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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to…Hawkwind – Roadhawks/Masters of the Universe June 2, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to..., Uncategorized.
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This seems sort of appropriate given that Hawkwind played the Button Factory in Dublin this week. I didn’t get along myself for a number of reasons, but in a way I’d be a bit afraid to. I saw them about a decade ago in the Ambassador and they were excellent and I wouldn’t like to see something that diminished those memories (and I think I’ve mentioned before how it was years after I saw the Psychedelic Furs in the mid-2000s before I could listen to them again).

Say what one will about Hawkwind one could never accuse them of being ungenerous in terms of regularity and volume of their releases. Funny thing was that for a group who were so indispensably associated with, as Robert Christgau put it, the years of Zonk, they had a near Stakhanovite level of output. Now let’s not confuse the term productivity for quality, but in fairness between they hit more often than they missed.

And thinking about doing a post on them it became almost impossible to work out which album best represented their output. Not least because while remaining true to their core sound each decade took them on different tangents, from the the out and out space rock of the 1970s, through the metal inflected 1980s and on to the dance, ambient and techno sounds they adopted in the 1990s and 2000s. Albums that rarely leave my iPod include Choose Your Masques, Chronicles of the Black Sword, Alien 4 and Warrior at the Edge of Time. Are they any good you may ask, and I must be honest, in parts is the answer. But the parts that are good are very good indeed.

And with that in mind I wonder if for many people who’ve loved them there is an inevitable pull back to their 1970s compilations, Roadhawks and Masters of the Universe which covered their years on United Artists. Released sequentially in 1976 and 1977 the fact it took two perhaps speaks of how much material there was. These were likely the first port of call for many of us when it came to purchasing their albums. Reasonably, ie cheaply, priced, covering the 1970s, available almost everywhere and with an ubiquity that saw them turning up in many a record collection, they allowed for an easy, but not misleading, introduction to their works – I’ve already noted the formative influence the Polydor Pink Fairies compilation had on my then nascent musical taste. After all if you were happy enough with six minute of title track Master Of the Universe’s looped guitar riff then you were probably half way to being a proper fan (I’ve always been particularly partial to the third time the riff starts up and there’s the distant sound of an explosion).

So what does one hear? Silver Machine, of course. In all its stoner brilliance this is a song that launched a thousand groups subsequently, not least because of the sheer inevitability of the chord changes, the whistling sound effects and the cod science fiction lyrics. But listen a bit harder and one can hear a belligerence to those lyrics. Hurry on Sundown which hearkened back to their origins as buskers. Golden Void which perfectly summed up their blissed out SF inflected take on matters spatial. Though it could often be oddly conflicted – perhaps the outcome of reading too many J.G. Ballard novels. And so on and so forth. Orgone Accumulator is genius and kudos to them for referencing Wilhelm Reich (a Marxist of sorts too)…

I still find It’s Not Easy almost a perfect five minutes of music from the choral like keyboards to the driving melody (they are keyboards aren’t they?). And it’s somewhat curious production adds rather than detracts to it. Lost Johnny and Urban Guerilla are punk precursors where the influence of both Lemmy and the Pink Fairies is entirely evident and are examples A and B of how Hawkwind was always a much more knowing and confrontational operation than almost all of their peers. And the sequencing is brilliant – vastly better some fans including myself consider than the original albums, but then this was a group who were infamous for their extended jams. They knew how to do it, if anyone did.

What can I do without? Well, Sonic Attack in all its myriad incarnations never did much for me and still doesn’t. Paranoia is sort of dull to my ears and You Shouldn’t Do That… it has its moments, I suppose.

There are omissions, how could it be otherwise? Even in 1976/7 when both albums were released they’d already seen off a score of albums. Some will consider We Took the Wrong Step Years Ago hippy shit of the worst kind from the faux seagull sounds at the beginning to the strummed 12 string guitars to the morose/winsome lyrics. But I still find it oddly moving and the fact it isn’t there a real pity.

Let’s also admit that if not directly influential, the songs that these compilations contained did have a currency. The Sex Pistols have made great play of their dedication to Silver Machine, and as this post here notes, there’s been many, perhaps one or two too many, covers by groups and formations as diverse as… well, I won’t spoil the surprise…

I should make mention of the cover art on Roadhawks which while school of Barney Bubbles but not actually by him. The story goes, according to the quite brilliant overview of his career released some years back that… he did the original which was redone by the studio. I like both, but I have to admit that fan though I am of Bubbles I’ve grown very attached to the final artwork. Masters of the Universe is a different matter – almost perfect generic metal of its day, one thinks of Nazareth’s album covers in particular. And yet I have to admit I’m fond of it.

In a way what’s amazing is that they’re still on the go. Granted Dave Brock is IIRC the only original member in the line up and ex-member, the near peerless, Nik Turner has a rival outfit, Space Ritual – who have a raft of other Hawkwind alumni, on the road. But that there are now two sets of Hawkwind members gigging isn’t perhaps that surprising. It has always been music that has sought and found an outlet.

From Roadhawks…

Hurry on Sundown

Silver Machine

Urban Guerilla

Wind of Change

Golden Void

From Masters of the Universe…

Master of the Universe

Lost Johnny

It’s So Easy

Orgone Accumulator

And not included on either album…

We Took the Wrong Step Years Ago…

Comments»

1. skidmarx - June 2, 2012

“Silver Machine, of course. In all its stoner brilliance”
Not more the Got Me on Speed and Alcohol crowd that migrated to Motörhead?
I do recall someone at college who used to sing along to its single B-side, Seven by Seven, but that was when he got drunk.

David Zane Markowitz’s The Radical Soap Opera is funny on Reich and his Orgone Box, as on much else.

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2. EamonnCork - June 3, 2012

Enjoyed this a lot Wbs. Remember hearing Hawkwind for the first time on the excellent Radio 2 programme Rocksteady, presented by Gerry Ryan, a kind of quickfire Fanning show from the early Cominatcha days of the station.
You should upload the version of Silver Machine, available on Youtube, by James Last. Much better than you’d think (seriously) and quite wonderful in its own way.
Like the man who discovered how to milk a cow, I’m not sure exactly what I was looking for when I discovered it. It may have been when I was helping Perry Como decorate his bachelor pad.

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Gearóid - June 3, 2012

Also see from 2:09 onwards: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBweqmLk6dU

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3. rockroots - June 3, 2012

I had a similar introduction with ‘Stasis: The UA Years’, which covered much the same territory. I was at the gig on Tuesday, where Dave Brock dedicated Silver Machine to founder member John Harrison, who played some hypnotic bass on that first album and who had sadly passed away the previous day. I find modern Hawkwind can be a bit hit-and-miss live, but this was a good show, albeit with a surprisingly small crowd. I would love to see Nik Turner’s outfit sometime but they don’t tend to tour abroad. I understand they plan a once-off recreation of the Space Ritual live show next January.

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4. This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Astralasia, Pitched Up At The Edge Of Reality « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - June 15, 2012

[…] the YouTube clips of TMMB and frankly I don’t much want to see them again. I know I mentioned this crew only the week before last, but there’s space rock and space rock and that’s not necessarily […]

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5. This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Astralasia « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - June 16, 2012

[…] the YouTube clips of TMMB and frankly I don’t much want to see them again. I know I mentioned this crew only the week before last, but there’s space rock and space rock and that’s not necessarily […]

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