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.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Secret Saucer: Element 115 / Second Sighting

Secret Saucer was formed following the demise of the seminal US Strange Daze festival, a melting pot of US and European spacerock acts and a corner stone of the American spacerock fraternity in the late 90s and the early years of this decade. As the band’s Steve Hayes notes, “most of us were involved with Strange Daze in one form or another, so the idea was to bring together friends I had made from various bands involved with the festival, do an improvised spacerock jam and record it in my studio.” Hayes, along with Steve Taylor had played with Jerry Richards and Richard Chadwick as ‘Strangewind’ at the 1998 festival when Dave Brock and Ron Tree had been refused entry into the United States for Hawkwind’s planned headline appearance that year. That led to them both playing in the Chadwick/Richards Star Nation project (Richard once told me the story of how they recorded in his spare bedroom at home, with the various musicians all put-up by local villagers), whilst Taylor also deputised on bass for Hawkwind’s tour of New Zealand and Australia in 2000.

Secret Saucer brought together a number of leading lights from the US scene. The line-up included Greg Kozlowsi from Architectural Metaphor, Paul Williams and Jay Swanson from Quarkspace (watch for a review feature on Quarkspace coming soon to this blog), Dave Hess of Blah, and band mates of the two Steve’s from Hawkwind covers outfit Sun Machine. They released two albums through the Dead Earnest label, Element 115 (noted on the in-lay as being recorded in July 2001, but released in 2005) and the 2007 follow-up, Second Sighting. At the time of writing, a third, as yet untitled, album is at mixing stage and planned for release in June.

Given the pedigree behind this project then, it’s fair to approach their releases with a suitably high level of expectation. And it’s equally fair to note that such expectations most certainly don’t result in disappointment, because these albums are high quality, well performed and extremely engaging works. Both albums are instrumental recordings, I assume stemming from their desire to simply play live in the studio and see what materialises. The music itself though is extremely tightly put together and played, despite the presence of the assembled musicians being rotated around the tracks. Krautrock like, they play around a specific theme, whether it be a repeated bass line or a synthesiser shimmy, with a leading instrument expressing itself across the top. In this respect, Steve Taylor’s lead guitar is particularly effective, having that winding, ethereal quality that made much of Huw Lloyd-Langton’s early 80s Hawkwind lead lines so effective – listen to him on ‘Sword of Conneaut’ from Element 115 as a great example. But there’s a compelling variety to the use of instrumentation in their compositions, Swanson’s piano on ‘STS-107’ for instance, and some highly expressive riffing going on in general.

Second Sighting follows the template laid down in their first release, opening with the muscular, driving, ‘Lift Off’ which merges a grinding guitar with some nicely Eastern toned lead juxtaposed against unearthly synthesiser and some rigorous bass playing from Billy Spear. ‘D-Walker’ (despite, from its title, sounding like a reference to Nik Turner’s classic ‘D-Rider’) is a gentle, thoughtful homage to the late Doug Walker, bastion of the spacerock scene and best known through his band Alien Planetscapes, a keyboard and synth dominated piece that winds its way through nine minutes of bright, easy-going and sparkly atmosphere. Throughout, there’s the inevitable comparisons with Hawkwind to be made (‘Disintegrator’ would have sat happily on Levitation, some of the more synthesiser focused stuff is worthy of association with Church of Hawkwind). But it’s right and proper to say that although there’s a straight-line influence to be heard, these guys, by just setting up and playing, following their passion and playing to that passion’s strengths, have already carved out a significant place for themselves in the genre and I, for one, am very much looking forward to hearing what they’ve improvised for us on their third album.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Spirits Burning - Don Falcone Interview

This interview with Spirits Burning’s Don Falcone appeared in the Finnish magazine Colossus last year to celebrate the release of the Earth Born and Alien Injection CDs; with Don know having also released an album of Michael Moorcock’s Deep Fix demos and having come to an agreement for distribution with Rob Ayling’s Voiceprint Records in the UK, it seemed an ideal moment to make this interview available in English for the first time.

Don, your Spirit’s Burning ensemble celebrates the boundless possibilities of space-rock. Who originally sparked your interest in the genre?

