Thursday, 22 December 2011

Looking in the Future..

Well, as it turned out I didn't manage to blog through a full 'twelve days of Christmas'; 9-5 work commitments and family Xmas parties slowed up the progress and hence no blogging was done on Thursday or yesterday. Next year I'll plan better in advance! There'll be one more 'general' blog post before the end of 2011 which will include an update on Festivalized among other things but before that, here's a sample of what friends of the blog have in store for us all in 2012. Happy Christmas, everyone!

Greg McKella (Paradise 9)

Well, this past year has been great, we got out to the festivals and cracked a fair few gigs in as well; It was terrific to get to Glasto to play, and other notable festivals were Cosmic Puffin, KozFest (Kozmik Ken's Psychedelic Dream Festival), and Sonic Rock Solstice (where we had an FAB impromptu guest performer, Ron Tree, come join us mid-set!). At Alchemy festival, on the SoundAwesome stage, we were helped out on drums by Here & Now's Nik Nimbus and were later joined by Nik Turner and Miss Angel Flame; at the beginning of Dec they again joined us, that time at the fantastic tribute memorial gig to Judge Trev in Brighton, which also featured Inner City Unit.

So in 2012, we aim to get out and clock a few new festivals, while returning to some others. We're really pleased to be playing the Cambridge Rock 2012 Festival (Aug 2-5th), and just in, we will be headlining on The Judge Trev Stage at next year's (July 27-30th) KozFest in Devon. Some great bands are also featured on this for 2012, including Here & Now, Krankschaft, Litmus, Omnia Opera, and Aurora (whom I occasionally guest with). In January, we'll be back in Liscombe Park Studios putting down the final parts to the album. We aim to mix, master and release this later in the year, while on Sat Feb 11th we'll be returning to our Paradise 9 birthplace, The Gunnersbury in West London, for a belated Xmas/Solstice party gig.

Don Falcone (Spirits Burning)
First up is Astralfish!

Bridget Wishart and Don Falcone launch Astralfish in March. Astralfish is an instrumental project that mixes space, ambient, jazz, rock, and symphonic. The debut CD, mastered by Robert Rich, is titled "Far Corners" and will be released by Noh Poetry Records. The opening track features Gong's Daevid Allen on guitars. Others featured on the CD: Doug Erickson (Grindlestone), Frank Hensel, Pierce McDowell (Gong Matrices), Steve Palmer (Mooch), Jasper Pattison (Citizen Fish), Martin Plumley (Chumley Warner Bros.), Purjah (Quiet Celebration), Cyndee Lee Rule, Karl E. H. Seigfried, Dave Speight (YAK, Peter Banks), Shannon Taylor, and Richard Wileman (Karda Estra).

Then, Spirits Burning is working on three CDs for 2012 and beyond.

(1) Spirits Burning & Clearlight: Healthy Music In Large Doses. Mostly instrumental adventures built on space, prog, jazz, and 60s-style grooves. Clearlight's Cyrille Verdeaux is on most of the tracks. There are over thirty crew members for this one, including Daevid Allen (Gong), Pete Pavli (High Tide), Hawkwind family members Bridget Wishart, Adrian Shaw, Paul Hayles, and Andy Anderson, with Michael Clare (University of Errors), Doug Erickson (Grindlestone), Don Falcone, Stella Ferguson (Flutatious), Fabio Golfetti (Invisible Opera Company of Tibet), Frank Hensel, Jerry Jeter, Chris Kovacs, Kenneth Magnusson (The Moor), G.C. Neri, Robert Rich, Cyndee Lee Rule, Karl E. H. Seigfried, David Speight (YAK), Jay Tausig, David Willey (Thinking Plague), Steve York (Manfred Mann's Chapter Three, Vinegar Joe), and members of Cartoon and Universal Totem Orchestra.

(2) Spirits Burning & Bridget Wishart: Make Believe It Real. This is the third Spirits Burning collaboration with Bridget, following the Earth Born and Bloodlines CDs. Lyrically, the theme of the CD is fiction, fantasy, possibilities. Musically, the CD is built on a heavier sound. Onboard are Daevid Allen (Gong) and Hawkwind family members Harvey Bainbridge, Simon House, Dan Thompson, and Paul Hayles. A new mix of 'Make Believe It Real', from the Friends & Relations 30th Anniversary CD as well as 'Always', (the SoundAwesome hit) from the Omenopus Portents CD with be included.

(3) Spirits Burning: Starhawk. This is a musical interpretation of Mack Maloney's first 'Starhawk' book. The songs follow the timeline of Hawk Hunter's introduction to the far future and a world of cloud puffing, slo-wine, and a very different earth. Most of the song templates and lyrics have been written, with recording sessions now underway. Parts have been completed by former Counting Crows bassist Matt Malley, Pete Pavli (High Tide), Larry Thrasher (Thee Majesty), guitarist G. C. Neri, Don Falcone, and Karen Anderson.

Dave Weller (4 Zero Records)

Following on from the success of the first limited-edition live Mushroom album expect a follow up from a couple of 2011 shows with Alison Faith Levy at the Make Out Room in San Francisco; an amazing funk trance blend of sitar, sax, vocals, flute and percussion. There will also be an album from Fred Laird of Earthling Society under the name of 'Moon Of Ostara', a pagan-inspired Krautrock homage. Both these will be 'proper' CDs in special artisan packaging and strictly limited. There are also a couple of Gong-related projects in the works including a Shapeshifter Gong 2CD culled from a recently discovered hoard of DAT recordings from the tours of France in 1992 and 1994, and it's also looking like there will be a Here & Now release hitting the streets too – fingers crossed!

Alan Davey (Gunslinger, Hawklords)

Hoo hoo hoo and a bottle of Rum! Hope ya all have a good Xmas and New Year! Drink and be merry or drunk and unsteady in my case!

I've been busy in the studio again and have just finished mixing a new solo album I've called Cyber Tooth. Eleven tracks of computer virus-related songs and instrumentals, such as 'Boot Killer', 'Doom Juice' and 'Cyber Tooth'. Release date will be around 21st February 2012 and available from my website.

Cheers, and see ya all with Gunslinger and Hawklords next year, AD ;-)

Jerry Richards (Hawklords, Earth Lab)

Following the success of The Hawklords' European & UK Tour 2011 the band will be back out on the road in 2012. More European dates are being scheduled for September and a more comprehensive set of UK tour dates are being put together for October and November 2012.

This will be in support of a brand new studio album which the band is writing and recording right now... A release date has yet to be established but all news regarding The Hawklords live and recording activities can be found our Reverbnation page and on our Facebook presence.

Keith at Fruits de Mer Records

We're still in recovery at Fruits de Mer after a rush of blood led to us releasing a double LP, 7" single and double 7" single all at the same time in early December - we've sold out of all three, but that's involved one helluva a lot of trips to the local post office during the run-up to Christmas!

We're currently working on a number of releases for the first half of 2012 - the one that's most likely to your readers is a double album of kosmische/krautrock covers with the working title of Head Music - early days, but it's likely to include covers of classic tracks from Amon Duul (I AND II!), Neu!, Harmonia, Can..... 2012 is the 40th anniversary of the launch of Brain record label, which is no more than a coincidence but a nice one all the same.

Fred Laird (Earthling Society)

Earthling Society have recorded two cover songs of classic psychedelia by Amon Duul 1 and The Pretty things for 2 Fruits de Mer album releases. One of the releases is very special indeed!

