Hawkwind – 77

January 01, 1970

(Secret
Records U.K.)

 

www.secretrecordslimited.com

 

Hawkwind
is one of those few rare bands that definitely defy categorization. Formed in
1969 by guitarists David Brock and Mick Slattery and vocalist/saxophonist Nik
Turner, the band went through various names and roster changes before settling
on Hawkwind. At one point, even Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister played bass with
the band, adding vocals to “Silver Machine,” their one hit song,
which hit number three on the U.K. charts in 1972. Only Brock has been constant
across the band’s checkered forty-plus-years history, the guitarist serving as
Hawkwind’s (meager) tether to reality, the planetary body around which various
creative satellites have orbited.

 

In 1977,
punk broke in the United
Kingdom, and while conventional wisdom leans
towards classifying the stripped-down, raw rock ‘n’ roll sounds emerging from
bands like the Damned and the Sex Pistols as a “musical revolution,”
people on the street knew better. As documented by the most excellent music
journalist Dave Thompson, among others, the impact of punk rock in Britain
looks a lot better in the rear view mirror than it did in the “there and
now.” One thing is for certain, though – punk, at its heart, was revolting against the bloated,
over-produced, and commercialized music that was dominating the charts in both
the U.S. and England.
Even the punks knew better than to mess around with Hawkwind, however, and it
can be safely said that any band that counts Johnny Rotten and Henry Rollins
among its fans had nothing to worry about from the “revolution of
’77.”

 

Truth is,
in spite of the lip service paid to the concept
of “anarchy” by many young punks, Hawkwind epitomized the philosophy
like no other band then or since. While the band certainly had its share of
interpersonal problems and unhealthy relationships, the revolving door that
members were constantly exiting through swung both ways and many musicians have
come and gone more than once. Musically, while the band had evolved from 1960s era
psychedelic-rock, it was a mutation that quickly grew horns and a tail,
venturing off into flights of fancy that nobody could have predicted at the
time.

 

The first
bona fide “space rock” band, a Hawkwind song felt like you were soaring the cosmos with the band, their sound a
unique and original mix of psychedelia, progressive rock, proto heavy metal,
and undefinable squalls of electronic squeals, jolting feedback, and raw energy
that crackled from their performances like a lightning bolt straight from the
hand of Zeus. Throw in acid-drenched lyrics that were obsessed with science fiction
and fantasy elements – legendary U.K. fantasy scribe Michael Moorcock (Elric) even penned lyrics for the band –
along with the sort of deep philosophical meanderings one enjoys with Hunter S.
Thompson levels of recreational drug use and you have a recipe for 100% crazy…

 

Hawkwind’s
anarchic live performances are the stuff of legend, and the recent two-disc set
77 (issued on England’s Secret Records label) collects
17 of ’em from across the entire year 1977, culled from the band’s appearances
at various outdoor festivals and indoor dives. Hawkwind had already delivered
six studio albums and an acclaimed double live set, Space Ritual, by the time that punk reared its ugly head in the U.K.
and they spent much of the year putting the finishing touches on what would
become their seventh LP, Quark
Strangeness and Charm
. Decried at the time as the band taking a left turn
towards a more commercially accessible, pop-oriented sound, you sure couldn’t
tell it from the performances of the three songs from Quark included here. By this point, with the better part of a
decade under their belt, it’s clear that anything short of howling at the moon
would be deemed “too pop” by the band’s rabid fans.

 

There’s no
lack of full moon lunacy on display across the 17 songs on 77, beginning with the band’s classic “Masters of the
Universe.” From their 1971 album In
Search of Space
, “Masters” showcases a band shooting for the
stars. Frontman Robert Calvert’s hoarse, gravel-throated vocals are used sparingly;
instead we get hurricane-strength tsunamis of synthesizer and keyboards
creating a rhythmic “woosh” as a backdrop for Brock’s wiry,
imaginative, and completely out-of-this-world fretwork. By contrast, “High
Rise” is comparatively down-to-earth, more prog-rock oriented with flowing
instrumentation, classically-styled keyboards, and but a few synth-squeals,
relying instead on Calvert’s eccentric reading of the lyrics.

