After 43 years of happiness, sadness, beauty and madness, the legendary Hawkwind continue their journey through the realms of deep space to consistently come up with the goods. Dave Brock and co have a following that remains strong, and if new album ‘Onward’ is anything to go by, then there’s plenty more for this astonishing act to offer.
For tonight’s proceedings, Sunderland act Mr Quimby’s Beard get things underway, and it’s immediately noticeable that they’re a Hawkwind child. But that doesn’t make them complete, blatant rip-off merchants. Their set is fused with capacious spacey riffing with the odd nod to Hendrix, tight musicianship throughout and a haunting keyboard backdrop. With some fluid, melodious passages transforming effortlessly between verse/chorus, the space masters themselves would definitely give a respectful nod in their direction.
At 9pm, the bright Town Hall lights dim and the spectacle of Hawkwind begins. The psychedelic projections start, the colourful array of lights flash and the members make their way out. Their first surprise to the musical side of things is the fact bassist Mr Dibs has taken up an electric cello, showing the bass player’s increasing versatility within the band. While he plays the anticipatory introduction, a large cloaked character appears – a dancer on stilts – with lime neon ropes tied to another performer’s wrists, providing an animated, clever and colourful display before the band make perfect transition to ‘You’d Better Believe It’ from 1974’s classic ‘Hall Of The Mountain Grill’ album.
Niall Hone is solid on bass, Tim Blake lost in the music on his portable keyboard, long-time drummer Richard Chadwick unerring in his rhythm, and of course Brock – the Captain himself – steering the spectacle into euphoria with his trademark pre-punk riffola. The legendary five-piece are also joined by Dead Fred on this tour – who, for years, worked alongside Nik Turner in Inner City Unit and had a history of work with the gone but not forgotten Robert Calvert. His contribution on keys provides a refreshing layer of sound and although he’s at the back of the stage, he makes his audio presence known.
Already everyone’s hooked, and when a reverie of oriental riffing opens the thematically and musically timeless ‘Hassan I Shaba’ from seventh record ‘Quark, Strangeness And Charm’, the crowd are fully under Hawkwind’s magical spell. ‘Love In Space’ is played in higher key and an extended outro of tribal percussion sees the song off before the abrupt apocalyptic rites of ‘Sonic Attack’ are rattled off with doom-saying quality. But it’s not just the oldies and obvious tracks that get an outing – after all, that’s not the band’s priority. Since last full-tour ‘Blood Of The Earth’, the set has changed dramatically, and Brock and co aren’t going to hesitate in doing the new material – don’t look for a ‘greatest hits’ cop out. The Blake/Hone-written ‘Prometheus’ is another set stunner – Hone exploiting the full potential of those riffs on the live stand. The choreographed dancers and impressionable props get better to provide an equally fantastical visual assault too. At one point, both enter the stage in completely black suits covered in white lights while the huge projector shows a trip through space. They move like a clump of stars bound together by an unexplainable dark matter, swirling elegantly in the fathoms of the cosmos and into obscurity.
Even when Hawkwind bring the classic tracks out to aid this enchanting display, they’re given an edgy makeover round the sides with added sections and intriguing musical rifts. ‘Assault & Battery’ and ‘Golden void’ are obvious favourites, but the new renditions have lengthier breaks from the verses, yet have the same captivating presence as they’ve always had. ‘The Psychedelic Warlords (Disappear In Smoke)’ hears Hone step up to the mic and impress, before vocal duties switch across to Chadwick for ‘Silver Machine’ to close what has been another great Hawkwind performance.
This is a band that essentially created space rock, pioneered music with new technologies and has been a cutting-edge force for 44-years. How many years are left? We’ll never be sure. But all that matters is that this incredible journey still goes on with the only mentality ‘onward’.