I’ve always held Live Seventy Nine in high regard and listed it consistently as one of my favourite Hawkwind albums, and I think possibly one of the reasons for that is the way that it actually served as my first proper introduction to the band. I could probably even tell you went it was that I first heard it, if only the Jam gigs site actually listed the date of The Jam’s gig at the late, lamented St Austell Cornwall Coliseum but safe to say it was the night in December, 1980 that Weller and co made what appears to have been their only appearance at that venue. I know this, because it was my first proper gig and I got driven up to St Austell by my cousin, Richard Pascoe, who had this album on tape in the car and would play it regularly on the way to gigs. So I heard it that night, heard it again when The Who played and later when Elvis Costello put in an appearance. I’ll note here that he also had the box and inlay for Levitation, but the tape itself never materialised and it was quite a bit later that I picked up the blue vinyl LP of that one.
From there, it became a sort of good-luck tradition that I adopted, to play this album not only as the first tape in the cassette player on the way to gigs, but generally whenever there was a lengthy drive due (and, to be fair, most of those drives were out of the county to see Hawkwind in Bristol, or Plymouth). I got through my own cassette of the album, then later a home-made version with ‘Urban Guerrilla’ restored to the running order, and later again when I had a stab (incorrectly it seems) at which other available tracks might have been culled from the same St. Albans concert. Time has moved on, that faithful old tradition died out somewhere in the 1990s; I’ve only rarely heard this record again since but it still churns up the same nostalgic feelings when I slip it into a CD player, crank up the volume, hear the crowd rousing a cheer for the band and Hawkwind launching into that Steve Swindell’s masterpiece ‘Shot Down in the Night’.
I blog about that at some length, because I believe there’s a distinction between enthusing about an album that you love in the environment of a blog, and reviewing the same in the mainstream music press. In a blog, you can relate something of what a particular album means to you, how it affected your life (let me see, would I now be published writer had I never heard of Hawkwind... I like to think I would, but I have my doubts), whereas the job of the music critic, it seems to me, is to look at a body of work and place it in context to the back catalogue around it. So when I come to review it in conjunction with Quark, Strangeness & Charm then there’s a clear dilemma. I might love them both equally, but conversely I can see the significance of one over the other and am obliged to rank them accordingly.
So here’s my chance to extemporise around the subject of Live Seventy Nine for a few moments. Steve Swindells kindly e-mailed me an MP3 of his own version of ‘Shot Down in the Night’ recently, a great opportunity to compare how the writer saw his song in comparison to the live ‘cover’ by Hawkwind, both have their merits, and whilst I’m inclined to agree with Steve that his own reading is the superior version, there’s just something about Hawkwind shooting their set off ‘with a rush of adrenaline’ that made every time I saw them and they failed to open with this one become just a little bit diminished. This is the classic Hawkwind set-opener, in my humble opinion.
I think when the opening salvo of ‘Shot Down...’ gives way to the contemporary-as-hell rock of ‘Motorway City’, then you realise just how clever Dave Brock has been over the years in that constant replenishment and reinvention of his band. When you listen to Huw Lloyd Langton adding his totally inventive leads across this track and contrast that with what the band had been doing during their time on Charisma (totally valid material, just totally different from the ’79 line-up) then you see the originality in the thinking and the ability that Brock has to hear different sounds and combine them into something that is still definitively Hawkwind. That’s inherent in this line-up’s reinterpretation of ‘Spirit of the Age’ and the way they blast through ‘Master of the Universe’ and ‘Brainstorm’ as if to say, “Okay, here’s our take on these for the 1980s, we’ve not stood still you know.”
And then also a mention, of course, for Tim Blake’s ‘Lighthouse’, the quiet lull in the storm. Hindsight’s a great thing, but it’s a huge shame we don’t have decent sounding recordings of his ‘New Jerusalem’, also played on this tour, and the lovely and touching ‘Waiting For Nati’ that was played (twice?) the following year. But ‘Lighthouse’ also has a charm all of its own, and again was one of the tracks that lingered in the memory after first hearing this album on that December night so many years ago now.
So here are Atomhenge giving this much-loved album some priority in the release schedule, and quite right too; and fantastic to see Brian Tawn, who for so many years kept so many fans up to date with Hawkwind news, contributing to this reissue programme with his sleeve notes. I’m a touch disappointed not to hear ‘Urban Guerruilla’ restored back into the running order (it’s included, along with the single cut of ‘Shot Down...’ as bonus tracks), and it’s a huge shame that the original tapes of the full show are lost to the vagaries of time. But I also think to myself, next time I have a decent drive to undertake, I’ll stick this one on the top of the pile and drive away to it cranked up full.