Hawkwind’s Space Ritual was first, though it took some time for me to get comfortable with the music. It was darker and more intense than other things I was listening to. Hearing Hall of the Mountain Grill sealed the deal. I had been a big fan of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, and was also into Tangerine Dream and Vangelis. Hawkwind represented a place where all those sounds and ideas came together.

Back then, Nektar’s Remember the Future was my favourite concept album, Floating Anarchy my favourite plate of Gong. Can’s Landed was perhaps the most experimental of the space-rock albums I was listening to. That album’s use of electronics remains timeless. And, the Holger Czukay solo material that followed is still a handbook for using found sounds.

Most importantly, these bands and artists continued to do new things that I enjoyed and admired. Hawkwind developed lyrical when Bob Calvert took over as lead vocalist and then became more power prog during Ginger Baker’s brief stint and then took on a new flavour when Harvey Bainbridge moved to keyboards. I recently saw the Live Legends video with Bridget, Alan, Richard, Simon, and Harvey. I had forgotten how good this line-up was. Plus, there was a personal “wow” moment. It hit me that I had done songs with everyone onstage except for Dave Brock and the fire-breathers!

Tell us something of the different bands you’ve played with over the years…

First band of note was Thessalonians. I played synth. It was one of many bands I was in with Kim Cascone, on his Silent Records label. Larry Thrasher, later of Psychic TV and Thee Majesty was also in Thessalonians. It was a great breeding ground for thinking about an instrument’s sound capabilities and pushing it to new places. Plus, it was my introduction into sampling and using real-world sounds. One of my first songs with Silent Records was for the Fifty Years of Sunshine compilation. While we were working on our track, I successfully got in touch with [Hawkwind’s] Alan Davey and Harvey Bainbridge, and was able to get their tracks on the compilation. My baptism into the world of networking, I guess.

Around the same time, I was part of the original Melting Euphoria. It was 3-piece space-rock outfit, with me doing keys and vocals. I was filling the roles of both Bob Calvert and Simon House. After I quit, they became more of a space-rock/psych band. They achieved enough of a name that Mellow Records has decided to re-release their first CD this year. This was the only Melting Euphoria album I was on, and a lot of people probably aren’t aware of it.

After Melting Euphoria, I started a solo project called Spaceship Eyes. Following a synthy self-released CD, I signed to LA’s Hypnotic Records. They asked me to do drum ‘n’ bass and I responded with some very kinetic, experimental dance music. Not everyone’s cup of tea! Harvey Bainbridge was part of one track. And a couple other tracks were used in the Better Living Through Circuitry rave film.

In the 21st century, we’ve got Spirits Burning going strong. And, I’m the keyboardist and producer for three others. Quiet Celebration, an ambient, jazz project. Weird Biscuit Teatime, a space-rock quartet with Daevid Allen. And, Grindlestone, an experimental ambient duo.

What does space-rock mean to you … there is the heavy-rock wing, the jazz-fusion side of it …

It’s funny that you chose those two disparate varieties of the genre. One of my least favourite Hawkwind periods was their mid-80s heavy rock. And, my least favourite Gong period was the jazzy Pierre Moerlen Gongs. These versions of the bands started to sound like other bands of the time, their uniqueness, what first attracted me to their sound, had been lost.

So, where do your own preferences lies?

The best space-rock keeps in mind past highlights, but moves into new territories. It’s the genre with the best potential to absorb change, since much of the audience is already onboard and willing to follow the sonic trip, no matter where the musicians lead them to. Plus, space-rock has never really become part of the public consciousness, at least not in America. So, there really should be fewer barriers as to what could be attempted.

Many who are involved in space-rock, whether as performers or followers of the music, have an interest in Science Fiction in general. Do you share this?

My interest in science fiction dates back to my discovery of Marvel Comics, then in my teens, I became interested in Sci-Fi books, particularly those by Michael Moorcock. I remember those first readings of Behold the Man and The Black Corridor. Great ideas. Great execution. Then, I moved on to his sword and sorcery tales, like Corum, and of course Elric. And, eventually found a totally new sensibility in the more fantasy-based Alien Heat and Gloriana tales. I also read stuff by John Brunner and J. G. Ballard. As I moved through school, I started to move away from sci-fi, and read people like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and James Joyce. I was also reading a lot of poetry by the time I got to college.

