Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Hawkwind


Released 1970 on Liberty
The Seth Man, June 2001ce
I’m not saying every album issued in 1970 is fantastically vibed up and all there -- but an inordinate amount of them are (and I don’t mean “Abbey Road”). Think of some of the albums that came out that year -- they were crazy! And they were the best (or at least one of the best) those bands would ever achieve. Think of the 1970 releases by Alice Cooper, Santana, The Who (you know which one, right? Hint: not a studio album!!!), David Bowie, Man (for cryingoutloud), Black Sabbath, Aphrodite’s Child, Deep Purple, MC5, Funkadelic, Sir Lord Baltimore, Kevin Ayers & The Whole World and The Groundhogs to name but the tip of the freakin’ iceberg (High Tide was but a year too early, Françoise Hardy a year too late and oh, yeah, that one in 1970 by dat group called Da Stooches...) and...well...not too shabby, right?

Was it that bands tended to...ahh, I don’t know: try HARDER. Delve DEEPER. And rock HARDER than everybody else. The Post-Altamont era was a high water mark and half for cultural audio services. And it’s with a complete lack of nostalgia I say that: for the offerings from this period in music history were far more fruitful than any other time.

1967? 1977?

No, but in the center of those two huge explosions, what erupted (1: musically) in the wake of The Beatles’ dissolution, Dylan’s desertion, The Stones’ devilish deviations and (2: socially) in the wake of The Tate Killings, Kent State and Altamont was a gigantic boundary-opening free-for-all. The playing field was now wide-open and anybody who wanted to erupt onstage and tell everybody about it could in whatever way they wanted to in a total non-genre-specific manner (It was also at a time before communications became so tightly-knit we all know when a musician releases an album, goes on tour, gets busted or whatever all at the same time.) And since variety is the spice of life (uh: and a steady rhythm is its source) it’s also what is probably missing nowadays. And boy, do we need it now -- maybe even more than those kids did back in 1970.

That’s why I love the first Hawkwind album. It’s informed by both the innocence of psychedelia and the (pre-) experience of punk. Unbelievably, many hardcore ‘Hawkfans’ tend to dismiss it in favour of even their later albums on Charisma (!), and that’s a shame. Because Hawkwind’s eponymously-named debut was unlike anything else they would ever record again. For a start, the overall sound was as organic and thin as a filigree moss veil while conveying moods as perplexingly grasping out to the beyond while failing AND succeeding in the process about as much as the primitive cover art. It portrays freaky millipedes burrowing in and out of leaf piles while the legend ‘HAWKWIND’ forms above out of serrated spearmints leaves trying desperately NOT to look like marijuana. And it’s rendered about as crudely as the music within, while the loud gatefold photo depicts this earliest incarnation of Hawkwind jamming in front of an incomplete rendering of Stonehenge in HIWATT amplifiers. And the lineup assembled by guitarist/vocalist Dave Brock with the very specific purpose of approximating a chemically induced, mind expansive odyssey in sound was: Nik Turner (sax, flute), John Harrison (bass), Huw Lloyd Langton (guitar), Terry Ollis (drums) and Dikmik (audio generator). On this album, Brock’s musical incapacities would in no way hold him back (his still-evolving electric style shored up by second guitarist Huw Lloyd Langton and ex-Pretty Things guitarist Dick Taylor, who co-produced the album with the group) although his rudimentary e-guitar scratchings are in complete contrast to his by far stronger acoustic style which was reinforced by years of busking and blooz bands.

What the group created here was roughhewn, down-market post-psychedelic space rock akin to an utterly skint Pink Floyd on downers, but that po-faced quartet would never have given the game away so baldly with liner notes as Hawkwind did here: ‘We started out trying to freak people (trippers), now we are trying to levitate their minds, in a nice way, without acid, with ultimately a complete audio-visual thing.’ (Settled.)

The album was predominantly segments taken from their 40 minute live improvisation “The Sunshine Special” then re-named for the album. Book-ending these tracks were the far less freakier, busking-era Brock songs that were issued as Hawkwind’s debut single: “Hurry On Sundown” and “Mirror Of Illusion” and they were far more conventional than the five tracks they surrounded: “The Reason Is?,” “Be Yourself,” “Paranoia Part 1,” “Paranoia Part 2,” and “Seeing It As You Really Are.” These were rough’n’ready and stoned’n’unsteady extended jams where vocals are not absent, but when there are lyrics, they’re either bayed out or merely wordless whisperings ala The Pink Floyd’s “Pow R Toc H” type stutterings.

“The Reason Is?” begins the odyssey with the ringing of cymbals and droning moans that set up “Be Yourself,” a dry though hard freak-out set against a simple, garagey “Syncopated Pandemonium” while all instruments play with democratically-determined sonic space as a bounty of air surrounds all. Nobody wants to take the lead until Dikmik starts throwing in highly disconcerting stabs of audio generator whooshes and the pace begins to climb ever upward, both guitarists scratching along as best they can under a post-“S.F. Sorrow” Dick Taylor guitar solo. They head back into the lyrics after more general grooving, and ends with a terrifying, blood-rushing squeal from the audio generator. But once into “Paranoia Part 1,” Hawkwind’s collective pulse and breathing starts again, quietly accelerating until the main guitar riff enters, a fusing of “Dazed And Confused” and “In The Court Of The Crimson King” in a bad trip “Bolero” manner. In fact, it continues to scale the walls of its own paranoid wall until it grinds to a gimmicky halt as though the turntable, along with the collective mind of the band, has just been blown to bits. The effect on CD is kind of blown, but never mind: we’re now already on side two, where “Paranoia Part 2” enters calmly, although several hundred miles into further mind-tripping paranoia and general acid twistedness. Though far more becalmed than “Part 1,” a smothering and uneasy near-silence of hissing vocals appear and fall away as random bass plonks appear with all the driving force of a dripping faucet. A chant of “HIGHER!…HIGHER!…HIGHER…” starts up, Dikmik throwing in occasional echoed and smearing audio generator burps whenever the vibe suits, and then the riff from the previous section returns, corkscrewing through the whole thing and turning everything downward only to repeat upward again like an M.C. Escher staircase to nowhere. Further disembodied, wordless voices appear, surrounding the last downered chords as all dissolves into further breathing and whispering that creates an ecstatic moaner and a half. Pretty soon, however, the exhausted group body begins to re-animate into the instrumental “Seeing It As You Really Are” and the paranoia finally passes into reaffirming jamming with the two rhythm guitars referring to Dick Taylor’s soloing into a caduceus-like formation against further audio generator manipulations. They begin to appear with greater frequency, even when the jam practically grinds to a halt. There is a final build where they all just go for broke with speed, freaking out and just wind up screaming over beaten cymbals and unskillful yet willful guitar lines. “Mirror Of Illusion” closes the album with stereo-panned maracas, out of tune 12-string and John Harrison’s flat-footed yet faux-groovy bass playing in a similar sunshiney/outdoorsy groove as the opener of the LP, “Hurry On Sundown.” But for all the optimism, a vibe of post-trip, druggy unease works its way to the surface, as though all the previous revelations of colour have assembled into patterns of cleared confusion. Of course, a final Dikmik audio generator signature signs off the LP.

Unhindered by their lack of proficiency, Hawkwind created an album that was not a masterpiece for all its obvious flaws, but BECAUSE of them.