Music from the Hawkwind family tree - Part 7

This piece was written by...me...for a change!
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The first thing you notice about this CD is the
muddy production - bass-heavy and with a certain
muffled quality to the vocals: but as you listen on,
either you cease to notice this or perhaps accept it as
the way the album was meant to sound.  The
production actually complements Adrian Shaw's
genius for twisted, intense and unmistakably British
psychedelia, emphasizing the darker compositions
and counterpointing the more whimsical songs.

The opening track,
What If, is one of the former,
with a heavy drone, not reminiscent of any particular
influence, but with an almost Beatlesesque backing
vocal thrown in, treated to sound as though it's
coming out of the receiver of an old-fashioned
telephone.  The lyrics sung here are "you grease my
palms with profit"; a nice turn of phrase, and the
correlation between the greasy riff and the lyrics is
surely not coincidental.  Not a tune to be whistled by milkmen perhaps, but this is an accomplished piece
of songwriting.

The Only One comes along next, and this is different again, sounding almost like something that
Trans-Global Underground might have conjured up ten years ago.  Again sounding boomy and cavernous,
a lone vamped and phase-shifted guitar playing a minor seventh chord is at the heart of this, with a trance
beat and atmospheric sampled soprano rounding out the riff.  
I Move On Wheels continues with the
unsettling, almost turgid direction that the CD has by now established, but now throws a robotic element
into the mix, and a darker song than any that has yet been heard emerges.  It's full of character and would
still be a strong number in isolation (or on a compilation of other artist's material) but here doesn't stand
out sufficiently from the general template.

A change of direction is provided by
Ascension Day, forsaking the downward path for more of a
traditional rock song, with a wonderful sequence of keyboard chords illuminating the chorus.  If the
production were other than it is, they might almost be celestial-sounding...¦ A long guitar solo starts at 4:09
and extends for a minute and a half, fading the song out in Classic Rock fashion.  This number feels like a
generalized testament to the music of a generation (man!)  And then
Northern Lights brings us back to the
punk elements inherent in Adrian Shaw's music, but with just about all the instruments treated in some way
or another, it remains within his overall ambit of dark British psychedelia.  The central element is a heavily
tremelo'd and phased guitar, surrounded by a cloud of early Pere Ubu-ish keyboard sounds and transitory
voices.  
Preoccupied follows it, and this one highlights the blues influence on British psych, with a classic
riff underplaying the weird harmony vocals - all invoking a dreamlike state.  The pace is funereal, but after
three and a half minutes a Gong-ish rearrangement twists the basic riff through ninety degrees for a minute
or so, following which a final chorus climaxes into a perfect ending.

Another facet of psychedelia is explored on
Stalking Horse, with a 60's-influenced arrangement, acoustic
guitars and strings to the fore, of a subtly changing composition which seems to shift between keys
constantly.  There is also some exceptionally good keyboard playing the way, before another Beatles touch
comes along with the muted trumpet voices in the middle section - reminiscent of "Strawberry Fields
Forever" for a fleeting moment.   When these voices (they were probably played on a keyboard) return for
the coda, the rapid runs bring Mercury Rev to mind, on something like their "See You On The Other Side"
album.

The opening bars of
Placebo pull the exact same trick with the brass voices but without giving the
impression of repetition, as this is an entirely different song; groove-based, still latent with something that's
not optimism, but managing to convey the psych Beatles influences all the same.  There's another hint of
early 90's trance in the way the percussion has been arranged, too.  And now the influences are coming
thick and fast, with an inevitable comparison to the Stranglers track "Golden Brown" prompted by the
keyboards in
British Grenadiers.  Probably more indicative of where Shaw's heart lies, the multitracked
vocals, treated with some time-based effect (phasing again?) put this right back in the court of
psychedelia.  (Though I suppose "Golden Brown" wasn't a million miles away, come to think of it.)

Mongrel offers bark and bite in equal measure, with perhaps an early-80's feel to the minimalistic synth
bleeps (like the less commercial moments of the Associates, e.g. on their Fourth Drawer Down album)
while the chorus is Bevis Frond territory, distorted rhythm guitar sloshing everywhere until, of all things,
some harmonized lead guitar playing triplets invokes...¦.Hotel California by the Eagles!  No, the song is
nothing like that, but it certainly made me sit up.  Next,
In The Gutter throws another off-kilter queasy riff
and shifted vocals over a pedestrian bass / drum pattern, stiffened with the steady half-snarl, half-drone of
a dark, distorted guitar.  The choral arrangement on the chorus provides a brilliant hook, but I didn't like
the overhyped drums that punctuate this passage.  (You can't have everything.)

