|London Astoria - 21/12/03
Reviews by attendees of
Hawkwind's Christmas 2003
gig at the London Astoria, on
Sunday 21st December
2003. Thanks to Mike, Rob,
Nick & Graham for their
contributions, and to Alfred
Koessl & Andi for the live pics
First up is Mike:
OK...personal sensory apparatus has stabilised sufficiently to enable submission of a report log of
encounter with HW mothership landing in London's Astoria last night...
Dreamworker Rob and I set off for London late afternoon... Following some issues with parking etc.
we head off to the Angel pub near the Astoria to hook up with some fellow 'wind heads ( AL, AT,
Dave Law, Chris Purdown, Steve, Bernhard and Andreas). Bernhard and Andreas left shortly after our
arrival to score some Chinese food somewhere. We had a few beers and some interesting chats.
Dave Law recommended checking out the new Primal Scream album (apparently quite HW
influenced). Also, there was a strong feeling that "Hurry On Sundown" would make a great single,
perhaps more so than Spirit of the Age...
From the Angel pub we hit the Astoria, bit of a search at the entrance but nothing too heavy and it was
quite cool in the venue too. Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to check out the support band but
they sounded good. We went to the bar and met up with some more friends - Pete T, Mikey, Mr and
Mrs Paul Gollidge. Rob introduced me to webmaster Rik and Val. Really nice friendly couple. Also
chatted briefly with a guy with full Prisoner gear on and a top hat. Then into the gig... I always find
the time just before the band hit the stage to be one of the real exciting points in the evening. Tonight
is no exception. Personally it's been a year since my last encounter with the mothership so I'm pretty
damn excited. Rob and I head upstairs to prepare for the journey ahead. Looking around, the gig
must be a sell out or nearly so: it's packed. We spot a certain Mr M Griffin in the audience, too.
Then at about 8.55pm, the band hit the stage... The lights go down and after a drone-y intro they
launch into a cracking version of Arrival in Utopia. By now the line up can be discerned. On the right
behind the groovy bedspread covered thing, is the Captain, looking on good form and resplendent in a
white lab coat. Centre stage is Alan Davey and Richard is of course on the drums behind (slightly
elevated). To the left and standing back a bit is Keith Barton. The band are on great form tonight, in
no particular order, the set-list included an Intro, Arrival in Utopia, Assault & Battery segueing into The
Golden Void, Angela Android, Spirit of the Age, Brainbox Pollution, Master of the Universe, Where Are
They Now, various spacey interludes, Hurry On Sundown (fab version!), The Right Stuff, Ejection,
Assassins of Allah, Heads, Wings, a Paranoia excerpt and other bits.
The standard of playing is brilliant and as usual many of the songs are rendered differently but to good
effect. All tracks were delivered on six cylinders. Good to hear some old faves like Heads. There are
Monsieur Rob now takes up the story:
Absolutely astounding gig. All musicians on top form. From both the balcony and towards the back
downstairs the sound was superb. We could hear all of them really clearly.
The core trio were joined by Keith Barton on guitar who came over exceptionally well last night.
Couldn't see round the corner from where we were but it sounded like Keith Kniveton was also there,
hidden away to the right of the stage (as you look at it from the audience). Lene Lovich took the stage
for lead vocals on one song and backing vocals on a few others - which will have divided opinion I'm
sure. I thought she was great and really fitted in (more subtly than Arthur) and most people I spoke to
felt the same, but at least one was not happy. [Note: Keith Kniveton was not there. All the synthesizer
was provided by Dave and Alan.]
Hopefully someone will post a full tracklist soon, but they opened with Arrival in Utopia and finished
with Spirit of the Age (with the Welcome epilogue) which were both stunners. Other highlights
With a bit of luck there will
be some more reviews
added to this page soon...
If you were at the gig and
would like to add your
views, please email me
here and they will appear
on this page (unless they're
already exhibited at the
Hawkwind Museum! :-)
Nick's verdict is:
I hadnâ€™t really been looking forward to the gig. Hadnâ€™t seen Hawkwind for over a year
(Brighton in November 2002 was my last gig prior to this), having spent most of the year in the US and
thus missed the Spring tour and the Hawkfest. Reading about these gigs on boc-l had left me with the
feeling that things were on the slide - continued delay to the new album, still only 2 or 3 new songs in
the sets, lukewarm gig reviews from normally devout fans, little or no involvement from Simon or
Huw, both of whom had been so important in recent times, and much as I like Arthur Brown, I felt his
presence in the ranks just made HW even more of a 70s nostalgia act, rather than a living, breathing
band. All in all, I was braced for a disappointment when I set off for the Astoria last night.
