|A Revelation in London WC2 : London Astoria, Sunday 19th December 2004
Many thanks to Paul Eaton-Jones for this brilliant review, accompanied by equally excellent photos from
Graham P. Cheers gents!
My feelings in the run-up to the concert were mixed. I had been somewhat influenced by the comments of
various people on the Yahoo discussion group with quite a number saying that the sound was rubbish, the
band disconnected from the audience and the selection of songs uninspired. Also comments about the
extracts from the new album aired on Mission Control didnâ€™t inspire confidence. All this added to the
fact that the last time Iâ€™d had seen them in Leeds in December â€˜02 they had been rather untogether
filled me with trepidation. (Later we found out that poor Huw had been quite ill and Arthur hadnâ€™t
learned his lines which goes some way in mitigation I think). Yet I was looking forward to meeting a
number of people from the group whoâ€™d been mailing for many months - Bernhard Pospiech in
particular. He, along with Rob Dreamworker, and I had arranged to meet in The Angel pub in St. Giles Road.
I travelled down from Hull with a good friend of mine, Karlos, retracing our journey of four years ago when
we had the privilege of being at The Hawkestra. We checked into our hotel and set off to find the others
thinking it would be easy as the directions weâ€™d been given indicated that the Angel was only 200 yards
from The Astoria. We walked past The Astoria three times! None of the people we asked knew where the
pub was and some had never heard of it. We asked newspaper sellers, shop keepers and road sweepers until
eventually an Australian girl behind the bar in The Cambridge gave us the right directions. We went into one
of the small bars of the Angel and saw we were amongst like-minded people. We got a drink and â€˜forcedâ
€™ ourselves on a group of German-speaking guys one of whom I hoped was Bernhard. It wasnâ€™t but
they were expecting him soon. They invited us to join them and broke off their discussion and chatted to us
in English as my German isnâ€™t quite up to rapid, colloquial conversation. A big thanks to Thomas, Marco
and Thomas. They made Karlos and me very welcome.
After returning to our hotel to get changed we met up again at The Angel where more fans had collected.
Bernhard pointed out Rob (who Iâ€™d mailed and arranged to meet. I would have liked to have actually
spoken to him) and Age Parr. We also met up again a very nice Scottish lady, Jill, who weâ€™d spoken to
in The Beehive prior to The Hawkestra. Having had a quick drink we left for the venue at about 18:30 where
we stood in a line for about ten minutes and finally got inside at 19:50.
As per usual I made my way to the merchandising stall to get some goodies. I bought a couple of T-shirts,
though I wish the design had been more elaborate, a very nice fleece and a couple of singles. The first
support act, The Vâ€™s, were just leaving as we moved into the main hall. I would have watched them had
I got in earlier as I always like to give the support band...well, my support.
We managed to find a superb position right in front of the mixing desk so we were facing the centre of the
stage. The Astoria is a pleasant venue, much better than Brixton Academy, and is wider side to side than
front to back (if you follow). The audience is the usual Hawkwind one, an eclectic mix of â€˜tribesâ€™;
long-hairs, stoners, straights, a couple of Rastafarians and so on. Most of the audience are 35+ though I did
see a few in their early 20â€™s. On overhearing a number of conversations it seems that the main topics are
jobs, moving to new homes, how the farm is doing, pensions and re-mortgaging. Not many had made an
effort to dress up though there were a scattering of guys like myself wearing our lab coats. (As a lab
technician myself I felt part of the â€˜conceptâ€™, maaan!)
For the next twenty minutes we were treated to a
wonderful solo set by Dumpy. Iâ€™ve never seen
him before and never even heard any of his music. I
thought his band played 12-bar rhythm and blues - a
good time pub rock band - shows how much I know.
