|Music from the Hawkwind family tree - Part 36
Thanks to Graham P. for these reviews - except where noted otherwise, of course.
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|Just About Worth A Listen (*½) : Civilian Zen – Songs for Shelter
These two CDs [see next review also] were produced for the (homelessness) charity Shelter in 2006 and 2007, respectively. Although the original CDs are long since sold out, Keith Hill was good enough to make CDR copies for me (in return for a small donation to Shelter). Can’t say fairer than that. So, to the music: in general more electronic than rock, sometimes interesting, sometimes verging on the unlistenable, with Hawkwind family members contributing to both. For my tastes, “Return..” is considerably more palatable, while “Songs…” (despite some not awful vocal contributions from Nik Turner) had me reaching for some aspirins.
|Songs for Shelter compiles a massive 19 tracks over a brain-numbing 66 minutes, most of which seems to comprise moody electronic soundscapes, big on unsettling noises, light on memorable tunes and either completely instrumental or with spoken and/or sampled vocals. There are three ex-Hawks in evidence, appearing on a total of five tracks, plus an appearance from Judge Trev Thoms.
The album kicks off with the low key synth swirls of “Wanderland” and the self-explanatory “Astronaut Talk”, on which sampled voices are backed by electronic rhythms and guitars to form perhaps one of the more space rock-like tracks here.
A barrage of electronic noises heralds Nik Turner’s spoken vocals on “Welcome to Utopia”/”Cybernetic Love”, essentially his “Utopia” speech from the Zones album (recycled on and various later solo works), which itself originated from the lyrics of ICU’s “Cybernetic Love”. It fits in well enough here. The following “Submillimetre Valley” is an unlovable mixture of spoken and occasionally vocoder-treated vocals (presumably from co-writer and poet Mark Broster, a rhythm track and what may be guitar, variously distorted and played backwards. “Slowmotion Ocean” is a brief, low key, synth-based instrumental, which feels like an introductory piece: if it was Tangerine Dream it would break out into 17 minutes of bleeping sequencers but instead it fades out after a minute and a half.
Jerry Richards and Alf Hardy do “Jackyl-Headed Woman”, which is one of their repetitive dance/rave-oriented sound collages (see Paradogs) and, while not outstanding, it works well enough in context, serving to inject some energy into proceedings. “Green Planet” is four minutes plus of clunky percussion, quite possibly played on kitchen utensils, supported by a distorted horn or siren sound. This is followed by a heavily echoed Nik Turner reciting “Welcome to the Future” over some spacey rhythm guitar.
Ron Tree recites one of his slightly hysterical science fiction pieces on “The Attackyon” (track 9) and “The Attackyon (Part 2)” (track 13) but it is hard to focus on his performance due to the cacophony of noise going on in the background of part 1 and the multiple vocal tracks colliding on Part 2. Both parts are almost totally unlistenable. Track 10, “Ancient Voices”, starts off as a poetry/noise hybrid but is soon rescued by some expressive and relatively tuneful guitar and develops into a respectable space-rock wig-out over its last couple of minutes. “The Middle of Nowhere” is all eerie organ notes - pure horror film soundtrack fare. “Waves” features some widdly guitar from Trev Thoms over busy synthetic rhythms. Moving swiftly past Ron Tree’s second appearance, we get two guitar-based (mainly) instrumentals, the propulsive and ominous “Passage in Time” and the dirgy “Over Acrylic Cities” followed by the FX-based weirdness of “Vast Space”. “Sublime Revelation” is poetry plus light noise. The album ends of two surprisingly pleasant ambient instrumentals, “Beneath Clouds” and “Observation Dome”.
|named “Timewaves” on the CD cover) and continues in similar vein with “Rubicon”. Bridget Wishart sings on track 3, “Curse/Cure” - a sweet vocal performance over a skittering, clattering, backing track, and it even has a chorus you can sing along to, making it quite possibly the best track on either album. “Nothing exists” features the poetry of Mark Broster, his voice for once untreated and the backing track relatively understated.
