Oddball Reviews #1: ‘The Space Ritual Alive in Liverpool and London’ by Hawkwind

This is the first in (hopefully) a series of reviews of ‘albums’ or CDs.  As usual I will write them as and when I feel like it. They are mostly self-indulgent.

Hawkwind, for the enlightenment of some of my readers, especially the younger ones, are best described as a space-rock/ heavy metal band, probably most famous now for the period in which Lemmy was playing bass. At the time of writing they are still going strong.

This album is the live recording of their ambitious Space Ritual tour, which involved dancers, a light show and poetry. Actually their concerts had almost always involved a dancer, a light show and poetry. The dancer was one Stacia, a lady for who the word statuesque is obligatory. She mostly danced naked, which for some reason seemed to appeal to many teenage boys. The light show was by ‘Liquid Len and the Lensmen’ and was astonishing even by today’s standards. A huge screen showed projections (of slides, not computer generated) along with strobes, pulsating tubes and other lights. It was hypnotic; no, it was psychedelic. Man.

As you may have worked out, I saw Hawkwind around this time. The first time, my mates rushed down to the front of the stage, as was the fashion, and I spent the gig with my head nearly inside one of the bass drums. The overall sound was something like “whoosh whoosh whoosh boom boom”. SF writer Michael Moorcock was guesting on poetry, and I had the uncomfortable feeling he was watching me the whole time. I saw them a year later, sitting in the balcony, and the sound and lights were unforgettably great.

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The recording was a double album in vinyl; even in CD form it spills onto two discs. It was issued in an amazing opening sleeve, with copious notes and graphics, by the late Barney Bubbles.

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It is, according to Lemmy, a very faithful rendition of the live shows. He recommends listening to it while smoking a spliff, something I have not attempted. (Too straight.) It’s a mesmerising collage of electronic sounds, interspersed with poetry, which form the setting for long heavy rock tracks, with the lyrical theme of space. The music is often derided, but I would argue that it has a great deal more to it than many people realise. The chord structures may be basically quite simple, but the band build improvisations on top of them. The drum sound, by Simon King, is an unmistakable battering. The guitar, by their long time leader Dave Brock, is heavily treated and drives the tunes. Underpinning it all is Lemmy’s bass, which contributes really melodic lines. It’s probably my favourite bass playing of all time. Over the top, synthesisers and audio generators by Del Dettmar and Dikmik make the wash of spacey sounds, while Nik Turner add sax and flute which is more skilled than is sometimes made out, despite his free jazz origins. Bob Calvert recites poetry.

It’s hard to pick out tracks for the uninitiated. Mostly they are driving rock, but there is light and shade. My favourite is ‘Lord of Light’, which features two sections in which everybody is improvising on what I think is a basic two-chord structure. It reminds me of Dixieland jazz and, weirdly, baroque music. The poetry is also very accessible.

I must have listened to this album more than any other piece of music. I played it at least every other night when I was working for my A-levels. Liking Hawkwind even got me bullied. But I still listen to it.

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