Wednesday, August 8, 2012

My Take On Hawkwind | Scratching the Surface of a Space Rock Band

Hawkwind, a “space rock” band that has seen over 31 regular members and six guest members come and go is still going strong. In fact, they play at Clumber Park during the “Rock the Park” festival on August 17.  Also on the bill will be Brit Floyd, Focus (a band with 15 former members,) and Carl Palmer, just to name a few.  Do the other bands on the bill give you an idea of what Hawkwind sounds like?  Do you remember the famous song Focus is known for?  It’s titled Hocus Pocus, and it’s one of those earworm songs that anyone over 35 will remember well. While that song is not very “prog,” you only need to listen to their 23 minute song titled Eruption, to know that they are certainly part of the prog-rock genre. This isn’t a post about Focus, so I’ll try to get back on track. 
Hawkwind started back in 1969 with Dave Brock, John Harrison and Mick Slattery getting together with a few others.  Their first “gig” was at All Saints Hall, and they called themselves “Group X.”  They didn’t have any formal songs, but tried their best to play a trippy rendition of Eight Miles High, set to strobe lights.
Hawkwind’s first release was their self titled album that came out in 1970.  No song from that album charted.  It was of no surprise, as that effort brought forth little more than acoustic jam-like songs to an audience that was just starting to get to know the genre.  I must note that the song Hurry On Sundown has a swing beat, sitar intro, and a country style harmonica riff that all works.  The song Mirror of Illusion has the same style as Hurry On Sundown, but the 10:43 long jam titled Seeing It as You Really Are is pure space jam.  
Their second effort titled In Search of Space hit number 18 on the UK charts.  You can hear that the band is morphing from a jam style, to a more focused effort.  Personally, I like the song You Shouldn’t Do That.  It takes nearly two minutes to build up, and it’s mostly made up of three or four notes, but the saxophone work is haunting.
In 1972, the band released Doremi – Fasol – Latido.  With the song titled “Space is Deep,” it’s pretty much a given that the band was full on space rock by album number three.  You will hear the traditional spacey keyboard sounds on that track.  Time We Left This World Today has a pretty strong “call and response” vocal line, backed up with heavy bass and the (often used) wind effect throughout the song.  I don’t know if the song would flow well without that all important wind effect.  It wasn’t until roughly 1972 when the now famous front man of Motorhead joined the band.  He was the band’s bass player up until 1975, when he ran into some trouble during their summer tour.  He was trying to cross the border into the United States, and was caught with a powdery substance that was thought to be cocaine. It was speed, but no matter. He was promptly fired from the band.
I can’t say that I dove in to much more than their first three albums.  I gave a listen to Quark, Strangeness and Charm, the first album to come after Nik Turner and Alan Powell had left the band.  Some say that Turner was playing “on top” of other members, and was ultimately kicked out. I can safely say that the song Spirit of the Age has a more commercial appeal.  It’s not the same band without Turner, but the band had to move on.  They were considered to be “too wild and ugly” for commercial appeal, but they certainly gave it a try.

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