The 5th track is Earthlab’s startling “The End of Religion” (which also turned up on the Suburban Guerrilla Uprisings compilation CD). Steve Swindells’ bluesy vocal gives the song a somewhat apocalyptic feel. However everything calms down again with the delicate instrumental “Nocean”, featuring Bridget on clarinet. The reminder of the album comprises more electronic, the bouncy “Self Destruct”, the laid-back “The Eighth”, the almost poppy “Scream Dream” (a song, with lyrics by Bridget) and “Sublime Revelation”, a more percussive remix of the Songs for Shelter track: an improvement on the original but least interesting track here.
|other familiar names appear, including Daevid Allen, Steve Palmer of Mooch and Richard Wileman of Karda Estra. Far Corners is less austere than Karda Estra, more disciplined than Spirits Burning and less spacey than Mooch. In fact, despite its title, “Far Corners” is probably as close to mainstream as her Bridget’s work gets, smoothly combining easy listening, modern classical, jazz and ambient music. “Clouds Gather” even slips into space rock territory but almost everything else is mellow and melodic, and only occasionally slightly more challenging. This very enjoyable CD was released on Noh Poetry (NPR 010) this year (2012). A more detailed review appears on the Aural Innovations website.|
|Well Worth A Listen (**½) : Astralfish – Far Corners
Bridget Wishart seems to be hitting a peak of productivity. Added to her occasional work with Spirits Burning, and the Djinn collaboration with Alan Davey, there have now been several Omenopus releases and the two Allies and Clansmen compilations featuring several of her other side projects. Although best known to Hawkfans as a vocalist, much of her recently released work is instrumental. On the mainly instrumental Far Corners she plays EWI (“electronic wind instrument”) facsimiles of clarinet, violin, oboe and synths. Don Falcone of Spirits Burning is the main collaborator but several
|Well Worth A Listen (**½) : Lastwind – Return of a Sonic Assassin
When this appeared on the Flicknife release schedule, there’s no question that the name Lastwind and title “Return of a Sonic Assassin” suggested an artist and/or label going after a marketing opportunity. Just in case the title wasn’t sufficiently obvious, Paul Hayles wears a “Sonic Assassins” / “Hawkwind” tee-shirt on the back cover photo. His Hawkwind credentials are superficially a bit tenuous (although actually stronger than you might think – see below) and most of his recent music is meat and potatoes
|Just About Worth a Listen (* ½) : Various Artists - Not of This Earth (but *** for the packaging)|
|When I first came across this earlier this year, I couldn’t understand how it had passed me by when it was released a decade earlier, in 2002. Anyway, having discovered its existence, Amazon came to the rescue. It is certainly a very nice artefact to look at. Released by Italy’s Black Widow label, it is a musical tribute to the golden age of science fiction films and comes in a hardback book format, with a small print paperback booklet describing the films, plus a much smaller booklet glued inside which describes the musical contributions. There are three CDs, with a total of 40 tracks, each track inspired by a well-known (or less well-known) science fiction film or series, totalling 3 ½ hours.
The suite opens promisingly with the widescreen synth-based instrumental “Tiamat” by Malleus but the spell is rapidly broken by Bob Calvert declaiming “Sonic Attack”. In truth this is not a collection any sane person could digest in a single sitting, and much as I am old-fashioned enough to think CDs should be consumed from beginning to end, as God and the artist intended, and preferably on a good hi-fi, this is probably better added to the iPod and investigated in small doses. There is material that sounds like genuine film soundtrack, some straightforward rock, a fair dose of space rock, occasional excursions into folk or even opera and rather too much that is self-consciously weird, clever, edgy, or just wholly unmusical.