With just his guitar, bass synth pedals and a keyboard
he played a continuous, uninterrupted piece of music
that was a display of space rock that Iâ€™ve only
seen / heard bettered by Hawkwind themselves. He
departed to much cheering and is obviously much
The house lights dim and the huge Hawk logo above
the front of the stage is illuminated by ultra-violet
light, but the stage is dominated by two enormous
android statues that were â€˜inspiredâ€™ by the
Metropolis. The band come on stage, call â€œgood eveningsâ€� and plug in. While some electronic burbling
echoes round the room Matthew Wright wanders to the front and reads a poem about genetic laws and
warning of the dangers of cloning. (I think this was called â€˜Cassandraâ€™, which makes sense).
As he walks off the familiar synth-drone intro to â€˜Spirit Of The Ageâ€™ emerges from the background
hiss. Dave and Alan move to the front of the stage. While Alan picks out the bass line Dave starts to sing.
Immediately a lump comes to my throat and tears to my eyes. (Itâ€™s Hawkestra all over again!) Dave
doesnâ€™t start playing until the chorus as heâ€™s making expansive gestures with his arms but when he
does play heâ€™s straight into it with crashing chords and brilliant melody lines. At the front of the stage are
two big, fluffy white bundles of something. As the song progresses the two dancers emerge almost like
chicks from an egg while the projection on the screen shows a human egg being penetrated and fertilised by
a sperm. Back to the verse and Dave looks round at the backdrop, for cues (?), and heâ€™s actually rubbing
his thumbs and fingers together looking very relaxed. Richard joins in on the chorus as do the audience. As
the song runs to its conclusion we see multiplying bacteria on the screen. I never tire of hearing this song
and I hope they keep it in the set for a long time.
Next song is â€˜Sword Of The Eastâ€™, something Iâ
€™ve not heard since the â€˜88 tour though I did see
Bedouin perform it in â€˜98. Not being a fan of Alanâ
€™s vocal style I was fearing the worst. Fat lot I
know!! While not exactly caressing every word he
didnâ€™t bark them out but gave a restrained
performance and was much the better for it, in my
Daveâ€™s guitar playing was again wonderful and
very incisive. He produced some very good melodies.
Jason, the new synth/keyboard player, also came up
with some â€˜easternâ€™ sounds. The two dancers
performed some sort of martial arts dance during a
synth and drum semi-solo in the middle of the song.
This was a fantastic start to the gig. (I wrote in the
margin of my notes â€œf***ing awesomeâ€�.)
Following this near-perfect start we were treated to a
new song, â€˜Greenback Massacreâ€™. As others
have previously said, this is a classic in the making.
and Dave shared lead vocals and the lyrics were
echoed by the projections - dollar bills falling like
leaves and other images of the â€˜filthy lucreâ€™.
The highlight was Daveâ€™s playing. He peeled off
some really killer lead guitar licks, the like of which Iâ
€™ve never heard him play before. Iâ€™ve always
had the impression that most of his guitar melodies
are played at the headstock end of the neck and on the
middle and lower strings. Tonight he gave the treble
strings at the body end of the neck a real workout. He
was more Satriani and Vai than the Dave Brock of old
and he moved all around the stage chatting and
grinning at Alan. As the song ended I wondered if
they would keep up the high energy stuff.
There was a slight pause for breath while the taped
voice of John Glenn on â€˜The Phenomenon Of
Luminosityâ€™ swirled around the room.
(Incidentally the shower of â€œsmall silvery particlesâ
€� he refers to were in fact his own urine that was
ejected from the capsule as he orbited the Earth!)
