HAWKWIND AND ARTHUR BROWN GO IN SEARCH OF UTOPIA IN LONDON
Hawkwind: The Palladium, London
Words: Liz Medhurst Pictures: Steve Ritchie
14th November 2018
Fireworks may be happening all around the land on Guy Fawkes night, but it would have been hard to beat the colourful spectacle inside the London Palladium as we climbed aboard the good ship Hawkwind for an evening of space rock.
The new album, ‘The Road To Utopia’ is an acoustic reworking of classic tracks which are then embellished with an orchestra. It all sounds rather sedate, but this is Hawkwind and thankfully the supporting tour is as gloriously bonkers as we have come to expect and love with massive walls of sounds and bright visuals.
The whole effect was retro, very 70s tinged but I’m not complaining. There was much about that decade that needs to firmly remain in the past, but there is also so much good that we need to celebrate and bring with us. The comfort of the familiar, heard and seen with all the benefits of modern technology and amplification is far-out, groovy and cosmic.
The permanent line-up of Hawkwind continues to see many shifts and following the departure of frontman Mr Dibs earlier this year, the band today are a quartet headed by the perennial Dave Brock, still remarkably holding back the passage of time. Joining him are drummer Richard Chadwick, bass player Niall Hone and keyboard/vocalist Magnus Martin.
Additional frontman duties were therefore required, and these were provided by Arthur Brown – yes, the God of Hell Fire himself is appearing in a piece about Utopia. Not a contradiction when you consider the Gnostic concept of duality, it’s pretty perfect really as Arthur could be seen as taking on the role of the demiurge but this is a conversation for later. Get the drinks poured and we’ll continue that thread another time…
The other star billing was the Docklands Sinfonia conducted by that other 70s icon Mike Batt. Orchestras sharing stages with rock bands are so common these days,and they don’t always succeed so I went in with no expectations. This pairing was a dream one thankfully. The arrangements seamlessly blended with the band and hit the sweet spot providing a hypnotic beauty and adding to the drama.
Orchestras become a huge creature in their own right, often dominating proceedings but Hawkwind rode that dragon with aplomb and kept continuous balance. It wasn’t all regimentally scripted, there were tracks throughout the set such as ‘Shot Down In The Night’ where it was only the band energetically jamming, with the orchestra members using their break to boogie in their seats while Mike Batt joined in on tambourine.
A stark reminder of how we are not ready to completely leave the 70s behind came with ‘We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago’, a song written four and half decades ago and every bit as relevant today with its conscious message on climate change and environmental damage. The bleak message was wrapped up in layers of beauty, the acoustic guitar runs and lush harmonies reminiscent of Lindisfarne in their heyday.
It was five songs in before Arthur Brown took to the stage. He and Hawkwind share a long association dating right back to the beginning of their careers, joining forces every few years with Arthur providing vocal duties, or being part of the tour. I was immensely pleased to experience the 2018 version and it was a real treat.
Arthur remains one of the best frontmen of a rock band and he made tonight. The standard three song photo restriction meant that we could not capture this on camera, but if you are familiar with Arthur’s work I can assure you he was right on form.
Commanding the stage dressed in black and silver with his face covered, the veteran rocker narrated ‘The Black Corridor’ with theatrical gravitas before one of several costumes changes and letting loose into an all-out rollicking version of ‘The Watcher’.
There was the dystopian aspect with ‘Sonic Attack’ before we took to the skies with the strains of ‘Damnation Alley’.
After the wildness and dramatics, Arthur left the stage and a sense of calm and peace was restored with ‘Zarozinia’ as the orchestra added an opulent touch to this epic. The sonic and visual journey continued, with the audience really getting into it, as much as security would allow anyway.
Arthur Brown returned at the end of the main set for ‘Arrival In Utopia’, all shining in silver. This was his last appearance on this tour and whoever takes his place has got their work cut out, he’s a seemingly impossible act to follow.
The encores featured only the core quartet, who still managed to present a full, rich sound which delighted the faithful.
So, did we find Utopia? Within the confines of the earthly realm we had an evening in one of the most beautiful theatres around with the Hawkwind and Arthur Brown we know and love, and orchestral arrangements that perfectly complemented – it’s come pretty close.
Travelling further afield, well that’s an unknown road still. Wherever Utopia lies I’m happy to travel in the Hawkwind ship. At least there will be dancing.
Hawkwind – Leeds Town Hall, 19/10/2018
Speaking to The Guardian newspaper nearly ten years ago about the concept of creativity and the music of Hawkwind, Dave Brock said “I mean, we can’t play the same old stuff the same every time.” And the man who jointly founded the band way back in 1969 and is its last remaining original member has certainly remained true to his word. Whether at that time he had envisaged that come 2018 the legendary space-rock pioneers would be embarking upon their most ambitious project yet – joining forces with a full orchestra for a series of live dates – may well be open to question. But what is not in doubt is the fact that for almost half a century now, the intergalactic trailblazers have sat in the vanguard of sonic exploration and artistic evolution. They are, after all, a band who have known more than 40 different line-ups in their long and winding history and have previously appeared in concert as their very own support act.
Hawkwind are in Leeds Town Hall tonight on the second of what is a seven date tour of England, one that will include two already sold-out shows at London Palladium. That they have chosen to appear here in the magnificent surroundings of a Grade I listed building that dates from the mid-nineteenth century seems entirely apposite given that Hawkwind and the town hall are both venerable institutions each one steeped in their own individual grandeur and unique story of survival.
For Hawkwind’s part they have embraced, and ultimately outlived late 60’s psychedelia, intense LSD ingestion, the peace convoys, free festival movements and solstice gatherings of that period, punk, electro-ecstasy, techno and most all points between. Given this fascinating journey, it should then perhaps come as little surprise that Hawkwind are now performing with a live orchestra or that the orchestral score for these shows will be produced by Mike Batt, the man responsible for creating the British novelty pop group The Wombles in the mid-70s.