Part of the problem is that the cast list draws largely from space rock’s second and third divisions, plus a long list of artists I had never heard of. The Hawkwind interest comprises appearances by the mothership, Alan Davey, Nik Turner (guesting with Dark Sun), and Adrian Shaw. I’m not clear if Mr Dibs appears on the Krel or Dr Hasbeen tracks. Anyway Hawkwind is represented by the familiar and so-so “This is Hawkwind Sonic Attack”, on which Bob Calvert’s vocal is set to a presumably posthumously assembled sound collage by his former cohorts (or at least by the modern day Hawkwind). It just isn’t great: a churning riff, presumably from Dave Brock, is buried deep in the mix and appears to be at cross purposes with the vocal track. Alan Davey also offers a previously released track, “Monster from the Id” from his Alien Heart collaboration with Nigel Potter (where it is called “Monsters from the Id”): it is one of his lesser early works, a mixture of unsettling noises and repetitive chopped guitar chords which goes precisely nowhere.
Adrian Shaw’s “Silent Running” sounds like one of his typically minimalist DIY solo tracks, with lyrics apparently drawing on the film plot and some nice synth touches on the chorus – something of a plodder, but almost a standout here. Krel’s set closer (unless you count the hidden track, sampled from t.v. series “The Prisoner”), “Track Thru Space”, is a standout, the stately synths and guitar lines being almost Gilmour-esque. It certainly helps soothe nerves frazzled by the undoubted guff (® Steve Starfarer) that precedes it. Dr Hasbeen’s effort, “Apollo 13”, could be mistaken for Hawkwind in a poor light. It offers an interesting build-up, with chanting over ethereal synths, then locks into a sub-Hawkwind groove, all echoed vocals and keening guitars, apparently aiming to sound as much as possible like a badly recorded Hawkwind bootleg. To be fair, most of us probably like badly recorded Hawkwind bootlegs but, put it this way, you wouldn’t put this on a mix tape. Finally, Dark Sun’s “Abduction Files” is definitely one of the best tracks here, a long and mournful space ballad built around Nik Turner’s plangent and expressive sax lines.
Then there’s a whole swathe of more or less familiar space-rock names. PXR1 do “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, a collage of sampled dialogue and minimalistic electronic music which begins limply but picks up nicely thereafter. Pete Pavli’s very listenable but rather formal “Day of the Triffids” is all bowed and plucked strings. Mr Quimby’s Beard (and just what kind of name is that for a band? Stop sniggering at the back) offer a ponderous space rock instrumental tribute to “Quatermass and the Pit” which plods along for 5 minutes or so and never quite gets out of second gear. Architectural Metaphor do symphonic rock in the form of “The Maker”, apparently inspired by “Dune”: while the first half plods, the majestic synth-based second half lifts it into another class. “The Day The Earth Stood Still” by PXR1 sounds like one of those instrumentals that Dave Brock knocks off in his sleep and puts out on his solo albums – energetic and full of spacey effects yet lacking a sense of direction. It features sampled excerpts of (presumably) the film’s dialogue. Quarkspace deliver a great deal of mechanical noise on “The Soilent Factory”: it is atonal and unmusical and not even throwing in some monastic chanting makes it in any way bearable. ST37’s “The Pursuit Of Marie” is equally unlistenable., little more than a crude riff buried under industrial noise
Aside from the aforementioned “Tiamut” by Malleus, highlights from the rest of the set are few and far between. The psychedelic spaghetti western sound “The Prisoner Theme” by Sun Dial is one. “To Each His Own Fate” by The Soil Bleeds Out also stands out, due to its medieval instrumentation, wordless chorus and a melody not a million miles from “Scarborough Fair”. “War of the Worlds” by Ars Nova is a bit clichéd but at least sounds like genuine film soundtrack music. “Moon Fog Prophet” by Moon Fog Prophet is novelty rock with a riff that sounds like Ride’s “From Time to Time”. “Raumpatroville (Space Patrol)” by Fantassy Factoryy is a nifty organ-based instrumental while “Viva Von Daniken” by Mooseheart Faith Stellar Groove Band boasts fey vocals, a slightly fuzzy and distorted mix and a decent tune.
