Hawkwind’s influence has been extensive, if often indirect and, when acknowledged at all, done so grudgingly. The group’s faults (most notably a chronic tendency towards excess) have generally been over-criticized to the exclusion of its virtues: that gargantuan and impenetrable pre-metal/hardcore drone, those great riffs, that inexorable drive to destinations unknown. Unfashionable in Britain for most of its existence and unknown outside of a cult following in the US, Hawkwind has often been judged offensive merely for existing. If that isn’t pure punk…
Through a checkered 40-year-plus history, Hawkwind has been ruled either by a dictator under the guise of near anarchy or by a purported leader with no control at all. Whichever it be, Dave Brock has been the lineup’s only constant through 40 or so personnel changes. A busker who did a stint in the Dharma Blues Band (preserved on anthologies of early British blues), he formed Group X — which became Hawkwind Zoo and then Hawkwind — in London in 1969. Since then, Brock has written and sung the great majority of the material and played most of the guitar, not to mention a fair amount of synthesizer.
Hawkwind’s first album is an unexciting hodgepodge of street folk/blues, riff-rock and electronics, with Nik Turner’s sax and flute thrown in. The LP’s indulgent improvisations fit in with the band’s rebellious hippie image, as evinced by their early drug busts and indefatigable benefit-playing, which initially got them positive attention in the alternative culture media. Stacia, a voluptuous (and frequently topless) dancer who joined in 1971, also drew attention to the group and probably had some influence on it; she eventually got a full vote in Hawkwind affairs.
Despite its intricate, attractive unfolding sleeve (designed by the late Barney Bubbles), In Search of Space is pretty lukewarm; the sole song of canonical note here is “Master of the Universe.” Most important, though, the aforementioned musical elements, along with a more explicit science-fiction orientation, can now be heard as a stylistic blend, integrating Turner, electronics gremlin Dik Mik and newly added synthesizer player Del Dettmar. Some of the electro-noise/saxoid drone bears a strange resemblance to subsequent mid-song blasts by early Roxy Music, whose own electronics specialist Eno had resided, like Dik Mik, in London’s funky Ladbroke Grove.
Doremi Fasol Latido is Hawkwind’s first strong album. The band’s intensity was lifted a notch or two by the manic hyper-drive of new bassist and occasional guitarist Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister, who had played in ’60s beat group the Rockin’ Vicars and horrible drummerless psychedelicians Sam Gopal. Also, Robert Calvert, who’d drifted into the group’s periphery, began to shape its mythology, writing and declaiming some of its lyrics, just as Turner’s own writing was starting to emerge.
Earlier the same year, Hawkwind had played at a London benefit concert for the Greasy Truckers, an alternative music organization. The subsequent double live album included a full side of Hawkwind but, more significantly, an outtake from it, the queerly poppy space-chug “Silver Machine.” Penned by Brock (under his then-wife’s name), it was released as a single and became Hawkwind’s only UK hit — a huge one, which didn’t appear on LP until years later. That success financed the tour chronicled on Space Ritual. The double live LP (from London and Liverpool) includes versions of “Master of the Universe” and two-thirds of Doremi‘s songs (although two had chunks cut out); the new material included Calvert and Brock’s synth-embroidered recitations of scary scenarios (e.g., the armageddon classic “Sonic Attack”) penned by Calvert and their new buddy, noted sci-fi novelist Michael Moorcock. The LP is solid to super, and not as longwinded as you might imagine.
Dik Mik departed before Hall of the Mountain Grill and was replaced by violin-wielding keyboardist Simon House; Calvert left to do his solo albums. By Warrior on the Edge of Time, Dettmar had gone too, and Alan Powell picked up the slack for injured drummer Simon King, subsequently playing alongside him. House added formal musical knowledge and skill for a fuller, often more melodious brew. The actual sound of the discs was also clearer, which pointed up the anarchy of the droning psychedelic raveups.
