Hawkwind had finally decided to tour the US for the first time since 2007, and everything looked peachy. Their 2007 tour was only three shows long, and most Hawkfans had missed it. (performances were uneven, but that was mostly due to lack of their own equipment being present and Dave Brock being seriously hampered by illness) So, anticipation was high for this tour, the first real one in over 15 years, as reports from England had their revival of the Warrior on the Edge of Time album rated fairly highly-dancers, lights and strong material combined to make a jaw dropping spectacle. So this is what we expected with baited breath on this side of the pond.
Then…three days before the tour was to start in October 2013, an announcement from the main Hawkwind page. The US tour was postponed until the spring. Reason given? Dave Brock was stricken ill because Nik Turner had decided to tour America at the same time. Ancillary reasons were that Nik had been suing Hawkwind to let him use some form of the name to tour, and this also contributed to Dave’s illness. (First a quick recap, Dave Brock and Nik Turner are two founding members of Hawkwind, and are responsible for most of their success and major albums from 1969-1976. Decidedly acrimonious to each other throughout the years, they have had an uneasy relationship to say the least. Turner was fired in late 1976, and left to form the punky Inner City Unit. Turner rejoined the band in 1983 and was sacked again in 1985.) But this announcement caught the majority of American Hawkwind fans by surprise. Vacation time had been secured and flights and hotels had been booked by many, leaving fans in the lurch. But, with the posting of re-booked dates on their website, US Hawkfans just regrouped and planned again, with some grumbling about financial inconvenience being heard here and there.
Fans were concerned for the health of Dave and generally accepted at least half of their proffered excuses. But then the band immediately embarked on a full UK tour. Not many over here noticed this, but this action directly contradicted the given excuse, and was seen as a slap in the face by some fans in the States. Dave is not sick? (not many people bought the line-‘he is upset about Nik touring’) Fans began to wonder exactly what the hell was going on.
Shows were booked for the major cities of the States for March through April 2014 to make up for the missing fall 2013 tour. Shows in Canada were also booked. Tickets were either transferred to the new date, or new tickets went on sale. As time went on though, very quietly, there was a disappearance of dates from the official Hawkwind site, and Facebook posts from band members indicated that only dates on the website were confirmed. American Hawkfans began to feel uneasy, but no word either way was forthcoming from the band.
As March approached, the silence on what was happening was deafening, as the band went into a complete information blackout. This could only mean that there were serious problems with the tour. They allowed that they had hired a new person to sort out the details of the aborted Fall tour, and should be on track. After that one piece of information, again….nothing. Dates started to cancel, with one midwest club saying they had not heard from anyone representing the band at all. Tickets continued to be sold for the New York and Boston venues. With under two weeks to go before the tour, the band pulled the plug again. Once more, American Hawkfans were left holding the bag for expensive vacation and hotel rooms that were engaged.
So what was the real reason? Some whispered that visas had not been successfully obtained. There was a precedent for this, as Brock had been stranded in Canada in 1998 awaiting a visa for the States that never came. But many posts on Facebook said they had actually seen the visas for the band. (Why the band would resort to showing fans something that is really none of our business is odd) Some said that the band knew they would not make much money on the tour and decided not to come. Others with connections to clubs pointed out that poor ticket sales at some venues meant a large financial loss was looming on the horizon had they come. Die hards blamed Nik Turner for intentionally trying to usurp the band’s good name. (this claim is hard to believe as Nik Turner’s band ended up playing to audiences of 100-200, traveled in a single van, and were sleeping on the floor of gracious fans willing to let them in). Was it poor oversight of their US contingent hired to make things right? Was it illness? Was it a lack of enthusiasm for a US tour? Was it just shoddy organization of the whole Hawkwind machine? My guess is that it is a combination of all of the above. Some had heard Dave say that after the 2007 short tour, he was never coming back to America. (this could have been caused by his illness and dodgy performances on that tour and not any actual deeply held belief, but could be a contributing reason) Few any longer believed the ‘Nik Turner made this happen’ excuse. (March 2016 note: it is now TWO years later, and Hawkwind still have not addressed the two failed tours, as they promised. The indifference to the US and Canadian fans will mean they likely won’t be able to draw the necessary numbers to tour North America ever again-barring a reunion of original members. Nik, Simon House and Alan Davey would have to be on board the starship)
So here we are in May of 2014, with little hope the band will ever return. They had printed up a compilation Lp and CD to sell on tour of their most recent work. With no tour happening, they must have said ‘what the hell are we going to do with all these albums?’ Below is my review of this intended US tour souvenir, the album Spacehawks.
The fourteen tracks on two lps, (grey vinyl) contain four new songs, five remakes of former classics, and four tracks from recent releases. Most of the remakes are unremarkable, although Sonic Attack eventually resolves in a nice rock jam and could be considered a bit of an update. Master of the Universe contains Huw Lloyd Langton’s last performance with the band before his recent death, and does make this something to grab just for that.
Sides one and two are the highlight, with the opener Seasons as a good example of what Hawkwind pretty much sounds like today. Tight but somewhat lacking in dynamics (the compression problems that plagued Blood and Onward are evident here-all instruments are at the same level, cymbals climbing over guitars fighting for attention). Assault and Battery/Golden Void is a leftover from their Warrior on the Edge of Time recent tour, and is well played. Side one ends with the aforementioned Sonic Attack.
Demented Man starts side two, another piece from Warrior, and highlights Brock nicely. It is one of the better songs on this album. We Too Are One is a new song, and feels like a Brock sung Huw era tune. Very nice example of what they can still muster. We Took the Wrong Step Years Ago is a perfect acoustic change of pace but lacks the menace of the 1971 original.
Side three is Master of the Universe with Huw, and is as expected a blast of 1979-83 metal era stylings. Not quite as punky as the Live 1979 release, but in that vein. It ends oddly with the band sort of stopping in mid stream. Sacrosanct is an electronic Brock piece with a bit of chanting on top. Pleasant and unassuming filler, a tad unfinished techno/rock hybrid song.
Things head south on side four. Sentinel is an example of what Hawkwind sound like when Dave Brock is not really participating. Although the rest of the band try to get all the parts in the right place, this is ultimately forgettable and shows that the captain needs to be on deck at all times. Like most of side four, it’s not something that will convince new fans to be on board. The lone exception, Its All Lies, is taken from the underrated Hawkwind Light Orchestra trio album, and mines the territory of Electric Teepee’s Right to Decide. Possibly their best song of the last 15 years. Touch, the Chumps are Jumping and Lonely Moon are all inconsequential snippets of unfinished mostly instrumental demos and not songs, and are puzzling in their inclusion. The album’s final tune, Sunship is also a demo sounding tune from Blood of the Earth without Brock once more. It lacks the magic of Hawkwind as Dibs and Hone duet in the Hawkwind style. Five clunkers on the final side are odd and weak choices to round out what started as a fairly solid overview of recent work.
Overall this album isn’t all that essential. A decent introduction to recent Hawkwind, but for anyone new, there are far better places to start than here. More generic computer generated graphics as album art also don’t help the overall vibe, but it is really the music that matters. And for 45 years, Hawkwind have been the band that matters. Lest we forget.
Here is hoping that this record won’t be the last tangible souvenir of a US tour.