Strange Daze '97 CD review

20th March 2012
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This CD recently seems to have become available again, on the Voiceprint label, after many years of
languishing in obscurity.  Consequently, it's new to my collection despite having been recorded 15 years ago,
at "America's Premier SpaceRock Festival", Strange Daze '97.  This event took place at a campground in
rural New York state and judging by photos and accounts of the occasion (I wasn't there) looks to have been
a somewhat ramshackle affair, perhaps on a par with the UK's free festivals of yore.  I'm not sure if the
"Premier" tag is intended to describe its' pre-eminence in terms of chronology or of quality.  Either way,
there was only Strange Daze '97, and another one in '98, as far as American SpaceRock Festivals go, so we
can probably take it as a given.

Disc 1:

1.Awakening (Gaia Avatara) 1:19
2.Rooms Of Shord (Red Giant) 7:27
3.Green Acid (Nucleon) 4:57
4.New Arrival (ST 37) 5:56
5.Holographic Caves (Architectural Metaphor) 7:02
6.Evanwalker P.I.M (FI) 7:35
7.Laminate My Organ Donor Card (Bionaut) 3:51
8.Pre Millennium Transmissions (Freak Element) 5:11
9.Harbour Of Infinity (Melting Euthoria) 2:19
10.Burning Inside (Born To Go) 4:17
11.Faerienot Space(Quarkspace) 7:55
12.Soft Martian (Alien Planetscapes) 8:49
13.The Stream (Drumplay) 2:58

Disc 2:

1.  Intro 0:20
2.  Sunrise (Gaia Avatara) 1:22
3.  Green Acid (Nucleon) 2:15
4.  Translunar Injection (ST37) 3:47
5.  Evan Walker P.I.M. (F/i) 1:09
6.  Rooms of Shord (Red Giant) 0:43
7.  25,000 Feet Per Second (Far Flung with Nik Turner) 5:16
8.  Soul Herder (Far Flung with Nik Turner) 1:05
9.  Opa Loka (Far Flung with Nik Turner) 3:33
10. Re-Laminate my organ donor card (longer re-edit) (Bionaut) 4:05
11. Vagabond (Nick Riff's Freak Element) 5:58
12. Burning inside (Born To Go) 0:39
13. Faerienot Space (Quarkspace) 3:49
14. The stream (Drumplay) 1:42
15. Kairds (Architectural Metaphor) 1:50
16. Radiation King (Alien Planetscapes) 3:44
17. Celestial Hysteria (Melting Euphoria) 1:07
18. Kauai (Hawkwind) 1:30
19. Assassins Of Allah (Hawkwind) 9:14
20. Brainstorm / In Your Area (Hawkwind) 12:39

The tracklist, then, reveals this to be in the familiar Hawkwind-Friends-and-Relations / Traveller's-Aid-Trust
format, albeit with some peculiarly brief track times on the 2nd CD.  Not that anything much like a coherent
tracklist appears in the CD packaging, which includes an 8 page colour booklet devoid of very much in the
way of information.  Rather alarmingly, it does mention that "Disc 2 was conceived as a sort of cosmic
trip".  Er, that's pretty much in line with the booklet's photos of magic mushrooms and quotations of Bridget
Wishart's lyrics from Black Elk Speaks...¦(well, she sang them, she can take the blame.)

Gaia Avatara's Awakening is not the Hawkwind track of the same name, but an earnest American-accented
monologue over a muted backdrop of funny noises.  It's faded out after less than a minute and a half, which
(you get the feeling) is probably a mercy.

Red Giant up the ante with Rooms Of Shord.  This is grunge stretching into rocked out proto-jam-band
territory, not too terribly distant from what Monster Magnet were doing at around the same time.  It pretty
much wears out its' welcome after four or five minutes, when the song goes into a slowed mid-passage, but
Red Giant rev it up again to return to the main riff before breaking out into a decent Sabbathish coda,
terminating in another merciful fade.

Nucleon are next, giving us Green Acid: same general area of doomy riff-laden skullduggery as the previous
band, but their sound is a little different, being dominated by a scooped-mid 80's American metal guitar tone.  
The bass fills out the space left by the guitar solo with a few trills and tricks; plenty of cymbal work from
the drummer rounds out the jam band dynamics, and the slightly subdued live sound actually lends itself to
Nucleon's murkily ignoble intentions.

ST37's New Arrival kicks off with cacophonous guitar noodles and a little-girl-narration vocal style before
veering off at a strange angle.  While primitive sounding synths swoop and whoosh in the underpinning, the
song explores a gonzo 60's psychedelic direction.  This is done with an endearing punkish naivety: though
ST37 were around long enough (are they still going?) to know exactly what they were up to.  If memory
serves, this lot are from Texas and do seem to be carrying a 13th Floor Elevators influence.  Although
towards the end they delve into a few 1971-ish / MotU mannerisms, which is where you feel that ST37 are
wearing their Hawkwind influence on their sleeves.  But it's not the only, or main, string to their bow.

