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Thursday 8 November 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Hawkwind (Review By Paul H)

Hawkwind And Orchestra, London Palladium

Throughout their nearly 50 years of existence, Hawkwind, the space lords from Ladbroke Grove have always followed their own path. With founder member Dave Brock still very much the Captain at the controls, their latest collaboration with Mike Batt on Road To Utopia reworked some of their classic songs in impressive style. What was born out of that collaboration is several shows with a full orchestra in some of the country’s most iconic theatres. This had all the makings of a magnificent evening and so it proved.

Getting to central London is always more of a challenge than it should be but we were outside the Palladium by around 5.30pm, amused by the crusty hardcore Hawkwind fans in their white lab coats and ill-fitting shirts who were loitering with almost uncontrollable excitement, the remnants of their hair blowing in the breeze as they mingled with the thousands of tourists who drift along Oxford Street and into Carnaby Street with its garish Queen tribute lit up and stretching as far as the eye could see. A perfunctory pizza and a pint in the nearest decent boozer later and we joined the masses of old school fans who were gathered outside the venue. Once inside it was time to squeeze into the very small seats and marvel at the decadence of the theatre, with 2286 seats and dating back to 1910.

Before the arrival of the space lords though, we were treated/forced to endure/struggled with (take your pick) 30 minutes of tweeness from Blackheart Orchestra (5), a two piece from Manchester. Comprising Chrissy Mostyn and Richard Pilkington, the duo are both multi-instrumentalists who certainly play original music. Fusing a full range of styles this band is impossible to pigeon hole but suffice to say that in a warm dark theatre their emotional ambient and minimalist sound washed over me but did allow me a cheeky snooze before they finished their set.

Disappointingly, despite the show being advertised as sold out, the upper circle was far from full as the curtain lifted to reveal the Docklands Sinfonia and Mike Batt patiently waiting for the arrival of Captain Brock and co. Regardless of this, a huge roar welcomed the arrival of long serving drummer Richard Chadwick (30 years this year), bassist Niall Hone and recent additional Magnus Martin who played superbly all night on keyboards and guitar despite suffering a plethora of technical difficulties. Dave Brock, complete in summer hat and open toed sandals discreetly edged on from the right of the stage and with a swish of Batt’s baton we were off. The opening chords of Assault And Battery never fail to stir the emotions and signalled the start of a memorable evening. Before the show I wondered how well the orchestral arrangements would work with the swooping driven space rock, but I was reassured within seconds as the string and brass sections enhanced and complimented the music superbly.

The Golden Void followed before Steve Swindells’ Shot Down In The Night allowed the orchestra a break and Hawkwind (10) to accelerate to full speed. With Mr Dibs having left the band earlier this year, vocal duties rested back with Brock and Martin and to be honest, this is how I like it. At 77 years of age, Brock is incredible, still possessing all the attributes needed and comfortably combined his vocal, guitar and keyboard duties. His ironic anecdote about being arrested when busking outside the Palladium back in the 1960s was hilarious. Dib’s departure also allowed the band to return Arthur Brown to the fold and the God Of Hellfire didn’t disappoint. Fully robed up he ambled on like your demented grandfather, before flamboyantly narrating Paradox in his inimitable style.

A poignant We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago, complete with backdrop projections which showed melting polar ice caps and industrial pollution followed. The band are ardent environmentalists, supporting Badger.Org and Sea Shepherd which is all right in my book. Brown returned for a ferocious Sonic Attack, the maelstrom of hysteria steadily increasing as shouts of “do not panic” echoed around the venue and the orchestra built the frenzy of chaos. Brown didn’t feature for much else, although his addition to Damnation Alley was important, supporting Martin’s lead vocal effectively. A haunting Zarozinia, the first time I’d seen it live since 1986’s Chronicle Of The Black Sword tour was another track completely enhanced by the string section. As we reached the climax of the show, it was brilliant to see Batt adding tambourine when the orchestra rested. A sight I’d never thought I’d see! The final track with the orchestra was the best of the night, Arrival In Utopia from Choose Your Masques was simply mind-blowing. As the band departed to a huge applause, a final wave from Batt and his superb musicians signalled a mighty encore with just the four members of the band. 

Having played fantastically all night, it was an opportunity to pause and reflect about just how brilliant these musicians are. Using programming to achieve their swirling effects, the majority of Hawkwind’s sound is delivered by four guys at the front of the stage. A blistering Spirit Of The Age was followed by a pause with the acoustic Hymn To The Sun before those instantly recognisable chords brought the place to its feet as the anthem Silver Machine soared around this beautiful venue. With lasers and a light show which enhanced every note, this was a quite magnificent and special evening. Luckily for me I get to do it all again in three weeks when the good ship Hawkwind docks at The Forum in Bath. Grab a ticket if there are any left. It’s a fantastic trip.

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