made their own (and indeed rendered palatable to a rock audience). Head Cat were never going to
match Cream's virtuosity but they give it some serious welly and sound a good deal more authentic than,
say, Rush (on their Feedback covers album).
In general, Walk the Walk is thoroughly enjoyable but its 12 songs occupy a mere 27 minutes so it is over
all too quickly. Some of these tracks and additional live material (including a cracking take on "Suzie Q")
appear on Head Cat's Reverbnation web page.
Lemmy, Slim Jim & Danny B was released on SPV (SPV 085-21982 CD) in 2000. Fools' Paradise
appeared on Rock-A-Billy Records (CLP1642) in 2006. Walk the Walk appears on Niji Entertainment
(NE007) and was released this summer (2011).
One of the Best : Louis Davey - Last Chance of a
Being a curmudgeonly old so-and-so well into his sixth
decade, my instant reaction to this 3rd generation
Hawk-family offshoot was that this is mini-pops Hawkwind.
In defence of this uncharitable view, Louis Davey's singing
style sounds very much like a young Alan - indeed Louis and
his assorted female vocalists all have impossibly
young-sounding voices. Secondly, the music does sometime
stick closely to the Hawkwind template (or at least Uncle
Alan's version thereof, circa the mid-1980s). In the end
though, it is just great sounding space rock: good tunes with
big choruses, crunching riffs, impeccably arranged and
produced, and all utterly lacking in cynicism. Just possibly it
lacks real depth but it is instantly likeable.
The heaviest songs recall mid-1980s Hawkwind (Black Sword through Xenon Codex) or even
Underground Zero but the lighter songs are pure power pop. At the heavier end of proceedings,
"Subconscious" has a riff reminiscent of "Flying Doctor" while "Free" recalls "Sword of the East". "Higher
Tax" is underpinned by some aggressive bass runs from Davey senior. "Don't Hide Behind" builds up
gently but then seriously rocks out - this should be good live number, especially if it loses a bit of the
studio sheen. Of the lighter tracks, the wistful "The Other Face" and joyous power pop of "In Her Light"
Everything here was written by Davey junior and he also plays all the guitars, plus contributing synths,
effects and drums. He acquits himself well, especially on lead guitar but his rhythm playing sounds pretty
solid too. Obviously Uncle Alan also pitches in: playing bass on almost everything as well as helping out
on synths, effects and drums. To put this album in perspective, Alan Davey probably released half a
dozen solo albums before he produced one this good (although he didn't have his uncle helping out). This
one came out on Earthquake Records (EQRCD0006) earlier this year (2011).
Well Worth a Listen (**½) : Gunslinger - Unlawful Odds (live)
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Lemmy must be
feeling much appreciated. Motorhead were virtually a one band
genre until Gunslinger came along. In fact, Gunslinger are
perhaps to Motorhead as the Rutles were to the Beatles: a clever
pastiche on all Motorhead's habits and tricks - and often more fun
than the original.
So, do we need another Gunslinger album right now? The
obvious problem with this is that it's pretty much Earthquake in
E-minor again, played live (all 11 tracks from Earthquake are
present and correct). Bands used to release 4 or 5 albums before
issuing a live set. Doing it after only one album and with not much
new material available seems a bit premature even if, as Dave Brock sagely observed, Hawkwind fans like
live albums. Not that Gunslinger or even Hawkwind are anything like the worst offenders when it comes to
releasing live albums...¦ Take Uriah Heep for example: 14 new live albums since 2000 (none of them
archive releases) and just two all new studio albums in that time.
To get the final gripe out of the way: while Lemmy may not win any feminism awards for his lyrics, he at
least shows some panache. Compare Lemmy's "rock out with your cock out" to Alan's "I really like your
suspenders, they turn me on and on and on" or "when I see you walk this way I know that you'll go all the
So why are you going to buy this? Firstly there are four new tracks. The opening "Boot Hill" is basically an
intro tape. Second new track and first song proper is the powerful "All the Way" which fits the general
ethos of the album pretty well (i.e. it boy meets girl, boy wants to have sex, knows girl will go...¦ all the
way). "Shot in the Dark" is a jam around the theme tune of said Peter Sellers film: a bit of a surprise but it
works. The last of the new ones is "Night Song 2 (The 2nd Cumming)" - instrumentally solid, but
definitely no Nobel Prize for literature this year.
