Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Hawkwind—
Space Ritual Sundown V.2


Released 2005 on Purple Pyramid
The Seth Man, October 2005ce
“We had to cut a piece out of ‘Brainstorm’ and ‘Time We Left’ because they were too long.” (“Space Ritual” double LP liner note disclaimer)


‘A piece’? More like a quarter hour of peak freakstorm.

Given the nature of time limit per album side and the limits of both record mastering and record company expectations in the early seventies in general, I fully understand why the original sound recordings that comprised Hawkwind’s double live “Space Ritual” album were so severely edited and re-mixed. But what was lost in the process was more than just gaseous jamming or decorative electronic gee-gaws, as I found when I heard the first installment of this release over a decade ago when it was first available on vinyl as “Space Ritual Volume 2.” The front cover was merely an enlargement of the cover illustration from “Doremi Fasol Latido” turned on its side with the title added running up the side in ostensible futuristic, light-emitting-diode calculator typography as an artless afterthought. But despite its considerable dearth of aesthetic considerations, the sound quality within was far better than any other early Hawkwind archival recordings i.e.: “The Text of Festival” or “Bring Me The Head of Yuri Gagarin.” No mean feat, but the inclusion of two tracks in their unexpurgated lengths (discussed at an equally unexpurgated length below) made for a reasonable enough trade off. But seeing as it was half of the original “Space Ritual” album (to be precise: the last song on side 2 plus sides 3 and 4 in their entirety) it always wound up sank back into the archives and at best: dutifully pulled out and played only occasionally and only then to make absolutely SURE it had stuff on it the original “Space Ritual” did not. In other words, it wasn’t really the essential spin I’d pull out to play into the ground/at friends/at sense-bludgeoning volume to make one generally run around gibbering about it as I had hoped.

That was over a decade ago. But it was only after revisiting that album (now re-titled as “Space Ritual Sundown V.2”) for the first time in a half a decade with this spanking new re-release that I was greeted not only with deluxe packaging (a reproduction of the original “Space Ritual” programme, a small poster of a live shot from the tour with an homage cover housed in a black and silver “Doremi” design stamped on the box) but with sound quality that was nothing short of stunning. On second thought, make that INSANELY SUPERIOR for it dwarfs not only the original “Space Ritual” vinyl, but its current CD equivalent in terms of clarity, depth and overall sonic strength. Which would be merely great if it was any Hawkwind material from this era but if there’s a live Hawkwind album to outdo this in all its roaring, explosive gaga-ness, it’s not been released or I ain’t heard it yet. What a revelation: the extended tracks sound more pummeling than ever before, and may be the best representation of the Sonic Assassins in 1972 (or any year for that matter.)

I don’t say that lightly for this sister document is nothing less than a new lease of life for that double LP of 88 minutes of brain damage. And even though it’s but half of the original “Space Ritual” LP it STILL runs over an hour long AND is a massive spin all on its own cuz a WHOLE ‘nuther dimension is revealed courtesy of the hot sound and the remixing -- or more precisely, the lack of it -- retains all of the heat of the moment passion, mistakes and distended metronomic thralls’n’squalls. Presented in what appears to be a straight run through (with only one minor and detectable edit between “Upside Down” and “Sonic Attack”) that lets the momentum and thrust of the whole shebang to be presented in all its mindless joy, far flung trance-outs and ever-ebbing and flowing and growing abandon. So much so that the tracks as they appear on the original “Space Ritual” LP seem flat and empty by comparison -- victim of the type of production that seemed intent on keeping within the constraints of a studio album: by placing the vocals high in the mix while stuffing the music to a backseat accompaniment in the midrange, with all mistakes and mishaps carefully edited out.

Now I’m not running down the original of “Space Ritual” by any means, and I love it still. But “Space Ritual Sundown V.2” is so dramatic an improvement on every level it makes all those well-known tracks on the second album a completely different experience altogether, especially if you’re familiar with every detail of “Space Ritual” inside out, side to side and upside down. You thought “Brainstorm” was a great blast from beyond and back before? How about drowning in three extra minutes of its raging drone plus the return coda thrash they hadda fade out on? You though “Time We Left” was a disorienting mess-terpiece? How about a version without the piece cut out that runs for over THIRTEEN minutes -- a full eight minutes longer -- AND it includes the “Paranoia” theme thrown in for good measure? Or “Seven By Seven,” here in its complete live form with Nik Turner omitting the first line (“Seven signs rode on seven stars...”) in the near-spoken second verse, so obviously caught up in the proceedings’ furious flight?1 Thrice yup and furthermore, count me in for I am SO there...