I guess the same qualities of pluralism that I like with space-rock is what I was finding in Marvel Comics, the works of Moorcock, and the best of James Joyce. When I was getting my Masters degree in English at San Francisco State, my adviser was Frances Mayes (the writer of the Tuscan books). I’ll never forget when she told the class it was important to find their “voices.” It’s that plurality that’s important to me as a musician.

You’ve been enormously successful in recruiting leading members of the space-rock community to the various Spirits Burning projects. Can you tell us something of how the Spirits Burning concept originally came together?

I was already inviting guests to my Spaceship Eyes project, and had done a Spaceship Eyes live ensemble that had a flexible line-up. I thought it was a good time to start a real space-rock band, but one not constrained by a consistent lineup. I was also getting used to working with people long distance, so I knew that this band could be a more global one. I had a couple of reference points. I really liked what Eno had done on his early albums – putting together unexpected lineups. People from Hawkwind playing alongside King Crimson members! I also knew about Pigface, a collective of musicians connected to the Industrial scene. Why not a space-rock collective?

With Spirits Burning I brought all of this together with like-minded musicians who believed in the power of space-rock and would be willing to try something new with it. They would have to put a lot of trust in me. And, maybe, if I got some legends of the genre interested, that would help peak their interest.

The Internet must be a key factor?

Definitely. When Spirits Burning first started, the Internet was more about networking -- finding people, and then keeping in touch with them. In those days, the actual music files were sent via snail mail on CDRs, DATS, and even cassette. Nowadays, we can send files to one another over the Internet. The speed and bandwidth of DSLs has made this practice more realistic, less painful, and programs like YouSendIt make it possible for musicians to share files over the Internet for free.

Of course, besides the Internet you still need a “home” to bring all the music together. For Spirits Burning, the music’s real home is Pro Tools. That’s the software application where I do the track mixing and local recording.

The other thing about the net is that musicians now have websites, like Myspace, where they can promote their music for free. There are some crewmembers I never would have got in touch with if not for their on-line presence.

One of the most fruitful and long-lasting associations that you’ve made has been with Gong’s Daevid Allen. What special thing does he bring to the collaboration?

More than I ever could have imagined, he’s really got a great vibe. He’s a master at improvisation. He can listen to a piece once and then bring something new and important to it.

He’s really got a nice variety of guitar techniques that keeps things interesting. Most obvious is his glissando guitar – where he takes his whammy bar and creates some of the most ethereal space sounds you will ever hear. And many Spirits Burning pieces feature his expressive leads or rhythm parts.

Vocally, he always has his notebook of lyrics handy during our sessions. But, some of my favorite recordings of past were when he improvised poetry lines from my college thesis, or created “wordless” vocals. Brilliant!

He also was the first recognizable person in the band. With him onboard, many others have been enticed to join.

Something that impresses me is that Spirit’s Burning albums have a wonderful range in tone…

I tend to work on 3 or more Spirits Burning CDs at a time, so there are weeks where I can be all over the map. While doing Alien Injection, which is heavier for the most part, I was also working on a Quiet Celebration ambient CD, a more experimental Grindlestone CD, and again a couple of other Spirits Burning CDs.

Are these varying textures deliberate on your part or informed by the musicians you have available for specific projects?

Depending on who starts a piece, it may have a heavier or lighter flavor, but more commonly I’ll make decisions upfront, like “this Spirits Burning CD will be all instrumental,” “this one will be all vocal,” or “that one will be a mix of both.”

You’ve worked with a few labels, mainly in Continental Europe, what were your experiences like with them?

The first two Spirits Burning CDs were on Gazul, a sublabel of Musea who were well respected in the prog scene, so it helped establish some credibility in that area. Last year, well after my time on the label, I actually met Bernard, who runs the label. It was at the NearFest festival in Pennsylvania when Hawkwind and Magma played. We went out to dinner with the Expose magazine editors and had a great time. I’ll always be thankful to Musea. Without them, Spirits Burning might not have been on the map.

