31/12/15 – Hawkwind – Space Ritual – 1973

Hawkwind - Space Ritual - cover art - 1973Hawkwind’s first and the best of many live albums released over the years. A double set, it was promoting the 1972 album, DOREMI and was recorded at the Liverpool Stadium and Brixton Academy, released in 1973. Exactly which Hawkwind tour I saw has faded into the distant past but it was also at Liverpool stadium, possibly the tour after this one, but it sounded just about the same. This is another of my favourite albums of the day with its long spacey jam sessions extended through the songs, perfect vehicles for unpredictable musical passages.

Earth Calling, is like the arrival of a great ship appearing in the mists of the atmosphere, the landing, the trepidation, the wailing, the rumble of the machines. It explodes into Born To Go, the B-side of their 1973 German Lord Of Light single. Hard to find, I presume the single version is the same as the version from Space Ritual as it’s a non-album track. (I don’t know if the A-side is the DOREMI version or the live version from this album). Lemmy plays either busy runs or chords, playing bass like no-one else, soloing along with Dave Brock’s guitar. Only Free’s Andy Fraser would be this busy but perhaps not quite as mad. Jazz Rock bassists might also be all over the fret board but not like Lemmy, there’s is technique his is visceral.

Next comes an electric version of Down Through the Night from DOREMI with Lemmy’s melodic lines always on the beat and Simon King throwing drum rolls in at the oddest places, Dik Mik’s mad electronics saturate the background. Brock’s vocals clear as crystal, Nik Turner’s flute turning it into a medieval space party, Del Dettmar’s synth wash, Lemmy’s relentless fluidity and then the sci-fi poetry begins.

Robert Calvert’s The Awakening, a Shakespearean alien with a scroll and antennae and into Lord Of Light. It sounds very much like the recorded version, Lemmy must have been so together that night because what’s he’s playing is so precise, this isn’t an out of it bunch of freaks – ok well it is but they still have the wherewithal to execute their music. Nik Turner blows sax throughout and remember it wasn’t just the whirl of the music – there was Stacia the painted dancer and her dancing friends and/or Liquid Len’s psychedelic light show to enhance the performance through his own tricks. Plus the images of Barney Bubbles (Colin Fulcher), the graphic designer that was responsible for the Space Ritual, DOREMI and In Search Of Space sleeve concepts. Although I really dig all the visual stuff, I don’t need it, I love it anyway, I don’t even need to be stoned.

After seven minutes Calvert returns with The Black Corridor – Vincent Price as stoned, hippie, freak poet, what more could you want. Evocative, beautiful cold words of the attributes of Space. This, into Space is Deep from DOREMI with extended moody outro and into Electronic No.1. Dik Mik’s avant-garde noodling, turning great big bakelite dials on equipment that looks like it belongs in the GPO, same box of tricks as The Clangers (UK animated TV show from the seventies). I’m not sure why we like hearing these sounds so much, the Star Trek sounds, the swish of the doors, the Lost In Space sounds, analog synth frequencies manipulated left and right, up and down.

Out of this comes Calvert and Brock’s Orgone Accumulator, another non-album track with a wacky title, chordal bass and wah wah guitars and ten minutes of jamming into Upside Down, an unreleased song that sounds most like a Syd Barrett tune, an extension of Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. Hawkwind never seemed to be considered as highly as The Floyd, for some obvious and less obvious reasons – it makes you think that the interesting aspects of Pink Floyd had nothing at all to do with their success.

One of Calvert’s masterpieces, Ten Seconds Of Forever is next, I used to try and recite it with him, using the melodramatic voice, like a dalek on trial, evil sounds of vile machines of war, their mutant pilots scurrying about in the background, an inch of dirty liquid below your feet, infested by moving dead creatures of unknown origin.

Straight into Nik Turner’s Brainstorm, the full thirteen minute version on the digital release, the vinyl release had to be edited because it was too long to fit on the double vinyl. All the songs benefit greatly from the fluid drumming of Simon King and Lemmy’s busy bass but it’s a feel all of its own. It’s not Motorik, it’s not Metal, Space Rock isn’t just its own genre, it’s its own feel and of European origin? What is that? How can a feel come from a continent? But it does, Like Africa, like South America – continents have their own feels and here in Europe we love our spacey eternal jams.

Seven By Seven and Sonic Attack are two Calvert high points, neither written by him but perfectly realized. Brock’s Seven By Seven was one of the first songs I learnt to play, finding those two chords on the guitar was a revelation and then that change when the drums and bass come in, Calvert’s spoken middle part and the mixture of edge and beauty rising and falling. The next highlight is Sonic Attack written by sci-fi writer and sometime Hawkwind collaborator Michael Moorcock, this is another one I can almost recite. I read approximately twenty five of his books as a teenager, after I left home, on return, my parents had thrown them all away. Sonic Attack is so brilliantly Dr.Who, camp melodrama, delivered without flinching, straight faced, scary enough to have you hide behind the sofa as your parents enter the room unaware that you are under sonic duress and trying to survive on a ravaged and desolate planet.

Time We Left, unveils itself as a tribal chant, a call to action. At this point of the night the whole audience is transfixed, blissed out by the cosmic light show, the energetic riffs, the other-worldy concepts, poetry, dancing, Del Dettmar’s and Dik Mik’s electronic washes and Nik Turner’s wails turning the songs into mysterious unanswered questions, journeys to places that can’t exist but stand before you. In this haze, this swaying between moons, enlightenment, experiences both ecstatic and frightening, unable to predict what will happen next, suddenly they launch into Master Of The Universe, an intergalactic bulldozer from the In Search Of Space album. You wonder how they can maintain the intensity, how could they possibly still be standing? The musicians are growing and growing, out from the stage, melding into one moving amorphous shape, like lava flow, like a giant soft cushion pushing you into its feathers capturing you in mink gloves, holding your head in rolls of dough, swamps of sweet perfumed mud – yes you’re tripping.

A voice penetrates your dream, it’s the final spoken piece by the master of ceremonies Robert Calvert – Welcome To The Future ending in a crescendo and crowd roar that has you rolling around on the carpet, out of control over the giant fold-out sleeve. Then it’s out in to the chill, down the cobbled street to the city, on to the ferry across the Mersey, over to Birkenhead and then the five mile, two hour walk from Hamilton Square to Thingwall where we lived with this experience banging around in our brains. Thank you Lemmy and Hawkwind for making me as mad as you.

Happy new Year.