The CD closes out with
One Last Drink For The Band.  A sleazy wah'd guitar solo played by Aaron
Shaw heralds another 60's-influenced vocal melody and arrangement.  This could be something off a very
early David Bowie album.  Some classic blues-influenced guitar comes and goes, along with 60's keyboard
parts and melodic voice, before moving into a final wah guitar wigout that seems to last three or four
minutes, and once again brings a bit of traditional rock to the table.  Old School Rock Died yesterday?  
Nah!

Well, this CD will polarize opinions tremendously.  It's not one of those psychedelic trip type of albums,
consisting instead of a number of vignettes - but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, all the
same.  Personally I think it's a total psychedelic masterpiece, very 60's influenced, but with nods along the
way to the 70's, 80's and 90's, and never becoming derivative.  Best of all it's *cheap*, available from
Woronzow's website for the princely sum of £3.  How can you go wrong with that?!  Go on - it might be
the best three quid you ever spent...¦
Some of the best: Adrian Shaw - Displaced Person
Some of the best:   Adrian Shaw - Look Out
Another Adrian Shaw solo album, but with a
completely different feel - this one's almost rootsy or
folky by comparison with Displaced Person.  There
is the same use of layered vocals, distorted droning
rhythm guitar (on the first number anyway),
psychedelic guitar solos, 60's keyboards and low-key
production.  But the main difference is the
songwriting, which on this album hews closer to an
unselfconscious alt-rock direction, not all that
dissimilar to the kind of thing Ade's associate Nick
Saloman does with Bevis Frond.

If Displaced Person had a weakness, it was (rather
oddly, for a bass player's album) in the rhythmic
stakes: the bass and drum arrangements were too
minimalistic to sit well with the overarchin
g
psychedelia.  On Look Out, these instruments are
perhaps better produced - the opening track I Don't
Think So has a more 'live' drum sound, particularly on the noisy coda.  Or perhaps they're just in more
sympathetic surroundings.  Either way, it's strange to hear Shaw's rather conventional bass parts given the
inventiveness he showed on Hawkwind's Quark Strangeness & Charm album.

The second track in,
Another Face, is a beautiful song with piano and acoustic guitars as the lead
instruments and little or no percussion.  Careful listening reveals that the bass parts may be conventional but
they are not dull, ordinary or simplistic: the thought of writing out bass tablature for this gives me the
shivers.  The rootsy vibe continues through this number and on into
Rhododendron Mile...¦and I don't
know if this is deliberate or not, but what's becoming evident is that this album has a completely American
feel to it in stark contrast to Displaced Person.  Some of the songs and arrangements remind me of Alex
Chilton's Big Star - although the layered vocal arrangements here hint at something altogether more West
Coast.

The dark side can't be completely excised, and
The Chosen, with its eerie keyboards and old school rock
construction, is another one that brings the Bevis Frond comparison to the forefront.  But maybe Ade's
participation in the Frond is the reason why, and we have to go farther back to get the true influence that's
at work here.  There is certainly a touch of late 60's American garage band rock here - the Electric Prunes
being one possible reference point, although the atmospheric multitracked guitar solo with which the song
fades out is a reminder that Shaw is not merely stuck in a 60's timewarp.  
Few Are Called, the succeeding
track, immediately underlines this with a jaunty piano riff which sounds almost like something Madness
might have done.  The alternation of major and minor chord progressions is cut up with radio/tape voices,
and Shaw's vocal line threads its way surefootedly through the strange landscape that this number paints.  I
think the way to describe this is "alt-psychedelia".

Remembrance of Things Past comes back to more familiar ground, and could be a forgotten song by The
Kinks with some bubbling bass runs to listen out for, and an excellent warbling organ sound that I wish was
higher in the mix.  I've now cited two British references in succession, but the overall feel is still American,
given the pace and arrangement of all the songs so far.  I've not mentioned the dreaded word 'country' but
it's here, in a latent kind of way...¦in the same way that bands as diverse as REM and The Byrds have
country influences in their music.