The third CD Found in Nature was picked up by Mellow Records of Italy. That was all instrumental and I thought it was a perfect fit for that label. Mellow has meant a lot more for me, as they also released the second Quiet Celebration CD, and are about to re-release the aforementioned Melting Euphoria CD. Plus, they put out a lot of compilations. This has provided an outlet to do additional Spirits Burning tracks. There’s a version of Santana’s ‘Soul Sacrifice’ coming on a Santana tribute soon. And, I’m currently mixing a track about Luana Borgia for a Mellow concept album.

There was kind of a Spirits Burning “best of” released on Voiceprint a couple of years ago. It was billed as Daevid Allen & Don Falcone Glissando Grooves.

The latest Spirits Burning album, Alien Injection, is released on Black Widow Records. I’m always impressed with the quality of their product (particularly their commitment to Vinyl). Was this one of the factors that attracted you to them?

My real introduction to Black Widow was when they put out the vinyl version of a Hawkwind tribute CD. This featured the Spirits Burning version of ‘High Rise’. I had heard through a grapevine that they had interest in Melting Euphoria at one time and so as Alien Injection was starting to come together, I put them on my short list of probable labels. It just seemed like the new material would be something that they would be interested in.

As I got to know Massimo at Black Widow, it became abundantly clear that they have a wonderful appreciation of space-rock – past, present and future. I’m impressed with their quality and dedication to doing things well. Plus, I’m really happy Alien Injection is also coming out as a double LP. This was really unexpected and very cool.

Let’s talk about Alien Injection. Is there a specific concept in mind on this one?

I had made a decision early on that this would be the first almost all-vocal Spirits Burning CD, as it followed completion of the all-instrumental Found in Nature CD.

The song “Alien Injection” is about how the world needs an infusion of something new. We’ve got a lot of problems, and the old formulas don’t seem to be working. There are a number of pieces on the CD that represent panaceas or places of inspiration, which lead to new ways of doing things. Maybe that’s the theme of all the Spirits Burning CDs. Sometimes, it’s the meaning within the lyrics, and sometimes it’s in the simple act of creating new line-ups. Sometimes it’s the enjoyment from listening. Sometimes it’s the recording process itself. Will this be a song based on an audio recording of a performance, or will this be a MIDI-based tune, or a loop-based one, or some combination?

There’s also newness in recreating or reincarnating the past. For example, take Michael Moorcock’s old “Deep Fix” sessions for ‘The Entropy Tango’ and ‘Gloriana’. We restored five tracks from those sessions, then added new musicians to create entirely new pieces.

I even played a new instrument on Alien Injection. After Black Widow heard the initial demo of the project, they suggested I use mellotron in as many pieces as possible. Ironically, around the same time, I had a talk with a friend at work who owns one and kept it in a closet there. We set up a session and I ended up playing my parts in the hallway, outside my office door … since we couldn’t get the keyboard through the door. There was a steep learning curve. You can’t play the mellotron fast; you have to allow time for the keys to engage and disengage the tapes. But, I got the hang of it pretty quickly. And, I kind of had a small audience. It was after work hours, but a number of testers were still working. They got to hear and see a mellotron for the first time in their lives. Think lots of wows!

The end-result is a real tour-de-force for which you’ve assembled an impressive array of contributors…

Even though I had managed to get three Spirits Burning CDs released, I knew I needed to up the ante if it was to survive. More than ever before, there needed to be some new well-known crewmembers. So, I worked hard to get additional members of space-rock past to join Daevid and the rest of our crew. In came Adrian Shaw, Bridget Wishart, and even Michael Moorcock.

Getting Moorcock involved was a real achievement!

His influence can be seen in my titles. The first Spirits Burning CD was called New Worlds By Design. The first two words are a direct nod to Moorcock. And, a future Spirits Burning CD will be called Behold The Action Man, an obvious nod. I even had an experimental project once upon a time called Alien Heat.

