Tag Archives: space rock

Pink Floyd-The Early Years Box Set: Price Check on Aisle One!

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Okay, the Early Years box set is the big kahuna, the whole enchilada-the motherlode of early Pink Floyd/Syd Barrett that fans have been waiting for…waiting so long that many have actually forgotten they were waiting for it in reality. But people were fairly ecstatic that a huge and I mean huge amount of Pink Floyd rarities were seeing the light of day finally. But then…people got a look at the proposed price, one of the eye poppingly highest price tags in the history of rock releases. And everyone drew a long breath. Does this thing have nuggets to tempt even the most jaded Pink Floyd aficionado? Hell yes. Does the content (27 discs) come up equal to the price? (pre release list price- $699.00, Amazon pre-order price $571.36 at the time of this writing). Well lets do the math. 571 divided by 27 is twenty one and change per disc. For a single CD, that’s a pretty hefty entrance fee. But multi disc sets usually discount pretty heavily. Most double CDs clock in at around $19.99. Triple CDs average $25. See there is an industry prescribed sliding scale for multi disc sets. But over twenty one dollars per disc for the full run of 27 discs? (actually with the DVD/BluRay duplicating each other, this is only a 19 disc set, at $36 per disc!!) Mighty strange marketing here. Are they kidding? Did they include something worth this literally obscene outlay of dosh?  Let’s look closer:

First, any Floyd head worth his salt  owns 90% of this stuff already. Vinyl and cassette in the early 80’s, CDs in the 90’s-whatever. But the list of famous bootlegs is long, and folks like the author and his close friends have owned this stuff on vinyl bootleg since 1979 ticked into 1980.

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You get the idea. There is a lot of good stuff here. Among the 10 cds, 8 blu-rays and 9 dvds are plenty of treasures. But we have already heard much of this. The legendary More Furious Madness from the Massed Gadgets of the Auximenes? Mostly here, yet not called that for some reason. Known as ‘The Man’ and ‘the Journey’, it was a 1969 concert slated to be released as a live album, but shelved for some reason. But something Floyd heads have owned for decades. The Stockholm 1967 soundboard recording with Syd Barrett? For many, this is the treasure of the box, yet it has circulated for a while on bootleg forums. 1965 recordings with original guitarist Bob Klose? Ok, that is pretty cool. The long sought after 1967 John Latham soundtrack recording done by the Syd led Floyd? Now we are getting somewhere. That takes care of CD 1 and CD 2.

1968 BBC sessions that have been heavily circulated comprise CD 3. Studio tracks readily available pad out this disc. Outtakes from More and some heavily bootlegged 1969 BBC and Amsterdam stuff comprise CD 4. The aforementioned Massed Gadgets unreleased live album takes up CD 5. 1970 BBC sessions (again, heavily bootlegged and common) make up CD 6. Zabriskie Point outtakes (these somewhat rare compared to the rest) take up CD 7. CD 8 is Meddle era 1971 with an early version of Echoes, again BBC stuff. CD 9 is a clunker-a 2016 remix of Obscured By Clouds. Why? The original is a favorite of many Floyd heads and was the opening section of the first leg of the 1972 US tour. Unnecessary. The final CD is back to BBC 1967 with Syd Barrett, some 1968 BBC stuff and the famed 1969 session they did for the moon landing.

The DVD and Blu-ray stuff is more enigmatic. First-is this set really a mixture of Blu-ray and DVD? Why? Blu-ray folks will put their noses in the air at DVDs. And DVD people will not be able to play Blu-rays. Puzzling in the extreme. (a closer look reveals that the DVDs and Blu-Ray duplicate each other-so it is really a 19 disc set, which puts this at a gagging price of over $36.00 per disc!) Yet this stuff is where most of the unreleased material resides. A compendium of exactly what is on the set can be found here.

A video of the unboxing with some close ups of the extra memorabilia is here.

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Five original facsimile picture sleeve 45s are included, as well as facsimile memorabilia (a la Who Live at Leeds lp) in a nod to the vinyl collectors (very few of who actually still spin 45s, as they are a royal pain in the ass to change every 3 minutes).

So the main underlying question remains: Is this thing worth it? Could I spend the same amount of money on something else?

