This is one of three newly-issued Hawkwind DVDs, and it is the only one that is previously unreleased. The other two are Treworgey Tree Fayre and USA Tour 1989-90, both of which came out on VHS videocassette back in the 1990's. Appropriately, I reviewed them on Pre-DVD: Videos of the 90's, so no need to repeat that exercise, or indeed, buy those two titles again.
Speaking of purchase, I ordered this from http://www.hawkwinddirect.com back when these titles were announced, though it was known at the time that they wouldn't become available until the end of August. UK residents started receiving theirs a few days into September and mine took a further two weeks - which is just about within the normal range of how long postal delivery from Europe can take. In the past I have complained about Voiceprint Mail Order's overseas fulfillment, and they seem to have made changes for the better: this one came from Belgium instead of Sweden, and the packaging is improved, even if there's still no customs declaration. So, kudos to Voiceprint there, although the service isn't yet quite at the same level as the competition...
This is a single DVD with a new design for the sleeve - a vaguely Art Nouveau design on the front, some photos by Nick Lee on the inside and a track listing on the back. Once loaded, there's a basic menu offering choices of Play All and Select Tracks...I went for the former and we are taken straight into a view of the stage, in blue lighting, with the band's logo and the DVD title overlaid onto it. Given that this was filmed at the Astoria it looks as though the camera was positioned downstairs at the back of the hall, with no pans or zooms (though opening track The Right Stuff is intercut with some Apollo space programme film stock...) This shows off the stage lighting excellently well but is somewhat lacking in dynamics. The back-projected lightshow is constrained between the female android figures that were part of the backdrop at this time, and it includes some of the same Apollo mission footage that has been edited into the DVD proper.
Sword Of The East kicks off with another effect - a fisheye lens distortion with a sword graphic floating back and forth in the foreground. It's far more professionally executed than the effects with which "Taste TV" (ho ho) used to retrofit Hawkwind videos, but it is nonetheless a tad cheesey. But do I prefer the drum- n-bass midsection that features dancers Stripey and Snail reeling each other across the stage on invisible spools of thread? That's a tough one.
Although the performance of these first two songs in the set has come across as restrained, the crowd's applause is genuinely enthusiastic. And then Alan Davey's piÃ¨ce de resistance Greenback Massacre is announced, and nudges the intensity of the occasion up another notch, aided by pulsating stage lights that overpower the back projections. It all ends rather abruptly, and too soon, just as the number really seemed to be hitting its stride.
Incidentally although the camera angle does not change, it very unfortunately doesn't show quite the full width of the stage. Jason Stuart can be heard adorning the intro to Seven By Seven with his trademark cocktail lounge jazz piano (much better than the out of tune guitar arpeggios!) but we can't see him, because only half his keyboard rig is visible off to the right. It's a good thing that the Knights Of Space DVD that just came out functions as a better memorial to his memory. Anyway, Jez Huggett contributes some flute to this track, which is also notable for some fabulous melodic bass runs by Alan Davey - faithfully recalling Lemmy's Space Ritual meanderings, and improving on them, as Alan often did. His successor Mr.Dibs is here too, doing a slightly overblown spoken vocal, and the first guitar solo of the night is rolled out immediately afterwards. Fitting with the more laidback vibe of this classic number, the stage lighting predominates with blue / red / purple spotlights and the whole things works really well as an accomplished arrangement of a song that's been around for a third of a century and sounds not in the least bit dated.
Out Here We Are goes even further along this mellow track, with green and blue lighting and a dancer waving a couple of yards of chiffon around. Jez Huggett plays soprano sax live on stage, overlaying himself on the recorded backing track, which just about manages not to sound ridiculous, and Alan Davey throws in some bass runs that are plainly live and not part of the backing. The back projections feature slowly uncoiling...things...and as the stage lighting intensifies, Jez pulls out a deeper-register sax (tenor, I think) to close the number out to appreciative applause. And then itâ€™s into Android Angela, which in my personal and completely insignificant opinion, is going from the sublime to the ridiculous. But whoever staged this show knows their business, with the lightshow and back projections reflecting the increased pace with higher tempo changes and more intense colours (yellow / orange / red). Stripey and Snail also come back out and jerk around robotically here and there, alternating this with what looks (from this distance) like romantic clinches. Make your mind up :-)
Although this song is almost entirely monotonal, it avoids being monotonous in a live context by dint of the intensity with which the band are pumping it out. The gig captured in this DVD is slowly gathering pace and not even the segue to Love In Space, an undoubted ballad, diminishes the trend, with Alan Davey's thrumming bass runs and Dave's mellifluous vocals rolling this number along effortlessly with bags of latent power welling just below the audible surface of the number. He also throws down the second guitar solo of the night, and it's a classic searing / spacey Brock special, and a lengthy one for him too, lasting about as long as an entire verse of the song.
Can it get better? Yes! Lord Of Light is next, and though I don't think that much of Mr.Dibs' delivery of the lead vocals, everything else is blinding, including the lightshow with strobes, white spotlights from the overhead gantry and blue illumination of the android figures on the backcloth. Wisely, there are no back projections. The band are by now right on the money, with the Brock / Davey interplay really going places and Jez Huggett wailing over the top. But that's not all that is over the top, since the male half of Stripey and Snail (I dunno which is which, you see) for some reason decides to stroll around the stage done up like a dayglo chicken, sporting some attitudes at inopportune moments. It doesn't really detract from anything else, so we'll let that pass :-/ The crowd give this number their most enthusiastic applause yet, but I somehow suspect it was not entirely on the dancer's account...
