|Take Me To Your Future CD / DVD review
6th September 2006
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|Well, we had to wait a little while for this, due to some teething problems with production of the dual-disc (silver CD on one side, gold DVD on the other), but it’s here now and hopefully has been worth the wait. Taking a slightly longer view, this title saw release less than a year after Take Me To Your Leader, which is pretty decent going in terms of album release frequency. Although I wonder if this *is* an album per se, given the unusual format and the brief tracklisting – just 5 numbers on the audio segment, which are:
Uncle Sam’s On Mars
The Reality Of Poverty
Ode To A Timeflower
Altogether this stuff clocks in at 31:44 which these days is EP length, but then there’s the video material too:
Assassins of Allah
The Golden Void
Don’t be Donkish
So there’s enough here to file it with the other 35 or so core Hawkwind albums – despite this being almost a compilation given the patchwork nature of the track roster. Of which more anon.
The booklet hasn’t much text content, apart from reprinting most of the lyrics (always welcome) - but is visually lavish. The design and layout is by Jon Price at Kadu Ink (the same kind gent who also brought us Jon’s Attic) and is nicely documented here. The main peculiarity of it is the inner tray design, on top of which the disc sits when in the case. It looks to me like a massive Brussels Sprout hovering over the tree tops – which would be a truly horrifying sight. Perhaps this is a visual tip of the hat to a series of monster vegetable titles, as in the Eggplant That Ate Chicago, The Aubergine That Ate Rangoon and now The Brussels Sprout That Ate Forest Hill.
The front cover, though, is styled after Georgia O’Keefe’s 1927 painting “The Radiator Building” but given a few Hawkwind touches. And then there’s the typeface in which the band name and album title are displayed across the top of the image :-) It’s good to see something different being tried after the 1970’s psychedelic art of the last few album covers, and I think I like this one the best of any of the album covers since 2000’s Spacebrock, for what that’s worth.
Onto the music then, and opener Uncle Sam’s On Mars is a pleasant enough remake of what was an unspectacular inclusion in many a late 70’s set – an almost monochordal song that was itself decended from the mantraic “Opa-Loka”. I’m missing the point as to why it has been revisited, but in common with the 2005 re-recording of “Paradox” (featured on the DVD), this has been smoothed out considerably from the more angular renditions of yore. Though some classic Brock synth bursts anchor it to the Hawkwind tradition, yeah. It just goes to show that the streamlined direction of Hawkwind 2005/06 is not entirely due to the influence of Jason Stuart, or any of the other contributors to last year’s Take Me To Your Leader – it’s coming from within the core trio as much as from the jazzier elements with which they’ve been associated of late.
Small Boy is a preview of the forthcoming Calvert Project, wherein Bob’s readings of his own work are set to music composed by Dave Brock. On this particular track, the poem was originally called “The Swing” and I believe that it first appeared in "Centigrade 232" (the 1978 Quasar Books collection of Bob’s poetry), and then again on audio cassette in 1988, published under Bob’s own imprint, Harbour Publications. Presumably the Calvert vocal track here is lifted from that cassette, though his voice has been treated to add atmospherics. And it seems to me that it is on this question of atmospherics that a venture like this must stand or fall, since the conjunction of music with the *spoken word* needs to be more than the sum of its’ parts in order to be called a success. This does succeed, not least through the evocative reverberations applied to Calvert’s vocal tones, which are offset by some sophisticated “tinkling ivories” piano – here the external jazz influences are more marked. Though it’s a good thing the lyrics are reprinted, since they’re pretty hard to make out on the track itself, being quite low in the mix.
The Reality Of Poverty is a track that was to have made it onto Take Me To Your Leader, but got taken off, and makes a welcome first appearance here instead. It must date from 2002 or 2003 since it features both Arthur Brown, doing a spoken voiceover and Simon House’s cosmic swirls of violin. It’s a long piece, clocking in at about nine minutes, with several distinct sections. The opening vocal passage is initially something of a disappointment, coming after Bob Calvert’s spoken word piece on the preceding track – the ear is longing to hear some *singing* at this point, and Arthur’s 5-octave vocal range is just too good to be wasted on having him *talk*. But it passes, with the song moving into a verse sung by the Captain, whose folky baritone is so different to Arthur’s stentorian tones – far more musical, here. The music pounds along nicely in classic contemporary Hawkwind style; not much in the way of chordal variation but lots of pacey bass runs and synthy texture. Subsequent spoken / sung passages from Arthur and Dave respectively are supplanted by sepulchral, pulsing drumbeats before a final minute or so of delicate synth outro.