 

The band
tries out “Damnation Alley” from Quark on the crowd, breaking the song into two pulse-quickening parts stitched
together by a short instrumental passage. Calvert’s relatively calm vocals are
mostly buried…hell, they’re overwhelmed…by the Sturm und Drang of the band’s
claustrophobic wall of sound. I hear the singer saying something about a
“strange world” and a “radiation wasteland,” making me
believe that the song is some sort of ecological warning, but in light of the
sheer sonic overkill applied herein, and subsequent references to “Dr.
Strangelove” and the “pony express,” methinks that the band has
been dipping into the sugar cube punchbowl, if you know what I mean (and I
think that you do). “Angels of Life” is equally trippy, Calvert’s
echoed vocals emerging from a glorious din like the voice of some sort of
divine entity while Brock’s guitar screams in rage and synthesizers wail like
banshees dancing merrily on your grave.   

 

Hawkwind
plows straight into “Quark, Strangeness and Charm” to open disc two
of 77, the then-upcoming album’s
title track belying any hint of commercial considerations save for, maybe, an
infectious sense of melody lacking in much of the band’s industrial-strength
jams. While the vocals are somewhat cleaner than previous, and there’s a bit of
harmony thrown in for good measure, when the passe-by-77 synthesizers kick in
like rabid bats flying through a Head East song, any hopes of chart position
have been thrown out the window. “Death Trap” is one of the band’s
most muscular, proto-metal tunes, and while it wouldn’t show up on record until
1979’s PXR5 album, it was an exciting
live staple in 1977. Calvert’s doom-and-gloom take on a dying racecar driver is
provided properly chaotic music, swirls of guitar and heavy drumbeats clashing
against twisted-metal synths with punkish fury until the song’s heartbeat
simply fades away.

 

It’s clear
from 77 that Brock and company were
quite prolific in cranking out the tunes, working a couple of albums ahead of
themselves, trying out material on an enthusiastic audience and discarding the
bombs. Case in point, “Who’s Gonna Win The War,” from 1980’s Levitation album, and “Sonic
Attack,” a longtime live fave from Space
Ritual
that, nevertheless, wouldn’t be waxed in the studio until the 1981
album of the same name. The former is a dirge-like ballad with chanted lyrics
and complex, multi-layered instrumentation that takes on a sort of dark beauty
with melodic fretwork, washes of synth and keyboards, and rolling drumbeats
that create a haunting martial rhythmic backbone. The latter is one of the most
powerful songs in the Hawkwind milieu, an odd little anti-war/anti-fascism
screed with a uniquely British perspective that pairs eclectic spoken-word
lyrics with buzzing, humming synthesizer drone, syncopated drumbeats, and
jagged shards of guitar that hit your ears like a rattlesnake strike.

 

Hawkwind
is still plying its trade today, the band recently releasing its 26th album, Onward, as bandleader-for-life David
Brock celebrates his 70th birthday. The band’s musical formula has changed
little since the material showcased on 77 and if Brock – Hawkwind’s creative heart all these years – has lost a step or
two in the interim, or repeats himself occasionally, the fact is that nobody
has pursued musical anarchy with the fervor and ferocity of Hawkwind for
anywhere near as long. 77 is a
delightful find, documenting the band at what is arguably the height of its
powers, offering up a classic line-up of talent and an unparalleled selection
of songs. A welcome reminder that rock music can, indeed, blow your mind, 77 provides the soundtrack for your own trip
to wherever you’d like to go.   

 

DOWNLOAD: “Masters of the Universe,”
“Angels of Life,” “Welcome To The Future,” “Sonic
Attack” – REV. KEITH A. GORDON

 

 

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