But now I can say that my faith has been restored. What a performance! Everyone played a blinder -
Dave, Alan and Richard can rarely have meshed so well, and Keith Barton does an excellent job -
unobtrusive, rounding out the sound, and playing the odd searing solo, including a particularly fine
effort on Brainbox Pollution. Credit to the soundman too - the power, clarity, and mix of the sound
was easily the best Iâ€™ve heard at a Hawkwind show.
I donâ€™t think Iâ€™ve ever before seen the band play with the power or intensity they achieved
during The Right Stuff, or Master of the Universe (which was just fantastic in its revamped form,
gaining a completely new lease of life), or the closing section of Hassan-i-Sahba. Also there are signs
that there really is more new material in the works - a new song from Alan, a fast rocky catchy effort
that sounded pretty good on first hearing, and a new instrumental (I think? Maybe some vocals
towards the end), or possibly it was two new numbers stitched together: a few minutes of ambient
synth washes followed by a rather cheesy slice of techno-funkâ€¦er, well it was something differentâ€¦
OK, letâ€™s face it, that bit wasnâ€™t up to much. But it really didnâ€™t matter when the rest of the
gig was so synapse-shredding. Quite a few numbers had unfamiliar-sounding middle passages or
endings: some nice clockwork electronica in the middle of Utopia, while Heads was rounded off with
some fine twin lead playing from Dave and Keith (when have HW ever used twin leads before?)
Lene Lovich â€“ powerful voice, somewhat incongruous stage presence- came on for Angela Android,
which Iâ€™d never heard before- turns out itâ€™s basically a novelty song, which is not usually a
good thing, but hey, it was Christmas, and they gave it plenty of welly, and got away with it, although
it seemed odd to play it so early in the set. Lene later re-appeared to do a spoken word piece (maybe
this is also from the new album?), which Iâ€™m guessing is called I, Robot, and was also onstage for
Spirit of the Age - a
Last but not least, Graham's view:
Not having seen the band since Walthamstow (and not having thought much of that gig - no Huw, no
Simon), knowing that various members/ex-members were presently missing in action, and having read
the somewhat cool review of the Exeter gig I wasn't expecting too much this time round.
I arrived around 6.30 and the queue was surprisingly short - not only that, the doors opened on time so
I was able to get a good seat at the front of the balcony with an excellent view of the stage.
The support band was Tarantism, who I'd never heard of. The venue was still only a third full when
they started playing their extending folky jams and, to begin with, I felt like I'd wandered into the wrong
concert and the headliners would turn out to be Pentangle or some such. Songs about dodgy tour vans
("Wing mirror") and the like got little reaction. However, towards the end of the set they started to get
into a groove and eventually received a really positive response from the crowd.
Tarantism's gear was shifted and Mr Dibs and Co set up the mikes. The stage was looking a bit bare,
emphasised by the plain white sheet hanging behind the stage and this still wasn't looking or feeling like
a Hawkwind concert. The venue had filled up though and there was now some atmosphere...
There were three sets of keyboards, including the one on the right that was obviously Dave Brock's and
two unfamiliar sets. Clearly then we weren't going to get Tim Blake, Simon House, Keith Kniveton or
Harvey Bainbridge doing one of their regular/occasional guest spots. Three mics at the front of the
stage - two on the far left (with a chair next to them), one in the middle. No Arthur Brown so the centre
stage mic was obviously Alan's. Presumably the other were for Lene Lovich and Huw (the chair also?).
Around 9.00 the lights finally dimmed and Hawkwind took the stage - Dave stage right behind his
keyboards/synths, Richard behind on the drum kit, Alan stage centre with a small keyboard - plus a
short-haired guitarist, positioned stage left behind the third keyboard setup, who I take to be Keith
They kicked off with Arrival in Utopia, Dave and Alan sharing vocals. From the left of the balcony the
sound was a bit muddy - and definitely too quiet. Just as they got going the song slowed right down
for an instrumental passage. They've always done this but at barely two minutes into the concert, it
simply dissipates any momentum. In fact the main problem when the band play without a dedicated
keyboard player is that they increasingly seem to rely on pre-recorded synth sequences. Synth sounds
were emerging from stage right but Dave was clearly fiddling around with his torch and clipboard rather
than actually playing - and the sound which emerged was distinctly cheesy. Things picked up again
when the main guitar riff came back in.