In February the band will enter a professional studio for the first time and lay down half an album's worth of tracks for what will be our meisterwerk of melodic psychedelic rock. The remainder of the album will be finished in April. The following month, E-S will be playing the 'Nuts In May' festival alongside Hazel O'Connor and Dave Swarbrick. In September, under the umbrella of the Transit Music group, the band will travel to the east coast of America to promote the new album.

Fred Laird, front man for the group will also be releasing his solo project Moon Of Ostara on the 4 zero label. The album titled, The Star-child, is a Krautrock instrumental album dedicated to William Blake and is musically inspired by Ash Ra tempel, Klaus Schulze and Popol Vuh. The track 'Star-Child Pt2' can be heard here.

Pete Bingham (Sendelica)

The Sendelica Ark has already been built ready for the Mayan Armagedon Floods of 2012. We have seen the movie so we know what to expect... LOL ...

We will be touring Eastern Europe early in 2012..........
Feb 2 Lepakkomies Baari Helsinki, FINLAND
Feb 7 Namaklub Riga, LATVIA
Feb 8 Balerija Jelgava, LATVIA
Feb 10 Roxy Klaipeda, LITHUANIA
Feb 13 PAKAC Preili, LATVIA
Feb 16 ESG-21 St.Petersburg, RUSSIAN FEDERATION
Feb 17 Vermel Club Moscow, RUSSIAN FEDERATION
Feb 21 The Squat Cafe Moscow, RUSSIAN FEDERATION

We also have a limited edition live album 'Strangers In A Strange Land' out this month available exclusively from our Soundawesome page, while next spring will see the release of our next studio album.

Renato (Serpentina Satelite)

NOTHING TO SAY has been recently released on vinyl by Trip in Time records. This time around, Johnny 'O' from Rocket Recordings took care of the vinyl's artwork. The LP is now available in a limited edition of 500 copies, a 100 of them in lysergic red. You can find NOTHING TO SAY in the following websites:



Bridget Wishart


Ian Abrahams; Hopefully we'll see the publication of our FAB book Festivalised! (Yes indeed – I'll post an update generally on stuff including Festivalized before the New Year)

Astralfish; March 2012 will see the debut release of the fascinating instrumental CD 'Far Corners'...

Spirits Burning; Expecting completion of our third collaboration, Make Believe It Real ... rock fantasies abound :-)

Chumley Warner Bros; New songs for the festival season are unfolding as I write...'On The Street' is a blinder even if I do say so myself. :-) You can catch us at the Sonic Rock Solstice and KozFest! We'll also be recording a track for Lee Pott's Allies & Clansmen II, due for release later in the year.

Omenopus; Scars Are For Lovers our second CD is still being recorded and will most likely see release as we move further into 2012.


Wednesday, 21 December 2011

In Search of Hawkwind

Not every feature that gets written lives to see the light of day, that's part of the nature of freelance journalism. For the ninth in the sequence of consecutive blog postings, here's a feature examining what Hawkwind means; it was written back in 2009 and eventually fell-through, one of those things, and though some of it may well get re-cycled eventually as part of a new version of Sonic Assassins, it's presented here in its un-copy-edited form.

Is there any other band whose name represents so many different facets as the word 'Hawkwind' has come to represent? Spacerock exponents, Free Festival survivors, Ladbroke Grove alternative culture veterans, wherever you look in the development of British rock music, Dave Brock and his revolving cast of band members appear to have had an influence. They took the hippie ethic, fuelled it with biker attitude and delivered it with a Do It Yourself approach that made them proto-punks and neo-crusties. Their elongated improvised riffing signposted trance and rave, they had a finger in every musical pie from new wave to heavy metal. All this achieved by a band that didn't play by traditional rules, which appeared to stand outside of the music business whilst delivering a multi-media sensory experience.

Of course there have been bands with even greater longevity than Hawkwind's fast approaching forty years (their first documented performance took place at All Saints Hall in Ladbroke Grove, August 1969), but The Rolling Stones, just for instance, are The Rolling Stones through thick and thin. Hawkwind has meant something different to successive generations, whether their name is invoked to mean something musically, socially or politically.

What has it been about this shoestring operation, a venerable cottage industry, which has made so many disparate types identify with them and hold them in such esteem? As a starting point, I asked Richard Chadwick, Hawkwind's current drummer and second longest serving member. "I'd liked Hawkwind when they started. As a teenager, I thought their whole thing was remarkable, embracing or putting forward the idea that there was more to it than just the music, it was a lifestyle. People in the audience took their children, they all dressed differently to my parents, they looked like they knew what they were doing and there was a sense of purpose, a great tolerance within the audience that was another aspect to the hippie culture of the time. All of that attracted me."

Even within themselves the word 'Hawkwind' means different things to the multitude of different members. Freewheeling saxophonist Nik Turner thought them an inveterate 'peace and love' band; the inestimable Lemmy considered them a speed freak's black nightmare of a band. "Everyone has their own perspective," Turner concedes. "LSD broke down people's barriers and made them more open to peace and love. I was never into speed or downers and the whole ethos of peace and love seemed to me to be a much more worthwhile thing than the other things people were doing, giving each other a horrible time and taking horrible substances that gave a very warped sense of reality."

Much of the early philosophy of Hawkwind, playing outside of the Isle of Wight festival in 1970 for free in protest at ticket prices, being available and willing to perform for numerous charitable causes, and aligning themselves with the underground vibe of Frendz and International Times has been credited to Nik Turner: "I think [originally] people saw it as the focal point for something that was of the alternative culture. That was what it was to me. I wasn't anti-establishment as such, just going in the direction that I thought was cool, doing free gigs and using being in a band as means of benefiting others. Supporting people who were trying to get things together was a convenient and very apt purpose to put Hawkwind to. We were embraced by the alternative culture; all these creative people were very helpful towards us. I think they saw us as a focal point for what they were doing and we were able to all work together, which was one of the wonderful things about it."

Turner wishes they were a Gong –style collective with the name being shared around collaborators past and present to be explored, developed and sent off on the multiple tangents of musical imagination that has graced the membership over the years. Dave Brock, ever-present Hawklord-in-chief saw it entirely differently, trademarking the name for his own use during the mid-1990s and vigorously defending it ever since. They are far from the only band in rock music history to have been subjected to mutiny, in-fighting and long-running feuds. You'd have to say, however, they've certainly nailed the art of being the most public about it. In that respect (as I discovered), they are a biographer's dream. Individually they are as charming a group of individuals as you could wish to meet. Collectively, however, there is a sense of bitterness that runs through their memories of being involved with Hawkwind.

Tim Cummings, who produced an excellent BBC4 documentary on them a few years back that was first supported and then disowned by Dave Brock, considered in The Independent that Brock himself was the most bitter of them all. I think it's a huge shame if true, since Brock's contribution to British rock music is immense and highly valued.

Turner: "Hawkwind has always been a sort of very murky, very messy situation really. The band itself has become the complete antithesis of what it was about in the early days of Robert Calvert, [artist and designer] Barney Bubbles, John [Liquid Len] Smeeton and myself."

Some of what they believed in was articulated through their use of science fiction imagery, be it space operatic fantasy or the back-to-Earth social commentary of science fiction's 'new wave' of the 1960s. That meshing of rock music with sci-fi wasn't unique when they set out on that path with In Search of Space. Sun Ra had encapsulated such concepts in his jazz-rock, The Pink Floyd were most definitely using SF themes in their earliest performances. Bowie used sci-fi as one of the building blocks of his personae, contemporary to 70s Hawkwind. But Hawkwind took that a stage further, linking up with noted author and editor Michael Moorcock and using science fiction concepts as metaphors for modern ills in the same way that Moorcock's stewardship of New Worlds SF magazine did.