Hall of the Mountain Grill‘s highlights include the rampaging “Psychedelic Warlords (Disappear in Smoke)” and Lemmy’s bleak “Lost Johnny” (co-written by Mick Farren). Warrior on the Edge of Time has four tracks co-written by Moorcock, who makes a murky, overly echoed thespian debut on two of them. It also sports Brock’s own rocking pseudo-mythology (“Magnu”) and a quiet, thoughtful tune (“The Demented Man”), as well as “Kings of Speed,” released as a single. The latter’s B-side was “Motorhead”; Lemmy took that name for the band he formed after being sacked from Hawkwind following a 1974 on-tour Canadian drug bust. (Although it ceased to exist in reality, the Lemmy lineup resurfaced in fiction as the protagonists — dubbed the Hawklords, led by “Baron Brock” — in a trilogy of books by Moorcock and Michael Butterworth.)
By that point, Hawkwind had achieved all it ever would, in terms of trailblazing; since then, it’s all been refinements, variations, even regurgitations. This isn’t to say none of the subsequent albums are any good, just not particularly original, and move in a more normal direction. When the band switched UK labels from UA to Charisma, UA decided to do some summing up. Road Hawks is a fine retrospective, and includes “Silver Machine”; Masters of the Universe is a strong secondary collection.
Astounding Sounds noticeably backed off from the heaviness of the Lemmy era. His replacement, Paul Rudolph (ex-Pink Fairies), had lots of zip, just no overkill. Meanwhile, Calvert had returned, more fully part of the band than ever. Almost every cut is quite good but too long by half, except for the single “Kerb Crawler,” which is sharp and to the point. More internal problems: Turner was asked to leave; Rudolph and Powell, allegedly engaging in power play tactics, got the boot.
So next came — what else? — one of Hawkwind’s best, most pop-oriented albums. Quark Strangeness and Charm features tuff tracks like “Hassan I Sahba” (clever mating of Hawkwind’s patented drone with Middle Eastern music) and the delightfully rollicking (!) title tune.
P.X.R.5 contains some gems’n’junk cut in ’77 and ’78, including three previously unreleased live tracks and two cuts with Brock playing everything but drums. House departed to play with Bowie’s touring band, and the Hawks’ subsequent US trek so depressed Brock that he quit and sold his guitar. He soon joined up with the Sonic Assassins (with whom Hawkwind had done a one-off gig in ’77): Calvert, songwriting bassist Harvey Bainbridge and drummer Martin Griffin. With the addition of keyboardist Steve Swindells (ex-String Driven Thing/Pilot), Hawkwind was reconstituted…sort of.
For legal reasons, and to reflect a new direction, the group was christened the Hawklords. Fliply futuristic in lyrical slant, and more succinct and modern (almost — gasp — new wave) in sonic approach, 25 Years On is immediately likable and catchy, if surprisingly lightweight. (King and House made contributions in the LP’s early stages.) But the ‘Lords started playing the old songs live and blessed the release of P.X.R.5; soon they transmuted back into Hawkwind and signed to Bronze. (Repeat Performance is a fine distillation of the Charisma era, although it omits “Hassan I Sahba.”)
After Live ’79, Swindells left to make his solo LPs, become an outspoken member of the gay musical community and turn into a hotshot club DJ. Tim Blake (ex-Gong) joined in his stead, while Griffin was replaced by Ginger Baker (!). None of this, however, could compensate for the loss of Calvert (back to his solo career); Levitation is bland and tame, its main grit supplied by newly returned guitarist Huw Lloyd-Langton, who’d left Hawkwind after cutting the very first album a decade earlier! (Levitation and Live ’79 were later paired and reissued jointly in all three formats.)