As to how his involvement came about… I’ve been in email dialogue with Roger Neville-Neil for quite some time, and he had suggested I get in touch with Mike. When Mike came to the bay area for a book signing, I went, bought a book or two of his that I wanted to read, and then got his signature. There was a bit of a line, and I really didn’t think it was the proper place to invite him to Spirits Burning. So, instead I moved along, but didn’t leave. I decided to talk to his wife, and introduce myself as a friend of Roger’s. And explain that Roger was part of this wonderful collective. Maybe Mike would be interested too. I think Roger was the difference, as they do look fondly upon him and his missives. Eventually, when I was in direct contact with Mike and his archivist (John Davey), it turned out that there were these session tracks that they would be fine with me using.

Moorcock’s New World’s Fair album is comparable with your endeavors, in that it brought together disparate musicians in the cause of his musical vision…

I recently told Roger that I saw New World’s Fair as comparable to the Spirits Burning & Bridget Wishart Earth Born CD, but for a totally different reason. For me, space-rock can also be defined as music done by people who represent space-rock. I see the Moorcock/Deep Fix CDs, the Earth Born songs, and some Bob Calvert material (say the Lucky Leif LP) as being of this ilk, at least musically. They really don’t consistently sound like your garden variety of space-rock. But, all these records do have some space-rock musicians, such that at their soul…. they can, and should be classified as space-rock.

Well, mentioning Hawkwind’s Bridget Wishart should bring us around to the other new Spirits Burning CD Earth Born. You know, I’m so pleased that you’ve coaxed Bridget back into the recording arena and opened up a new index of possibilities for Spirits Burning…

It’s been a breath of fresh air, and an unexpected opportunity for music and for friendship.

I’m often amazed at the domino effect of the decisions we make in life. Bridget had done an interview for David Law’s Hawkwind Museum website. I saw it and was in the process of preparing the crew for Alien Injection and thought that she would be an interesting candidate. I emailed David, he passed on my message to Bridget, and I eventually got the vocals for what became ‘It’s Another World’. From there, I charted out some music to accompany the piece, performed the initial keys and passed it on to others. That easily could have been the end of a nice enough story. When I completed the CD, or what I thought was the final version, Black Widow asked me to drop 4 tracks and replace them with new ones. Two other caveats: Get Bridget on another track, and add mellotron to the CD. Bridget was probably a bit surprised, but gave me another piece. This was ‘Salome’, and as she would attest, this piece was even better.

I’d already thought about doing an all-vocal Spirits Burning CD that was more singer/songwriter oriented. This was partly because I had written a number of tunes before Thessalonians days that were more in the vein of Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel. At some point, I asked Bridget if she’d like to do this… I really don’t remember if she had already brought up working on a full album or not, but that’s what we then ventured out to do. We started with a couple of old songs by each, totally redid them (I often never heard the original versions of her pieces), and we created new ones too.

On Earth Born, not only did I get to work with a singer/songwriter on an almost daily basis, but she also helped shape the sound by bringing in new crew members that were previously out of my reach. Many from the Hawkwind family… Simon House, Alan Davey, Richard Chadwick, Steve Swindells. What was all the more exciting was that they were open to doing pieces that weren’t necessarily in the Hawkwind mode. For example, getting Alan to play double bass on the tender ‘Candles’ piece was very special.

Earth Born is the first Spirits Burning & Bridget Wishart CD. We’re currently working on Bloodlines, which finds us using kings and queens of history as our lyrical starting point.

What’s your impression of the European and US space-rock scene at the moment? Who really impresses you?

Most of the bands that I’ve been most impressed with lately aren’t really space-rock. Bands like Universal Totem Orchestra and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. And while working on Earth Born, I listened to and enjoyed a lot of Massive Attack. I do like some of the new Alan Davey material, especially the tracks with Simon House that were debuted on Alan’s myspace page.

I tend to think that some newer space-rock bands take the easy way out and just do a jam with synths and call it a space-rock day. I can see where being part of that band can be fun, but it would be a little limiting for me.