"What I felt about Hawkwind," Turner continues, "was that we tried to live by what we believed in; I lived in a squat or in the back of a truck or some scuzzy sort of place… slept on a different person's floor every night. I think we tried to be idealistic without being self-conscious about it or trying to make it into a pose." Hawkwind were always prepared to poke at society in the same way that Moorcock did in the stories he selected for New Worlds; Moorcock published Norman Spinrad's controversial, but prophetic, reality TV novel Bug Jack Barron and so doing got the magazine removed from W H Smiths, Hawkwind released 'Urban Guerilla' and were banned by the BBC. These were interlinked agendas with a common purpose, talking about what was wrong with social structures and modern media.

Find it evident in the lyrics of Dave Brock on the inner-city angst of 'Psychedelic Warlords (Disappear in Smoke)', 'live in concrete jungles / that just block up the view', or on his 'Eve of Destruction' styled acoustic pleading 'We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago'. It's on display through Robert Calvert's J G Ballard inspired 'High Rise', the social alienation and dehumanisation of contemporary living, 'someone said he jumped / but we know he was pushed…' and his declamation of the politics of the petrol-dollar, 'Assassins of Allah', which references the Palestinian terrorist cell Black September.

In the early 1970s they were the house band of the Freak scene, playing Bickershaw, Windsor, Watchfield. Adrian Shaw, originally involved with Hawkwind as bassist for their regular support act Magic Muscle and subsequently recruited to the ranks in time for their Quark, Strangeness & Charm LP considers them "the mainstay of all the Free Festivals, I'd say, alongside in the early days, the Edgar Broughton Band. Hawkwind were booked to play Bickershaw, so we [Magic Muscle] arrived with them, which was very handy because I got to see The Grateful Dead from the side of the stage. But you also had a counter-culture festival going on outside of the perimeter with Hawkwind, so they played officially and unofficially."

When Punk arrived, the concept might have been 'never trust a hippie' (despite the real background of most movers and shakers being directly from the Free Festivals) but Rotten was spotted backstage at Hawkwind's gig at the Camden Music Machine or caught by Julie Burchill hanging-out with Brock and the mercurial Calvert. "How I see Hawkwind is a bit like the Sex Pistols, really… but earlier," notes Nik Turner, whose own Inner City Unit straddled the hippie and punk ethics whilst maintaining its own wicked sense of the absurd. "I think there are other bands like that, there were other bands like that, and there always will be bands that have something to say. It was made out that there was a division between the punks and the hippies, but all the punks were hippies – Jimmy Pursey was a great fan of Steve Hillage, it wasn't another completely new dimension of people, a new generation, it was the same people [as the Free Festivals]."

"The thing about punk rock was that part of its energy came from the fuel of the burning rock icons that had gone before," notes Richard Chadwick. "What upheld Hawkwind during that era was that they went and played the Free Festivals, which were really quite important to me because they cemented all those ideas. It was a lifestyle; you could actually live like this, an alternative way of surviving. By playing the festivals Hawkwind remained relevant in an era where they might have been forgotten."

Marc Swordfish, of festival regulars Magic Mushroom Band, recalls how "Hawkwind were revered because of what they'd laid down. The way they wrapped the whole thing up really, the culture and everything." And Simon Williams, then of Mandragora and now with Earthdance, concurs: "There was a lot of respect for Hawkwind because they had been doing for years that great thing of being at the festivals. Everyone knew that Nik Turner was supplying the stage, or they'd be supplying the PA. I mean, some bands were seen as 'old duffers', bands like The Enid, but Hawkwind were seen as the chiefs of the scene. A lot of bands would do versions of their songs, punk them up a bit or whatever and I thought that was a great thing."

It's certainly possible to argue that Hawkwind lost their musical direction during the early 1980s but ethically they never compromised their willingness to turn up at the Stonehenge Free Festival or at a travellers' park-up – the smallest free gig was as important as the most high profile. They were the People's Band before Joe Strummer ever heard of such a concept. "People loved them because they were [at the festivals] and doing it," The Levellers' Jeremy Cunningham says. "People were just glad they were there, and Hawkwind, when they're doing 'hashish, hashish'… people love it, 'Hurry On Sundown' and that stuff, people love those tunes. Most bands that came out of the Festival scene, even the Punk bands, were indebted to Hawkwind with that kind of grinding, almost Heavy Metal, thing. Many of the travellers' bands, like 2000DS, you can trace back to Hawkwind."

That influence permeated throughout the Free Festival scene of the 1980s, as Claire Grainger, bassist with all-girl punk band The Hippy Slags confirms. "Hawkwind always seemed to appeal to the young boys, I think. They'd go off on their two-hour jams… though with the punk thing, people wanted a bit more lively stuff. But we're surprised, listening to our music, how much we were influenced by Hawkwind whether we like it or not!"


Hawkwind's sound in the early 80s changed from the psychedelic Spacerock of their early years and the clean new-wave sounds of Quark, Strangeness & Charm, to a heavy grunge that put them incongruously into the Metal genre with contrasting results. Bottled and heckled at the Donnington Monsters of Rock festival in 1982, revered as living legends for their headlining appearance at Reading in 1986. Jerry Richards at the time a member of Free Festival co-operative Tubilah Dog and later to play with both Brock, as guitarist in Hawkwind, and with Turner (as bassist in Turner's assemblage of former Hawks, Space Ritual), recalls seeing the band play at commercial events. "We'd seen Hawkwind at massive festivals, like Reading, and they'd got [lead guitarist] Huw Lloyd-Langton in the band and their direction at that time was along Metal lines, which had helped the band connect with the Iron Maiden or Black Sabbath audience; Huw's playing was always very English so in amongst that Metal they never tried to Americanise their sound. I admired that, because that would have been an easy route, to turn into Alice Cooper's band or something, which wouldn't have been Hawkwind."

Some believed that Hawkwind's foray into Metal had distanced them from their roots, but the latter days of the Free Festivals, from the collapse of the Stonehenge festival in 1985 through the remainder of the 1980s, saw them make a vital reconnection to their original ethos. Jerry Richards saw this at close quarters. During the summers of 1987 and 1988, Tubilah Dog members combined with Hawkwind's Brock and Harvey Bainbridge in an off-shoot variously billed as HawkDog, Dave Brock & The Agents of Chaos, or sometimes simply as Hawkwind.

Jerry Richards: "We found Hawkwind to be this monolithic beast that had become, I hesitate to use the word 'corporate', but they'd become this behemoth and a lot of us were simply wondering, 'Where are the Hawks at these festivals we're playing at? The Ozrics are here, the Levellers are here…' When I started getting involved with Free Festivals, what was important was going out playing, meeting people, having a really nice time… some of the gigs we went to, we were content to make a festival happen by taking our sound system and our lightshow, putting that up, we didn't even play."

This would totally switch itself around in the latter part of the 1980s when new band members would emerge out of the festivals environment with Dave Brock once noting of his newer recruits that, "I act like a teacher, a bit. They are like apprentices." In that case, what a fabulous apprenticeship to have for people like Richard Chadwick, like Bridget Wishart who came to Hawkwind having sung with festival favourites The Hippy Slags, or Ron Tree who been in and around any number of festival bands. Another facet emerges, Hawkwind as a vehicle for musicians to take a step up the later and experience life with a well-known outfit.

