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Sunday 24 November 2019

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

Hawkwind and The Black Heart Orchestra, Tramshed, Cardiff

It’s a sad reflection on society, or maybe that should be on the scumbags in our society that Hawkwind’s pre-gig backdrop projections is aimed at drawing wider awareness to the plight of lost and stolen dogs across the country. Heart-breaking pictures of several hounds, some long gone from the family home are displayed along with their names, and contact numbers. Futile maybe, but if it made one person a little more aware then I’m all for it.

Just as disappointing, were Mancunian duo The Black Heart Orchestra (4). Having endured the complex looping and samples of this strange ethereal outfit last year, I was gutted to find I was in way before they took the stage. The volume of chatter during a support band tells you everything and at times it was difficult to hear Chrissy Mostyn and Richard Pilkington's tunes. Not a lot to get excited about. Twee and a little dull.

There’s something about Hawkwind that draws an eclectic audience. Celebrating their 50th anniversary on this latest tour, a bursting Tramshed saw a cross section of crusty rockers, younger curious metal heads and a fair spread of ‘normal’ generally ‘older’ folk. So many acrylic jumpers poured into the venue that after about 45 minutes of soaring heat, the powers that be deigned to fire up the air conditioning for fear that the spontaneous outbreaks of ferocious ‘dad dancing’ that erupted in pockets around the venue might cause a) material combustion and b) cardiac arrests.

My first review of the band for this esteemed publication was over six years ago when the band played The Coal Exchange. Since then I’ve seen Hawkwind (9) at the Tramshed and twice on their sojourn across the UK with the Mike Batt Orchestra last year. Not my first viewing of the band who were spawned in Ladbrook Grove half a century ago though, that dates to the mid-1980s. 50 years and the band show no signs of slowing. Date ten of a 15 strong tour across Britain which culminates in a show at the Royal Albert Hall on 26th November, the band were in fine form and delivered a two-hour set that combined five tracks from their excellent All Aboard The Skylark with a perfect scattering of old school songs.

A collection of banners, representing some of their most well-loved album covers flank both sides of the stage, a large backdrop projects visual stimulation throughout, and the usual mind-blowing laser set ensures that those who still dabble can enhance their rocket ride. For those of us who now rely on a simple beer to get us to special place this is no less effective. The band casually amble on in semi-darkness, Levitation’s ageless Motorway City complete with racing highways on the screen opens the evening. After last year’s absence, a welcome return for Tim Blake, whose battle to ‘tame’ the Theremin across the evening became an addictive bizarre focal point. The alien themed Flesh Fondue follows, one of the best tracks the band have written in years in my opinion but lost on at least 60% of the audience. Magnus Martin takes centre vocals for Last Man On Earth, another of my favourites from All Aboard The Skylark; annoyingly much of the Hawkwind crowd are still parked in 1978 with the handbrake on and sporadic chatter starts. It soon fades as the Robert Calvert cover The Song Of The Gremlin (from Calvert’s 1974 album Captain Lockheed And The Starfighters) segues into an extended Born to Go, the first opportunity for those with the urge to cut those dangerous shapes; Captain Dave Brock and crew hit the space accelerator and the bloke in front starts to twitch. Ominous signs.

It’s Spirit Of The Age that really ignites the crowd and forces the introduction of the sweet cooling air. Sing-a-longs galore; this is a fan favourite and it races along, the Calvert penned lyrics and the underlying rhythmic electronic pulse as heady now as they were on 1977’s Quark, Strangeness and Charm. The bloke in front has stopped taking photos of the light show, wrapped his coat around his waist and rolled up his sleeves. He means business and warms up with a few lightweight moves. It’s coming. Meanwhile on stage the banter between Brock (shall I mention here he’s now 78!), drummer Richard Chadwick, Martin, Blake and Niall Hone remains light and humorous. The band is totally at ease.

A couple newer songs entertain me but the energy dips slightly in the venue. Many are a bit confused when Motorhead’s Phil Campbell arrives on stage. His Bastard Sons only blew the roof off the venue 11 days earlier after all. Not that many in the room were there that night. Still, we get an excellent homage to Lemmy with a blinding version of The Watcher followed by a frenzied Silver Machine, sung with style by Richard Chadwick. The venue roars. An image of Lemmy on the screen after The Watcher is poignant and a demonstration that after all these years, there was no malice towards the much-missed legend. A moment to savour. Assault And Battery segues into The Golden Void and Right To Decide (from Electric Tepee no less) and the band troop off. Cue the venue’s most distinctive security guard perched high on the crash barrier at the front, conducting the “Hawkwind” football chant with his torch. The bloke in front leads the way. It’s all a bit surreal. And fitting.

The obligatory return to the stage, band introductions from Captain Brock probably unnecessary but completed. A rip-snorting Hurry on Sundown hurls the bloke in front into a frenzy, his Bucks Fizz moves now complemented by a Rhondda two-step; this is 11pm wedding reception quality sharpness; he makes Danny Bowes look utterly ponderous with his MC Hammer finisher. Master Of The Universe is immense. It finishes the bloke in front; he’s spent in a sweaty heap, regretting that tomorrow morning he will be back at his dentist’s surgery, thinking about last night and then switching thoughts to his next trip on his yacht. “Somewhere sunny? But where” he muses. We may not have had as good a time as him, but for the rest of us that was Hawkwind at their most sublime.

Setlist: Motorway City, Flesh Fondue, Last Man On Earth, The Song Of The Gremlin (Robert Calvert cover), Born to Go, 65 Million Years Ago, In The Beginning, Spirit Of The Age, The Fantasy Of Faldum, The Watcher (feat. Phil Campbell), Silver Machine (feat. Phil Campbell), Assault & Battery, The Golden Void, Right To Divide

Encore: Hurry on Sundown, Master of the Universe, Welcome to the Future

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