6 CD Boxset
To try and cover the 50 year career of such a prolific and influential band in just 6 CDs is no mean feat. Whilst providing a comprehensive overview, Nathan Brown thinks it was a wise move to thin out later material in order to leave space for more of the work which earned Hawkwind their reputation.
Taking in a few songs from most of Hawkwind’s albums and arriving at 81 tracks, this box set provides an overview of the changing tide, fortunes and attitude of a band that has become a music institution in the alternative music scene. Derided by some but loved by many – from hippies to punks to dope fiends and ravers. The music press fell in and out of love with them. They just carried on doing their thing regardless. Hawkwind were immersed in the Notting Hill counter-culture scene and it wasn’t long before they had a reputation as music to take drugs to and were intrinsically linked with free festivals.
If you played all 6 CDs back to back it would take you over 7 and a half hours to listen to them. That’s a working day…but what a day! The set includes a “lavishly illustrated” book with a new essay and exclusive interview with Dave Brock and a poster. It’s fitting that Stonehenge should feature on the cover for a band synonymous with the free festival scene – and whose 1984 performance at the Stonehenge free festival was released as a double album.
CD1 – Taking off
The first disk starts off with a 1968 number Bring It On Home from main man, founder and the only constant in Hawkwind, Dave Brock. It has a typical late 60s bluesy sound which continues with Sweet Mistress Of Pain from pre-cursor Hawkwind Zoo. This approach extends into with Hurry on Sundown, Be Yourself and Mirror of Illusion from the eponymous Hawkwind debut. 6 tracks into the first CD, Dik Mik and Del Dettmar have mastered the trademark ullulating and bubbling sonic generators and synthesizers. Hawkwind have launched their interstellar journey into Space Rock with the album In Search of Space and this collection marks that moment with perennial favourite Master of The Universe and the epic Stooge-esque jam You Shouldn’t Do That. The characteristic thrumming and rhythmic approach to songs that emulates a starship engine is already apparent, greatly set off by the frenetic drumming of Terry Ollis.
Up next is Silver Machine. The song for which they are most known had to be featured, and eccentric poet Bob Calvert appears on it’s flipside Seven by Seven. The Silver Machine single was based on a recording from the Greasy Truckers Party gig with a few overdubs. The version of Born To Go included here was also recorded at the Greasy Truckers Party. Given its stompy proto-punk approach I am again reminded of the Stooges. I have never made the Hawkwind-Stooges link before so it would appear this collection has opened up my ears.
A live version of Down Through the Night, possibly from Space Ritual, follows before everything is brought very much down to planet Earth with a bang as Urban Guerilla closes the CD. A song coincidentally released at the same time as IRA bombs were going off, it was banned by the BBC and 3 weeks later withdrawn by their label. “Let’s not talk of love and flowers and things that don’t explode…” It spoke to the band’s connection with the counter-culture and lines like “I’m the people’s debt collector, so watch out Mister Businessman your Empire’s about to blow” were clearly more attuned to the Angry Brigade than Irish Republicanism. The Angry Brigade inspiration for Calvert’s words has since been backed up by a quote from Lemmy.
CD2 – 1972 to 1974
Disk 2 kicks off with another firm live favourite, Brainstorm. Nik Turner’s tortured vocal pleading at the launchpad “Standing on the runway waiting to take off…You’ve gotta help me, help me to shake off this body and mind”. 2 other songs from the Doremi Fasol Latido album follow. Space Is Deep is somewhat philosophical about the non-caring and vast nature of space (You can picture Neil from the Young Ones saying “Wow man, space is like…really deep”). The Watcher showcases an acoustic version of a song that would return on Motorhead’s debut.
The driving Orgone Accumulator makes the cut from the double live album Space Ritual. A consistent drumbeat with occasional fills and rolls from Simon King and a veritable boogy of a bassline provides the foundation for clattering echoes from the audio generator, ethereal saxophone and synth. The bass performance from Lemmy features a solo played mostly in bass chords which is unparalleled. Dave Brock’s wah wah driven guitar fights the bass for attention as Nik Turner’s saxophone weaves in and out. To have missed this song from a set like this would have been criminal.