When Tubilah Dog's members staged the Rollright Stones Festival in about 1987, Brock and Bainbridge were there. Jerry Richards recalls how "Steve Mills, Tubilah Dog's singer, had bumped into Dave, who'd said, 'Liked what you were doing, I'm in a blue van over there, come and give us a shout in the morning.' So we went and had a chat with them and I hit it off with Dave, there was a mutual respect. I think I reminded Dave of himself when he was my age, really going for it, having loads of energy and wanting to get about and do things. I suspect it reminded him of how his band used to be when he was going out and trying to get it all together."

This 'new generation' of festival goers seem to have intrigued Dave and Harvey to the point where they decided, as Jerry puts it, to get involved. "Of course, we were quite happy to have Dave Brock and Harvey Bainbridge come and play with us! Getting immersed in all of this Hawk-lore and finding out about it from the grassroots up, was quite a thrill. All of this turned itself into Hawkdog or the Agents of Chaos, whatever we wanted to call ourselves on any particular occasion. In doing all of that, it really did draw people back to the band because it almost seemed to those travellers and festivalgoers we knew, that Hawkwind had… not abandoned the scene… but maybe a dereliction of duty, if I can call it that [laughs]. In their minds, in the travellers' minds, the people who were going to Free Festivals back then, Hawkwind had become another entity and moved into a stratospheric world with their big tours and their sort of semi-detachedness from the festival scene. Hooking up with us wide-eyed, amphetamine-fuelled, eager kids, I think, reinvigorated them."

"You see," Jerry ponders, "If you're doing something that people really like, then people will find you, and a scene develops. That's what Hawkwind did back then; the scene came to find them, which is fantastic. I think Dave wanted to reconnect with a grassroots audience and not have the pressure of having to do the massive rock shows. I'd revisit those days in an instant, because they were challenging and interesting and never boring."

There is no better place to look for Hawkwind than in the spirit with which they supported the festival scene in its heyday and in its dying embers. Hawkwind were effectively the 'house band' of the festivals, Nik Turner (whether with Hawkwind or in Inner City Unit) the archetypal festival musician playing with everybody and anybody… and Turner also had his legendary Pyramid Stage. "That would be my contribution to the Stonehenge Festival; putting up my Pyramid Stage and letting people perform in it. Then I gave it to the people that were going around the Free Festivals, to erect at their festivals. So what became the Convoy would take my stage around the festivals in the summer and bring it back in the winter to keep it dry and make sure it was maintained in serviceable condition. Then they'd come and pick it up from me the following spring; it was a useful piece of equipment."

That unstinting festival support ran from their legendary protest at the Isle of Wight in 1970 right through until the dreadful day in 1990 at a scruffy, down-at-heel and unappealing festival in Brighton when the band was physically attacked on stage and had to be smuggled off site, Dave Brock's vehicle trashed and the dream turned completely sour by those they'd worked so hard to support. The incident has entered the history books as the turning point in the festival movement that told people that it was all over, though the motivation behind the incident remains unexplained and contested.

Claire Grainger: "Once you'd had that incident in Brighton where Hawkwind got attacked you thought, 'Why waste time playing for these people when they don't even really want us to?'" And Club Dog organiser Michael Dog told me, "When I heard about it, for me that was the end. I don't remember going to a festival after that for many years. It wasn't so much 'Oh My God! These people attacked Hawkwind … have they no respect?' It was the fact that they'd attack anyone… that they'd attacked a band playing on the stage who had to be smuggled off the site in fear of their lives. But it was hugely disrespectful."

When the Free Festival scene parked itself up on the M25 and turned into the Rave and Free Party scene, Hawkwind's extended riffs informed trance and acid. Playing in individual tepees, so as to best reflect their trademark lightshow, they even contributed the use of Native America imagery to the British music environment. The connection was well articulated by Salt Tank's David Gates when I talked to him in 2004. "We hit this wave around 1988 when everything changed in music and acid house happened. I read an article, which reviewed In Search of Space which suggested this was the original trance record. Dance music has got to be that single repetitive beat. Look back at Hawkwind and it was pretty much what they did."

Alongside informing the acid house scene, Hawkwind's other legacy of the late 80s and early 90s was in encouraging and inspiring a whole new generation of Spacerock bands, particularly in the USA where tours by both Brock's Hawkwind and Nik Turner's alternative version (initially billed as Nik Turners' Hawkwind but re-titled as Space Ritual following legal proceedings) created a whole new Spacerock fraternity. This scene has continued to develop as an interconnect web of bands that has even incorporated many former Hawkwind musicians, check out Don Falcone's 'Spirits Burning' projects. Falcone, a States-based musician and composer has been skilful in assembling a revolving team of genre luminaries, most notably Gong's Daevid Allen, the most creatively successful release from which has arguably been his 2008 work with Hawkwind's former singer/poet Bridget Wishart (Earth Born by Spirits Burning with Bridget Wishart, Voiceprint Records). This release brought together a real festivals sensibility and included appearances by Hawkwind's Richard Chadwick, Alan Davey, Steve Swindells, Simon House and Jerry Richards.

Hawkwind themselves, with Brock and Chadwick as the long-time mainstays, still continue to receive well deserved respect and enthusiasm from their dedicated fan base. At the same time, it's pleasing to see the wide range of projects that spiritually link back to the eclectic and diverse Hawkwind catalogue, itself now undergoing a much needed and well put together reissue programme by Cherry Red. Though Nik Turner's wish to see the Hawkwind name available to all Hawk contributors as an all encompassing label is not going to happen, the true ethos of the band can be found in a myriad of projects, spreading the band's legacy far and wide and delivering to its fan-base the widest possible interpretation of its original meaning.

Turner's Space Ritual is the free-jazz influenced Spacerock legacy, Alan Davey's Gunslinger the heavier rock 'n' roll link. Bridget Wishart's work with Spirits Burning represents the lyricism inherent in Hawkwind, Jerry Richards's Earthlab project has the mix of world music with driving rhythms and visual stimulation. There are many others; Simon House with Dark Chemistry, Steve Swindells studio and occasional live band Dan Mingo, Adrian Shaw's new project with former Magic Muscle colleague Rod Goodway... the offshoots, and the approaches, are endless.

So, having gone 'In Search of Hawkwind', what's the ultimate conclusion on what Hawkwind means? Partly it's in their support for a myriad of causes and their willingness to play for free; Jimmy Savile, playing 'Silver Machine' on his Old Record Club radio show years ago ("a point for the band, another point for the name of the single") name checked them as, "A great bunch of lads, who did a lot for charity." Moorcock famously saw them as techno-barbarians and lent his name to a couple of novels that fictionalised the band 'rocking in the ruins'. Others, fans and band members alike, have seen their agitprop outlook as being a key influence on their own sense of living 'outside of the system', that attitude of independence and free thinking.

The first time I met Dave Brock, he told me that he gives "huge amounts of money and time to keep the whole thing going, because it's more than just a band to people." That's absolutely correct, but Hawkwind means many things to many different members, followers and scenes. That's its great value over the last forty years, adaptability through the vision of one and the input of many.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Tjyven – Tar Sig Friheten

Observant blog followers will know that this should be the 'eight' entry in this attempt to blog twelve days in the run-up to Christmas; regretfully I have to say that the austerity drive is now in full swing and where we should have eight we only have one review tonight.

This one is a bit of a mystery to be honest ... I can tell you absolutely nothing about the musician involved other than I believe he hails from Östersund, in Sweden. On his Last FM page there's an empty space where his biography should be, while his front page there declares "we've don't have a description for this artist yet." His MySpace page is no more revealing (though it does contain the tracks that I've received on CD) and, unless there's some biographical data supplied that I've missed somewhere, that's the sum total of the information that's in the public domain, as far as I can tell; a quick drop of the artist name in a translation engine, however, suggests that 'Tjyven' means 'Thief' and the album name translates to 'Takes Liberties'.