The next two songs were a return to the past, â
€˜Psychedelic Warlordsâ€™ and â€˜Uncle Samâ€™s
On Marsâ€™. For me Psychedelic Warlords hasnâ
€™t been done well for nearly thirty years! The
efforts in the 80â€™s were ponderous and flaccid and
Nikâ€™s insistence on shouting, â€œOi!â€� and the
end of the verse only made it
worse. However the current version is almost as it was originally perhaps a bit heavier and not quite the
same pace. But you get the bass solo in the middle, a bit of the dampened guitar chords and lots of effects
and Dave and Alan in perfect vocal harmony. Again Dave plays some wonderful lead lines. I can see why so
many have this as their highlight of previous concerts.This was followed by â€˜Uncle Samâ€™. Iâ€™ve not
heard this since The Earth Ritual tour of 1984 which is a shame as itâ€™s one of my favourites. At the
beginning Mr.Dibs came on complete with lab coat and clipboard and began checking things around the
stage. As the main riff started up Dave was bouncing along in time to the music. His vocals went from
singing to whispers and Alan and Dibs joined in on the â€œLooking For Lifeâ€� part. Once again Dave
surprised us. With his arms outstretched towards the audience he asked us, â€œwhatâ€™s he doing up
there?â€�, to which we and Alan and Dibs replied, â€œdigging for dreamsâ€�. Then he resumed playing
and we got a heavy choppy chord sequence along with blistering lead guitar. The final two or three minutes
of the song was â€˜The Iron Dreamâ€™ and Iâ€™m sure I detected their version of Mars from Holstâ€™s
Planet Suite. Very heavy.
After nearly forty minutes of sonic assault things
calmed down with a couple of songs that have
attracted varying opinions. â€˜Out Here We Areâ€™
and â€˜Digital Nationâ€™. The first was played out to
a projection of the Earth as seen from space while the
two dancers dressed all in white carried a paper globe
and gently caressed it in a protective way. I noticed a
wry smile on Daveâ€™s face at this point. I feel that
Hawkwind dancers often overdo the symbolism, as if
we canâ€™t work out whatâ€™s going on. Dave sat
down next to his synths and finger-picked a melody
line that, though quite pleasant, wasnâ€™t startling.
â€˜Digital Nationâ€™ seems to be a song about either
lost childhood or adolescent alienation. I arrived at that
conclusion because there are Space Invaders on the
screen and words about being in his bedroom and
alone (I think?). Then onto the stage come two figures
wouldnâ€™t be out of place in Peter Pan; a girl
dressed in red and yellow with fairy wings pursued by
a man dressed up like Puck or a satyr. Hence my
interpretation of lost childhood.Richardâ€™s rather
gentle voice is stronger than on previous tours though
itâ€™s hard to decipher what heâ€™s saying because
the sound was really loud. As the song finished the
sound of a radio sweeping through the various stations
crackled out (taken from the beginning of â€˜Good
Eveningâ€™ on â€˜Xenon Codexâ€™). As this peters
out the familiar Eastern intro of â€˜Hassan-i-Sahbaâ€™
emerges. Everybody in the band hit their cues exactly
and they were off. During the song the strobes above
the band and the audience were turned on to great
effect. The dancers came back and treated us to a wild
mime full of strange contortions. The middle section, â
€˜Space Is Their Palestineâ€™, was absolutely
thunderous in contrast to the way itâ€™s come across
in recent tours. Once again Alanâ€™s vocals were
really good - not exactly understated but more â
€˜tunefulâ€™. The end of the song was greeted with
Dave now came to the mic and started reciting
something which may have been called â€˜Technolandâ
€™. Behind these words the music began to swell and
the band grind out the introductory chords of â
Deathâ€™. (I use the word grind as those first chords have a grinding sound to my ears, not because the
song is a drag). This is a very heavy and slowed down version and is cheered by the crowd who join in with
the vocals. Dave is again on fire and is obviously enjoying himself as he laughs and smiles at anyone who
catches his eye. He also does something new, to me anyway. At the end of each vocal line he adds a nice
twiddly guitar bit that enhances the original sound. Like I say, heâ€™s on fire. Alan meanwhile is in a world
of his own engaged in a wrestling match with his bass which looks almost as big as him. The end of the
song is greeted with a huge cheer.
If â€˜Ode...â€™ allowed minds to wander, the next song grabbed the audience by the scruff of the neck
and made them sit up and take notice. â€˜To Love A Machineâ€™ was, quite simply, excellent. Once again
Dave immersed himself in the part reading from his clipboard as a blonde female lab technician stood next
to him checking things off on her board. The music was staggering in its majesty. In the middle part the
rhythm and electronics soared, the bass thundered and Daveâ€™s lead guitar blistered the paint work. It
became symphonic rock and I was reminded of Dream Theatre around the time of the â€˜Images And
Wordsâ€™ album. This time the mime accurately mirrors the theme of the words. The male dancer is a
human and has brought his female android lover to be fixed / repaired. Dave embraces the woman
technician and the song runs out with what I thought sounded like jazzy piano.