Moving on, The Psychedelic Warlords (Disappear In Smoke) is an obvious choice from Hall Of The Mountain Grill (an album named after the band’s favourite caff). It’s accompanied by Wind of Change, Paradox and It’s So Easy from that era. 3 songs from Warrior on the Edge of Time close disk 2. While it’s a shame Kings of Speed never made the collection, I can see why Assault & Battery and Magnu would take priority. I was particularly pleased with the inclusion of the spacey keyboard laden Spiral Galaxy 24968. It is different from a lot of the other songs and I always thought it would have made a great theme for a Gerry Anderson TV show. For my money, Hawkwind were at their best while they still had both Lemmy and Nik Turner in the fold (1971-1975). This period deservedly receives 15 tracks spread across the first 2 disks.
CD3 – ’75 to ’79
As we join disk 3 the band have jettisoned Lemmy over some white powder holding him up at the US-Canada border on tour. This is not the only change. Bob Calvert has returned to the fold. The combination of his crooning with the way the keyboards carry the song rather than providing a sonic attack, give Hawkwind, dare I say it, a middle of the road, mainstream sound on Steppenwolf. Chronoglide Skyway is a typical ambient, soaring instrumental interlude to get stoned to. Kerb Crawler is powered by a Brock riff evocative of Silver Machine but it is buried beneath a very mainstream production. In some ways, despite early Hawkwind being a clear influence on punk, the Hawkwind of 1976 were in danger of morphing into the bloated thing that punk (allegedly) was kicking back against. What had happened to the counter culture warriors?
By 1977’s Quark, Strangeness and Charm they had reinvented themselves again and here we have 4 of those songs. Back On The Streets and Quark, Strangeness and Charm both seem to have tuned into the choppiness of the pub rock scene while adapting something of Eno-era Roxy Music and some of the over the top sarcasm of punk. Spirit of the Age is the band at their most sci-fi with a space/time travel tale (and some questionable lyrics). The Eastern sounding Hassan I Sahba is, at first listen, a salute to the joys of smoking hashish but as you listen the song mentions other exports like petrol and the Black September terrorist group.
Not long after QSAC, Hawkwind split up at the end of a US tour. Dave Brock couldn’t just stop playing and formed a new band, potentially to be called Sonic Assassins but settling on the name Hawklords. Featuring Bob Calvert and other former Hawkwind members such as Simon King and Simon House it was in truth a continuation of the band. Hawklords songs featured here – Psi Power and The Age Of Microman – fit in well with the band’s legacy. The former has a chuggy Brock riff and sci-fi lyrics about mind reading while the latter is a slower, spacey number. Meanwhile 25 Years and The Only Ones sound like post punk songs, before post punk had really taken off (this was 1978). I was surprised that the comedic Flying Doctor wasn’t included but perhaps its double entendres haven’t aged so well.
Hawkwind “returned” back to their old name with the album PXR5 from which the eerie Robot and High Rise are taken for this CD. Both science fiction in content, Robot is heavy and rhythmic while High Rise is heavy on the keyboards. Calvert’s performance gives a suitable sinister edge. The single version of the stand out song from PXR5, Death Trap, has a definite thuggy punk rock vibe to it, with keyboards zooming past like dragsters and a very punky style guitar solo. CD3 ends with a live anti-war song Over The Top, which I believe was improvised – so something special for the fans.
CD4 – The early 80s
CD4 takes us through the first half of the 1980s, starting with two songs from the Live 79 LP, recorded in December 1979 and released in summer 1980. Shot Down In The Night has the heavy driving nature of earlier Hawkwind but the guitars fit more with the Rock’n’roll antics of Heavy Metal. Lighthouse is more sci-fi. An ambient myriad of keyboards creating the atmosphere surrounding the sentinel, “Far away in outer space, a lighthouse guiding star”. A robotic voice intones “Captain’s log….approaching craft of extra terrestrial origin” and the familiar twittering noises that are such a feature of the Hawkwind soundscape.