Unearthed from the murk and unleashed from its album-side parameters, this recording just shines as it shows Hawkwind achieving and sustaining peak momentum to such a degree the music coursing out of them and back in on a locked feedback groove. And once that momentum has been hit enough times, it remains open to be tapped into again and again and it just continues to grow throughout the performance.

The front line of Dave Brock (guitar) Lemmy (Rickenbacker bass) and Simon King (drums) set in motion a spinning axis tethered with the second tier of intermittent sax from vocalist Nik Turner and the twin electronic overlays of Dikmik and Del Dettmar. Wrapped around this were a trio of dancers (Stacia, Miss Rene and Tony Carrera) and the final audio/visual threesome of lightshow operator Liquid Len, stage designer Barney Bubbles and DJ Andy Dunkley. Operating from the edge of this starship and sanity itself was vocalist Robert Calvert: a crazed pilot and agent of chaos with one trembling hand upon the ejection button at all times, as though alone in the darkened confines of his manned craft save a variety of looming technological threats breathing deeply just behind the cockpit door.

The brief “Space” opens the album with over-echoed glissando guitar, synthesizer, alto saxophone, audio generator and a title about as ingenious as “Electronic No. 1” for this is the very same instrumental that ended side 2 of “Space Ritual” just as it fades into “Orgone Accumulator.” Which is a straight run through here and at once you notice all the instruments have been brought up and are clearly defined: especially Nik Turner’s spirited parp-alonga-sax which was deemed so unworthy of inclusion on the original “Space Ritual” that it was muted into the back stage area of the mix for practically the rest of the album. The “Master of Reality”/“Vol. 4” paces of “Upside Down” enter with mocking, cackling Del Dettmar synthesizer melodies as the whole ensemble ditch-digs a sludge-trudge trench to next Thursday.

The demented Calvert rant piece “Sonic Attack” is the set up for the next blitz-out: a 13:21 version of “Time We Left” which is Amon Düül II’s “Yeti” only more muscular, less Eastern European and minus the violins, femme vox and hoedowns. It was as though the lesson of Dave Anderson was subsumed by and through the bass he left behind and was consequently picked up by Ian “Tanz der Lemmy” Kilminster. And Nik’s wah-sax, Brock’s scrunched up wah-wah counterpoint and the constant entry/fade/re-entry of the chanted title in a variety of mutable forms work and spin a psychic pinwheel into one of the crazier spaces Hawkwind would ever occupy as it wends through several levels of rhythms that continually evolve, expand and gain speed. Somewhere mid-way (?) in this epic throb-funk mess that this track is always becoming enters the repeating and descending “Paranoia” theme of doom from the first Hawkwind album. In fact, the bass sounds like it’s chanting the words “Doom, doom, doom/doom, doom, doom” over and over in its crazy maneuverings. Meanwhile, Dikmik keeps a low-level blanket of space fog at this point and the Lemmy/King/Turner axis revolves faster and faster... This track doesn’t so much end as gradually collapse into itself little by little and into deliquesce: gently evaporating at the speed of an Arizonan noonday puddle. This edges into Calvert’s spoken countdown of “10 Seconds of Forever” and once intoning the final word thrice of “Never...never...NEVER...” barges in the breakneck paces of “Brainstorm” -- a 12-minute pooling of ideas combined with a ferocious weather pattern into an interstellar express route with one major motherfucker of a riff. THAT riff: so simple; so brutal, so driving...So redundant when played ten times, and so beautiful when played for another hundred. When Lemmy brayed out in the near future “We’re moving like a parallelogram” he must have been recounting experiences like this, for this is movement of the same perspective tilt towards the right as the logos on Amon Düül 2’s “Viva La Trance,” Groundhogs’ “Hogwash” and Hawkwind’s own “Doremi Fasol Latido”: caught between the present moment and already heaving out into the wild, wooly and always unknown future at a furious and unheeding-of-all-danger velocity. This track is one of the denser thickets of the set, and that’s saying something. The middle bridge features a shredding wah-wah guitar piece that is virtually a sawn-off “TV Eye” riff as Lemmy continues to keep the rhythm unflinchingly solid and at this point, they could play this riff for an hour and it would be more than all right. Nik continually edges in squonks and honks throughout that shore up the proceedings with great vibe, and it is amazing to hear this track not fade out and into the run off groove of side three but to sally forth and spill out and into its post-coital flow led by Brock’s anthem-sized power chords that are a snotty little brother second to those that 1970-era Pete Townshend wrung out at his most majestic. As Nik whips out wah-sax against waves of interstellar warp and woof that hiss and waft about and all around as they trample and work it over and out and finally into breakdown and “Seven By Seven.” With attendant chiming of guitar across the neck and bridge through Watkins Copicat tape echo amid more electronic washes, the build comes into the familiar guitar BRANNGING and banging and once again they pay a visit to their shadowy Amon Düül II “Yeti” sister spirit. At the beginning, there’s a moment when one of the amps misfires or a cord unplugs, and it doesn’t faze anyone in the least for they’re already completing their forced march towards the vocal bridge where Nik forgets the lyrics and again: it doesn’t matter in the least. Nik is soon blasting over the whole roaring ensemble, switching between burbling wah-sax and satyriconic blasts over the stamina-driven and exhaustive repetitious paces of this track.