Another Jason Stuart moment comes with the piano-led intro to Paradox. Alan Davey again provides a faithful reproduction of the supporting bass parts, but this is much more than a retread of the original arrangement. Richard's harmony vocals and Dave's forceful guitar chording differentiate the 2005 version, and as with some of the earlier numbers in the set, this live rendition is much more powerful than the studio recordings that had come out as part of or in support of Take Me To Your Leader just a couple of months prior to this gig. A case in point is Spirit Of The Age, which opens with a series of back projected still slides and the two female dancers, both winged, this time getting it exactly right in terms of enhancing rather than distracting from the staging: they are deployed towards each side of the stage, rather than manoeuvring back and forth across it. This achieves some balance with the lightshow, probably helped by the fact that this particular arrangement of SotA is reasonably dynamic, with loud / quiet passages. There is some stirring lead and churning rhythm guitar in the final few passes, with Dave even walking across the stage to eyeball his bass player in that rockist way that he sometimes does when he's enjoying himself.
They follow it up with an initially wispy rendition of Psi Power, wavering backing vocals (from Alan) and plaintive piano only being rescued by the scorching guitar chords of Dave Brock. This bloke is holding it all together and impelling the entire band onwards. There's another solo along the way (lots and lots of them in this gig) and these have varied in quality from superb to slightly ropey and back again. But it's more the way that Dave is the ringleader of the whole circus that impresses. (Somewhere there's a good quote from Michael Moorcock on that very subject.)
Hassan-i-Sahba is next, and again pumps up the intensity of the stage lighting. All three dancers are out for the Space-Is-Their-Palestine midsection and their stooped contortions work well here, in amongst the rotating beams of white light and deep blue shadows. But once the band roar back with the "it is written" passage, the dancers wisely sidle off the stage, leaving it to the band, and the lighting, now going ape in shades of green and purple, to pull this song to a shuddering climax. After which Alan Davey introduces the next number as "the Upside Down version of Brainstorm", which continues in the same vein of frenetic performance from band and stage lights, now mostly red and yellow, with intense white footlights blasting out from the front of the stage. We can also actually see Jason for the first time that I've noticed, grooving away behind his bank of keyboards on the extreme right of the picture.
The nugget of Upside Down that's included in Brainstorm is sung somewhat idiosyncratically by Mr.Dibs, but the thrashing puck rock stylings of Dave's guitar are what really stands out. It's actually played faster than anything the Sex Pistols do, but it's kind of where you imagine they would go with this song. And then we cut back over to Brainstorm, with Dave and Alan singing "is he dead, where's his dead" while Richard Chadwick attempts to roar "Brainstorm" over the top - but his voice isn't strong enough to lend itself to that kind of thing and it doesn't quite work. It doesn't really matter because the tension mounts as the song gathers pace towards a slamming conclusion that heralds the end of the main part of the set. *Wow*.
Then there is a strange little interlude in which Kris Tait comes on and introduces the overly voluble Matthew Wright, who in turn introduces Rob Ayling, the Managing Director of Voiceprint. Who is there to present the band members with commemorative plaques to celebrate the strong sales of Take Me To Your Leader. And then Martin Griffin comes on to jabber inconsequentially and pull another plaque out of his...jacket...to present it to Matthew Wright. It's just as well they don't do this sort of thing all the time.
On with the show and Psychedelic Warlords takes a few minutes to get back to the intensity of Brainstorm and the preceding numbers, after the distraction of the awards ceremony. One interesting touch is the way the coloured spotlight illumination of the android figures makes them look three dimensional. I don't know how this is done, but it's really impressive. As is the final number of the set, Brainbox Pollution, despite the bouncy feelgood vibe - jaunty isn't really a key component of Hawkwind's appeal, but here it somehow works, with all the dancers out front, some droll footage of mad scientists etc. being projected behind the band, and the lights going full tilt. Both guests (Jez Huggett and Mr.Dibs) are on stage too, joined by Keef Barton I believe, the Captain wrenches out guitar solo after solo, the bass is pummeling away, the drums pound remorselessly, etc etc.. Just watching it is exhausting, which you could say about the entire DVD.
A comparison with Knight Of Space reveals that title and this one to be opposites, in a way. Though they represent the same occasion with just a couple of year's separation (Hawkwind's Christmas gigs at the London Astoria in 2007 and 2005 respectively), the two resulting end products are utterly different. Knights Of Space, from 2007, looks incomparably better, with multiple camera angles and professional video editing, but it sounds subpar, owing to a poor audio mix and a performance possibly compromised by illness. Winter Solstice 2005, by contrast, is visually lacklustre given the single fixed camera angle, but the *content* isn't, with the strong lightshow and compelling musical performance. So it requires little deliberation to say I like Winter Solstice 2005 much more than the expensively produced Knights Of Space DVD, and would give it a mark of 8/10...
Apropos of nothing, I was actually at the gig documented in this DVD. What I thought of it at the time is slightly different to my reaction to watching it again on DVD, as expressed in this review. (Fickle? Moi?) In fact, there was a suggestion of that review being used for sleeve notes on this DVD but it didn't happen for whatever (doubtless highly valid!) reason...