Apart from â€˜Shot Down In The Nightâ€™ from the 1979 tour I canâ€™t think of a new song that has
had so big an impact on me in over thirty years of seeing them play live.
Next up was â€˜Brainstormâ€™. Dumpy joined the band for this on guitar (Gibson SG by the looks of it. In
his solo spot heâ€™d used a Telecaster or copy of). This was a typical Hawkwind assault on our senses.
Audience and band were strobed, the sound was loud, powerful and clear. The lead melody was taken by
Dumpy with Dave playing a second lead line underneath. Dumpyâ€™s sound was a little low in the mix and
I could only
driven on by Richardâ€™s booming bass drum sound
and crossed it together. A far cry from the â€˜Space
Ritualâ€™ encore. Remember Dave saying, â€œWhat
sort of ending was that?â€�, as â€˜Seeing It As You
Really Areâ€™ stumbled to a kind of finish with
everyone making up their own mind on how to close
the number? Alan even mimicked Nikâ€™s drawn out
howl on the final syllable.
This was the end, though we all knew theyâ€™d be
back to give us more. We didnâ€™t have to wait long.
The first encore was â€˜Brainbox Pollutionâ€™. This
seems to be becoming a firm favourite with both the
band and audiences. I know Alan has persuaded Dave
to resurrect songs from the early days and this one
works. It was also the first song I saw them play live
at Wolverhampton Civic Hall in January 1974.
This was a great version. Dave, Alan and Richard take
the vocals and the dancers reappear, the guy in partial
ball room outfit and the girl as a Bobby Soxer. Their
â€˜Ode To A Time Flowerâ€™. Ummm. Roundly derided by almost every person whoâ€™s seen the current
tour, even those who enjoy Hawkwindâ€™s â€œtechnoâ€� period. I can see why. While I wouldnâ€™t say
itâ€™s rubbish I think it still needs a lot of work done to make it â€˜roadableâ€™, as Zappa used to say.
However, I think it will work, beginning with turning down the background music and bringing Bobâ€™s
vocals more to the fore. Then perhaps synchronising the beat with the pace of his delivery. As someone else
has previously mentioned most of the audience turned away from the stage and started talking to each other.
There was a time when Hawkwind crowds watched and listened to EVERYTHING. Itâ€™s also very ill-
mannered. The dancers came back on dressed as fairy and satyr and ran around throwing and catching a
huge length of chiffon.
The dancers stay on stage with the girl sat on the guyâ
€™s knee and they watch as Matthew returns to
recite â€˜Ten Seconds Of Foreverâ€™. I feel very
pleased for him - a fan who gets the chance to
perform with Hawkwind - and donâ€™t think itâ€™s
really fair to criticise him. Not that there is much to
criticise except he reads the words as a poem rather
than a sort of lament. No, thatâ€™s not exactly what
I mean. Heâ€™s too â€˜humanâ€™ and his character
seems to be enjoying himself in contrast
to the utter starkness of the piece. Calvert makes it a
very bleak and lonely â€˜poemâ€™. Nik Turner was
also good at the narration as he too became an actor
and a part of it rather than just speaking the words.
As this drew to a close I said to the guy next to me, â
€œWell, we know whatâ€™s coming next donâ€™t
we?â€�. â€œOh yes indeed we doâ€�, he replied.
Together we shouted, â€˜Brainstormâ€™. Bollocks!
Fooled again. OK, so itâ€™s â€˜Angela Androidâ€™,
another much disliked new(ish) song. Very much a
song of two halves with the first part dominated by
Richardâ€™s voice and a fast-paced dancey rhythm.