Griffin returned to replace Baker, and Bainbridge and Brock took up the keyboard slack for the departed Blake as the band moved over to RCA. Actually, as they started to do Sonic Attack — somewhat of a return to the earlier Hawkstyle and less playful lyrical stance — Griffin came down with german measles, and the other three started in on the very electronic Church of Hawkwind LP. In any case, the net impression left by the three RCA albums is of a hard, heavy and humorless band, but one often capable of being grimly evocative; the generous Angels of Death compilation is an apt summary.
At this point, the band began a prolific association with the Flicknife label. The union’s first issue — the Hawkwind Zoo EP — contains an alternate version of “Hurry Sundown” (presumably recorded before the first album), a live “Kings of Speed” and the early (and surprisingly erotic) “Sweet Mistress of Pain.” The 12-inches that followed — some with newly recorded material (e.g., “Night of the Hawks,” with Lemmy guesting) — were later collected on two volumes of Independent Days.
The three Friends and Relations discs consist of outtakes, concert recordings, demos, side projects, related bands, etc. Volume 1 has live Hawkwind, Hawklords and Sonic Assassins (’77 and ’78), plus studio sides by Hawkwind, Nik Turner’s Inner City Unit and Michael Moorcock’s Deep Fix, but the series goes downhill from there. (Volume 3 is absolutely bottom-of-the-barrel scrapings.) The best two-thirds of all three is crammed onto the 1988 CD, The Best of Hawkwind, Friends and Relations.
Zones is a punchy live LP featuring the pre- and post-RCA lineups (including Nik Turner, who rejoined in ’82); This Is Hawkwind, Do Not Panic, recorded live at Stonehenge in the summer of ’84 (with a bonus 12-inch), shares its title with the band biography published around the same time. (On CD, Zones is piggy-backed with an album’s worth of live cuts from Stonehenge.)
In ’85, after some realignment, Hawkwind endeavored to make its first all-new LP in three years. With Turner reforming Inner City Unit, Bainbridge took on keys and synth exclusively, while singing/writing bassist Allan Davey and drummer Danny Thompson (son of the same-named Pentangle bassist) completed the lineup. With Moorcock’s help (but not actual participation), The Chronicle of the Black Sword successfully adapted his popular Elric sword-and-sorcery sagas, possibly the band’s most disciplined, ambitious undertaking yet. Even better is Live Chronicles (from the ’85 tour), which includes versions of most of that record, numbers from the RCA years and even “Magnu” and “Master of the Universe.” Hawkwind could still smash and slash.
With two rhythm sections (Davey/Thompson and Bainbridge/Griffin) sharing the work, Out & Intake is dominated by songs spotlighting band members other than Brock — including, on two, Nik Turner in a guest role. Some of the material is new, some old but not the work of these musicians (like the two Calvert numbers). Hodgepodgey but good.
The next year, using Motörhead producer Guy Bidmead, Hawkwind came up with The Xenon Codex, an entertaining romp through familiar territory with some enjoyable twists, like the “Magical Mystery Tour”-ish vocals and cinematic sweep of the “Neon Skyline/Lost Chronicles” medley, and the comedic hijinks of “Good Evening.”
The (Hawk)winds of change swept through once again. Lloyd-Langton went off to follow his own muse (such as it was/is), Thompson gave way to Richard Chadwick, and a young ex-schoolteacher (?!) named Bridgett Wishart stepped in as lead and harmony vocalist (and onstage mime). The results, on Space Bandits, are intriguing but uneven. Tuneful female vocals make a neat change on “Images,” which otherwise has all the earmarks of a typical Hawks hyperdrive romp (i.e., overlong but enjoyable); “Black Elk Speaks” features a Native American declaiming the words of the 19th-century Sioux prophet; half of Side Two offers unsettling atmospherics and uneasy dreams. Prodigal son Simon House is a welcome musical presence throughout, but for personal reasons did not continue with the group after the recording.
As for the rest of the Hawkwind albums listed above, they are almost all live recordings, like Bring Me the Head of Yuri Gagarin and Early Daze, both tapes from the personal collection of In Search of Space-era bassist Dave Anderson, and Ridicule, also from the same time frame. Likewise, Text of Festival is a double album, with both the expected songs and side-long jams. For what it’s worth, the (not scrupulously labelled) Anthology series later came out as the Acid Daze series which, in CD form, is on two discs.