Some of the rest is notably idiosyncratic: “Lacrima Di Tempo” by Universal Totem Orchestra mixes prog rock instrumentation with faux-operatic vocals, coming across a bit like a female version of Gentle Giant – but in truth it is just a very well appointed dog’s dinner - which is as good a summary of the whole exercise as any!
|Worth A Listen : Civilian Zen – Return to Shelter
Return to Shelter follows a similar pattern albeit with a slightly less daunting ten tracks and 36 minute running order. Again it is dominated by repetitive and rhythmic electronica, mainly instrumental tracks with spoken word contributions from poet Mark Broster. It includes three tracks featuring ex-Hawks, all of which are slightly at odds with the rest of the album - but all passing muster in terms of quality.
Proceedings begin with a challenging FX-laden soundscape called “From Andromeda to Anywhere” (according to the review on Aural Innovations, but
|electronic dance music, like his paean to big trucks, “Monster Trucks”, so why the space rock trappings now?
Paul Hayles has released at least three albums of dance material to date, “Red Star Brigade” and “Monster Trucks” (the latter is more of a mini-album), both under the Lastwind banner, and “Spice of Life” as Polymorph. More on these at some point but suffice it to say that they don’t set out to appeal to space rock fans. On “Return…” he has added a real band (psychedelic guitar, heavy percussion, and extra layers of synth), slowed down the music from 120 bpm and, basically, gotten angry. Having said this, a perusal of the lyrics on the Polymorph album suggests that his songs were actually more often to do with providing and outlet for life’s frustrations than with celebrating its good points, the unashamedly populist “Monster Trucks” notwithstanding.
The first two or three tracks on “Return…” certainly push the sound into space rock territory. The album kicks off with the scene-setting ambient/atmospheric instrumental title track and shifts into snarling space rock of “Winds of Time”. Third track, the ponderous “King Arthur”, maintains the heavy rock ambience, all squalling guitars and strangulated vocals. However, the mask is already slipping on the lighter “Day Trippers” and positively bouncy “Autoroute”, and dance tendencies become increasingly evident as the album proceeds.
Several tracks (“Slots”, Autoroute”, “King Arthur”, “Monster Trucks”) are beefed-up remakes of tracks which previously appeared on one or more of Red Star Brigade, Monster Trucks and Spice of Life. Perhaps the only stumbling block though is the vocals, mostly semi-spoken, never tuneful and often electronically distorted, which (as Ian Abrahams notes in his review of this album in Record Collector) seems to be de rigueur among space rock bands. On “Slots” and “Autoroute”, the delivery is cartoon bad boy punk, a Johnny Rotten sneer, and you get the strong feeling that this grumpy old man has his tongue firmly in cheek.
Once you get over the vocal style, the whole album is really quite enjoyable, and the new arrangement of “Monster Trucks” in particular just rocks! Resistance is futile, so just enjoy the guilty pleasure of a song about big trucks covered in mud! The striking front cover design on “Return…”, like the covers of all of Paul’s albums over the last few years, is the work of his son Sam, a graphic artist (see http://www.dose-productions.com/).
While listening, you could do worse than check out the Lastwind website . Here, you can read about Paul’s music and his links with the Hawkwind family, which go back many years: he was in west country band Ark with Harvey Bainbridge (their only known recordings appear on the Made in Cornwall LP), was a Sonic Assassin for the fabled and much-re-released Barnstable gig, did one tour as a member of Hawkwind (USA, 1978) and, many years later, was invited to support Hawkwind on their autumn 2006 tour). You can also read about his varied (and often difficult) life outside music.
The website is also something of a musical treasure trove, with downloadable tracks from Paul Hayles’ whole career including an Ark track, a couple of familiar Sonic Assassins tracks, and various tracks issued under the Polymorph name. If you like what you hear, copies of the Polymorph CD and the Monster Trucks Lastwind CD can be purchased via the website for a very reasonable combined price of £10 (including UK p&p).
|Worth A Listen : Various Artists – Who Are You-An All-Star Tribute
This is one of three recent compilations from Cleopatra on which Huw Lloyd-Langton appears. All look at first sight like more or less cynical marketing exercises but this one is clearly the pick of the bunch, given the peerless selection of songs to choose from (or at least will be when Cleopatra get around to fixing a hugely annoying mastering fault!)