So what could a budding rock aficionado get for $699? Let’s put together a comparably priced fantasy space/prog/classic rock new CD essential collection with seven hundred bucks to spend (using Amazon prices for new CDs), and see what we can come up with:

Pink Floyd -Dark Side of the Moon $7  A prism refracting white light into a rainbow on a black background

Pink Floyd – Meddle $7.50  Related image

Pink Floyd – Atom Heart Mother $7.00 Image result for atom heart mother

Pink Floyd -Piper at the Gates of Dawn $8.00 Pink Floyd - The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn special edition vinyl replica CD

Pink Floyd – Saucerful of Secrets $4.00 Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd – Obscured by Clouds $8.00 Obscured by Clouds by Pink Floyd (CD, Mar-1987, Capitol)

Pink Floyd- More $7.oo  Image result for more pink floyd

Pink Floyd – Ummagumma $16 Ummagumma by Pink Floyd (CD, Apr-1994, 2 Discs, Capitol) Remastered w/ Slipcase!

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here $9 PINK FLOYD**WISH YOU WERE HERE**CD

Pink Floyd- Animals $8 Pink Floyd - Animals (Remastered CD 2011) Brand New & Sealed

Pink Floyd -Relics $9 PINK FLOYD**RELICS (GATEFOLD/STEREO)**CD

Hawkwind-the first 8 albums in one box 11 cd  $39

Tangerine Dream- 3 cd 4 lp virgin box $11 The-Virgin-Years-1974-1978-Box-by-Tangerine-Dream-CD-Jan-2011-3-Discs

Ash Ra Tempel – Best of Private Tapes 2 cd $11 Ash Ra Tempel

Klaus Schulze – La Vie Electronique 3 cd  $20 Klaus-Schulze-La-Vie-Electronique-CD-Box-Set-NEW

Faust-Complete 5 cd $39 Product Details

Can-the Lost Tapes 3 cd $30 Can-The-Lost-Tapes-UK-IMPORT-CD-Box-Set-NEW

Ozric Tentacles-Vitamin Enhanced 6 cd $60 Vitamin Enhanced [Box] by Ozric Tentacles

Gong- the Trilogy box 3 cd $49 Gong - Radio Gnome Invisible Trilogy [CD New]

Magma – Konzert Zund 12 cd $70 Kohnzert Zund

Grateful Dead-the Golden Road 1965-1973 complete 12 cd $70 The Golden Road (1965 - 1973)

Yes – The Studio Albums 1969-1987 12 cd $40 The Studio Albums 1969-1987

Frank Zappa –  Läther 3 cd $10 Läther

Sensation’s Fix-Music is Painting in the Air 1974-1977 $12 Music Is Painting In The Air (1974 - 1977)

Genesis-Archive 4 cd $57 Genesis Archive, Vol. 1: 1967-1975

King Crimson-21st Century Guide to King Crimson 4 cd $45 21st Century Guide to King Crimson 1: 1969-1974

Okay let’s stop there and figure out what we got with that haul. 16 bands. 25 releases. 95 cds. Roughly six hundred bucks. This would keep anyone pretty busy for….what, a year at least?

In the end, this box isn’t really universally the “unheard” motherlode it appears to be, but is coming from a similar place as Frank Zappa’s Beat the Boots box set, where Frank reissued some of the most important Zappa bootlegs in their original covers. What were they gonna do-sue him? So I hope this last part gives a bit of perspective on where your six hundred dollars could be spent otherwise. If this was at a more reasonable $15 per disc, it would be $285.00 for the box. This begs the larger question: “WHERE DID THE OTHER $400.00 GO? This might be where one could say ‘Can someone charge a record company with fraud?” and actually mean it. A box set that is priced $400 over what it should roll out at is……..friggin’ criminal.

And perhaps, in the spirit of the bootleg origins of most of the material on this Floyd box, and the spirit of the truly ironic, many of us will wait and…you know….see if it will show up somewhere sketchy for download instead? Shhhhhh…

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C’mon, SEVEN HUNDRED bucks for a fucking CD box? Really?

fortes fortuna adiuvat

Update: Warning-Caveat Emptor
Even at $400, this is still overpriced for what you get. On paper, the 10 cd audio content is tantalizing. In reality, the tendency to screw up remixes in sonic quality (which has become a trend lately) hits this package squarely on the nose, and bloodies up the whole thing. Huge clanging treble issues render much of the audio borderline unlistenable. In many songs, cymbals crash with a harshness that cymbals just aren’t supposed to sound like. The Obscured By Clouds disc suffers heavily from a harsh, unnatural and digital sounding mix that makes this particular disc something no one needs. If one is only going to listen to this on mp3 on their computer, perhaps some of the sonic problems would be less noticeable. Can’t say I know of anyone ready to dish out $400-$500 for mp3s though.
More specifically in the complaint department, why some of the BBC stuff I have owned on cassette since the 80’s is superior in sound quality to what shows up here is dumbfounding. It is like the research department spent zero time tracking down better versions that are readily found in the bootleg field.

