Saturday, 16 November 2019

MUSIC REVIEW: Hawkwind - The Albert Hall, Manchester.

No band illustrates the virtues of persistence in the face of fashion’s vagaries better than Hawkwind. When I first saw them - back in 1985 - they were about as unhip as any band could be, derided by the rock press of the time as ancient stoner hippies with nothing to offer. Yet, an astonishing thirty-four years later, they are still together (give or take a line-up change or ten), still touring, still making new music and still playing to capacity crowds in large venues. It can only. be a matter of time before founder member and leader Dave Brock is offered a CBE. It will be interesting to see if he accepts.....
Four dates into their 50th anniversary tour, Hawkwind took the stage of a packed to the rafters Albert Hall to face a crowd that had just been treated to an opening set by local ‘prog-folk’ duo Black Heart Orchestra. I would disagree with the given tag: they were more ‘melodic rock’ than ‘prog-folk’ and possibly somewhat too mainstream to make a logical pairing with the headline act. But that hardly mattered: their finely crafted compositions were warmly received by a receptive crowd and their half-hour set did not outstay its welcome.

The headliners tore into tradition opening number 'Motorway City' and for the next hour and three quarters, their energy level didn’t drop. Although the 76-year old Brock has periodically refreshed the line-up, two of whom - bassist Niall Hone and lead guitarist/keyboardist Magnus Martin - were not even born when the band was formed, all (including drummer Richard Chadwick) brought the same level of skill and dexterity to re-creating that unique musical hybrid, the Hawkwind sound. Built around repetitive, chugging bass-lines, a wash of synthesiser chords and spacey free-form guitar solos, the template has barely altered in fifty years but it remains compelling and, in 2019, overlaid with a tangible patina of nostalgia for freak-outs past. Old favourites like 'Born To Go', 'Assault And Battery' and 'Spirit Of The Age' were of a piece with new album cuts like '65 Million Years Ago' and 'The Last Man On Earth': the science fiction lyrical themes as unchanging as the music and with Brock intoning the between-song poetry in homage to long-gone former member Robert Calvert, it was as if time had stood still.

Yet Hawkwind is not a backward-looking band, trading on its past and the fading memories of an ageing audience. Unlike some bands you could name, they are not obsessed with their own mythology but continue to create, mining the same fertile seam of musical invention they happened on in the early seventies. The formula may have been developed, but it hasn’t changed.

They finished with the opening track from their debut album, 'Hurry On Sundown', played in tribute to ‘all those members and fans who have passed on’ and a final energetic burst of 'Master Of The Universe' from 1971’s In Search Of Space (which gained latterday fame in a car ad). A wonderful evening of inspired music and playing.

Reviewer - Richard Ely
on - 15/11/19

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