The music is dark, repressive and experimental - and may indeed be re-interpretations of others' compositions which perhaps might be where the artist name and album title derive from. It's unsettling stuff, like some weird exposition of subterranean experiences; hammers on anvils and other doom-laden noises that have a heightened sense of hopelessness and forebodings. I don't hear any light in these four tracks but instead I just feel and sense more blackness encroaching out of every corner, like shadows falling everywhere. So as a realisation of effect and affect it's very well composed.

That said, these four tracks are really not my thing – it's far too bleak, too depressing and too claustrophobic for my ears – but others of an ambient industrial persuasion might well find something of intrigue within.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Mars Retrieval Unit – Two Sides

Soooo, after one album that's not at all space rock, two 'proper' space rock bands, three psych-pop albums (well, two, but one is a double), four Hawkwind reissues, five links and six 'shout out' for friends ... we are back to a single review. But! To capture and keep the symmetry, and to make a posting that I've been intending to do for many months and hadn't so far had an opportunity to, it comes with seven photographs taken by Roger Neville-Neil who is no stranger to the blog, a contributor to Sonic Assassins and whose concept album with Don Falcone and Spirits Burning, Behold The Action Man, is, I'm delighted to say, now pressed and on-sale, just eighteen months after being previewed here! Best laid plans and all that, but I'm really chuffed to see that it's now available.

Roger's been photographing bands for many years – you'll see some of his Hawkwind studio photographs in Sonic Assassins – and continues to do so among his other creative interests which most notably include the 'Film Noir / Hard-Boiled' styled live reviews that have been appearing in Aural Innovations over the past few years. He sent over some of his Mars Retrieval Unit pictures after I'd reviewed the band's Soundcloud page quite some time ago, and also sent a copy of their Two Sides album.

Here's what I was saying about MRU back then. "I've heard from Joel Davis of Portland band Mars Retrieval Unit, or MRU, who recently had the opportunity to support Ozric Tentacles in Portland. They've just released a CD, Two Sides, and Joel's directed me to some tracks that he particularly thinks of as being space rock. I'll note these tracks here and plan to produce a proper review in due course. 'Amanita Dream' is a delicious mix of a rather clean and cool jazz sound mixed with a heavier spacey lilt in places, 'Osmosis' (featuring dual vocals that I believe are from Chelsea Luker, who is really good on 'Amanita Dream', and guitarist Rob Sipsky) is again a clean sounding, leaning almost to AOR, song with some lovely sax playing, also from Chelsea, extending out to ten and a half minutes so that MRU can lay claim to jam band status in the way that they extend and use the running time – though I don't know much about them aside from one live CD in my collection I'd say they touch a bit of the same ground as Phish. 'Ares' has space rock lyrical themes and resides to towards the modern progressive rock side of the genre, consummately professional in delivery and contemporary in feel. I've delved into their Facebook page and see that my old mate Roger Neville-Neil is a fan of theirs – that's a good enough recommendation for me and I'll follow up and cover this band in more depth in the future."

In writing up Two Sides, which I liked very much indeed, I can't really add too much to what I wrote back then, really. It's consummate and smooth progressive jazz rock that wanders into space rock imagery, principally lyrically but occasionally in its sounds, though certainly not in a heavy way. Instead the music is night-time jazz with a touch of the jam-band and, most everywhere, Chelsea Luker's sophisticated and silky sax blowing. What they have, they have a sound that is slick and, in a way, quite visual; not visual in any specific imagery but just a music that is bright and vibrant and extremely classy. Where a lot of the bands that get reviewed here are outfits for the great festival outdoors, MRU have a nightclub vibe to them – you'd hear them indoors – it's that sort of groove. Here are seven of Roger's excellent pictures for the seventh in this blogging sequence – huge thanks to Roger for both the photos and sending the album across! (Please note all photos (c) Roger Neville-Neil and used with kind permission; do not reproduce without Roger's knowledge and agreement).

Mars Retrieval Unit Website

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Six ‘Shout Outs’ for Friends

No, I'm not making six appeals for people to be my friends! Behave! But, in keeping with the trend of the blog this week, here are six links to stuff friends have going on, some space rock related and some entirely divorced from the subject...

There's a plethora of music updated to Louise Bialik's Reverbnation page, as Louise has mentioned in her Facebook status today; I've only had a chance to scratch the surface of what's been made available here and plan to listen properly over the Christmas break but there are fifty songs posted including collaborations with Simon House under the Dark Chemistry name, recordings made with LM Potts as Loulees, collaborations with Jack Brewer, tracks by 17 Pigmies, Savage Republic and more in a whole range of styles. Go exploring!

One Eyed Wayne, featuring former Jamie Wednesday drummer Dean Leggett, have a Soundcloud page with five demo tracks. "We perform as an acoustic band with guitars, mandolin, melodica and cajon as the backing to the very different vocal styles of three and a half vocalists. Music that has a tale to tell, from serial killers to lovelorn drunken wretches, carried along by an awesome rhythm section. Enjoy the music, tell your mates to have a listen and come see us play," they say. I remember Jamie Wednesday best for their rip-roaring cover of 'White Horses' on their 12" 'Vote For Love' single back in the mid-80s, but they were also the band that, on splitting, spawned Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine wherein Wednesday members Jim Morrison and Les Carter became Jim Bob and Fruitbat. Great collection of initial songs here, sort of indie rock meets Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros meets The Pogues via The June Brides ... sort of ... and I see they've been playing some gigs in London so hopefully we'll hear a lot more about Dean's current band in 2012!

A quick mention for a blog that I read religiously, Keith Topping's From The North, which isn't music-related per se, though Keith does include a judicious choice of 45rpm vinyl in each posting; what it actually is, it's principally a television news and criticism blog that focuses on UK and US television with an eye on the politics of broadcasting and a withering take on where Keith sees the medium falling short (for the key joke in his coverage on Dancing on Ice under the title of Twatting About on Ice he does owe me a fiver ... though for his editing skills on Sonic Assassins I owe him so much more). In-depth, regularly updated, always informative, sometimes infuriating but always a must in the RSS feed of anyone who loves television. Keith is doing a 'Twenty Two Days of Christmas" sequence!

Anthony Thistlethwaite, saxophonist and bassist formerly of The Waterboys and now of the equally wonderful Saw Doctors has made his own solo catalogue available to purchase for download via iTunes, there's a link on his Facebook community page and includes a 'best of compilation', his Cartwheels, Crawfish & Caviar and Aesop Wrote A Fable records and a release which I don't think has been available before, Stinky Fingers, which is of some recordings 'Anto' made with his musical hero Mick Taylor.

My old school mate Francis Braithwaite who, tenuous space rock connection, I believe I last saw in person at Hawkwind's 1982 CND benefit at St Austell Cornwall Coliseum, plays drums in a London-based garage punk band called The Stabilisers who have a MySpace Page which features their boisterous 'I Feel Like Jimmy White', the lo-fi sci-fi 'Robot Doctor' and, hey it's nearly Christmas after all, a joyfully disrespectful cover of 'Stop the Cavalry'.