Dave is quietly grooving along at the side of his
synths while Alan and Jason provide the
dancing is some sort of attempt at a rock and roll thing that nearly works but they spend most of their time
running around or stood still watching the other move. Odd. The projection screen shows extracts from
various 1940â€™s U.S. anti-drug films including scenes from â€˜Reefer Madnessâ€™.
At this point I have to admit I canâ€™t remember whether they go off again and return or stay on and go
into Master Of the Universe! (Iâ€™m usually a comprehensive note-taker / observer, sorry). Anyway the
next song is â€˜Master Of The Universeâ€™ and Dumpy again rejoins the band as do the satyr and fairy.
What a tumultuous sound. Again every player is pushing things to the limit. Daveâ€™s and Dumpyâ€™s
lead guitars cut through the overall swirling thunder weaving melodic, incisive lines that are utterly magical.
All too soon it finishes and Dave walks to the mic to speak the track that now traditionally closes a
Hawkwind concert, â€˜Welcome To The Futureâ€™. Then itâ€™s over.
driving rhythms. The dancers are back and clad in clingy white plastic outfits and hurl themselves around
the stage for no apparent reason. After about five minutes the song takes on a more traditional Hawkwind
form - swathes of Brock-style chords, booming bass etc. before Dave comes back with a great lead break
and Alan joins him and Richard on the run-out vocals. I was pleasantly surprised by this song given all the
negative comments and if the studio version is as powerful as this one Iâ€™ll be happy with it.
clearly hear what he was playing by watching his hand
movements and tying them in with what I was
hearing. Mind you, that distracts from what everyone
else is playing! This is a group of musicians right at
the top of their game. I noticed that while Alan and
Dumpy were â€˜duellingâ€™ - matching run for run -
Richard was laughing out loud. You donâ€™t do that
if youâ€™re not absolutely confident and sure of
everybody around you to hit their cues. During the
middle of the song things slowed right down and we
had the Laurence Olivier recitation of â€˜Now Is The
Winter Of Our Discontentâ€™ played under â€˜Elfinâ
€™ from â€˜Love In Spaceâ€™. Then back for the
final three minutes or so of the â€˜Brainstormâ€™. All
the players made the mad dash for the finishing line
Relevance. For most of their career they have never been relevant in an accepted sense. The causes they
support are usually outside of mainstream society and the subjects of the songs and music are mainly not the
topics of discussion around most peopleâ€™s dinner tables, e.g. science-fiction and space travel / alien
worlds, the growing alienation of people living in cities, the possible dangers of cloning. Sure, these topics
make short-lived headline news but are soon replaced in the publicâ€™s mind by Jordanâ€™s latest breast
enhancement etc.. As for influence, well everyone from The Buzzcocks, The Clash and the Pistols through to
The Orb, Ozrics and any number of dance / trance outfits from 1989 onwards and of course the growing
number of young space rock bands all of whom cite them as an influence, very often a major one.
So, pluses and minuses. Very few on the minus side I
feel. For me the biggest was the sheer ignorance of a
very small minority who are unable to shut up and
listen to the songs and instrumentals they donâ€™t like
and chatter like small children who demand to be
entertained at all times. The other thing that I donâ€™t
like, and this I must stress is entirely personal and is
not meant as a comment on other peopleâ€™s
freedoms etc. etc. is the amount of dope that was
smoked. As a non-smoker of anything I donâ€™t like
it in my face. Simple as that and it didnâ€™t really
affect me THAT much but it does make me feel sick.
As I said itâ€™s purely personal. Anyway Iâ€™ll step
down off my soap box and continue.The songs â
€˜Ode To A Timeflowerâ€™, â€˜Digital Nationâ€™
and possibly â€˜Out Here We Areâ€™, will, with a bit
of tweaking, be good, solid numbers. Hawkwind have
never been afraid to throw something into a set before
itâ€™s perfect just to see how it sounds live - long
may that continue. The dancers need a bit of practice
but should definitely play a full part in the future. If
Matthew Wright continues to appear, and why not,
maybe his delivery of the stuff he did should become more â€œandroid / roboticâ
€�. Though I can hardly blame him for seeming to be thoroughly enjoying
himself up on stage. Pluses? Alanâ€™s more restrained singing and not trying to
dominate the stage. His bass playing was perfect and as usual he seemed to enjoy
himself. Richard was as reliable as ever and his singing has come on since I last
saw them. Jason was very good and didnâ€™t look either out of place or
overawed. He provided some great soundscapes and runs. I hope heâ€™s made
a permanent member.
