Wednesday, October 01, 2008

unintentional spacerock weekend

This all started when I found a little flyer announcing that ex-Hawkwind members Nik Turner and Harvey Bainbridge were to play at Orange Street Saturday night. "An evening of psychedelic spacerock (with lightshow)" was promised, so Dave, Tim and I decided to go along and check it out.

This turned out to be a low-key warm-up kind of thing for the main event - a Bob Calvert memorial all-dayer in Herne Bay the next day.

So we got a bit of an unrehearsed spacerock jam...long pieces, morphing into each other, some lesser Hawkwind material (I think I recognised "Encoded Languages" in there) and general spaced-out jamming. Harvey's sub-Calvert vocalisings didn't quite do it for me, but the two of them were clearly having a great time, lots of grinning from the stage. With his long silver hair HB comes across like a bit of a Gandalf/Dr. Who character these days! (Here's a nice little piece someone recently contributed to his blog.)

Nik and Harvey
Nik and Harvey, fairly recently, from the look of it.

There was a decent-sized audience (but sitting 'round tables with little candles on - what has the world come to??), all very appreciative, even when "Psi Power" got rather badly massacred. The main distraction was the tinny drum-machine style beats Harvey was producing with his keyboard set up. The more ambient sections worked well, but you can't really do spacerock without proper drums. An inobtrusive guitarist (Mark Powell) added some nice textures. Some top-notch flute/sax jamming from the Mighty Thunder Rider, as you'd expect.

"Worth £6", Dave opined as we cycled home (it had cost £8.50) - he'd been hoping for Space Ritual. But I don't mind forking out a few quid towards the pension funds of these committed spacerock troopers - they've put in years of service. I sensed that the Sunday was going to be a bit special, and resolved to go.

Calvert memorial concert flyer

It was!

I have a lovely bikeride in sunshine (a rare commodity these days) along the old coastline (back in pre-Norman times when Thanet was still an island) from Littlebourne up to Reculver, visiting quite a few old village churches along the way (including four dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin). I arrived at Reculver in time for a truly awesome sunset worth of Turner (the painter J.M.W. - famed champion of Thanet and Herne Bay, rather than Nik... although the photo below did appear on the latter's website a couple of days later):

sunset afterglow over Herne Bay
sunset afterglow over Herne Bay

I'd known that something was going on from 3pm, but imagined a slightly nerdy Hawkfan convention. In fact I'd missed Pentameter Theatre staging versions of two of Calvert's plays, and (apparently) some acoustic jamming. Oh well...

I wandered in to find a couple of members of Inner City Unit, having just been interupted by Nik, who'd been handed a mobile phone with "Mike" on the other end. Attempts to amplify the phone through the PA failed, so Turner cheerfully suggested that he could be the "conduit". It suddenly became apparent that this was Michael Moorcock on the phone! He was overseas and had wanted to read some poetry, so he read it to Nik, who repeated it, line-for-line, in his best Moorcock/Calvert-style solemn voice.

I later found this on a MM forum site:

"Well, I'm sorry I couldn't do everything I'd prepared to do, due to a technical hitch which in itself made me feel nostalgic for the old days... The usual Hawkup! Everybody sounded as if they were having a good time, which is the main thing! Sorry I couldn't have done more new stuff that I'd prepared. Maybe some other time when the technology is a bit more old-hippy friendly... Our attempts to install Skype have crashed our equipment in the past but I'll try to find a way of recording some of what I was going to do (incorporating some New Orleans/Second Ether stuff as well as Space is Deep) on this site."

The ICU lads played Calvert's "Test Tube Conceived", Judge Trev plugged in his acoustic and joined them for a bit, then sung the Atom Gods' unreleased "Starfighter" song, which he explained that he'd written immediately after Bob's funeral in '88. Quite a touching performance - the song's been lodged in my head since. Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to speak to Trev (I played a bit of saz on one track from his album God and Man after a weirdly synchronistic meeting with he and Ron Tree in a farmhouse on Dartmoor in 2000 - in fact Nik Turner's sax playing and my saz playing were both dubbed over that track, the closest I'll probably get to playing with Hawkwind!).

The various ex-Hawkwsters were pottering about on stage, plugging in, tuning up - I was happy to be there, but don't think I was expecting much. It looked like it was all going to be rather shambolic.

SUDDENLY they launched into "Born to Go" - WOW! Ron Tree does a very convincing Calvert vocal, really gets into it (he's a proper shamanic frontman). I don't think the audience were quite prepared for how good this was going to be. We got a long jammed-out version of the song (not even one of my favourites, but I was completely swept away in the sound).

They just kept riding the momentum. We got "Damnation Alley". Then "High Rise" (Turner explained that Calvert had written that when living in the high-rise block in Margate next to the monstrosity called "Dreamland") - I'd forgotten what a magnificent song that is, and Ron really rose to the occasion on the vocal. Adrian Shaw and Alan Davey were taking turns on the bass, and despite there were three keyboards/electronics players (Bainbridge, Steve Swindells and Commander Jim Hawkman), it all sounded incredibly well put together, not the over-the-top spacerock jam tahat you might expect.

There was a bit of a problem with Martin Griffin's bass drum pedal, but rather than a couple of minutes of awkward silence while the road crew fixed it, we got spontaneous swirly space synth noises and Tree reciting, beautifully yet casually, a Calvert poem which I hadn't heard before.

"Orgone Accumulator" seriously rocked. We got a "Quark, Strangeness and Charm", "Flying Doctor", "Psi Power" (making up for the previous night's mess). The venue were being a bit strict about the curfew time, so the set got cut a bit shorter than we would have liked, but we got a mighty "Silver Machine" encore (Turner passing the mic along the front of the stage for an audience singalong).

Great mix, decent lightshow. The lineup was quite close to the Stonehenge '84 lineup (Alan Davey on bass, Harvey on keys, Martin Griffin on drums, Jerry Richards playing a convincing Huw Lloyd-Langton-type lead guitar, and with a similar general air about him). No Dave Brock tho'. That would have been the icing on the cake, had he turned up and buried the hatchet. Oh well. He does his thing. No Lemmy either. Can't have everything (and two bass players will suffice).

The band members attempted a hilarious bending-over-backwards group bow, Nik declared that this was what the original spirit of Hawkwind was all about, Davey declared that "Bob Calvert was a fuckin' genius" and Ron Tree cheekily plugged his new album Buy One, Get Ron Tree (great title). Then I cycled home in darkness through the woods.

* * *

I hadn't realised that Davey left Hawkwind (after 24 yrs) last year. He looked incredibly happy, bounding around the stage with his Rickenbacker bass, having a laugh with Harvey at the back while Alex played. He's cut his hair short so now looks less troll-like and more gnome-like.

* * *

Also, I hadn't heard the news about Jason Stuart's recent death (he'd been the keyboard player in Hawkwind for a few years - was with them when Pok and I did our "Children of the Sun" set outside their gig in Exeter back in December '04, and apparently stopped to listen, expressing his amusement/approval to the FSOE crew who'd organised the gig).

* * *

Which reminds me - RIP Richard Wright, godfather of psychedelic keyboard players, off to the Great Gig in the Sky. He'll probably be most widely remembered for that lovely "Any Colour You Like" instrumental on Dark Side of the Moon, but if you get a chance, check out some of his insanely creative piano work on the studio half of Ummagumma (the Sysyphus suite). It's heartwarming to know that he got to play with the re-united (post-Barrett) Floyd one last time, and that it was as good as it was. Let's hope Turner and Brock can manage the same before they blast off this mortal coil...


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