It also gathers the great, the good, the lost and forgotten from the pop and rock firmament past and present, in interesting and surprising (possibly random) combinations. Thus we have John Wetton, K. K. Downing, and Derek Sherinian combine on what is
|probably an excellent version a second rate Who song, “Eminence Front” but are cut off in their prime by a mastering fault that seems to have been ubiquitous in the first pressing of the CD. Elsewhere we hear Todd Rundgren, Ray Davies, Sweet (I’m not sure which version), Peter Banks, Peter Noone (!), Terry Reid, Randy Bachman, Wayne Kramer, Rat Scabies, Carmine Appice, Pat Travers, Ted Turner, Lesley West, Joe Lynn Turner, Iggy Pop, 38 Special and Nektar, among others. Of particular interest is the version of “Love Reign O’er Me” featuring Joe Elliott, Huw Lloyd Langton, Rick Wakeman and Carmine Appice. I’m not sure if it quite captures the brutal magnificence of the original but it comes pretty damn close, and even if the musicians most likely only collaborated by e-mail.|
|Worth A Listen : Various Artists – A Tribute to The Black Keys
This is the same kind of record with the obvious difference that the Black Keys have nothing like the pedigree of the Who and, indeed, I have to admit to being only peripherally aware of their existence. However, skimming through their Wikipedia entry shows that they have won a slew of awards through their 12-year, 7-album history, which possibly justifies a tribute record.
Anyway, their blues rock template is perfectly listenable and is here recreated by another, slightly less stellar, shuffling of Cleopatra’s Christmas card list, including Iggy Pop, our own (sort of) Ginger Baker,
|Walter Trout, Cyril Neville, Albert Lee, Pat Travers and Leslie West among others.
Of interest to Hawkfans is the pairing of Dave Davies and Huw Lloyd-Langton on “Money Maker”, on which Huw’s fluid lead lines wrap themselves around what is presumably Dave Davies’ rhythm guitar work. The original was voted 10th in the list of Best 10 Black Keys songs published by diffuser.fm.
|Approach With Caution : Various Artists – Dubstep Madness
This one is 100% cash-in. According to Wikipedia, dubstep offers “tightly coiled productions with overwhelming bass lines and reverberant drum patterns, clipped samples, and occasional vocals", sub-bass reverberated at different speeds, and spaced, syncopated percussion. Possibly it makes sense blasting from a club PA system at ear-splitting volume but, based on listening to some of this double CD, I venture to suggest a more succinct definition: utter s**t!
A fair proportion of the content of this set comprises remixes of familiar songs, from the originally more respectable ones (“Ghost Town”, “Family Affair”,
|“Sun is Shining”) to those you would rather forget (“Pass the Duchie”, “Ice, Ice Baby”, etc). Of these, I will just mention just a couple: “Ghost Town”, to which the remix adds precisely nothing of value and mainly simply spoils one of the best pop records of the Thatcher era, and “Sun is Shining” on which Bob Marley’s original is reduced to a soulless mechanical drone: unforgivable and unlistenable.
Another large chunk of material is remixes of unfamiliar songs or unfamiliar cover versions, like “White Rabbit” and “Riders on the Storm”. The latter is recognisable and not entirely horrible; the less said about the former, the better. Most of the rest of the collection is made up of various soulless and witless original “songs”, although an honourable mention for Blackmill’s “Evil Beauty”, one of the few tracks on which the electronic rhythms are kept in check.
One or two tracks were presumably specially commissioned, notably “Outer Limits Dub” by Space Temple featuring Huw Lloyd Langton. The basic track is an electronic plod and superimposition of Huw’s lead guitar over the top raises it to being merely dreary.
|Worth A Listen : Meads of Asphodel – Sonderkommando
Dedicated to HLL and with Alan Davey guesting on bass throughout, the new Meads album moves on from the previous obsession with religion and focuses on the inhumanity of the holocaust. It is not an easy album to listen to, and it took me half a dozen plays to get to grips with it.