And finally, in my 9-to-5 life there was passed to me from the next office a copy of a long-awaited new CD from Craig Eason who is stepping outside of his beloved Southern Rock with his latest recordings, Endangered Clichés. Here's what I've written as a PR sheet for this really very good collection of songs, some of which are available to listen to on his Myspace:

"Cornwall-based guitarist, song-writer and band-leader Craig Eason has been playing his Southern / Country / Blues / Rock music for over twenty years and across numerous bands, some of which will be very familiar to West Country gig-goers and others that he'll confess had a shorter lifespan! Hot & Nasty, Dakota, Forbidden Fruit, Booze Band, Arizona, Blind Alley Blues Band, Eason / Thomas Project...

This, though, is Craig in the studio with an impressive collection of talented collaborators and fifteen new tracks that run the gamut of his musical interests. Yes, here's his life-long love of Southern Rock, but here's also the evidence of a wide-ranging taste and of Eason's dexterity in crossing genres because, as his writing elegantly expresses in the highly personal ballad 'Half A Life', the joy is in the music itself.

That's not to say that Craig Eason takes himself or his music too seriously though! We've got the glorious sights, smells, and sounds of the Mexican fiestas on 'Pajero Preludo' and 'Pajero Estupido' (Carlos Santana would recognise a little of his influence seeping in to these life-affirming opening salvos). We've got 'Last Gig In The Void', which manages to be a tribute to Pink Floyd and segue into a roaring Black Sabbath rock-out. And, appropriately enough given that this album was recorded in Cornwall, there's the acoustic 'Sunny Day', built on some open 'slack key' tunings, which both celebrates the joys of the sun and bemoans the desolation of its inevitable disappearance.

We have to mention the album's glorious centrepiece, 'Sinstrumental', where Eason takes his admiration for The Allman Brothers Band, specifically the melodic guitar of Dickey Betts, and, with all the lead parts recorded in a studio jamming session, produces an instrumental of breath-taking craftsmanship. Let's also take in the radio-friendly 'Would You Miss Me', with Helen Evans' gracefully wistful vocals the emotional heart of this melancholic acoustic / country musing.

But, really, all is here. The let-loose slide-guitar bar room rock of 'Serious Drinking Night Cap' and 'Serious Drinking Night', traditional country tune and charm of 'Here In My Heart', Eason's musical adaption of Robert Browning's dramatic romance 'Mesmerism', and the jazzy instrumental 'Kind of Weird' where every single contributor to the album gets his or her moment to shine. So, we've got an album that touches many bases – always with the same deft touch and a consistency of vision. A real melting pot of themes and styles but absolutely delivered in such a slick and stylish manner that the flow of influences is smooth and rewarding. No clichés here, just a totally engaging listen."

Right, perhaps we'll get back to some reviews tomorrow ... but not seven in one post I fear!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Five Clouds ... or Similar

One terrific album that isn't even remotely space rock, then two stonking good space rock bands. Three psych-pops, well two but one's a double; four Hawkwind releases from 2011 (almost). Here are five linkages to some of the bands and musicians who have contacted me in recent months and who I've not had a opportunity to properly review yet (sorry chaps!). I'll try and blog properly on some or all of these once this sequence of blogs is completed but I hate to leave these links 'hanging in limbo' as it were so to both bookmark them for myself for future commentary and to spread the word around here's today's five things ...

I can't tell you much about these guys but they describe themselves as space stoner / doom rock. From their Facebook page it seems that they formed in November 2010 and from their bandcamp presence it looks like they've released a couple of digital albums: The Unknown Trip At the Top of the Mountain (which is a free to download recording) and Mind Journey, which can be acquired for only $5. The four tracks on their page for Mind Journey start off with some very dense and atmospheric stoner music from a band that describes its hometown as being 'Netherlands, Peru, Brazil, Greece, USA' – I'll find out some more about this band in due course!

A little bit of self-promotion here – I get lots of emails through with links to some great music but with very little biographical information to go with it which I always think is rather a shame, particularly if the band or musician is doing a big push around the various blogs and on-line magazines. If any artist out there is looking for some written promotional material to accompany their links and CDRs do drop me an e-mail; there is a cost attached I'm afraid but rates are cheap and samples of previous work can be supplied upon request.

These guys formed in December 2008 in Salt Lake City and have released one full-length album, Whisper Campaign, and have a new EP coming out this month as I understand it. There's plenty of their music to sample on this website, a free download of a live show from August of last year. Looks like they've been garnering some very decent on-line reviews – they've offered to send over a copy of the album and EP so again I'll cover them in a more depth in due course but what I've heard so far sounds good stuff!

What a great name for a band - who describe themselves as a psychedelia/jazz orientated bunch from Kildare and Dublin who are currently seeking a label to work with, with a view to releasing a vinyl. "We release all our music digitally and free of charge under a Creative Commons licence in the hope of sharing and collaboration." Their debut work, Somnia, is available to download in various file formats from their bandcamp page and their official website and a quick initial listen suggests something that's perhaps in the Canterbury mould, very thoughtfully constructed music. I'm downloading at the moment and will review in due course – do try this one out.

Space rock from Buenos Aires ... "we make sci-fi lo-fi and have just recorded the first part of a trilogy named La Era de Gran Ordenador," notes the band's Gabriel Duiroga of their project, which is revealed on bandcamp to be revolving around daily life in Buenos Aires city suburbs in the year 2076. Seems since then they've posted some tracks from both part one and two of this trilogy with the second part being scheduled for a release in February 2012. As with the rest of these bands, full review coming soon!

These guys (Brett Savage, Nick Harris and Chris Hardman) came through to me via a link posted by Mugstar on Facebook and have mentioned their debut EP, 'Soy Dios', which is sold out in physical format but which can be streamed on their bandcamp page and downloaded on a 'name your price' basis; they also say that there's a second self-released EP that was planned for November (not sure what the state of play is on this release, will find out an report back) and that they've got a track with Fruits De Mer on one of their compilations – which I think is their contribution to Keep Off the Grass. 'Soy Dios' is really good, brooding sonic drone instrumental stuff split into three distinct movements – muscular and angular but giving way to haunting atmospheres. They've got a word press page here. Once again, more on this band to follow.

There we are; I entitled this entry 'Five Clouds ... or similar' but in fact none of the links reside on Soundcloud. The best laid plans and all that! Apologies once again to all involved with these bands that I've not posted proper reviews so far, but I will do in due course!

Friday, 16 December 2011

Four Hawkwind Releases...

Soooooooo... 'one great album that's in no way spacerock', 'two stonking space rock bands', 'three, well two but one's a double, psych-pop records', how about four Hawkwind releases from 2011?

In fact, Choose Your Masques was the November 2010 Atomhenge Hawkwind reissue but I didn't get hold of a copy until into 2011 when I was able to review it standalone for R2 and alongside Alan Davey and Bridget Wishart's Djinn album for Record Collector, and as I've not kept up with the Atomhenge series this year I'm going to take this one as the starting point since actually it's a really smart example of the reissue programme rehabilitating and illuminating LPs that were perhaps not premier league in their reputation in their contemporary context.

Here's what I noted in R2 about this one or my four-star review: "For the casual listener picking up previously out of print albums and for the dedicated Hawkwind enthusiast exploring the side roads and alternative pathways that the vast range of bonus material has illuminated, the acquisition and reissue of Hawkwind's 1976 – 1997 catalogue under curator Mark Powell has been a delight. We note this to show how Choose Your Masques, a solid enough early-80s album which has a lot of good things going on but doesn't scale the heights of its provocative RCA stable mate Sonic Attack or indeed match their key 1970s recordings, can really flourish in a programme like this. Embellished by the inclusion of so many unheard songs and alternate mixes of its electronica fused heavy rock, it's possible to enjoy it in a whole new context. Discover here, for example, how '90s return to form 'Right To Decide' lyrically started out as the unknown 'Radio Telepathy', putting a fresh slant on the development of a genuine Hawkwind classic. Therein resides the historian's quibble, however. What's lacking is the perspective of the main protagonists on these 'rejected' tracks... the whys and wherefores of their omissions or burials that would have awarded an already impressive package the final rating star."