The Official Picture Log Book is vinyl picture discs of Chronicle, Out & Intake and Do Not Panic, plus an interview disc, badge and poster. The Collection is a best-of that doesn’t contains the “hits” in their original versions. (“Silver Machine” is the only one explicitly marked live, but most of it is.) The studio material includes two old blues standards, done straight. A couple of tracks seem like arbitrarily edited jams; in fact, there are a surprising number of awkward moments (tracks starting by fading in, abrupt edits, etc.). All the same, much of it is really pretty good.
In the solo album department, there’s Brock’s batch of demos, Earthed to the Ground, “recorded at home while waiting for Hawkwind to get going again.” The writing and playing are pretty thin, although the odd number like “Green Finned Demon” suggests it would have been worth an EP.
Much better is The Agents of Chaos, which is evidently just him (guitars and synths) with the limited assistance of someone named Crum (four pseudo-Terry Riley/new agey instrumentals credited to Crum are not great recommendations). It’s safe to say that the best of Agents has been done better with Hawkwind, but if you have all the other studio albums (heh, heh) and are just dying for another, help yourself. (Flicknife combined the two Brock solos on one compact disc.)
Calvert’s Captain Lockheed is a deluxe concept album dramatizing the true story of an airplane disastrously modified into an unstable, unsafe machine (aka the Widow Maker). The project is ambitiously outfitted with Rudolph, Lemmy, King, Dettmar, Turner, Brock, plus Eno (!) and — reading dialogue, yet — Viv Stanshall and Jim Capaldi, all overseen by Roy Thomas Baker. Despite some decent tracks, the talk segments are just plain awkward, and make it impossible for the songs to sustain a flow.
Another Calvert concept album, Lucky Leif argues that the Vikings really discovered America. Is this trip necessary? Some of it’s just plain silly. Produced by Eno, music dominated by Rudolph, with House and Turner along for the ride. Other participants: Winkie Brian Turrington, Roxy bassist Sal Maida and Moorcock on banjo.
Freq is Calvert’s industrial record, in a sense. Five of the six tracks (played on guitar and synths by him and two cohorts) relate to the workplace; the other is about a bomb squad. Kernels of good ideas/images abound, but the only one that’s well and fully realized is “All the Machines Are Quiet,” a song about being on strike. The weirdness ante is upped by the inclusion of union-related conversations and speeches scattered throughout the album. Calvert suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 43 in the summer of 1988.
The best of the solos is Swindells’ Fresh Blood. It’s just him (producing, too), with Lloyd-Langton, King and ex-Van der Graaf Generator bassist Nic Potter. It sounds like Thin Lizzy meets Graham Parker with a rocket up his ass. Narsty. Roger Daltrey sang Swindells’ “Bitter and Twisted” in the soundtrack of his film, McVicar.
As for Del Dettmar, he resurfaced in the Vancouver area in the Melodic Energy Commission, making new age music before there was such a thing, and cosmic hippy-dippy mystic electronic folk. Blech.
Believe it or not, the Travellers Aid double LP, cut at various late-’80s free festivals in Great Britain, isn’t a load of crap. Despite the billing, not much of it is Hawkwind, though: one and a half okay tracks, plus one great one by Agents of Chaos. Nik Turner brings up the rear with a crowd sing-along of “Silver Machine.” In between is very promising punky hard-rock to a ska beat by Culture Shock, Tubilah Dogs (Hawkwind-cum-Blue Öyster Cult that kind of works), some variable but amusing punk (Hippy Slags, Screech Rock), two decent-to-good reggae bands (Israel Movement and Rhythmites) and some goofballs (2000 D.S., Radio Magnolia and Ozric Tentacles), some of which is gruesomely interesting.