It is certainly a powerful and challenging piece of work: to quote from “The Silent Ghosts of Babi Yar”: “If the oceans were filled with ink and all the forests and trees were pens, and even then it would not be possible to record the horrors here… This hell can exist as long as no-one sees”. Or, as the title track
|suggests, more directly: “You don’t have to die to walk in hell… this is fucking death”.
There’s no getting around the fact that some people will probably find this CD spectacularly offensive, and some would probably argue that even representing such events in art is wrong. However, if it is legitimate for poets and painters to tackle taboo subjects (say, Guernica) then why not a death metal band? It becomes an aesthetic argument, not a moral argument, although death metal still isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
The music, mainly by J.D. Tait, the other current Meads mainstay, is excellent. Eclectic as ever, the album flits from genre to genre often within the same song: it opens with the epic title track, which ranges through folk, prog and (obviously) death metal, with strong lead guitar work, and achieves some poignancy and dignity despite its subject matter. There are numerous guest musicians and vocalists throughout the record and Metatron’s usual demonic grunting is interspersed with real singing. However, the lyrics don’t flinch from depicting the horror of a despicable episode in history and they certainly offer no comfort: there is a fine line between writing about evil and simply recreating it - and sometimes that line is crossed: “Action T4” is especially objectionable, both in its lyrical content and the accompanying sound effects.
To briefly run through the remaining tracks, the churning metal of “Wishing Well of Bones” has a melancholy feel befitting its subject matter. “Silent Ghosts Of Babi Yar” features two contrasting sections: death metal unexpectedly switches to prog half way through, a composition that Ayreon would be proud of, fading out on the repeated vocal refrain “This hell can exist as long as no one sees”. “Children Of The Sunwheel Banner, Pt. 1” is basically a collage (or “a twisted patriotic build up to the main song”) leading into “Pt 2”, which joins fairly conventional metal with lyrics about teutonic hell to an organ-driven closing section that recalls the Stranglers on “Down in the Sewer”.
“Lamenting Weaver of Horror” is pure folk theatre in three parts: cackling witches conjure up death, who then engages in a dialogue with a disturbing dead child before the final folk metal section – it is totally left field (read the accompanying essay if you find this track distasteful). “Sins of the Pharoahs” is more conventional metal with some suitably thuggish backing vocals and a slow spoken word mid-section. The atmospheric “Last Train to Eden” builds slowly and then slips in and out of thrash. “The Hour Glass of Ash” mixes the sounds of string quartet and death metal with, of course, added saxophone. On “The Mussulmans Wander Through The Infernal Whirling Fires Amongst Silent Shadows To Be Fed Into The Thirsting Jaws Of A Godless Death Machine To Cough Up Their Souls To The Nazi Moloch Who Sits Within A Ring Of Smoking Infant Skulls”, a conventional heavy metal arrangement is spliced with harmonica breaks. The final track “Send my love to Maher-shalal-hash-baz” merges a gentle instrumental track with spoken word vocals, layers of sound effects and samples.
Anyone who has followed the Meads will know that Metratron meticulously researches their albums, delving deep into history to uncover man’s inhumanity to man and, while not assigning blame indiscriminately, he also doesn’t shirk from identifying the guilty. In this case, he visited Auschwitz and it clearly had a profound effect. Many of the lyrics were written there. The background and a detailed explanation of the album’s contents are contained in a 55-page essay available on the Meads’ website.