Architectural Metaphor were another 90's band whose name became fairly well known in the context of
underground American Space Rock. Surprisingly, their
Holographic Caves is quite dubby, featuring echo-
chamber guitar vamping, a female-vocalist and choirs of synth of which Mr. Bainbridge would be proud.  
The whole thing is reminiscent of what Hawkwind were doing when they had Bridget on board, which
means it was already 6 or 7 years out of date when recorded - not that it matters: this CD is already shaping
up as a celebration of a certain set of sounds and influences, the contemporaneity of which is besides the

F/i, based on the relatively little I've heard of theirs, seem to have been one of the best bands who were
treading this particular path.  I have a CD of theirs that may be a compilation of 2 EP's, called Blue Star /
Merge Parlour.  
Evanwalker P.I.M ("the Evan Walker Presidential Inauguration March") is their offering
here, and it's an understated, almost jazzy, instrumental excursion with 60's organ sounds providing a vintage
vibe.  The looping, repetitive riffs and bluesy motifs pay homage to early Floyd rather than the
Hawkwindisms heard on some of the other tracks here.

Bionaut open Laminate My Organ Donor Card with sampling of Stacia's countdown, which can be heard
in full on Hawkwind At The BBC 1972.  This is tastefully interwoven with layers of synth voicings (very
HW) which almost fade out completely, as the full recording of Countdown, featuring Andy Dunkley as well
as Stacia, unfolds.  But instead of some wall of blanga erupting, tremolo-effect synth chords usher this
serenely out.

Freak Element's Pre Millennium Transmissions delves, if anything, even deeper in time to wring out a
vibe that would fit well on the In Search Of Space album - wiry lead guitar, an adenoidal bass, vaguely tribal
drums and squiggles of synthesizer.  A song it is not: what we have here is atmospherics which again
succeed in striking a few Floydesque touches, but don't go anywhere.

Melting Euphoria's Harbour Of Infinity goes for eastern-scale lead guitar colourings which develop into a
Gonglike riff - again instrumental, and ornamented by bubbling synths.  And again, not developing at all.

Born To Go differentiate themselves by actually introducing Burning Inside and describing what it's about.  
With intelligible vocals high in the mix, this is already more interesting to listen to than yet more slices of
instrumental wibbling, but the musical palette is little varied from what's preceded it.  Too bad the song is no
great shakes, and the vocals slightly strained.  Born To Go have a decent sound and a feel for dynamics, the
band pulling together behind the riff with the odd show of musical muscle.

Quarkspace offer up Faerienot Space and it features an effective crystalline intro, done on something that
sounds like a cross between a dobro (resonator guitar) and a harp.  Stuttering, stumbling bass and drum
parts are added to the aural picture, with gruff rhythm guitar and piano melodies stirred in as we go along,
screeds of lead guitar being the last ingredient to be added to the soup.  But it's just more jamming, thereâ
€™s no actual rhythm to be discerned, not much of a tune, and no vocals.  Some of the guitar is almost
similar to Jeff Beck's spacier moments.

Alien Planetscapes seem to pick up where Quarkspace left off, with Soft Martian shooting for guitar-led
atmospherics.  However it's built on a sturdier foundation, bass and drums locking into a 7/8 groove (I
think). This is overlaid with peals of sax which for the most part squeals, squalls and squawks in true Nik
Turner fashion: but the riff is much closer to Gong than it is to Hawkwind.  In common with just about
every band on this CD, Alien Planetscapes don't do enough to develop what they've got, which keeps them
and all the others mired in this particular medium of their own choosing.

Drumplay close out CD1 with The Stream.  Their name gives the game away...¦anyone who bought Danny
Thompson's solo album 'Skinwalker' (which I just discovered is the Navajo term for a zombie-like creature)
will be well happy with this.  But for the rest of us, this is no different to listening to the middle of a very
long and not very interesting drum solo.

Halfway through (we still have the "cosmic trip" of CD2 to look forward to), it's fairly clear that we have
here a collection of bands whose mission it is to jam as spacily as they can, bringing their early Pink Floyd,
Gong and Hawkwind influences to the table.  All pleasant enough and unremarkable listening.


The opening track
Intro is not credited to any particular band, but I blame Gaia Avatara, into whose
Sunrise it seamlessly segues.  We only get a couple of minutes of this (it's a cosmic trip, remember) but it
does differ from their previous outing on this CD, in that there are some wordless female vocals over the
synthscape.  Otherwise, it's of a piece with the prevailing festy band vibes.

Whereas Nucleon's Green Acid is merely a 2:15 sample of what we've already heard.  The same can be said
for F/i's Evan Walker P.I.M. (1:09) and Red Giant's Rooms of Shord (0:43). However, tucked in among
these redundant selections is a track called
Translunar Injection by ST37.  This is built around a greasy bass
riff overlaid with hoarse vocals and intermittently howling guitars.  They flog this to destruction for almost
four minutes, which makes for a pleasant interlude among all the synth-laden ambience that most of the other
bands are going for.