Levitation(from the album of the same name) along with Motorway City, Who’s Gonna Win The War and Dust of Time (which gives this collection its title) are not far from the Hawkwind that you would recognise from the early 70s on the first two disks. They have returned to their natural state. There is, however, more of an “epic” traditional stadium rock sound thanks to the guitars of Huw Lloyd-Langton. Live song Running Through My Back Brain is in the tradition of paranoid babbling designed to “freak people out”, which had been one of the band’s aims in the early years. It serves to remind you that they had not just become a “hard rock” band.
The remaining 9 tracks all featured on the mid 1980s compilation Angels of Death which featured the best of the albums Church of Hawkwind, Sonic Attack and Choose Your Masques. At their best they are typified by techical guitar work and soaring leads from Lloyd-Langton over a solid sound from Dave Brock, Harvey Bainbridge and Martin Griffin. There is still time for some keyboard based ambient extra-terrestrial antics. Of these nine songs, the sinister Angels of Death, happy sounding Rocky Paths and chugging spacecraft Nuclear Drive stand out. Familiar phrases are reused in a self referential nod .e.g. In Angels of Death: “We’re born to blaze a nuclear way through space. We are the warriors at the edge of time. We lurk inside your brain, we hide inside your mind”
CD5 – The Elric years
CD5 picks up in the mid 80s with Night of the Hawks – a typically lumpy affair providing a foundation for Lloyd-Langton’s recognisable guitar. At this stage, Hawkwind entered their Elric phase. Whereas before, space had definitely been their domain, the band turned their focus on Michael Moorcock’s fantasy world of dragons and warlocks. Taken from The Chronicle of the Black Sword and Live Chronicles albums are Dragons and Fables, Moonglum, the haunting keyboard dreamscape Zarozinia and the hard rocking Needle Gun. The latter harks back to Death Trap in some respects. A BBC session of Magnu/Dreamworker from the period is also included.
Cajun Jinx is a pleasant enough little instrumental but, like much of the Out and Intake album has the feeling of filler. It could be the extended middle eight jam of any Hawkwind standard, albeit with some Hooky-esque bass shenanigans. The War I Survived and Heads from The Xenon Codex are not bad in their own right, but as it was the band’s fifteenth studio album it was inevitable there would be an element of familiarity so these songs don’t really stand out. The same can be said for the live BBC recordings of Tides and Wastelands of Sleep from the same album and Treadmill from the Palace Springs album. Ship of Dreams is suitably grim and nightmare-ish sounding to make you sit up. Closing song LSD from 1992’s Electric Teepee is a right little rocker with a fast groove combining familiar elements harking back to the Elric era. The much needed tempo increase leaves you on a high.
CD6 – The last 2 decades
The 12 tracks on Disk 6 span from 1993 (Space Is Their Palestine) right up to the current day with the title track from 2019’s All Aboard The Skylark and Strange Encounters from this year’s Somnia, their 34th album. This final disk provides enough of a broad brush stroke to give you a feel for what the band have been up to in the last 2 decades. They have a workmanlike approach – they know how to build songs so they get on with it, and consequently they churn more of the “Hawkwind sound”. In some respects this last disk serves as a sampler for those who are familiar with what “classic” Hawkwind were about and might be tempted to seek out some of the more recent material, and also as a reminder that they are still going!
In all, there are 81 songs from a 50 year career and while there have been countless compilations over the years, this is the first one that has attempted to gather together all eras of the band’s history. It is no mean feat. Hawkwind have been through many phases and each is well represented here. Inevitably the group’s founding years dominate the set, and it is noticeable that as the band’s career progresses the number of outstanding tracks from each album diminishes and each CD covers more years – speeding up like time itself. The compilers of this set have done well not to litter the collection with too many of the weaker songs leaving space for “classic” songs which earned Hawkwind their reputation. Single versions, alternative mixes and live recordings of songs serve to provide something of interest to the Hawkfan or Hawk-curious.
Hawkwind – Dust Of Time is available from Cherry Red
Words by Nathan Brown. Check out his Louder Than War Author Archive.