I still like The Orb and F.S.O.L, lots of trance music, and dub stuff by African Head Charge. At what point can you call this space-rock-based? Same with space music, say like the Hearts of Space national radio show here, which has long played everything from Tangerine Dream to world music.

I obviously call Spirits Burning a space-rock collective. But, I really do want it be able to incorporate all types of space music. Whether that helps rebuild the genre, or continue to blur it… we’ll see.

Where do you think the genre is going? For years we had just a plethora of bands wanting to be Hawkwind – now it seems that the scene is out-growing them a bit whilst still remaining respectful to them?

Hmm. The one song on Alien Injection that I sing, it’s called ‘The Hawk’. It has some cool violin by Graham Clark, and the chorus line of “The Hawk in my room, won’t leave me alone…” I used to have this drawing of a hawk, done for a college article of mine about Hawkwind. And, for a long time, I had the original line drawing hanging on my bedroom wall. So, yeah, they do kind of have a way of getting to you.

I think the secret formula is to have new, younger musicians experience the space-rock past, take it as one ingredient, and move it into all the other ingredients we have available. To survive as space-rock, though, the term probably needs to get new wings. If an alternative band made it big and said they were influenced by Hawkwind and that they were a space-rock/alternative rock band, that would be the ticket.

Otherwise, there do seem to be some good space-rock radio shows popping up, like Dave Adams’ Sunday Space-rock show. These definitely help spread the word.

I know you’ve plans for a concept album with writer Roger Neville-Neil, how is that progressing and what’s behind the ideas for that one?

A space-rock take on film noir. Roger and I will round up the usual suspects… and a few surprise ones and put an end to space-rock crime as we know it.

Roger’s wrote the lyrics for ‘Upturned Dolphin’, on Alien Injection. He also has an ongoing Action Man series in the Aural Innovations online space-rock zine. He basically goes to rock shows in his trench coat, armed with his camera, and proceeds to build a case for a noir review of the show. I do tend to like to have a central direction for Spirits Burning CDs, and I asked Roger what he thought about doing a CD based around his doppelganger. Plus, it was an opportunity for me to resurrect some additional songs of mine that had darker lyrics or motifs. In a way, it was the opposite of what I was doing with Bridget. Both are vocal-based, but Bridget’s CD has more of a softer ‘mother earth’ side to it. There’s a feminine side to the lyrics throughout Earth Born, even with the lyrics from me. On Behold The Action Man, well, it’s a bit more of a masculine take on things, even on the tracks that have a female singer. But, that’s kind of what noir does, doesn’t it?

Musically, it’s going splendidly. Already onboard are Paul Hayles (who I saw playing keyboards first time I saw Hawkwind with Bob Calvert). His .wav files came in just a few weeks ago. There’s also performances by those usual suspects: Daevid, (and Michael and Trey from our Weird Biscuit Teatime project). Alan Davey, Bridget. Melodic Energy Commission. New this time is Alan Bouchard. And, I’m really excited that Mike Moorcock is recording some new vocalizations.

Are there particular musician’s that you’ve not yet been able to recruit to the Spirits Burning cause that you’d particularly like to get on-board?

Arthur Brown. He’d be perfect for the Action Man CD. I’ve sent two invites in his direction, but I don’t think they ever made it to him.

Simon King would be interesting to have start a track. I’ve always wanted to get Paul Rudolph and John Gustafson onboard. And, there’s always Pat Thrall – he was in the live version of Go, a space-rock super group if ever there was one. I’m probably overdue to get someone from Ozrics.

And Didier Malherbe. He’s played with Pierre Bensusan. My brother Dave, who plays acoustic guitar live in the Philadelphia area, has opened for Bensusan. So, it would be pretty neat to have a track with Didier, my brother, and others.

Michael Clare (of University of Errors, and Weird Biscuit Teatime too) has talked to me about some possibilities with more members from the Gong family. I’m probably overdue to get into recruiting mood. I’ve kind of been on a recording and mixing road, and need to take a pit stop.

You’re in the enviable position of having two albums on sale in the same month from different labels … what else is in the pipeline?

Having the two releases out concurrently has surprisingly been ok. They seem to be pushing each other in a positive way.