So, there you have it. It is a well-played, well-produced, extraordinarily inventive record. However, you also can’t separate it from its context. Best intentions or otherwise, and even more than previous offerings, this album, with its unrelenting litany of atrocity, degradation and evil, requires a strong stomach.
|Approach with Caution : Various Artists - Mysterious Encounters (*) and Music Minus Music (* ½)
Two less than essential compilations with Hawkwind connections. The first of these CDs was released by Cleopatra in 1994 (as CLP 6808-2) and gathers various encounters with twee electronica and fey
|goth, with a bit of pervy S&M (notably the Electric Hellfire Club’s“Where Violence is Golden”, complete with simulated whipping). It all starts out reasonably well with a slick version of Psychic TV’s “Godstar” but nothing else until “Snake Dance” by the March Violets raises the pulse, despite (or possibly because of) there being performances by Nico and Pressurehed along the way. The Hawkwind interest appears with the last track, a solo rendition of ICU’s “Stonehenge” by Nik Turner. The original may have been a highlight of The President’s Tapes, but this version is less robust, although still one of only three tracks worth listening to.
Music Minus Music on the other hand is just unashamedly kitsch, from the Spanish nursery rhyme-like “Pochoclo”, via the instrumental “Jumping Balls”, to an electronic take on “Apache” – file under Guilty Pleasures. Of minor interest to Hawkfans is “Surf” by the Saratoga Space Messengers, written and/or produced by one T. Blake (a copy of the original 7” fetched over £40 on E-Bay earlier this year). I guess we should be thankful this attempted merger of space pop and surf music never took off. This CD was released on Fat City ?(FC104) early in 2012.
|Worth a Listen : Nektar – A Spoonful of Time
Nektar previously appeared on the HW collector radar when Robert Calvert played circus ringmaster on the Down to Earth album. Obviously they also released loads of other albums which had nothing to do with the Hawkwind family. Now signed to Cleopatra they have been persuaded to start recording again, including this soft rock covers set released in 2012 (CLP 8932).
Your tolerance of this exercise is likely to depend on how well you know, and how much you cared for, the originals. If you forget all the history, this is a well-played album of (mainly) really good songs but, of course, if a band takes on the works of the likes
|of the Doors, the Stones, Roxy Music, Rush and Pink Floyd, then unflattering comparisons are probably inevitable. However, the core trio of Nektar bolster themselves against possible criticism by engaging a veritable army of guest artists.
For my tastes, their take on Rush’s “Spirit of the Radio” is a bit flaccid compared to the original and Steve Miller’s “Fly Like An Eagle” loses much of its charm. I could also live without the covers of 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love” and Toto’s “Africa”. They aren’t bad songs per se but they don’t fit well here. Alright, I take that back. I loathe “Africa”. On the other hand (Floyd fans avert your eyes now), Nektar’s more organic take on “Wish You Were Here” is a pleasant alternative to the brittle original. “Blinded By The Light” takes its cue from Manfred Mann and his Earthband’s deft reimagining of the unremarkable Springsteen original (sorry, more heresy). If it doesn’t quite manage to replicate the pure pop sheen of the Earthband hit, it is still one of the more successful covers on show, with main man Roye Albrighton shining on guitar and vocals. The Alan Parsons Project instrumental “Sirius” is stretched out by an extra 45 seconds and sounds great.
However, we are really here to listen to the guest stars, and there are many, including some ex-Hawks. We can stretch a point and note that ex-Hawkwind drummer Ginger Baker turns up on “Blinded By The Light”, if not to any great effect. Nik Turner teams up with Ian Paice on the O’Jays’ “For The Love Of Money”, a song which sounds out of place alongside the more progressiveTM fare. Nik acquits himself well and it sounds pretty good as long as you don’t know the original, even if the overall effect is closer to “Psychedelic Warlords” than any kind of funk or soul groove. Simon House turns up on “2000 Light Years From Home” and “Out of the Blue”. The former is a Stones track that I don’t really know but here it is pleasant and low key psychedelia, with Simon House’s violin quite prominent. The latter is one of Roxy Music’s more startling creations: the instrumental sections with their keening violin sound a lot like Hawkwind circa WOTEOT. The Nektar version is a competent if slightly anaemic facsimile, following the original as closely as possible, even being exactly the same length (4 minutes 46 seconds!). However, much of Simon House’s contribution is buried deep in the mix.
