Thursday, February 22, 2024

Hawkwind – We Are Looking In On You

At the risk of being certified as insane, I’m going to start by suggesting there’s a case for Hawkwind to be considered as one of the most significant and revolutionary groups to come out of the 1970’s. They were right there in the middle of the heady days of the Ladbrook Grove underground, they were instrumental figureheads during the evolution of the Free Festival scene, they can claim to be the instigators of the Space Rock genre and such was  their influence that many musicians who made their name in Punk, such as Joe Strummer (Clash) and Capt. Sensible (Damned) cite them as spiritual godfathers. Along the way, they showed bands it was possible to make it without conforming to the usual rules of show business .. as sole surviving original member, Space Commander Dave Brock, claims “you really could do it yourself”. And they’re still doing it.

They also weren’t just a bunch of stoned idealistic dreamers pursuing the age of Aquarius long after it’d disappeared from view, they were “non musicians, barbarians with electronics, unafraid to go wherever the technology took them,” which inadvertently helped create the Acid House scene in the 80’s.

We Are Looking In On You (WALIOY) is their new ‘live’ double CD. Depending on which chart you believe, it’s somewhere between their 10th and 13th ‘live’ album, and its 19 tracks have been culled by choosing some of the best of their recent performances across the UK. It’s an album featuring several deep cuts, tracks they’ve not performed on stage for some while, alongside tracks from recent albums like 2021’s Somnia. If you know Hawkwind’s music, then you’ll not be surprised to learn there’s nothing on this album which’ll surprise you. Throughout their long and extremely colourful career, Hawkwind have embraced psychedelia, prog rock and even been considered to have been a ‘proto punk’ band .. albeit with lyrics favouring urban and sci-fi themes .. and there’re elements of them all here.

The set is judiciously picked from right across the years, with newer tracks like ‘Unsomnia’, ‘It’s Only A Dream’ and ‘Cave Of Phantom Dreams’, from 2021’s Somnia, mixed in with classic tracks from their illustrious past. Opening track ‘Magnu’, from 1975’s Warriors On The Edge Of Time, is ten minutes of full-on space rock with atmospheric spacey guitars and bubbling synths over a driving beat. They go right back to their early days and we get three long time classics, ‘Space Is Deep’, ‘Born To Go’ and ‘Brainstorm’, from 1972’s Doremi. Other classics include ‘Uncle Sam’s On Mars’, from PXR5 and a breezy version of ‘Hurry On Sundown’ from their eponymous 1970 debut album, a song Dave Brock played when he was a busker before Hawkwind. And never let it be said Hawkwind lack a sense of humour. After a little stage banter, we’re treated to Dave Brock performing Tom Jones ‘It’s Not Unusual’!

If I have one minor quibble about WALIOY, it’s the vocals now Mr Dibs is no longer onboard. True, nobody’s ever gone to a Hawkwind gig for the vocalising but it’s quite evident, on tracks like ‘Levitation’ and the classic ‘Spirit Of The Age’, the vocals struggle to reach certain slightly higher notes in the choruses.

Alongside other 50 years plus bands, like Yes and Jethro Tull, Hawkwind have seen a bewildering number of musicians pass through their ranks, but their singular vision continues with each new member. If your band plays space rock, then subconsciously or otherwise, you’ve been influenced by Hawkwind. WALIOY suggests (even if their later studio albums aren’t in the same class as some of their classics) Hawkwind can still cut it onstage. Their galactic journey began over fifty years back and it currently shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.

Laurence Todd
Laurence Todd
Took early retirement after many years as a teacher in order to write books as well as about music. A long-time music obsessive, has wide and eclectic tastes but particularly likes prog rock and rock in general. Enjoys going to gigs and discovering new acts.

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