A Grindlestone CD is finished and will probably come out on my Noh Poetry label, unless someone sneaks in at the 11th hour and wants to put it out. In July of 2008, our Noh Poetry is putting out the complete, restored Michael Moorcock & The Deep Fix The Entropy Tango & Gloriana Demo Sessions. Quite a mouthful, that title.

In terms of things that are in progress. There’s a second Weird Biscuit Teatime CD that should be done by the end of 2008. But most of the work is space-rock and Spirits Burning. There is a space-rock in opposition Spirits Burning CD, called Crazy FluidTM that’s more than half done. And, I’m just about to start another all-instrumental Spirits Burning CD.

In terms of Spirits Burning, the hope is that everyone who listens experiences something new.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Hawkwind - Electric Tepee

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.

Spacerocking in Record Collector

The latest issue of Record Collector profiles forty great spacerock releases with commentary from genre luminaries, plus twenty Hawkwind collectables featuring anecdotes and observations from current and past band members and an interview with Mark Powell, label manager for the Hawkwind back catalogue reissue programme.

On sale now in good newsagents, Borders, Tesco Extra, W H Smith etc, or available to buy on-line here. It would be great if blog readers bought this issue and supported spacerock in a mainstream music magazine!

Sunday, 8 February 2009


I’ve been alerted to Sendelica, who describe themselves on their Myspace as ‘West Wales Psychedelic Dub-Rock Trio', by band member Glenda Pescado, formerly of the legendary Free Festival regulars the Tibetan Ukrainian Mountain Troupe and their house band, The Wystic Mankers (now appearing under the name The Surf Messengers). Sendelica are about to have their second album released by Russian label R.A.I.G Records (their first, Spaceman Bubblegum And Other Weird Tales From The Mercury Mind appeared in 2007) and have another in the pipeline, whilst R.A.I.G are also scheduled to release a Surf Messengers CD.

The Sendelica Myspace has six tracks available to listen to online, which I believe are edited versions of tracks from their debut album. ‘Indrid Cold’ is a sprightly and up-tempo strum-along space/surf guitar number. ‘To Create Is Divine’, a hypnotic floating synthesiser piece with a repeated mantra that drifts gently in and flows equally as beguiling out again. ‘Floydian’ is an easy going, laid back piece with some delicious sax sounds blowing through it, sounding like an aural representation of a warm early autumnal evening chilling out on a hammock that’s stretched from star to star, gazing up and drinking in the glittering sky. ‘Heaven And Hell’ has some steely lead-guitar about it and sounds like an improvisational festival warm-up. ‘Spaceman Bubblegum 2’ has the touch of a Hawkwind or Amon Duul jam, lots of moody bass and drums, a little reminiscent in feel to Hawkwind’s ‘Snakedance’ as played live in the later part of 1990 and early 1991 when the Hawks stripped down to a drum ‘n’ bass trio, it really works the bass part against the studied drums, and again you’ll get the feeling that this is ideal open air festival music. ‘Sunfazed’ is a slowly swaying movement and again rather hypnotic in texture.

Not hard, then, to see the influences behind this music, but it’s really well formed, well played, stuff, very involving and atmospheric and I’m certainly very interested in where their second and third offerings take them. Sendelica have an appearance scheduled at the Derbyshire-based Sonic World Festival on 5th September 2009.

Sendelica Myspace Page

Sendelica at R.A.I.G Records

Serpentina Satelite - Nothing To Say

Serpentina Satelite are a Peruvian Spacerock outfit who came together in Lima back in 2003, released an EP, Long Play, the following year and now have a five track mini-album released by Germany’s Trip In Time label. They comprise Aldo Castillejos on drums, bassist Felix Dextre, lead and rhythm guitars from Dolmo, additional lead and rhythm from Renato Gomez and voices/poetry delivered by Flavio Castillejos. I’ve received a copy of this new CD direct from the label, along with a compilation CD they’ve released, Trip In Time Vol. 3 – Psychedelic Adventures On Planet Earth which I’ll post a review on in due course and which appears to be a wide range of Spacerock, Krautrock, Acid and Electronica.

