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- Space Ritual ‘Live’
Review No: 297
Robert Calvert: Poet and Swazzle
In the lead up to Christmas 1972 there was a massive disturbance in the force as the mighty Hawkwind had a freak hit single with their ‘Silver Machine ‘ reaching Number three in the singles chart. I am not saying that this exactly made Hawkwind into pop stars, but it certainly gave them access to a far wider audience.
‘Silver Machine’ was even more of a freak than it appears. For a start it was a live recording, which was almost unheard of in singles land, especially as it was nearly five minutes long (even if it had been heavily edited with Robert Calvert’s vocals completely erased and replaced with the far more aggressive growl of Hawkwind’s bass player Ian Kiliminster, known to all as Lemmy). The sight of the Hawkwind video being played next to the Nolan Sisters on Top of the Pops did bring a smile to the face, but imagine if they had let Lemmy into the same studio as the Sisters?
It’s not as though Hawkwind had not already enjoyed success, as their first three albums had already charted in the U.K. ‘Hawkwind’ (1970), ‘In Search of Space’ (1971) (complete with fabulous foldout cover and Hawklog), and ‘Doremi Fasol Latido’ (1972) which had a vaguely space concept.
But with the money generated by a hit single Hawkwind
decided to take their Space Ritual on the road for a massive tour of the
United Kingdom and surrounding planets. A road crew was brought in, the
most impressive display of lights were acquired under the auspicious eye
of Liquid Len accompanied by his crew of Lensmen, costumes were fashioned,
famous English D.J. Andy Dunkley was appointed Mothership control, one
of the most impressive stage settings was put together to house the band
for their rocket ride, actual dancers were put on the payroll and given
chorography, and most impressively the band put in some rehearsal time.
The band had been stable for a whole year, which for this bunch of space cadets was in itself an event. Baring in mind that there had already been three other bass players before Lemmy secured the job, a lead guitarist had been lost and nobody had bothered to replace him, whilst the drum stool had already moved into Spinal Tap mode. It was almost a rule in the band that they never did two studio albums with the same line up.
From these early beginnings, though, nobody could have ever imagined that over the years Hawkwind would have such a heavy influence on such diverse musical threads as Ambient, World, Disco (seriously), Trance, Stoner Rock, Heavy Metal, and of course Space Rock.
Fortunately for us all several of the shows were recorded, and the best of two of them from Liverpool and Manchester have been spliced together to give the complete experience, all done in the correct running order. This was first released as a double album in 1973 at the price of a single album, Hawkwind being Hawkwind and always giving value for money. As well as a poster size foldout cover, you also got two booklets, one telling the story of the Space Ritual joining the dots between songs, the other giving you all the information you could possibly want about the tour.
In 1996 EMI went one step further and re-released the Space Ritual in Digi-Pak form reproducing the original artwork, whilst adding some extra photos from the tour. The music itself has been wonderfully re-mastered to give a much clearer sound than the original vinyl, or for that matter the first CD release. Due to time constraints first time round (you could only get eighty minutes of music on four sides of vinyl) the encore of ‘You Shouldn’t Do That’ had to be left off. Well no more; here you get the full concert encore and all. As if that was not enough over twenty minutes of bonus live Hawkwind has been tacked onto the end with two tracks from the hard to get Greasy Truckers benefit concert.
The concert starts with the Starship Hawkwind on final countdown for its rocket ride. Robert Calvert, Hawkwind’s resident poet, gets things underway with ‘Earth Calling’ amidst an array of Hawkwind, bubble music, audio generators, countdowns, swazzles, electronic robot music, swishing, and after burns.
Blastoff occurs with Dave Brock blazing out the riffs from his sonic axe of ‘Born To Go’; then the rest of the band comes thundering in. Now you must remember that nobody had ever bothered to mention to Lemmy that the bass guitar was a rhythm instrument, as he goes note for note with his captain’s guitar. Simon King on drums may have had his failings, but subtlety was not one of them as he thrashes away for all he is worth.
Everybody’s favourite, hippy Nik Turner hoots and honks his way through every song on his battered saxophone, only reverting to the flute for those short quieter moments when Robert Calvert would get up to read out some of his poetry or to speak out the words of Michael Moorcock the famous science fiction writer who had written special passages for the Space Ritual. ‘Sonic Attack’ is particularly disturbing in the concept of the Space Ritual, with the whole band echoing the narrator’s speech. Then behind this you had the twin attack of Del Dettmar and Dik Mik on synthesisers, audio generators, and electronics giving out that very special Hawkwind wall of sound. The songs were most of ‘Doremi Fasol Latido’ plus any songs that fitted in from the Hawkwind back catalogue. ‘Masters of The Universe’ for example fitted in very well, plus material specially written for the mission. This was Heavy Metal at its very best, no matter what different wrapper you want to give it.
Of course Hawkwind was a very visual band in every way. Out the front of the stage for the journey was the larger than life Amazonian dancer Stacia, who somehow during each performance managed to lose every stitch of space garb adorning her ample body. As there were always a lot of spotty sixteen year old boys down the front of the stage, it probably means that Stacia was the first naked female seen by thousands of young lustful teenagers. To answer your next question, “Yes, those thoughtful people from EMI have included a few snapshots in one of the booklets,” purely for historic reasons you understand. I know this has nothing to do with the music, but I thought it was worth mentioning.
More than thirty years later, Hawkwind are still flying,
sadly without Stacia, who went off and married drummer Roy Dyke, which
makes her Mrs Dyke, hmmm. Lemmy has of course gone on to become the founder
of Heavy Metal with the mighty Motorhead. Whilst David Brock, with new
Hawknauts, still leads Hawkwind, who released a new studio album in 2005
called ‘Take Me To Your Leader’, their first album since ‘Distant
Horizons’ in 1997. Hawkwind’s Space Ritual is a great trip.