You mightn’t know it in North America – there’s nary a mention of the band in my 1992 Rolling Stone Album Guide – but Hawkwind is a British rock institution of over forty years’ standing. Coming out of the late sixties Notting Hill freak culture along with such other proto-prog outfits as Quintessence and the Pink Fairies, the Hawks became the ultimate stoner community band – a bit like the Dead, but with intensity and over-the-top stage visuals taking precedence over virtuosity and compositional complexity. Musically, they took as their initial reference the space-rock instrumentals of Syd-era Pink Floyd, from which they rapidly forged the blend of pounding riff-rock, unbridled electronic noise and abstruse science fiction lyrics with which they willingly became stereotyped, as exemplified by the cacophonous hit single “Silver Machine”.
Hawkwind hit big with their second album In Search Of Space, in which they gave themselves over totally to the aforementioned formula that would endure for the next several decades. This, I have to say, is not really my cup of tea. Their first, more tentative, release, however, was one of the better psych-prog crossover albums of the era, despite inexplicably failing to achieve any chart penetration then or since. The roots of the heavy space-rock agenda are there, but the material also harks back to the lysergic side of psychedelia; this is one of the most genuinely trippy albums I’ve ever enjoyed blissing out to. Despite being constructed from the simplest of musical building blocks, there’s plenty of sonic variety. Nik Turner’s primitive freeform sax playing may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s balanced by the muscular lead guitar of Huw Lloyd-Langton, while DikMik’s untutored but atmospheric VCS3 ramblings generate a variety of moods from the sinister to the orgasmic. The production is by Pretty Things mainman Dick Taylor, refreshingly open and uncluttered by later Hawkwind standards, but with plenty of contemporary stereo effects and studio trickery thrown in.
The original album really contained only three pieces. After the opening “Hurry On Sundown”, an engaging acoustic bluesy hangover from founder Dave Brock’s street busking days, the main body of the album, while listed as five separate tracks, is the segued suite that comprised their early stage act. The electronic wash of “The Reason Is?” leads into “Be Yourself” and “Seeing It As You Really Are”, two lengthy, mainly instrumental confections featuring metronomically repetitive chord riffs, separated by “Paranoia (Parts 1 and 2)”, a thudding six-note unison riff excursion fractured by a deliberate tape slowdown at the point where the vinyl album had to be flipped. The final track, and the best, is the seven-minute maracca-tastic “Mirror Of Illusion” which combines Brock’s delightfully atonal twelve-string with a terser, tighter improvisational mid-section and some tasty mixing-desk widdling.
Few bands have ever polarised opinion as much as the Hawks; like Marmite, you either loved or hated their combination of duh-duh musicianship and outrageous stage antics. Yet, after forty-two years and innumerable lineup changes, the band endures, with 69-year-old Brock still at the helm. Interestingly, their name has nothing to do with their sci-fi agenda but derives, allegedly, from Nik Turner’s predilections for coughing and flatulating (figure it out).
“Hurry on Sundown”