Finally though, they just sound like a phenomenal live band. The sound is unrelenting, even claustrophobic
and, after the first half dozen tracks, you may start to feel like you are trapped inside Lemmy's bass bin...¦
by the closing "Night Song" they are just flying. The heads down no-nonsense Motorhead template isn't
followed slavishly. "Cyanide", "Shot in the Dark" and the awesome "Warhorse" provide welcome changes
of pace - and Davey junior's lead lines are often fluid and tuneful, in other words more Brian Robertson
than Eddie Clark, Wurzel (RIP) or Phil Campbell. A brief mention too for drummer Cat, who performs a
sterling job throughout... apart from a rather limp drum solo in the middle of "Hymn of the Wild".
Another bonus is that this album marks the resurrection of the Flicknife label (catalogue number
SHARPCD11050). In conclusion, sit back and enjoy... just make sure the neighbours are out before you
put this on.
Worth a Listen : Djinn - Last Wish
This collaboration between Alan Davey and Bridget Wishart,
indulging their "mutual interest in the East" (according to
several web sources), sounds kind of promising on paper,
perhaps fusing the best bits of Bedouin and...¦ whatever it is
Bridget does: Spirits Burning, Omenopus, etc. Ultimately it is
something of a curate's egg: the fusion of styles works
reasonably well on about half the album but there is a soggy
centre of several indifferent and samey-sounding tracks and
few of the songs have memorable melodies.
The album starts promisingly enough, with one of its
highlights, "Last Wish", which offers a monstrous riff, some
nice synth flourishes and a decent (if slight) melody - although
IMHO guitar and bass are too high in the mix, tending to overpower Bridget's singing. This is followed by
"Born of Fire" - not a million miles from "Earth Born" by Spirits Burning, which is to say jaunty,
undemanding, new-age-ish folk rock. The third track, "Atom" is an atmospherically orchestrated spoken
word piece. So far, so good.
"Charmed" follows a similar template to "Born of Fire", with a more melancholy air and some delicate
instrumental touches. However, at around the half-way mark it starts to become increasingly discordant.
The following "Meteors" seems to exemplify the basic working pattern for several of the songs on this
album: lay down a bed of percussion, add plucked strings (preferably on an ethnic instrument which
sounds just slightly out of tune to western ears), spice to taste with a few samples and sound effects, then
add Bridget's sing-song chanting. Although its verses are a bit dirge-like, "Meteors" is just about saved by
the fine chorus melody (seemingly a relative of Rick Wright's early Pink Floyd composition, "Julia
Dream"). "Salahadin" has an agreeably atmospheric start, with whispered vocals, before morphing into a
less palatable potpourri of percussion, groaning bass and tune-free chanting. "Sea of Sand" also follows the
percussion, plucked strings and chanting template, with barely a hint of a tune, for around 4 minutes before
finding another gear for a relatively sprightly closing minute or so. I can't help thinking that if you put
together the best bits of these four tracks there might be one good song in there.
Things look up again for the last three tracks. "Valley of the Stars" is almost entirely instrumental (bar some
repeated phrases in French) and floats along on dreamy synths with not a hint of clattering percussion.
"Aasfe Kitty" is superior to the clunky mid-album tracks by virtue of a strong synth melody and driving
percussion. I have no idea what language Bridget is singing in but can confidently say it isn't English. The
album closes with possibly its best track, "Free Like Us", enlivened by a real sense of dynamics and a fairly
conventional rock arrangement featuring electric guitar, mellotron and a robust rhythmic base.
The album was released on Earthquake Records (EQRCD005) earlier this year (2011).