|Worth a Listen : Huw Lloyd Langton – Classical Guitar Tales
An honourable mention for a CD released a couple of years ago on Cleopatra. Over 18 tracks, it does exactly what it says on the tin. Perhaps to qualify that, these appear to be mainly classical orchestral works (like the second movement of Dvorak’s “New World” symphony), arranged for guitar, rather than classical guitar pieces. A couple of Huw’s own compositions (“Elegy” and “5th Second of Forever”) are included for good measure. A pleasing addition to the canon and one of the few Hawkwind-related CDs that might get played at regular dinner parties!
|Worth a Listen : Calvin Weston – Of Alien Feelings
The title conjures up some sort of cod sci-fi horror but in fact this is more jazz fusion, or at least jazzy rock ‘n’ roll, and not in a bad way. While there is virtuosity on display, these tracks are more about immediacy, with a loose jammed feel and quirky titles like “After-School Snack in America”, “Many Get Up But Few Are Called” or “Meme from Turner” (not a misprint). Which gets us to why I am reviewing this: aside from sundry rock alumni such as Thijs van Leer, John Helliwell, Vernon Reid and Todd Rundgren, drummer Calvin Weston and guitarist/bassist Karl Siegfried are joined on three tracks by Nik Turner.
|There is some fine saxophone playing on the album, but unfortunately mostly from the other guest sax players. Nik seems to have consciously reverted to his original approach of “freaking about on the saxophone”, as he did within the “clang, honk, tweet” sound of early Hawkwind. His introduction to “Meme from Turner”, where the two duelling saxophones are basically Le Petomane in stereo, is particularly alarming.
Nik also appears on track 1, “The Electric Wizard”, a sprightly rock ‘n’ roll number where he alternate solos with the guitarist and where the minimalist approach works well enough, and on “Also Available on 8-Track”, a more self-consciously jazzy track, breezing along with some fluid guitar and Hammond organ and a Turner sax solo in the middle. Overall, this is an enjoyable and undemanding album, and is available on Imaginary Chicago Records.
|Well Worth A Listen (**½) : Mr H feat Nik Turner – Bourbon Street Blues
Make that jazzy blues. This recently released 5-track mini-album of acoustic guitar-based songs just swings. Mr H has a singing voice pitched somewhere between Chris Rea and Dave Gilmour and he is accompanied by his own deft acoustic guitar, subtle percussion (mostly just brushed drums) and the alto sax of our Nik. The basic melodies all sound like you know them already, effortlessly catchy, and possibly you do. The sax work is everything it wasn’t on Of Alien Feelings: subtle,
|expressive, lyrical, etc. Possibly as good as anything Nik’s done outside the space rock oeuvre and well worth catching, if only to be reminded it isn’t all clang, honk, squeak.|
|Pants (* ½) : Various Artists - Fusion Syndicate
Another of Cleopatra’s multi-artist collections, released towards the end of 2012, this one features the pooled talents of various prog and jazz-rock luminaries, working under the direction of sometime Yes man Billy Sherwood, on a set of seven well-played but somewhat forgettable instrumentals. In other reviews, jazz buffs have remarked on the lack of variation in tempo (welcome to the world of the click track) and the underwhelming contributions of the stellar artists on show. Track1 is called “Random Acts Of Science” and features Rick Wakeman, Jerry Goodman (Mahavishnu Orchestra), our own Nik Turner and Jimmy Haslip (Yellowjackets / Alan Holdsworth): it sounds impeccable, with not a hair
|out of place, but five minutes after you’ve heard it you will not be able remember a note. Elsewhere you can hear Steve Hillage, Mel Collins, Steve Morse, John Etheridge, Tony Kaye and David Sanscious, among others. In an interview with Prog magazine (quoted online), Billy Sherwood’s own description of this “fusion” record, a clear candidate for Pseud’s corner, goes like this: “it’s not that much further down the road from prog; it’s the same thing sideways, with the difference being that the melodies go to instruments instead of vocals… It has the same interesting arrangements and progressive time signatures. It’s in the same genre of intense music being played by very cool people”. What he didn’t say obviously is that it winds up being rather less than the sum of its parts.|