And Dave? Dave was a revelation. Heâ€™s come out from behind his synths
(hurrah!); heâ€™s playing lead guitar again (hurrah); his guitar playing is clear,
cutting, melodic, and other words from Rogetâ€™s Thesaurus (hurrah, hurrah).
fact that he is now being a frontman in the way Calvert
and Turner used to be, i.e. acting the out theme behind
some of the songs, making expansive arm gestures,
using props etc. has taken him to a new dimension. He
looked very relaxed, smiled a lot and was obviously
So, after 35 years where do Hawkwind stand in terms
of importance, relevance, and influence? They are
important to their fans, very important, but they no
longer undertake 30-40 date tours and sadly no longer
play to packed houses such as city / town halls. Does
anyone remember the locked doors during the 1974-75
sell-out tour and the band complaining of touts selling
tickets for Â£10? (prices were usually 90p-Â£1.50
back then). They seem to occupy a no-manâ€™s land;
a position not yet that of a reconvened nostalgia act but
not the headliners of old. (I have to say I certainly do
not think they will ever fall into the first category). But
judging by the comments on various internet
discussion groups they are capable of arousing fierce
loyalty and passionate debate.
can carry me and other oldies well into the next decade.(I do think that you always want to stick with the
incarnation you first knew and feel that all subsequent bands are merely pretenders. Not now.) Is there a
possible return for those who have recently been in the band? Not with this set of songs and concept and
possible ways it could be developed. Dave has all the melodies covered so why have Huw and Simon back? I
have such a lot of love for Huw in particular and certainly wish him well but I canâ€™t see him as anything
other than a guest at present. Arthur Brown? His style would be too over the top right now and of course he
must learn his lines. Everyone was spot-on this time and mistakes on that scale would not acceptable - bum
notes donâ€™t really count. A second keyboard player would work and it ought to be Harvey. He works
well with Dave; is loved by the audience and his style of big sweeping soundscapes would fit perfectly. Also
his singing and vocal projection of narrative is â€˜Hawkwindianâ€™ for this current direction and is way
beyond Tim Blake (certainly no disrespect towards Tim by the way).
So there you have it. Iâ€™m certain that anyone who was there and reads this will have some disagreements
which is absolutely fine but I hope theyâ€™re not big ones. I think Iâ€™ve been able to give those of you
who couldnâ€™t make it to London or to any of the gigs this time around at least some idea of what it was
One thing I think we can all agree on:- We came, we saw, THEY conquered.
This current line up has the makings of being a
permanent one and judging from this one performance
I feel they can use it as a springboard, or to mix
metaphors, a solid base from which to explore new
ideas etc.. They sound and look fresh and most
importantly look to have a new enthusiasm. It could be
a new band that should be able to draw a line under
any or all of the past incarnations of Hawkwind. This
has the makings of perhaps becoming the definitive
Hawkwind. As much as I love the Doremi / Space
Ritual and Quark bands they are 25-30 years in the
past. Iâ€™m probably more guilty than most people on
the discussion group for hankering after a return to
those bandâ€™s sounds but I really do believe that the
Tremendous. The band disappear to thunderous applause and the house lights come up. Everyone around
me has a wide, beaming smile on their faces; everyone saying that they canâ€™t believe how brilliant the
band have been; all the usual comments that follow a show of superb musicianship, exciting sounds,
stunning sets, - well you all know the score and have been there before. Iâ€™d be prepared to say itâ€™s
the best Iâ€™ve seen them play in 31 years of live performance. A sentiment echoed by Karlos, the guy
who travelled with me, who has been watching them play live since 1984.