Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Hawkwind—
Urban Guerrilla/Brainbox Pollution


Released 1973 on United Artists
The Seth Man, December 2003ce
Hawkwind followed up their double live “Space Ritual” with massive touring and what would be their first and last studio release featuring vocalist Robert Calvert during their period signed to United Artists: the double dum-dum, pro-nowhere, no-brainer space metal single, “Urban Guerrilla” / “Brainbox Pollution.” It was a turning point for Hawkwind as it exhibited the band’s approach coalescing and then fusing into a far more stripped down and heavier display that would continue over the rest of their next three singles (“You’d Better Believe It,” “Psychedelic Warlords,” “Kings of Speed”) and final two albums (“Hall of The Mountain Grill,” “Warrior On The Edge of Time”) for United Artists. It also just predated the final departure of their long standing audio generator operator Dikmik, who left for the third and final time shortly after the single’s release. With him a majority of the organic and loose qualities of Hawkwind’s earlier chaos also departed to be replaced by a chemical group imbalance in one constant state of ebb and flow as new members joined and old ones left with each tour. But one important thing remained and that was the driving rhythm section comprised of Simon King on drums and Lemmy Kilminster. The mark of their work was undying stamina and a persistence that felt wholly intent on trampling the beat underfoot for far longer than necessary from behind the twin electronic manipulations of Dikmik and Del Dettmar, rounded off by the third line of sonic defence in the shape of founding members Dave Brock on e-guitar and Nik Turner on free-woodwind parping as they switched vocal duties alongside lyricist, Robert Calvert.

The single met with a far less successful a fate than its predecessor, “Silver Machine” as it suffered the unfortunate synchronicity of residing in the British Top 40 during a period of increased IRA terrorist activity. During this time, tension in Northern Ireland were running high and incidents of terrorist violence and bombings in Britain would number in the dozens during the summer of 1973. And lyrics like “Let’s not talk of love and flowers/and things that don’t explode” that spouted from the Calvert larynx as they ran violently along stretches of repeating monochord guitar as a frustrated, rousing hooligan boot beat stomped behind as brazen as Gary Glitter’s chest hair-wig, it was yearning for just enough trouble to be forcibly withdrawn by United Artists. (Although three years later it would resurface on Hawkwind’s contract-fulfilling compilation, “Roadhawks.”)

“Urban Guerrilla” was almost the “Street Fighting Man” of 1973. Equally as catchy and subversive but rendered by Calvert with the blackest of humour, tongue-in-cheek vox that minced and cut stridently psychotic shapes simultaneously. The man was as mad as a March hare but the bottle and visions he possessed (and that ultimately possessed him in the end) were inspiring, horrifying, witty and frightening all at once. That May, Hawkwind performed at The Empire Pool Wembley, where Calvert introduced “Urban Guerrilla” with his introductory narrative “Gaga” in which he ranted and raved uncontrollably a psychotic scenario of the late-night workings of a terrorist who visits “the rich, the comfortable and THE UNAWARE” while setting about laying to waste housing, communications networks and motorways. One year later, Calvert would continue to deal with similar themes of technological disasters gone wrong with his first solo album, “Captain Lockheed And The Starfighters.” (Despite the fact it was a concept album about the tragic hubris of the West German air force, how could he resist but come up with a title that was really too fucking glam rock?)

The Brock-penned flipside ”Brainbox Pollution” opens with a startling electronic blast then directly into a repeating, late night motorway riff with Lemmy’s percolating bass scraping up against the concrete dividers, Brock’s durable E-chording and all else is a mess of a slab of a din, caused by countless messy overdubs of sax, guitars and vocals rocketing from speaker to speaker all half-assed, patching this fucker together like that downed starship on the cover of “Hall Of The Mountain Grill” moments before it kissed the sky goodbye. Massed clouds of cosmic debris and garbage trundle overhead slowly, blot out the sun for a few seconds then dumbly fuck off: as represented by another over-recorded guitar overdub that blasts out of the left channel. The whole band is seemingly hammering out at cross-purposes from different sides of the studio different songs with only the rhythm section keeping things on course but it’s only a mirage, cos it’s the loosest knit fabric in the universe keeping its roughhewn NEU!-like repetition together as it sprays oil and spouting fumes on course down their wrecked mental Autobahn and forced right up against the wall and the edge of vertigo. Play loud on headphones for maximum equilibrium destabilisation and mirth.