|Spirits of Another Age
This was one of the sidebars from Record Collector's May 2002 issue
The early 80's saw the Hawkwind catalogue wars begin, as a variety of labels repackaged and reissued their
earlier material for audiences of a certain age and disposition. Charisma's Repeat Performance and the first
Weird Records release -of a total of eight- remain worthy collections, but the band themselves were looking
forward, embracing the new digital technology on the Levitation album, recorded for Bronze, and touring the
UK. The drumstool was occupied by none other than Ginger Baker until the spring of 1981,when he left after
a blazing row with the rest of the band - and to add to the chaos, Bronze dropped Hawkwind shortly after.
The revamped line-up (aided by the returning drummer Martin Griffin and guitarist Huw Lloyd-Langton)
returned after snagging a deal with Active/RCA and put in sterling appearances at both the '81 Stonehenge
and Glastonbury Festivals, while the London-based Flicknife label released the Hawkwind Zoo EP. It was to
be a prolific year - Sonic Attack was released in October and was hailed as their best work in years by fans
who had yearned to hear unreleased 70s material
1982 saw the return of Nik Turner and a European tour, as well as a tenth-anniversary reissue of the 'Silver
Machine' single: the less fickle audiences of Germany, Luxembourg and Holland gave Hawkwind a rapturous
welcome and, encouraged, the band toured solidly for almost two years, aided by a truly psychedelic light
show and a duo of masked dancers. However, the 'Winds of change were still blowing strong and RCA
dropped the band in 1983, with the long-term result that future releases would effectively be managed and
released by Hawkwind themselves.
One or two followers were taken by surprise in late 1983 and early '84 when Lemmy surfaced from the
speed-fuelled LA metal scene to record the 'Night Of The Hawks' single and the Earth Ritual Preview EP, but
most were delighted to see the lavishly-moled bass-monster temporarily back in harness and the Earth Ritual
tour went down as one of Hawkwind's most chaotic yet.
Festivals and tours would typify most of Hawkwind's 80's activities, with members coming and going at a
bewildering rate; but the fans remained loyal, even organising the first Hawkwind Convention in February
1985 in Manchester. Most of the shows were peacefully lysergic affairs, although as the public of
Thatcher's Britain turned increasingly towards civil disobedience, one or two rumblings of discontent were
felt - most notably at that year's Stonehenge, when the police deployed an 'ambush, capture and violate'
strategy to deter a convoy of revellers, of whom over 500 were subsequently arrested.
Multimedia became a Hawkwind watchword, too, as the band began work on their next album, stage show
and tour, which were inspired by the EIric books of Michael Moorcock. Hawkwind also recorded their first
BBC session for several years.
High-quality live albums kept the 'Wind's profile healthy (April 1987's Out And Intake on Flicknife is a goodie)
until promoters began to take a more serious interest in them once again, booking the band to headline both
Acid Daze live shows at Finsbury Park in north London. The march of technology meant that a
laser-powered light-show could be used, although the old-school hippie vibe meant that a posse of costume
dancers called Screech Rock had to be employed as well.
By now, of course, British rock was beginning to experience the subterfuge of house music and Ecstasy
culture - which meant that a few hoary old beardies (especially those who, like Hawkwind, were keen to
experiment with electronics) were gaining a fanbase from the new generation of ravers. The Orb, the KLF
and 808 State were among the new breed who paid verbal and musical tribute to Hawkwind and, rejuvenated
by this unexpected support, the band hit the road with renewed vigour - although the death of Robert Calvert
of a heart attack in 1988 was a blow from which they took some time to recover.
The 90s would see a bewildering barrage of Hawkwind compilations saturate the market, both sanctioned by
the band themselves and from a variety of reissue labels - but their own work remained inspired, with 1990's
Space Bandits a satisfying fusion of the organic traces of old and modern digital elements. Their live video
output was also prodigious, with good reason - their shows were still one of the finest aspects of the total
Hawkwind experience, proving highly influential to soon-to-be-festival staples such as the Ozric Tentacles
and the Suns Of Arqa.
1992's Electric Tepee and a welcome collection of Friday Rock Show Sessions (Live At Reading '86), plus a
live Hawklords anthology courtesy of the American Griffin label, meant that all the bases were covered - fans
could access the new, old and alternative versions of Hawkwind. This multilateral approach proved to be one
of the cornerstones of the band's 90's success, with ample recordings available of their best moments - even
if some of the packages haven't always been of the highest quality. In 1994, a silver jubilee package, "25
Years On", saw Hawkwind exploit their North American fanbase successfully, and scored especially highly
Stateside with their version of the Stones' 'Gimme Shelter'. But it was the following year's Alien 4 album that
restored them to the upper echelons of the increasingly marginal acid-rock / space-rock scene, although the
crisp, post-modern tones and colours of Britpop would ensure that their work remained unheard by the
masses. It was the most energetic (and yet the most polished) album that they had produced in years, with a
fully-fledged concept - the idea of alien abduction, as voiced by new vocalist Ron Tree.
Since then, Hawkwind have immersed themselves more or less completely in dance-rock fusion, a not wholly
unexpected move which has made them welcome residents of any given festival dance tent but which means
that their unique edge has almost deserted them, surrounded as they are by the dozens of Eat Statics and
Aphex Twins that make up the more eccentric end of electronica these days. However, as their 30th
anniversary came and went, a certain nostalgic need to return to the space-rock era was noticed on their part,
with a notable concert featuring 'the Hawkestra' at London's Brixton Academy in October 2000. Lemmy lent
his inimitable presence to the show, and Samantha Fox,while not quite taking the place of the long-vanished
dancer Stacia, sang 'Silver Machine' with the Motorhead frontman.
And so Hawkwind rolled into the 21st Century, more wrinkled and grizzled than before and making sounds
that their earliest fans might find unrecognisable. Or would they? Perhaps one of the most fascinating
aspects of this most eccentric group is their talent to adapt and endure, while remaining essentially the same
set of left-field experimentalists that they were at the beginning of their career.
There are now two Hawkwind camps; Dave Brock's (who retains the name) and Nik Turner's. Both play to
audiences wanting a direct link to their past - and, of course, their future. Just exactly who is Hawkwind
might never be answered; some say Brock, others would argue Turner, others Calvert and some Lemmy.
The most important thing to note is that, after all these years, Hawkwind is still an idea.
After all, no one could ever accuse Hawkwind of selling out. Unless, that is, they'd been over-indulging in the
chemical sustenance that made this band what they truly are: unique.