Ode To A Time Flower first got a live outing at the 1975 Reading Festival and then, like Small Boy, featured in Centigrade 232 and on Bob’s subsequent 1988 audio readings on the Harbour Publications cassette. It’s also been featured in Hawkwind’s live sets in recent years, notably on the 2004 Spring and Autumn tours, sometimes under the title “Trip”. Once again Bob’s vocals are treated, over a backing that this time is more techno-ish than that accorded to ‘Small Boy’. It sounds dated by comparison, and as with Reality Of Poverty, there’s a contrast between the drum’n’bass voicings that Hawkwind were exploring when this was first put together (3 years ago), and the sleeker music that they’ve since pursued.
Incidentally, the printed lyrics are prefaced with a passage from J.G. Ballard’s short story of the same name, which is a beautiful piece, quite atypical and very rarely anthologised. Seeing this here confirms that it was indeed the inspiration for Bob’s poem; though the only connection between the two works is really the motif of the time flower itself, a crystalline object which Calvert explores in greater detail, rather than following the narrative of the short story.
I’ve previously burbled about this particular version of Silver Machine, the final audio track on the CD, which got played on the radio some months ago as part of the tribute to the recently deceased Tommy Vance. It’s a remarkably cleaned-up rendition, missing practically all the muggy ambience of the original, though some audio generator whooshes can still be heard in the middle of the mix, between Lemmy’s ungravelly warblings and Dave’s 21st century crashing guitar chords – much harder-edged than what the available technology could yield in 1972. Again, I can’t actually see a *reason* why this should have been revisited, but it’s enjoyable enough and incidentally shows off the talents of the rhythm section well. There’s also a completely new coda which features a dobro or similar over another drum’n’bass type percussive arrangement. An interesting pairing that works surprisingly well.
Is there any reason to pause at this point? Not really, and so it’s on with the DVD side of the dual-disc. The main menu doesn’t offer a “play all” selection, so one has to individually select the specific titles, making a nonsense of the sequence that I listed at the top of this review, but no matter. We may as well take it as read, and start with Images, which the subtitle tells us is from the forthcoming DVD “Space Bandits”. It’s not new, however, and has been seen before on the Promo Collection VHS video, which was one of several I reviewed at interminable length on the Pre-DVD: Video’s Of The 90’s page. As I mentioned there, it’s actually the audio recording from the Space Bandits album, overlaid with contemporary live video footage, featuring Bridgett Wishart quite prominently. It will be interesting to see if the “Space Bandits” DVD is going to be just a reissue of the Promo Collection in the newer format, or if it’s going to be something different…
By contrast, Utopia (“from the forthcoming DVD releases, AUSTRALIA 2000”) is new viewing unless you happened to see the Australian TV broadcast of Hawkwind’s appearance on “Studio 22” in March 2000. In terms of quality it’s far and away the best offering of the video segments on this release, both for sound and for vision. The band themselves are on top form too, despite the scratch line-up for this particular Antipodean tour – as well as Brock, Chadwick and House, Harvey Bainbridge covered the keyboards and Steve Taylor deputised for Hawkwind’s then bass player, Ron Tree, who was unable to tour. They make a splendid fist of Utopia, with Harvey providing some improvised spoken word parts, amid a pacey, balanced arrangement that would not be at all out of place on the 2001 Canterbury Sound Festival album – though Jerry Richards’ lead guitar is quite unlike Huw’s; but Simon House’s violin steals the show anyway.
The sequence covering Assassins of Allah is subtitled as being from the forthcoming DVD “Winter Solstice 2005” and was filmed, I would guess, at the London Astoria on 21st December 2005. I think I recognize the combination of predominantly green / blue stage lighting, the lightshow backdrop and the fairy dancers.