Father's Day starts off with a While My Guitar Gently Weeps kind of motif.  One very effective thing about
this album is the way that all the songs are paced about the same - mid-to-slow, without speed-ups or
slowdowns to disrupt the flow.  Father's Day maintains this well, and includes some very decent guitar
soloing and the best drum sounds heard yet on the CD.  The bass also seems to be picking up in terms of
melodic complexity but never enough to become flashy.  The song itself is fairly squarely within the
tradition of the aforementioned George Harrison number, and so the Beatles / 60's influences are still there
(but the song in question is probably among the most American-sounding of the Fab Four's output).

Father's Day segues fairly smoothly into an instrumental called
Oh, To Be Young, where the lead
instrument is an envelope-filtered guitar over a rootsy, countryish backing of acoustic guitars and (rather
splendidly) mandolins.  The plaintive melody line and alternating major / minor chords make this a more
unconventional affair than that description might suggest.

A Modern Man strikes out in another direction, with the wavering voice and keyboard intro suggesting early
Pink Floyd...¦but an overdriven rhythm guitar on the verse hauls this back into more mainstream territory.  
However the song preserves the psychedelic motif with plinky keyboard arpeggios and "out there" vocals,
along with some very nice squelchy psych guitar effects - fast-sweep flanging or something like that.  The
Floyd associations gather strength in the quiet passages, where a vocal line similar to 'Brain Damage' (Dark
Side Of The Moon) combines well with a 60's Farfisa organ sound.  This is the most psychedelic track yet
on Look Out.

Cool Blue Reminder puts a dance hall soul drum sound with a claustrophobic buzzing guitar riff and
small-room reverb vocals, intoning an atonal bluesy melody.  The chorus seems to be composed entirely of
wavering, shimmering treated vocals over the intense, inward-looking drum/guitar arrangement.  It's very
strange...¦probably the trippiest bit of the album, which closes with
Childhood's End.  Which way is this
going to go, towards the 60's psych or will it pick up on the American influences that were prevalent earlier
in the album?  The answer is the former, as this song is another percussionless piece with picked acoustic
guitars, almost flowery vocals and a spacey keyboard melody near the top of the mix...¦

No doubt I am imagining this, but I think the story of this CD is that Adrian Shaw wanted to make an album
with a more American feel to it, and initially succeeded: but the late 60's psych influences won out.  The
running order of the songs probably contributes to this notion, as there is a progression evident - which is
one of the album's strengths: it definitely feels more like a body of work than Displaced Person does.  And
as with that album, this one is available
online from Woronzow for just three quid.  Well worth checking
out.
And now regular correspondent Graham gives his take on it... Worth a listen, he says...
Now a member of the so-called Hawklords (although it seems doubtful his bass playing will be heard over
that of Alan Davey), Adrian Shaw's tenure in Hawkwind was brief (he plays bass on QS&C) and he almost
certainly deserves to be known more for his work with Magic Muscle and Bevis Frond.

I must confess to finding his solo work rather hard going. Treated voices and effects often seem to be
designed to cover up pedestrian music and poor singing (much like some of the good Captain's solo work in
fact, lest you think I'm picking on Ade Shaw unfairly). And yet, the CDs repay repeated listens. Displaced
Person is the second of five CDs to appear on the now defunct Woronzow label between 1997 and 2004
(W0029CD, from 1997). (There was also a cassette only release from 1990 on Cyborg, “Aerial Dance").

Displaced Person has a pretty good ratio of listenable songs to dross over its 12 songs and 66 minutes of
music, although it works as intelligent pop rock, rather than anything to do with space rock, with a nicely
retro line in keyboard sounds (and some suspiciously familiar snatches of melody in various places).

The album kicks off with the dismal dirge of "What If": all fuzzed up guitars, treated vocals and no
discernible tune, but just about every other track is a significant improvement on this. Highlights include â
€œStalking Horse" with its harpsichord, Spanish guitar and synthetic brass fills, "Mongrel", on which the
guitar solo sounds like a pastiche of Don Felder's playing on Hotel California, and the plaintive ballad
"Ascension Day".  All in all, not outstanding but certainly worth a listen.