The set itself comprises 15 songs in total – nine with the full orchestra and the remaining six seeing the four-piece band performing alone – stopping off at various points on Hawkwind’s extensive recording career from 1971’s In Search of Space (here represented by a stunning ‘We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago’ for which Dave Brock dons his reading glasses to recall some of the lyrics, emphasising not only the passage of time but also the ageing process) to this year’s Road To Utopia (no less than the band’s 31ststudio album and from which we get ‘Intro The Night’). When the band and orchestra do combine it makes for a most euphoric fusion of hard driving rock and sumptuous symphonic sound, no more so than on ‘Zarozinia’ which assumes a beautiful cosmic pastoral quality all of its own. A stunning laser lightshow and an avalanche of futuristic images projected onto the backdrop add to the audio and visual explosion.
Six songs in and enter another rock’n’roll survivor. Arthur Brown, the self-proclaimed God of Hellfire, may now be 76 years old but age has not withered any of his flamboyant presence. Dressed in a black cloak, matching feathered-hat and carrying a long staff he recites Michael Moorcock’s words to ‘The Black Corridor’. “Space is infinite, it’s dark. Space is neutral, it’s cold” he intones, as his deep theatrical voice resonates around the town hall. Several costume changes later, he departs the stage in his sparkling silver cape at the point whereby Hawkwind, Mike Batt and the full orchestra finally arrive at Utopia.
It is now, incredibly, 30 years since Robert Calvert passed away. One of many Hawkwind alumni who are no longer with us, the band’s erstwhile poet and performer’s words live on. The first encore of ‘Spirit of the Age’ is dedicated to him and the four current members provide him with a fitting tribute as they tear through the song at full-throttle speed. And the third and final encore is, of course, ‘Silver Machine’, the band’s one and only hit single. But Hawkwind were never about commercial success. They were always on an endless search for space whilst playing some incredible freak-out music along their way.
Photos: Simon Godley
More photos from this show can be found HERE
Magazine – The role of Albums in 2017 – bpi
GrooveME’s Holage technology to be showcased at this weekend’s big rock festival in Kent
Once upon a time, adverts for a cassette tape company asked the question: is it real or is it Memorex? Things have moved on a looooong way since those days
“I am the god of hellfire and I bring you …” a 3D hologram show featuring sixties theatrical rock pioneer Arthur Brown.
This year sees the 50th anniversary of the release of “Fire”, a never-to-be-forgotten single by Arthur Brown, whose stage make-up and crown of flames was a major influence on shock-rock star Alice Cooper.
To celebrate the occasion, “a world exclusive hologram cinematic experience” will take place this weekend at the Ramblin’ Man annual rock music festival at Mote Park in Kent, courtesy of Groovemeand its Holage 3D legacy projection system.
Arthur Brown said: “It is a great thing to be riding the cutting edge of technology with a team dedicated to creative adventure. The hologram is the bridge into the virtual world. When the artist explores the virtual world, that exploration becomes a portal to allow expansion of expression of self-enquiry, enhancing communication and revelation,” Brown said.
“Besides what fun! To be able to appear in 60 Concert Halls simultaneously, whilst I’m at home taking a shower!” Brown added.
Other artists will also be appearing at the rock festival in holographic form, including the Boomtown Rates, but we don’t have a quote from the Rats’ frontman Bob Geldof, which is possibly just as well …
Alongside the 3D hologram show, there will be artists doing it the old fashioned way – appearing on stage in person – and these include Saturday’s headliners Mott the Hoople and Sunday’s top of the bill, The Cult.
Privately-owned GrooveME is based at Knebworth House, “the stately home of rock”, has developed a technology that once only seemed possible in science fiction – yes, we’re thinking of Princess Leia’s distress call in Star Wars – and made it into a reality that can be deployed in pubs, clubs and concert halls.
The 3D sound and vision specialist won the prestigious ‘Best Use of AR/VR (Augmented or Virtual Reality)’ prize at last year’s Digital Entrepreneur Awards.
The Crazy World of Arthur Brown – London Indigo O2 17 June 2017 Gig Review
Just around the corner in the Indigo was the surprise of the day for me – The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. Like most people I only know him for the famous ‘Fire’ single/video so I really didn’t know what to expect. As it was I was captivated by the music, the band imagery (and his numerous costume changes) and the exuberance of an old man and his showmanship. I checked the set list (off the net):
- Prelude / Nightmare (The Crazy World of Arthur Brown – 1968)
- Devil’s Grip (1967 single)
- I Put a Spell on You (The Crazy World of Arthur Brown – 1968)
- Time Captives (Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come – Journey 1976)
- Sunrise (Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come – Galactic Zoo Dossier 1973)
- Touched by All (The Crazy World of Arthur Brown – Zim Zam Zim 2014)
- Fire (The Crazy World of Arthur Brown – 1968) click to view the video..
Arthur had plenty of weird dance routines (accompanied by his dancer Angel Flame) and a voice that really was from the god of hell fire. Painted faces, bizarre costumes, good musicians and Arthur Indian dancing in circles wearing a cloak (with LED strips) of feathers that glowed all the colours of the rainbow. I enjoyed all the songs, the performance and the artistry immensely.
Sadly, the last song ‘Fire’ was cut short due to running overtime but it did give him time to let us know that he is 75 in a few days so we ought to go and see him again before he drops dead on stage! Mighty impressive stuff, if you want to see something different, be entertained and enjoy some really good tunes go and see him before it’s too late – he can’t be replaced!
Marko 20 June 2017