Approach with Caution : Spirits Burning -
Reflections in a Radio Shower
Despite a series of interesting recent albums by
Spirits Burning, some of their back catalogue
remains difficult to love. On this album, very
occasionally they keep it simple, allowing the music
to breathe and a melody to develop, but mostly they
trowel on multiple layers of instrumentation, spacey
sound effects and sampled vocals and create a dense
and headache-inducing noise. As a Hawkwind fan of
35 years and counting, this reaction is of course
partly Pavlovian response: spacey noises are
supposed to lead into crunching riffs or melodic
synth passages and here they don't. Too often on
this elease, Spirits Burning are less than the sum of
their parts, space rock without the rock.
The vocals are particularly problematic: Daevid Allen's singing is an acquired taste anyway and the spoken
contributions of Thom the World Poet are just irritating (although to be fair, he and Spirits Burning have
issued a passable collaborative album, Golden Age Orchestra). The Hawkwind interest is provided by
samples of the late Bob Calvert's poetry readings plus the appearance of Roger Neville-Neil as lyricist and,
if you want to stretch a point, Trev Thoms on guitar.
The opening "Second Degree Soul Sparks" typifies the too many cooks problem, and uses Calvert's poetry
reading to little effect. This is followed by the drab mood music and noise of "New Spell", which says all
it has to say in less than a minute but continues for a further 3½ minutes. In its favour, "Drive-By Poetry"
ends with a complete and unadorned reading of "Fahrenheit 451"- the actual song though is as
teeth-grindingly awful as the title suggests.
The following "Retrospectre" is the first of a trio of instrumentals and, while an improvement on "New
Spell" doesn't really go anywhere. This is followed by "Clear Audient", a tastefully restrained instrumental
featuring Trev Thoms (and a relative highlight). The repetitive, slightly woozy pastoral synths of "I'll Give
You Cumulus" seem to last a lot longer than the 2 minutes and 38 seconds listed on the cover.
"Hidden Rope Trick" is a brief and gruesomely whimsical piece of sub-Gong fluff and features murmuring
and spoken word vocals by Daevid Allen. Next! One of two tracks that clocks in at over 11 minutes in
length, "Gods At The Top Of The World" opens with a couple of minutes of half-assed riffing buried
under soggy percussion (where was the producer?) before, well, falling apart for about five minutes of
apparently random tuning of instruments, lots of sampled spoken word passages (stuff about relationships,
religion, politics, nature documentaries, education and CD players) and a few whooshing noises. There is a
relatively pleasing building of intensity from around two thirds of the way through as some noodling on
trumpet is augmented by guitar and percussion but, hell, life is just too short! Next! "Eye=I" is a painfully
discordant instrumental that stretches the thinnest of musical ideas over 6½ minutes. It speeds up slightly
in the middle and that's about as exciting as it gets.
The next quartet of tracks drags the quality level up somewhat. "Bird Swarmy Loop" is all spooky strings
and sound effects and is pleasingly brief." "Intelligent Sparkling Fish" is also short and, although it sounds
like two different songs colliding, unobjectionable. "Blood & Oxygen (For The Brain)" is also relatively
concise and the combination of synth and keening violin is quite effective. "Walking Shadow" sounds
suspiciously like a conventional song, with a tune, albeit with offbeat lyrical content and a certain amount
of distracting instrumental cacophony.
"The Idle Hours of the Fruit Fly" is a short (Thom the World) poem with some atmospheric backdrop
while "Clouds Of Hypno Smoke" is a brief guitar-based doodle. Finally "Elliptical Orbits (Over and Out)" is
another 11-minute marathon. The first half is a slight but pleasant slow-burning instrumental: it builds
promisingly for a couple of minutes, fizzles out, builds up again and fizzles out again at the 5½ minute
mark. The remaining 5½ minutes comprise spoken word samples. Why?
For my money, there is rather too much dross here and not enough inspiration. It was released in 2001 on
Gazul Records (GA6647.AR)