I’m reviewing the Serpentina Satelite CD for one of the UK music press magazines so I’m not going to go into too much depth here for the moment but it’s safe to say that these five predominately instrumental numbers are really gritty, dynamic freak-outs that will appeal to anyone who liked the Earthless Live At Roadburn CD recently reviewed on this blog. The press sheet for Nothing To Say notes this as being ‘a turbulent and powerful rough sound’, mastered in analogue, and that really gives you a sense of the deep reverberating and improvisational tone of these recordings. There’s some real headtrip adventures going on here (and it’s nice to hear South America’s take on Spacerock); I liked this one a lot.

Serpentina Satelite Website
Serpentina Satelite Myspace
Trip In Time Website
Trip In Time Myspace

Monday, 2 February 2009

Pink Cyberman!

Come on now... which other blog gives you the best in Spacerock and Pink Cybermen?

Hawkwind - Out Of The Shadows

Following their dalliance with Bronze Records at the end of the 1970s, label founder Gerry Bron moaned that “[Hawkwind] constantly wanted to do live albums”, 30 years on and Bron’s notion rings ever more true. In the last decade, they’ve released one ‘proper’ studio album (Take Me To Your Leader, 2006) and a slew of concert recordings. It’s understandable though - they’ve been on a rich seam of form live, ironically ever since the fiasco that was the Hawkestra mass-reunion in 2000.

Each Hawkwind tour these days seems a special event, often with former members (leader Dave Brock describes them as the “odd good old boys”) putting in appearances. This album, recorded at Newcastle in 2002 sees Brock and long-time drummer Richard Chadwick joined by original studio guitarist Huw Lloyd Langton, synthesiser wizard Tim Blake (also ex of Gong) and bassist Alan Davey (disappointingly omitted from the credits). Additionally, there’s Arthur Brown, he of ‘Fire’, joining proceedings, performing his own songs, ‘Time Captives’ and ‘Time & Confusion’, and meandering through various Hawk-standards. Title track aside, everything is of 70s vintage but these are numbers that have matured gracefully and this incarnation’s interpretations are reverential and inventive in the same breath.
This review originally appeared in Rock N Reel magazine

AMON DüüL UK - Hawk Meets Penguin / Meetings With Men Machines / Fool's Moon / Airs On A Shoestring

Hawk Meets Penguin and its successors reissued here were recorded in Wales during the 80s by former Amon Düül II (and In Search of Space Hawkwind bassist) Dave Anderson and their long-time guitarist John Weinzierl, sometimes collectively known as Amon Düül UK. Based on old rehearsal tapes, Hawk… is closest to the improvisational krautrock anticipated from anything labelled Amon Düül, comprising two extended free flowing movements. ‘One Moment Of Anger Is Two Pints Of Blood’ is, despite its title, a pleasingly pastoral and bucolic work, whilst the title track is a monotone jam. A little more of the former and a tad less of the later would have been perfect.

Weinzierl professed himself “not keen” on the follow-up Meetings With Men Machines and claimed later releases (including a tie-up with Hawkwind’s Robert Calvert, Die Losung) “shouldn’t have been released” perceiving them “unfinished”, but they all have commendable elements. Men Machines… is a more traditional rock album, Anderson’s sombre bass playing juxtaposed with singer Julie Wareing’s candy-sweet voice. In reflective moments, this incarnation sounds like a studied mix of Joy Division and OMD (who had their own Germanic influences in Neu!), notably on the absorbing nine-minute ‘Marcus Leid’.

In Fool Moon, it’s to be conceded that Weinzierl had a point. It feels less complete than its predecessors, opening with a portentous ramble, ‘Who Who’, that aims to be a complex and sinister improvisation but throws it away with overblown abstract lyrics. Principal interest here is Robert Calvert’s guest vocal on ‘Haupmotor’ sung entirely in German. Finally, Airs On A Shoe String is labelled a ‘best of Amon Düül’ but is actually a summation of Anderson and Weinzierl’s collaboration. However, it’s a good choice of tracks, a nice overview, and this material stands on its own merits.

This review originally appeared in Rock N Reel magazine.