Farflung, with Nik Turner guesting here, definitely get the 'special guests' billing with three tracks strung
together one after the other.  The first of these is
25,000 Feet Per Second which sounds like something Here
& Now would have trotted out on one of their rare studio albums, thirty or thirty-five years ago.  The lead
guitar figurines, however, are very Brocklike, and a few other touches (bass flourishes, swooping washes of
synth) also bespeak a Hawkwind influence.  Next,
Soul Herder is 1:05 of Gong-styled ambience: think of the
opening to Master Builder on their album 'You'.

Lastly, Farflung trot out an initially well-behaved cover of Hawkwind's
Opa Loka, which hasn't the vitality of
the original, but is adorned with Nik Turner's flute - an instrument he always plays well.  Can't say the same
for Farflung's treatment of Opa-Loka, though.  Some staccato pumping of the bass halfway through sounds
epileptic, before they settle back into the pedestrian amble through this, never the most dynamic, number.  
I'm sure Farflung enjoyed playing this, with a bona fide Hawk in their midst too, but it's hardly any more than

For some reason, at this point we get a longer re-edit of Bionaut's 'Re-Laminate My Organ Donor Card',
clocking in at 4:05 instead of 3:51.  I'm not sure where the extra 14 seconds comes in, but it could just be a
longer fade.  This is really a waste of space.

Freak Element's Vagabond cuts against most of the other material on this title, being a proper
song, with a definite Neil Young flavor, though wrapped up in a jauntier, happier west coast vibe.  There's a
bit of REM in here too.  Not sure what happened to the Space Rock, but at this point it's not missed.

After that, we're back to more short samples of what's already appeared on CD1.  We get a completely
superfluous 0:39 of Born To Go's 'Burning Inside', 3:49 of Quarkspace's "Faerienot Space' and a seemingly
endless 1:42 of Drumplay doing 'The Stream' again.  (They could have given it a different title - Drumplay
come across as such a one-trick pony that you can well imagine them playing 20 songs and all of them
sounding identical.)

But things take a turn for the better with CD2 abandoning the samples and providing next
with Kairds.  Although this too is brief (less than two minutes long) it's decent enough and could
be worked into an ominous intro.  Melodically, it has faint echoes of Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet.  
are a good deal more energetic on Radiation King - another intense, claustrophobic riff that is
stretched out into a jam with twittering synths and wah-guitar.  This is OK, but steps up another level when a
second riff displaces the first, but retains the same fraught, tense atmospherics.

Melting Euphoria get to have another go with Celestial Hysteria - only about a minute long, which is
perhaps all we need.  Once they get into what is the standard mode for this album (spacey jamming)...¦well,
we've heard it all before, thanks.

Hawkwind put in their headlining appearance.  With the festival's organiser Jim Finity (presumably)
voicing a valedictory address, there's a few seconds of ambient keyboard noise credited as
Kauai, before
things get going properly with
Assassins Of Allah.  This is a pretty bog standard rendition, with Ron Tree on
vocals and the Space-Is-Their-Palestine midsection meandering along like it still does today.  Overfamiliar as
it is, the distinction between Hawkwind and their camp followers (all the other bands) is very notable. It all
hangs together so much more tightly, and there at last is the *real* space rock of Dave Brock blasting out the
"it is written" riff.  When this is completed and they go back into the main theme, the energy levels lift again.

Last track
Brainstorm / In Your Area starts out with some jocular band introductions from Dave Brock,
suggesting they might bring Nik Turner out to do a bit of falling over with them.  Not something any of us
are ever likely to hear again!  It's perhaps a surprise that they don't get Nik to cover the vocals, which are
done by Ron Tree - not that there's anything wrong with Ron's contribution.  Jerry Richards also lays down
some decent lead guitar after the second chorus, and the band footle around with this for another minute or
so before Captain Rizz comes on stage to morph the song into
In Your Area.  Which, in case you'd
forgotten, is one of those undistinguished Hawkwind ventures into cod reggae.  Here it's considerably
improved by Nik Turner's sax colourings, but still not up to much, to be honest.  However, it's been
reworked into appearing in the middle of Brainstorm, which resumes at around the nine minute mark with the
"is he dead / where's his head" riff, and a great wigged-out sax solo from Nik before a final
verse/chorus/coda to bring proceedings to a close.

If you've read this far it will no surprise that this CD gets relatively low marks.  The Hawkwind quotient is
passable, but nothing exceptional for them.  All the other bands are basically also-rans by comparison, though
the festival that is documented here would surely have been an enjoyable occasion to have experienced.  But
as a portrayal of happy times, the CD doesn't quite cut it.  The padding of Disc 2 with short samples of
material already heard on Disc 1 is in no way justified by the 'cosmic trip' idea, and in any case most of the
bands here are all working from the same limited palette of ideas.  Strange Daze '97 might best be likened to
Hawkfest 2002 (also a compilation of bands playing at a small festival) though the musical quality of the latter
title is a few notches higher.  This is probably best enjoyed by those who were there, and kompletists (of
course)...¦but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone else.  5/10.