I couldn't distinguish Keith Barton's input to begin with but he certainly contributed some good lead
guitar later on in the set and generally toughened up the sound. The light/slide show was good
throughout and two female dancers added more visual interest to several songs.
Next up, "Angela Android", with Richard taking lead vocals. I actually liked his take on "Gimme
Shelter" but he convinced me during this set that the singing should be left to Dave and Alan! Lene
Lovich appeared, looking and sounding exactly like she did 20+ years ago on Top of the Pops singing
"Lucky Number" - and if the synths ever fail she can certainly do the space noises. She contributed
some slightly more conventional vocals later on in the song - but it is not a highlight of the set.
Another pre-recorded synth sequence heralded "Assault and Battery" - Dave's vocals were excellent but
for me this song, and especially "Golden Void" which followed, needs Simon House's input. Next up
was "Where are they now" - a welcome addition to the set but worth developing into an extended
Games" and "Waiting For Tomorrow", finishing with the "5th Second" outro. After this all too brief
interlude the band were back on.
They launched into "Wings". The mix definitely wasn't right -Dave's rhythm guitar drowned out
everything else when it came in- and Alan seemed to be losing his voice. However, "Ejection" lifted the
tempo again. Lene Lovich returned to deliver a spoken piece apparently about the three laws of
robotics before Dave started the synth sequence for "Heads". Never one of my favourite songs but it
worked quite well.
Alan then sung a good sounding new song before things really picked up with a storming "Brainbox
Pollution" and the inevitable "Assassins of Allah".
They started the encore with Spirit of the Age" ("great to have a singalong" says Dave), a version that
started slowly (those pre-recorded synths again) but gained strength as it went on. Dave never follows
Bob Calvert's words entirely but he does at least always deliver pretty much the same version! "Master
of the Universe" was rearranged, with Richard reciting the first verse over a synth backdrop before
Dave's rhythm guitar figure signalled the entry of the rest of the band - excellent version. The set
wound up with "Welcome".
In the end, two hours flew by far too quickly. Not quite a classic but well worth the trip. Mind you,
conversations overheard on the way out suggested that some people found it all a bit underwhelming
("didn't really get going until the encore", "weak drum sound", etc). On the way out I picked up the
"Spaced out in London" CD - very nice to have another live souvenir (and my memory of Walthamstow
is clearly at fault because it sounds excellent) - but please can we get the new studio album soon!
An unfamiliar instrumental followed - again
apparently mostly pre-recorded although Alan
Davey played chords on his keyboard - followed
by an excellent sequence of "The Right Stuff" /
"Paranoia" and "Hurry On Sundown".
Then a change of pace as Dave introduced Huw.
He looked pretty frail and had to be helped to
strap on his acoustic guitar but he didn't need the
chair and -as other reviewers have commented-
his short set was a revelation, really dexterous
guitar playing and good vocals. The guitar intro
to "5th Second of Forever" led into "Solitary Mind
Above: Alan loomed large in the proceedings, to
Dave's evident apprehension
The full setlist, or an approximation thereof:
Intro / Arrival In Utopia
Assault and Battery / Golden Void
Where Are They Now
Out There We Are (new instrumental number)
The Right Stuff
Hurry On Sundown
Interlude: Huw comes out looking fit and well and plays stunning renditions of:
Fifth Second of Forever
Solitary Mind Games
Waiting for Tomorrow
Some absolutely gorgeous high-speed picking and strumming here, very adventurous arrangements,
better than the originals! Great to see Huw back on form. Then HW return and it goes something like
I, Robot (if thatâ€™s what itâ€™s called) ***
Hassan-i-Sahba (with the 'Space is their Palestine' middle section)
Spirit of the Age
Master of the Universe
Welcome to the Future
Merry xmas to one and all
*** Aparently Lene just recited part of the lyrics to 'Robot' over a slowish coda tacked onto the end
of Ejection, so this isn't actually a separate track
goodtime singalong piece of Xmas panto that
got the crowd going (although this is one song
where the original version will always be the
best). Overall her guest spot worked out OK as
a one-off - not sure it would work long-term
Good lightshow - very effective barrage of
strobes in places - I mean, you need a good
barrage of strobes at a Hawkwind gig, to just
give it that extra little mind-altering something.
I also liked the â€œReefer Madnessâ€�-style
film clips during Brainbox Pollution. The
dancers - well, they were both very pretty,
whether theyâ€™re meant to add anything
beyond that Iâ€™m not sure, but like I said, it
was Christmas, so what the hell.