As with a couple of the video segments on the free DVD that accompanied Take Me To Your Leader, it is a cut above audience filming but this footage is not part of a professional shoot. It was filmed from the back of the hall with no alterations in focus, no close-ups, no panning - but with hands steady as a rock, so kudos to the cameraman for that. Unfortunately the sound quality is the other thing that shouts “camcorder!”, with almost nothing of the bass register making it onto the soundtrack. Now this could well be because we are seeing raw, pre-production footage, and so it would be unwise to prejudge the Winter Solstice 2005 DVD on this evidence. But Jez Huggett’s soprano saxophone, to take one example, is reduced to tinny burbling – I wonder why it is that Voiceprint allowed this particular segment to be released as is, when everything else that comes out on DVD seems to have benefited from proper production…
A different kind of problem besets the footage of The Golden Void – which, again, is from a forthcoming DVD release, but this time one that’s intended for Hawkwind Passport Holders only, and it is to be a reissue of the 1989 Treworgey Fayre video. Again, this is something that I’ve previously reviewed on the Pre-DVD: Video’s Of The 90’s page. It was one of those videos that started off OK and steadily degenerated, but this isn’t too bad as Golden Void came from the middle section of the set. The main problem is lack of ambient lighting on the stage – not too bad when viewing the footage from the left camera angle, which shows Alan Davey up fairly clearly. But the right hand side of the stage where Dave Brock is located is much darker. It’s also possible to pick out Harvey Bainbridge and Simon House fairly well. Musically this is excellent, as the 1989 incarnation of the band could hold their own with the Hawkwind of any era in the live stakes.
Next is another hitherto unseen segment – 1996 rehearsal footage of Steppenwolf, from the farm. Being exclusive to this title, you are unlikely to see it on any other future DVD release and therefore need to put your hand in your pocket and buy this one, of course. The music features the “Alien 4” period line-up with Ron Tree on vocals, and the version of this song that they crank out is superb, with Alan’s bass playing being particularly splendid, as the visual footage concentrates on three female dancers rehearsing in the sunshine: they go through their paces in the farm’s yard while the band are cranking it out in an adjacent barn. The dancers are watched by an older couple who remain immobile in deckchairs, off to one shaded side of the yard. I enjoyed their stoic spectatorship quite as much as anything else in this number.
Finally, there is an option called ‘Hawkwind Passports’ which leads to a further submenu with these choices: Hawkfest, Launch Party, and Hawkwind Passport Details. The first of these, Hawkfest, consists of a montage of video and still shots from both Hawkfests (2002 and 2003), shot by Val and Rik Richardson, over a new synthy instrumental called Don’t Be Donkish. This has a touch of the old British Tribal Music / Douglas In The Jungle motif about it, and would not be out of place on a Brock solo album. The visuals will be familiar from the Hawkfest photo galleries on Mission Control and include the disturbing sight of yours truly if you know where to look.
The next sequence, Launch Party, is a similar exercise in that it presents a montage of still shots over the musical backing of Paradox 2005. This was put together by Martin Treanor, using many of the photos that appear on my Spirit Of The Age Launch Party page. (Some additional photos -professional quality!- were supplied by Rik Richardson.)
Lastly, the Hawkwind Passport Details is just a page of static information on where, how and why you should get one if you haven’t already. Given everything that is in the pipeline at the moment, this is strongly advised! And in fact, that’s really what this entire album is all about, setting aside for the moment the fact that it’s split across two different formats with the CD and DVD portions. Some of this material is a tidying up of the last couple of years, closing out the transition from ‘Destruction of The Death Generator’ to ‘Take Me To Your Leader’. The remainder is a look at what the band are working on for the future, notably with various DVD projects being in hand. This may be a core album, but it nonetheless almost comes across as a compilation – and perhaps should be judged against different / less exacting criteria than was the case for Take me To Your Leader, for example. So, it’s a stopgap – a must-have for the committed fan, and not recommended for, or aimed at the casual buyer. Sounds like a 7/10.