Review by Paul H Birch and photos by Mark Lloyd
There’s a drummer, saxophonist and guy semi-rapping in a foreign language, and between them they appear to be filtering in electronic treatments. They go by the handle of Hipiersonik and offer a post modern jazz beatnik vibe, veering between the accessibility of a TV commercial soundtrack to being rather outré. More suitable for a small club setting than from the back of a packed Wulfrun Hall where I’m standing nervously, expecting to be tripped over by burnt-out acid cases. Fact is though, any freaks are down the front, and it’s the pungent aroma of Black Country ale wafting across from the bar rather than joss sticks and patchouli oil I’m inhaling.
The 70s are long gone, but, for many, the music made then is timeless and tonight we’re here to catch Hawkwind deliver their classic Warrior on the Edge of Time album in its entirety, thus curtains draw open to reveal rockets hurtling through space over a wide screen backdrop as through the darkness the band comes into focus with the hefty frame of Nial Hone bowing a stand-up guitar like a cello and reciting poetry even as pyramids begin to dominate the screen; then there’s a pulsating heavy dub until a juddering riff takes precedence and the crowd erupt as ‘Master of the Universe’ takes flight. Fleetingly, I notice Sosna, the saxophonist from Hipiersonik, is with them, but my concentration turns to the alien goat-demon on stilts that’s sauntered on stage; it casts ominous shadow puppet shapes against psychedelic film projections before staging a fight with a normal-sized masked dancer during a keyboard solo. As the music gets louder and ever more manic my journalistic objectivity is forced into the realisation that in the hands of a band like Hawkwind the concept of space rock is akin to living in fear that some great unholy meteor might come crashing down and pulverise the earth at any given moment.
Microphone in hand, Hone, prowls the stage for ‘Steppenwolf’. Apart from him and Tim Blake on Ax-sythesiser the rest of the band remain fairly static all night. Less Hermann Hesse and more cold acid blues, Hawkwind founder Dave Brock pours cybernetic notes from his guitar. Third song in, werewolves are replaced with kaleidoscopic images and a female dancer enacts a ritual death goddess routine over a syncopated jazz keyboard solo.
As a synthesiser modulates under a saxophone’s extemporisations the screen visuals offer the birth of the universe Hawkwind-style, a child in space aging to take on the form of a Golden Age sci-fi pulp magazine siren. As one Mr Dibs hits a familiar bass riff and Dead Fred’s keyboards begin to flourish, a biker to my left starts to dance, and though the song is faster than on record the audience join in vocally like some pagan prayer for ‘Assault & Battery (Part 1)’ the opening track from Warrior on the Edge of Time.
This is not the loose hippy shake I was expecting but a band that’s tight as hell, and depends on drummer Richard Chadwick to keep them that way as we move into the grandeur of ‘The Golden Void’ onto the acoustic folk of ‘The Demented Man’ while hurtling between jazz, bludgeoning rock and psychedelic prog in between. To that end synthesisers scream and saxes wail while vocalists remain steadfast in their strange cosmic narrative, as somewhere in between it all a guitar chuckles in fiendishly glorious death rattle.
Half-expecting some hokum fantasy pantomime I am delighted by the Babylonian Gothic burlesque performance put on tonight. Theatrically, the dancers go beyond using author Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champions concept with a female in the she-warrior role visually and appear to enact the ancient love goddess Inanna’s journey to the underworld in a fight for the very heart of the cosmos. Kinda. In conclusion we get ‘Kings of Speed’ – as featured bonus track on later editions of the Warrior album it’s conceptually sound – and tonight we are treated to a euphoric punk rock version with some finely warped violin soloing from keyboard player Dead Fred as fairground thrills play on the screen behind.
‘Silver Machine’ follows, direct and to the point, next up ‘Reefer Madness’ has Blake jigging down the front and trading licks with Dead Fred before retreating to play theremin, then finally its ‘Hassan-i Sabbah’ and a hyper audience begin to mimic the dance movements of the exotically dressed ladies on stage. Evocative, near mesmeric. With a brief “Thanks for having us – You were wonderful!” they’re off stage, but return for “two more”, starting with ‘Utopia’ and joking with more audience verbal interaction than they’ve done all night.
“What an experience” I hear someone say, and it’s true. It’s also a show that’s value for money with all the work put into it. As someone who came here a Doubting Thomas I left impressed.
See more of Mark’s photos here;