I think the crux of what's valuable about these releases, aside from being able to hear them afresh and re-evaluate where they stand within the catalogue as a whole, is that thrilling shock of hearing something familiar coming out of the bonus tracks in different form, such as with 'Radio Telepathy' on Choose Your Masques. When I was writing Sonic Assassins I was able to drop in a few titbits of tantalising information about songs that had been recorded but never released, or about original renditions that resided in the archives that would, if heard, reveal the origins of much-loved songs that would inform on their gestation period. Some of these have since been released for us all to enjoy, others have arrived on the expanded editions with no prior fanfare. For the dedicated fan or historian it's a wonderful journey.

Of course, if we're talking about unearthing the origins of Hawkwind classics, the must-have release of 2011 was EMI's Parallel Universe3-CD set which I covered for Record Collector over the summer and which brought a huge upswing in traffic to this blog when I had the pleasure of interviewing Nigel Reeve of EMI, who has done so much to keep EMI's share of the back-catalogue alive and expanding over recent years, a really shining example of how a steady selling catalogue should be managed and added to and just simply kept available. My admiration is huge.

I was a little surprised at some of the more 'meh' reactions to this release that were scattered among the music press – one particular review suggesting that what the release principally revealed was why the cuts from this album that were 'new' tracks had been left on the cutting-room floor in the first place, as I recall – but then perhaps the digesting of proto-versions of much-loved numbers actually is one for the dedicated rather than the casual. Of course the really casual were well served with a judicious cross-section of EMI's catalogue (Hawkwind through to Hall of the Mountain Grill) but perhaps this one dropped through the middle for those who had the original LPs and weren't sexed-up by the thought of hearing 'work-in-progress' as it were.

Me? I found it a revelation and one that's going to be of significant assistance, just like the Atomhenge series, when I start cutting and revising Sonic Assassins for a potential second edition in 2012 (yes, you heard it here first. It's very much initial stages of thinking how a budget version of the book would work – but I'm confident that in one form or another there will be a revised version progressed). But aside from that, the thrill of hearing a very different, guitar-led, 'Wind of Change' (in no way better than the HotMG violin classic to be honest, but a great juxtaposition from dense and dirty to smooth and emotional when you compare the composition's development) and the insight into the way 'You Know You're Only Dreaming' developed out of its early form were particular highlights in a compilation that must have been played and played and played across Hawkwind fandom this year.

I was delighted this year, by sheer luck of being in the right place at the right time which in this case meant e-mailing Easy Action Records about their recent Nikki Sudden out-takes compilation Playing With Fire
at the same time as they were planning the release of their Cambridge 1972 Hawkwind album Leave No Star Unturned. It's great to be dealing with a label where you're not trying to work your way through whole strata of departments to try and get to the decision-maker in his pin stripes and braces and instead deal with one guy who makes the decisions and runs a label because of his love for the music. So this was my sole foray in liner notes this year, which made it even more exciting when they were well-received in general – I'd certainly tried to make them resonate with love and enthusiasm and judging by the responses it seems I got the tone about right.

You can understand the advance reticence of Hawkfans faced with another early 70s live recording; fingers have been burned on several occasions but the reality is that Leave No Star Unturned is a very sympathetic restoring from the original tapes. Steve Pittis explained it best in my interview with him back in July but it's a restoration that brings out the best in the performance without trying to transcend or deviate from the original 'front-of-house' experience and as such it has its quirks and flaws but it also has power and energy and again is another very valuable addition to our understanding of how the band developed and how particular tracks evolved during the formative years of the band. And, positioned as it is at the start of Hawkwind's break-though year, it's such a key 'legacy' release – every fan should own this one.

And finally, not a Hawkwind album de facto, but Dave Brock's Earthed to the Groundsaw a reissue on Atomhenge as part of their additional schedule of bringing his collection of solo albums back into print. This one again I reviewed for Record Collector back in the autumn, as I indeed have written-up the subsequent reissue of Strange Trips and Pipe Dreams which is in the Christmas edition (still around until 29th December I believe, so a perfect pick-up for your Christmas reading schedule!).

To place Earthed to the Ground in a wider context of Hawkwind catalogue I gave the reissue three stars. I know some people loathe reviews that include a star-rating; I'm ambivalent about them myself since the review should place the record in proper context and explain what you need to know about any particular release. I actually really like this record; I like the fact that it is still a song-based venture – where later solo albums became more experimental and soundscape focused if that makes sense – and I like the way it has a lighter touch to it than the Hawkwind LPs that sandwich it (Choose Your Masques and Chronicle of the Black Sword). I assessed it as "Brock veering slightly from the tried and trusted format and stretching his creative legs, experimenting a bit and giving the boundaries a gentle nudge. It's like Hawkwind, but a tad different."

Contextualising it on a star rating system was a little tricky however; I know a lot of people really love this album and it retains an affection also because of what Dave stands for in many minds but to rationalise it as three stars I went thus: Space Ritual, Quark Strangeness & Charm, Hall of the Mountain Grill ... these are five star albums with little chance of contradiction. Electric Tepee, Chronicle of the Black Sword ... you have to give these LPs four stars. Live '79, though I love it to bits, is a three star release and so, and here's the clincher, is PXR5. Earthed to the Ground – three stars.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Bevis Frond – The Leaving Of London / Paul Roland – ‘Masque’

OK, so this week we've had 'one record that's not remotely space rock' and then 'two stonking releases from leading space rock bands' so what we need is three... well, it'll be two great psych-pop albums to be honest but the first album in seven years from Nick 'The Bevis Frond' Saloman is effectively the length of good old-fashioned double album so I think we'll count that in and try and suggest that brings the symmetry to this sequence of blog entries.

In fact I'm not going to blog at too much length on the Frond album right now, since I'm reviewing this one in print and have interviewed Nick this week for the same place – I'll shout about the piece and the relevant magazine when it appears of course – but I really can't let it pass by without passing comment here since in a year where there were quite a few new records that I liked very much this one arrived a few weeks ago and really cemented its claim as the crème de la crème from the opening bars of 'Johnny Kwango' onwards. That lament to the late wrestler, and I guess really generally a lament to things past, is a particular highlight on this exceptional collection of songs but really the whole is a thing of beauty ... the brooding, almost gothic 'Reanimation', the reflective title track, the world-weary but easy and comfortable keep-on keeping-on of 'Preservation Hill', the up-tempo restatement of creative burn that kicks-off 'Stupid Circle' juxtaposed with its frustration and anger as it drives onwards.

I think what I'd really say is that, partly because I've had a little bit of a break in print work, I've had the time to luxuriate in The Leaving Of London – so much of writing about music is chasing your tail from one record onto the next, getting an impression and forming a view and enthusing or otherwise and then filing the album away ready for the next task so that it does become, not a chore, but at times like a 'real' job and I do often wonder what great stuff I've run through, enjoyed, written-up and stacked away perhaps to only re-emerge or rediscover after the passing of time if at all. It seems like receiving an album and playing it to death because it's that good, as I would have done as a teenager, is a long lost pleasure. But that's how I'm enjoying and playing The Leaving Of London; it's on my computer, it's in my personal CD player, it's blasting from the car's music system. It's just marvellous.

