Saturday, 28 February 2009

Hawkwind - Live Chronicles

Ah, the last night of the Black Sword tour, Bristol Hippodrome – Hawkwind’s epic adaptation of Michael Moorcock’s Elric saga. Those were the days when to travel to Bristol from the far end of Cornwall wasn’t just a bit of a jaunt, but was a five hour drive around little villages and market towns. Queuing through the Okehampton traffic bottleneck that you knew was going to add and add again to your journey time and wondering out loud if you were ever going to get to your destination. Finally reaching Bristol and paying a visit to the now long gone ‘Forever People’ comics and SF shop, then located at the top of Park Street, home to the UK’s best selection of SF paperbacks and possibly the most expensive comic book back issues in the country, before searching out a hotel up at Clifton.

December 1985 was actually the first time I’d driven to Bristol, didn’t know the area at all, had no idea about accommodation and ended up spending a fortune booked into the Grand Hotel, Tony Benn’s hotel of choice whilst he was MP for Bristol, where the receptionist looked aghast at the two totally untypical customers in scruffy jeans, stud belts and Hawkwind T-Shirts that peered across the desk and enquired the price and availability of a twin room for the night. But the show itself... I’d seen Hawkwind only once before, at the old St Austell Coliseum in 1982 on a CND benefit show where the local support band, Artistic Control, were fabulous and the Hawks totally lacklustre. (Note for the bootleg collectors amongst us, yes, it is me that you can hear shout ‘Bring Back Bob Calvert’ at the beginning of the tape...). The Hippodrome, last night of the ‘Black Sword’ was a completely different animal, Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts providing a totally hilarious support slot with their ‘Hot For You, Bronskis’ number and the rotund figure of Dumpy himself replete in a pink tutu, dragging his set out for all it was worth until the roadies had the task of dismantling his band’s equipment around him. “It’s a drum solo... err, no, it’s a solo drum...” Hawkwind’s own set, played to a packed house in the atmospheric surroundings of the old theatre, was just thrilling; perhaps it had an extra edge because it was the last night of the tour (the show would be staged just once more, at the Brighton World SF Convention a couple of years later) but there was really something special about this one.

I like to think that Black Sword was a pinnacle of one facet of Hawkwind, that concept of theatrical presentation mixed with rock music (ironically, their most theatrical member, Nik Turner had been dismissed from the ranks during the initial planning stages for the album and show). As regards the live show, there’s an error, an omission in my book on Hawkwind that I hope one day will see a correction in a paperback edition, and that’s in not acknowledging Tim Pollard who appeared at various shows as the character Theleb Kaama. Pollard appears on the opening sequence of the ensuing video, menacingly drawing his sword across his throat; he was later rewarded for his efforts on the tour by being presented with the Stormbringer stage prop, a wooden sword painted black with ultra-violet ‘runes’ written on it. Highlights of the Hammersmith dates from the tour were, of course, released originally on video by Jettizound, a film that can now be found on DVD from Cherry Red alongside the 1984 Night of the Hawks show and the Alien 4 tour compilation.

Which brings us to the last in the initial set of four Hawkwind reissues from Atomhenge. Much as I look back on that winter night in Bristol with much fondness and affection, I’ve always preferred the studio Chronicles of the Black Sword album to the ensuing live double, Live Chronicles, despite the latter having two really good Lloyd-Langton numbers written for the show but not selected for the studio album, ‘Moonglum’ and ‘Dreaming City’. It’s about flow, really. On stage, the Elric concept was well realised, given the limitations of budget, transferred to vinyl, and now CD, and lacking the visuals, the live capture has always seemed to me to be disjointed and slightly inaccessible. If you like that mid-80s heavy rock Hawkwind approach, then this is a great recording of it but as a standalone document of the stage show I just find it jarring and disconnected from the storyline. It also rather exposes the limitation of the narrative rendering, that shoe-horning in of Hawkwind standards, ‘Brainstorm’ and ‘Master of the Universe’, unnecessary diversions from the principle thrust of the concept and, to be honest, a lamentable lost opportunity to fully flow through with an ambitious project of new material. How much better this would have been had the band really taken the bull by the horns and delivered a one-off tour of totally new material in support of the Elric saga.

But Live Chronicles is what it is, and I know a lot of Hawkwind fans really rate this live double very highly. (I remember once chatting up a young lady in the local pub whose opening line to me revolved around how much better it was than the ‘over produced studio version’!). It’s got bags of energy, those excellent Lloyd Langton numbers, and where it isn’t bogged down in special sound effects that would have supported the visual performance of the mime and dance artistes on the night, a fair amount of pace. It’s just a bit too stop/start for my liking – roll on the remaster of the studio album!

This reissue follows the earlier American release by including Mike Moorcock’s on-stage narration, which didn’t appear on the original GWR British release. Liners include a reproduction of the tour programme, which must have been printed in massive volumes as I think Hawkwind were still selling copies until recently, and an overview by label boss Mark Powell.

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