I have to stress how completely pulverising The
Right Stuff was, Alan and Richard were
absolutely hammering out the rhythm, it was
jaw-droppingly good. In fact the band were
really going for it tonight- both Dave and Alan
were putting a lot more passion into their vocals
than the last few times Iâ€™d seen them.
The word from our correspondent: Phwoarr!
Saw loads of familiar folk and met loads of others I know from the lists but have never met in person.
This has to have been one of the most sociable HW gigs ever. The Hawkfests have done a lot to
encourage and support the friendships that many of us have made over the net.
There was a limited edition (500) CD of part of the Walthamstow 2002 gig on sale last night - it's
nearly 75 mins and the quality is as good as Canterbury '01 from what I've heard so far. Tracklist for
that is: Earth Calling; Aerospaceage Inferno; Angels of Death; Out of the Shadows; Time Captives;
Master of the Universe; The Gremlin Song; Time and Confusion; Hurry on Sundown; Lighthouse; The
Watcher; Assassins of Allah; Do That; Earth Calling. This one will not be sold in shops nor through
distributors - the fact that it's not barcoded is apparently significant. *** I've listened to nearly all of it
now - it's great to hear the banter so clearly as well as Arthur's amusing poem at the start of Time and
Confusion (which is definitely not one to play to the kids).
I didn't spot Kris last night. She wasn't on the merch stall nor on stage. Hope she's well. Dave
sounded like he was a bit blocked up at one point...
*** Apparently this is not quite accurate. The CD is called "Spaced Out In London" and will be
available through normal distribution channels and on the merchandise stall at future gigs. The
barcodeless version sold at the Astoria was a limited pre-release edition of 500 that only arrived that
day (hence the lack of pre-publicity). It also has a couple of typo's on the CD insert, such as 'Spcaced
Out In London' on the spine, which will be corrected. The CD tray is opaque and will be replaced with
a transparent version allowing the artwork on the CD insert inner to be seen...
included a sort of techno first verse of Master
Of The Universe segueing into a blistering full
blown rendition of the song, Heads (which
made a welcome return) and a superbly
performed acoustic slot by Huw that mellowed
us out in the middle of the Hawkwind set. Go
Huwie!!! He was superb. We were willing
with all our might for him to come on stage
with the band for a number or two but we were
disappointed - maybe next time. Hurry on
Sundown was an absolute killer last night, the
best version I've heard by a very wide margin -
the whole atmosphere lifted as soon as it kicked
off. Mind you, I could say the same thing
about Brainbox Pollution, Ejection, The Right
Stuff, etc... All in all that was a stunning
performance, building on the sound and set that
we saw in Amsterdam. Astoria '03 is going to
go down in history as one of the real classics
One of the special guests this evening was Lene Lovich. She came on for Angela Android and a couple
of other numbers later in the set. She put in a good performance and seemed to be dressed like a red
indian chief. She sang in her inimitable style and got a good reaction from the crowd too. The other
special guest was Huwie. We'd expected him to come on before Hawkwind like he had a couple of
years ago. Maybe he'd been on before we arrived... Maybe he hadn't been able to play for some
reason.... Anyway, about a third of the way through the set, the Captain introduces Huwie on stage, to
much applause. He looks in much better shape. The rest of the band have by now disappeared
although I think the Captain remained, "fiddling" around with his equipment. How was Huwie going to
be? Would he be on form? With minimum fuss he launched into a three-number acoustic set and was
on absolutely blinding form. I've never seen him so on the ball. He plays great versions of Fifth
Second of Forever, Solitary Mind Games and Waiting For Tomorrow. Its not just his guitar playing
that is impressive but so is his singing too. Huwie's set was a highlight of the gig without a doubt. We
wondered whether he'd resurface later but he didn't. Great to see him on good form again.
End of the gig, the lights go up and then it's time to weave our way home. Great to see the band and
Huwie on such good form. Looking forward to seeing them again next year.
various synth effects throughout the set but no
sign of a keyboard player, so must have been
some backing tapes triggered by the Captain or
Alan Davey. Alan played some nice spacey
keyboards on some numbers. The visuals are
stunning. Great light show (strobes etc) and
hypnotic back projections. On some of the
songs, dancers also appeared. The sound and
production quality is very good too, with no
noticeable equipment failures.
|Above: Alan and Dave did all the keyboards