I’ve often thought that Electric Tepee is, in some ways, the reason Hawkwind are still around today. On the one hand, it’s a return to a wall of sound, really authentic Hawkwind vibe. On the other, famously, it’s a landmark in their getting to grips with new recording technology whilst retreating into Dave Brock’s fabulous Aladdin’s Cave of a recording studio. Certainly, Electric Tepee represents continuity coupled with experimentation; a key element of the album’s success then, can be laid at the door of Brock’s appetite for adaptability and being prepared always to push the boundaries whilst staying true to a central core of musical values. There are not many musicians of whom that can be said, particularly with such a long career behind them.
Looking back, when I’ve written about this album it’s been with love and enthusiasm. The core-trio of Brock, Alan Davey and Richard Chadwick, the most abbreviated Hawkwind line-up, actually come across sounding like one of the fullest. When I talked to Richard a few months back, partly for the current Record Collector feature, he credited this with the band having to become more ‘polyphonic’; I relate that little bit because, non-musician that I am, it took me some time to understand what that meant, but in essence it seems that it means each member had to generate more musical notes.
Electric Tepee is arguably the best Hawkwind album post their time in the 1970s on Charisma Records, but that’s not to claim it’s without its faults. It is rather a Curate’s Egg; the band took the opportunity to present an album that maximised the available space on the then still fairly new CD format and used the advantages of recording ‘at home’, without the pressure of expensive studio hours, to explore what the Hawkwind sound in the last decade of the 20th Century should be. Inevitably that ends up creating a situation where there’s a really great, tight, normal length studio album wrapped up into effectively a double album length and so you do have to sift the wheat from the chaff.
But what highlights this album has to offer. Davey’s densely configured ‘LSD’ (sound absolutely majestic on this release), The Brock/Davey classic ‘Right To Decide’, itself surely the most authentic Hawkwind song in many a year and one that had all the hallmarks of being a commercially accessible single that in the right circumstances and with a just a tad of luck could have propelled them back into mainstream visibility. The almost Calvertesque ‘The Secret Agent’, that glorious spy genre send-up, and Davey’s trademark synthesiser wash, ‘Blue Shift’ (which my son recently included in a compilation disc of space music for a school project). And then the simply wonderful and loose studio jam, ‘Going to Hawaii’, a delightful distillation of that intuitive ability to play together that characterised the era of the Dave Brock Trio. There’s so much to love about this album, even though you do have to trawl a little through some of the slight misfires (‘Snake Dance’ was, for instance, so much better both with the extended line-up on the Bedrock TV appearance and as a totally stripped down drum and bass piece during their 1991 dates).
Once again, it only remains to praise the sterling work of Mark and Vicky Powell at Esoteric / Atomhenge in pulling together a wonderful sounding remaster and a well designed and packaged release.