Sunday, 25 January 2009

Hawklords - 25 Years On

I bought my first copy of the Hawklords’ 25 Years On album on cassette from Redruth’s now defunct John Oliver’s record and book shop, fairly early into my original enthusiasm for Hawkwind, wondering what turn of events had them releasing an album under a different identity and surprised at the fairly laid-back sound of these songs. I battled on with that tape for a quite a few years, eventually replacing it with a vinyl copy, but have never owned this one on CD until Atomhenge’s excellent reissue landed here a few days ago.

Let’s talk a little bit about the album itself because it’s one that does get somewhat lost in the overall Hawkwind catalogue, sandwiched between the immense Quark, Strangeness & Charm and the crystal-clean rock of Levitation (omitting from the analogy PXR5, simply because although it was chronologically released after the Hawklords album, most of the tracks hail from prior to the formation of the Hawklords). Much has been made in the past of the notions of it being rocking chair Hawkwind, with the musicians laid-back and strumming along (as noted by Dave Brock) or as the moment when they back Roxy Music (© Lemmy). Of the two suggestions, probably Lemmy’s is closer to the mark, since there is something quite art-school about the album, and more particularly about the ensuing tour.

It’s surprising that so few songs from this collection have had any sort of longevity as live numbers, with ‘Psi Power’ being the principal exception. It might be understandable that ‘Flying Doctor’, devoid of Robert Calvert to render it’s humour, has never received a regular airing post-Calvert (though I saw Hawkwind make a good fist of this one a couple of years back as an encore), but there’s quite a few neglected gems amongst the other tracks. In particular, ‘The Only Ones’ is a classic example of Calvert’s sharp lyrics, ‘Freefall’, with Steve Swindells’ keyboards adding a wonderfully ethereal and dreamlike quality, and The Age of the Micro Man’ are high quality tracks that would deserve a place on any Hawkwind LP. ‘Automoton’ is something of an oddity that probably would have many pressing the skip button and ’25 Years’ is a sort of space-punk thing that to me sounds a little forced, a tad trite. ‘(Only) The Dead Dreams of the Cold War Kid’ seems the starting point for a Calvert solo album that never got made but folds quite well into the overall Hawklords theme. As a Hawkwind album, probably place this top of the mid-table in the Premier League but as an album by a gathering that could well be described as musically the most accomplished line-up in the band’s history it’s great to see it available again and does make you a little sad that this group didn’t go on to make a second album and develop things further.

I’ll not comment too much on the Sonic Assassins gig that makes an appearance on the bonus disc that comes with this release, the tracks have been heard many times in different places and are, of course, the ultimate capture of Calvert in full ‘Mad Bob’ flow, highly valuable as such. Much more of interest are the previously unheard Hawklords demos that are now available here.

An acoustic version of ‘The Only Ones’ kicks off these demos that, for anyone who wishes that Dave Brock would play a little more acoustic guitar will be an absolute delight. A couple of versions of ‘Freefall’ (along with the Sonic Assassins live version) tell us that Calvert was searching for the right form of words during the development of this number. A live studio rehearsal of ‘Flying Doctor’ is thrilling and energetic, whilst an eight-minute version of ’25 Years’ presents an interesting alternate take. ‘The Age of the Micro Man’ appears here, seemingly almost fully formed (is the principle difference here some backing vocals that were dropped for the album cut?) and it’s hard to get too excited about a full, extended, version of ‘Automoton’. ‘Assassination’ (a.k.a ‘Some People Never Die’) appears, somewhat different from the track that is familiar from the ‘Church of Hawkwind’ album, whilst one of the two takes of ‘(Only) The Dead Dreams of the Cold War Kid’ includes guitar from Dave Brock – absent from the final version. These demos are rounded out by ‘Digger Jam’, some stream of consciousness Australian-accented stuff from Calvert around a musical improvisation that is reminiscent of what became referred to as Hawklords Mk II with their ‘Douglas in the Jungle’ or ‘Time of the Hawklords’ mode. Absolutely mad stuff.

An excellent booklet accompanies this release, including a reproduction of the tour booklet designed as the manifesto of Pan Transcendental Industries. This is a fabulous package.

1 comment:

Oz Hardwick said...

My absolute favourite, & maybe the most memorable tour for me. Looking forward to hearing all the demos & oddities.