Hawkwind @ Royal Albert Hall, London, UK, September 29, 2023 | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Hawkwind @ Royal Albert Hall, London, UK, September 29, 2023,

Oct 01, 2023 Photography by John Chase Web Exclusive
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On Friday afternoon, the Hoop and Toy pub, a stone’s throw from the South Kensington tube station, is chock-a-block with fans of Hawkwind and related bands. Quite a few wear Motörhead T-shirts. Most present have witnessed earlier incarnations of both collectives at least three times. This evening, the show at the Royal Albert Hall sees Hawkwind celebrating the 50th anniversary of their Space Ritual live album. The event coincides with the release of the remastered reissue. The name is emblematic of not just the music but also the band’s fluid state. Now a five-piece outfit, featuring founder Dave Brock, Richard Chadwick, Magnus Martin, Doug MacKinnon and Timothy Lewis, Hawkwind, on the whole, is a galaxy with myriads of artists involved rather than a fixed and single celestial body.

As the fans make their way from the busy pub to the venue, some share why Hawkwind has been meaningful to them. “With this band, you never know what you are going to get”, says Jonathan, a follower of Hawkwind from Yorkshire who has been to eleven shows of the space rock trailblazers. Cath, a Southampton-based fan wearing a cowboy hat, cannot resist sharing her excitement and saying it doesn’t really matter what will be heard. The anticipation of unknown pleasures is what makes the Hawkwind experience so much desired and worth the wait as well as the long journey.

At the Royal Albert Hall, the band’s appearance is preceded by like-minded support act The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. The Dumbledore-esque silver cloak and pendulum-like moves of the latter set the pace for the evening defined by the sense of time travel. “We are time captains, we write the astral records of history”, Brown sings in an exclamatory manner, to the vigorous rhythm of “Time Captains”, inducing the invasive vibe of a military march.

Shortly after, plastic mannequins from Arthur Brown’s stage set-up give way to recognisable banners with zodiac signs – one of the trademark design elements of the Space Ritual tour. Originally implemented by Barney Bubbles, the set-up of the 1972 spectacular incorporated projections, light lines and fluorescent astrological signs matching the members’ dates of birth. Talking to Prog magazine in January 2023, former band manager Doug Smith recalled: “Barney sent me a neatly handwritten schedule that included a couple of plans of arched spherical curves of the music and light lines crossing. He told me that if the band got it right with the lights and music onstage, they would take off!”. Although today’s version looks somewhat more modest to current technology-saturated standards, the theme of flight and transition between temporal realms is delivered through all aspects of the show. Dave Brock and co come up on stage, accompanied by mysterious New Age chiming, the cheer of the audience and the glow of the wavering Hawkwind logo on the projection screen (earlier showing missing pets ads). Accordingly, they start the set with “Levitation” from the eponymous 1980 album. The dim space of the hall is penetrated with colourful rays of light forming constellation-like projections on the vault. The sequence of visuals thematically taps into lyrics, depicting a collider emitting a meditating Buddha. The further it goes the more sci-fi the visuals become. After a few songs from the latest album The Future Never Waits, the band is joined by William Orbit providing an additional layer of spacey keyboards to “Arrival In Utopia” from the 1982 album Choose Your Masques. The ascending riff and scenes from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis add to the intensity.

Although thematically relevant, the visual element draws attention away from the sound. During a few numbers, the clips such as one showing the death and resurrection of a lonely robot on a distant planet, strongly evoke Star Wars and the reversed version of Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song”, if there was one. Some include imagery from the albums’ artworks (Warrior on the Edge of Time and Levitation), while others compensate for missing dancers Stacia Blake and Miss Renée, displaying robotic women shooting with their nipples.

With the band traversing their discography, it’s hard not to think about the big bang effect they had throughout the 70s and 80s. When Hawkwind emerged, their music brought together the kaleidoscopic burst of psychedelia, edgy hard rock and transcendental energy of krautrock. Considered as one of the proto-punk bands, they are cited as an influence on future punk-inspired purveyors such as Joy Division. In his book Record Play Pause: Confessions of a Post-Punk Percussionist, drummer Stephen Morris recalled his teenage experience of attending the Space Ritual show with his parents in Manchester: “Hawkwind were fantastic – I don’t know what I was expecting but they were everything I thought a rock band would be”. The occasional “one-two-three-four” yelled out by guitarist Magnus Martin simultaneously fast-rewinds and fast-forwards to The Ramones and everything that chronologically happened afterwards.

Astonishingly, the Space Ritual repertoire is left for dessert. The set ends with “Ten Seconds Of Forever”, featuring a recitation by Arthur Brown, followed by the combined version of “Born To Go” and “You Shouldn’t Do That”. In the atmospheric setting of the Royal Albert Hall, the songs get a reverberating halo of sound, similar to shoegaze and post-rock. The encore blends “Brainstorm” and “The Black Corridor” as an ABA triptych. “Welcome To The Future” strums a final ringing choir. It encapsulates the force that would later be exercised by Spacemen 3. Multiple dots on the music history map are joined together by the overarching energy of one venerable band.


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