And then again, here I am unfurling the career and back-catalogue of a most singular artist and that's another particular pleasure because I remember when I first discovered Hawkwind and that was about really getting my teeth into an extensive history, so that it's not discovering an album but finding a reference on the map and then following the lines to the starting point while taking in the sidetracks and minor pathways that lead off from the main road, and that's how I feel about the work of Paul Roland, which I've written about several times since encountering his work a few years back with his Re-Animator album.

Fortunately, while I follow Paul's new records with admiration and enjoyment, he's on his own voyage of discovery into his extensive history and that exploration of past works has arrived at his 'Masque' album which was original released on the New Rose label in France and that presents a continuous supply of archive material that I'm discovering with each reissue. Now, I've only had this one a few days; I've not yet got under the skin of this record in the way that I have with Nick's new album and so I'm only at that impressions stage in learning about 'Masque' – hence this isn't a full review at this point - but I've already discovered the track that I find a delicious anticipation in uncovering in each of Paul's collections and that's the track that is so infectious that it temporarily stalls the travel of the listener through the songs because it leaps out and demands the repeat button. On Re-Animator it was 'Swamp Girl', for instance. On A Cabinet Of Curiosities it's the simply delightful 'Walter the Occultist', on Paul's recent foray into the stories of the Brothers Grimm, Grimm, it's 'Rapunzel'. Here on 'Masques' the track that I was waiting for appears third in the running order; it's the beguiling 'Candy Says'.

It's interesting that Paul's approach to his reissues is distinctively to re-evaluate what he's achieved and to not be afraid to push around what in time's hindsight seem to him to be the necessary tweaks and changes – I guess a 'Director's Cut' in a way which sees him bringing the haunting 'The Rat Catcher's Daughter', and 'The Sea Captain', into the main running-order of the album when previously he recalls himself, "relegating them to a bonus EP," while at the same time original tracks 'Matty Groves' and 'Grantchester Fields' are moved out of the principle sequence and reclassified as bonus tracks.

Roland describes 'Masque' as being his "token Regency baroque folk-rock album" – I bring it into the psych-pop posting in this challenge of sequential blogging partly because it still fits, partly because that's where Roland is most-often placed in context and partly because in chat with Nick Saloman I note both Roland and himself as being two of those brilliant songwriters perceived to be in that genre whose songwriting just really ought to be in front of the mainstream audience because of its skilful accessibility and genuine pop sensibilities.

Ordering details and a more detailed explanation of the changes Paul has made to this reissue can be found here while I see that Nick's Bevis Frond back catalogue can be purchased from his bandcamp page.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Secret Saucer – Four On The Floor / Oresund Space Collective – Sleeping With The Sunworm

If this were a version of the 'Twelve Blogs of Christmas' ... and I'm not saying it is mind you ... then if the first gave to us one really good album that wasn't space rock in any way then the second ought to bring us two stonkingly good, meat-and-potatoes, nuts-and-bolts, something-and-something-else, honest-to-goodness 'proper' space rock bands and their recent releases. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you your friends and mine, Secret Saucer and Oresund Space Collective.

Secret Saucer have just released their fourth album, Four on the Floor, with guest appearances from saxophonist Greg Klucher on 'Celestial Spigot' and the always excellent Nick Riff who provides lead guitar on 'Time Spent Out of Mind'. We know the Hawkwind connection; Steve Hayes played in Hawkwind tribute band Sun Machine, tour-managed (I believe) their 1997 US dates and filled in as part of the Strangewind ensemble that performed at Strange Daze '98 in place of the advertised Hawkwind slot when Dave Brock and Ron Tree were denied entry into the USA.

It's always fair to note that there's a lot of Hawkwind influences in what Secret Saucer do; as Scot Heller notes on his review of their new record, there's certainly a bit of 'You Shouldn't Do That' about the kick-off track, 'Time Spent Out of Mind' which I'd place as being as much influenced by the Brock, Chadwick, Davey renditions than by the early 70s versions, though Scott is also absolutely right to note that there's just a suggestion of that number about this track and that it absolutely has its own identity and goes off into its own driving rhythms and patterns. Continuing that theme, though, 'Lunar Pull' has a Hawklords, 'Free Fall' feel to it and, like some other moments scattered around this record, has unexpected vocal contributions where we're used to Secret Saucer being an instrumental band. They still are, in essence, but they're pushing things a bit here, trying out other approaches, and very welcome that is too.

So that's the key Hawkwind influences, and there are others, but whether they're challenging classic HW, having something of the Hawklords to them, dipping their toes into electronica Hawkwind or having some of the pace and vitality of the 'Trio' era, Secret Saucer still always give us something bright and contemporary, really 21st Century sounding compositions. Klucher's sax playing on 'Celestial Spigot' is light and delightful, 'Awaken' is a pastoral, bucolic song with a wispy, fantasy lyric delivered in an ethereal way – not really my bag to be honest but effectively realised with gentleness and sympathy in the playing and a real juxtaposition to the more definitively space rock parts of the record – and the title track is a brooding electronic number. 'Daedal' plays with Eastern sounds ... all this and an eleven minute interpretation of 'A Saucerful of Secrets' as well.

What this album is, it's smooth and slick with the heavy parts never bulldozing over the intricacies and the cleverly brought together melodies and backgrounds embellishing the bass and drums. Blog followers, if you love your space rock enough to regularly pick over the side paths and meanders that I've worked through over the entries here, the albums that aren't quite space rock but could be perceived to be aligned to the genre or the more expansive approach that I've taken with including psych-pop, goth and industrial records, then Four on the Floor is bread and honey to you, proper, real, smart and fresh space rock and you need to get this pretty damn quickly.

Talking then of Scott Heller – and trusting that regulars here follow his blog as well since he covers much of the same field of music that I do here but much more promptly and in far greater volume of reviews – it's another point where I've been remiss recently since Scott has kindly sent across burns of the multiple Oresund Space Collective records that have been released during the last couple of years but, though I've listened to and enjoyed them all, print deadlines, sleeve notes and other tasks have meant that I've been slovenly in updating and progressing this blog and among the items I'm still to write-up are those newest OSC releases, though I've written about the band on previous occasions of course.

To at least begin to rectify that, the second of our albums for review on this entry is OSC's Sleeping with the Sunworm, a record which appears to have had a fairly long route to becoming available since the notes that arrive with it note that it was recorded at Black Tornado Studios in Copenhagen during October 2008, mixed there in January 2010 and then finally mastered in February 2011 and released as a limited to 500 copies Digipack CD.

"Totally Improvised Space Rock" declares OSC's website front page; clicking through and looking at the band's news page then I'm mightily relieved to discover that this is in fact a timely review after all as it seems that the actual release date is 1st December and copies are now available. But, yes, totally improvised they proudly declaim their work and long-time admirers will know that's the essence of what they are all about. Sleeping with the Sunworm is divided into three 'Parts' but like their other work it really runs together as a single elongated suite of music, loose and improvisational but never to the detriment of them appearing to go somewhere with their riffs and patterns. What Scott and his Danish and Swedish fellow musicians produce – time and again- is free form soundscapes – not the easiest thing for a reviewer to get to grips with and lay down a description on the page or screen for – but always music that draws you into their head space, that takes you out on a expansive trip (in many ways). It's not about writing up the 'Parts', indeed you feel that such designation is really cut for convenience, for ease of accessibility, since the Parts blur and meld into one another, but, as with the Secret Saucer release it's really about telling everyone that these bands who are our friends and fellow enthusiasts across the ether and into the downloads and samples and vinyls and discs are out there playing their hearts out for us, delivering us, that phrase again, proper space rock. Here's to them in 2012!