The most brutal “Master Of The Universe” of all time erupts, led by Brock’s massive monochord break-out during the electronic whoosh introduction. Del Dettmar’s already drawing zigzag ziggurat stair steps of abandon on a red plastic Etch A Sketch he’s hooked up to his VCS3 in place of a pan pot as Dikmik swipes across the whole audio picture like some cosmic windscreen wiper and again over this charging, manic metallic shit-storm for the approach here is akin to the speed’n’pummel, repetition-unto-zone-out of “Brainstorm”, only ratcheted up one more notch in speed and power in a manner that its studio counterpart could never have conceived of a year earlier on “X in Search Of Space.” Give Simon King his due, for here that man lays down more beats per second with more stamina and powerdrive than any drummer in Rock and the cumulative effect is breathtaking.

“Welcome To The Future” quietly closes the set with Calvert’s echoed, evocative portent of doom. Of which, the couplet “Welcome to the dehydrated land/Welcome to the self-police parade” seems to echo in the present day with a bit more verity than usual, unfortunately. The only hope here is one final clusterfucking burn out crescendo to end it all and at once it’s finally over, everything is enveloped in the sound of tramping feet and the audience a sea of uplifted spirits going absolutely gaga -- as though realising that yes, they made it alive though the whole gig despite the constant assailments made to their respective altered consciousnesses via perpetual hypnotic devices, light shows, strobe lights and so forth. And feeling more alive for it.

Hawkwind were a group of freaks to a man and a woman; a collection of disreputable star rats fuelled by a battery of hallucinogenic influences and united only by an incorrigible sense of psi-powered, pre-1976 cosmic punk rock attitude broken off and gobbled as though it was their sole means of sustenance while playing riffs into the grooves with an relentless head of steam. The rhythmic repetitions offset by wordless trance-chants are hypnotic to the core and the whole mess is performed at raw and rambunctious paces as it blazes with one damn racket with nowhere to go but hurtling through space at the sound of speed, anyway. Towards anything and everything. With the jaws of black oblivion not far behind nipping at their respective asses they were already in process of playing off of so furiously. For they sank a couple hundred pounds of pressure into one square foot and punched it in with a single, swift and confident stroke of a psychic ball-peen hammer at the only point on reality’s windscreen overlooking the edge of oblivion where in its entirety, its safety glass pane turned into a sightless fog of equal, fracturing veins before shuddering weightlessly apart and floating gently outwards into the future.

Recorded at the Brixton Sundown, December 30, 1972.





FOOTNOTES:
  1. Only now it is obvious that Turner’s vocals as they appeared on the original “Space Ritual” album were overdubbed at a post-production mixing session, for they simply do not match those on the original source tape, sounding distinctly un-live and in-the-studio-tracked-while-following-with-cans-on. Which isn’t surprising, as the studio version of “Seven By Seven” was also subject to two separate vocal remix jobs in its tenure as the flipside to “Silver Machine.” And this last named track itself was also similarly constructed; with its foundation track recorded live while Lemmy’s vocals and Dikmik’s/Del Dettmar’s left channel audio hissing swirls were overdubbed in the studio at a later date.