Pet peeves:
Where is Let’s Roll Another One instead of Candy and a Currant Bun? My friends and I have had this for decades, and they didn’t bother to look for a version of it? Mixing out the chipmunk vocals on Scream Thy Last Scream? To what end I’d ask? The  1967 Advision sessions not included (which had Lets Roll Another One). Remixed Vegetable Man instead of the original mix. Stockholm live 1967. Sigh-vocals from the show are not up in the mix. Nothing to do about that as it was a product of the show at the time, but still, this holy grail bit is slightly underwhelming. In the Beechwoods, something discussed for years as one of the unheard Floyd masterpieces is an intriguing and out of character sounding instrumental, decent quality-is missing the vocal melody, an unfinished eye opener of sorts.
So, 8 of the video discs duplicate each other, the Obscured disc is a listen once throw away, leaving us 18 real discs at a minimum of $400 at this date (12/10/16)—still over twenty dollars per disc. The vinyl 45s suffer from a similar over equalization towards a harsher high end. Throw in defective BluRays that most everybody got and now have to exchange, and you have a product that is nowhere near even a $300 price point.
Some good stuff in there, to be sure, but dodgy sound on more of the live stuff than I expected, overly ‘high end heavy’ equalization yielding harsh treble across so many songs? Peeved. In the end, although this seemed to be the Floyd dream, it’s really not worth a huge financial outlay by a longshot. Fortunately, a friend kicked down to buy one, giving many a chance to hear the great, the good and the disappointing together. Try the $12 two cd condensed version of it first to give it a test run for the sound would be my advice. Separate sets are coming after the New Year to give the subsets of this more manageable release.

 

Mirabile Dictu: Hawkwind Rises From The Ashes and Delivers The Goods

Hawkwind- The Machine Stops (2016) Cherry Red

I will admit it, I had Hawkwind written off. For most long term fans of Hawkwind, the band has been on life support for over 15 years. It’s not as if there wasn’t plenty of evidence. Folks started to wonder what was up as drum machines and sequencers took control of the band. Albums began to have a push button feel to them, and fans had started to abandon ship around the time Alan Davey left circa 1997’s Distant Horizons. This album had ushered in the ‘techno era’ for Hawkwind, and ripping guitars, washes of jet engine level white noise and howling vocals were being replaced by drum machines, polite sequenced synthesizers and a pattern of endless parade of pleasant remakes of their classic tunes, mostly inferior to the originals. Recent clunkers didn’t add to confidence that the ship would stop taking on water.

With that in mind,  any new Hawkwind album needs to be graded on a sliding scale. 2010’s Blood of the Earth suffered from an overt absence of Dave Brock, the sole surviving member, and the heart of the band. His vocals and guitar work were essential cogs that made the Hawkship fly so successfully. His handing over the reins of the band to a revolving door of some less inspired associates made for a frustrating and disappointing experience. The follow up, 2013’s Onward, fell even further down the rungs of the ladder-no memorable tunes at all, and padded out with remakes of their own former classics. Ennui and malaise were now the watchwords, and the outlook for the future looked grim.

All of which makes 2016’s The Machine Stops, their 26th studio album such a welcome surprise. When one enters with zero expectations, even a modest level of success is noteworthy. But make no mistake, this album exceeds any modest expectations. Echoes of their underrated 80’s work-Church of Hawkwind, Levitation and Choose Your Masques-flow through this concept album (loosely based on E. M. Forster’s prescient 1909 short story of the same name-a post apocalyptic underground world controlled by machines). Church of Hawkwind is the best reference point, a 1982 album revered by Hawk-heads and generally unknown in their catalog. It has long been considered one of the last of the ‘classic’ Hawk albums, heavy on the synths and thick with a creepy and trippy dystopian vibe. The Machine Stops follows a similar bent: spoken word pieces as intro and outro, synth instrumentals that segue songs seamlessly, genuine rockers interspersed with more dreamy takes. It would appear that this is the first Hawkwind album in decades without a remake of a former classic, but hard core Hawkfans may notice that the song Tube is lifted from the introduction of Choose Your Masques’ Dream Worker, while others may notice musical and lyrical themes from other past songs weaving their way through.

Keeping in mind that Hawkwind has been mostly a functioning band since 1969, it is beyond startling that 47 years later, they could still pull some magic out of their hats and dazzle us. Long term fans and newcomers will resonate with this record, as it plays into Hawkwind’s strengths. Concept album? Check. Large dystopian theme running through the whole thing? Check. Creepy atmospheric interludes? Check. And a big reason for this album’s success is Brock stepping up once more to grab control of his own band, and inject some of his magical energy that has been lacking in the last 20 years. When people say this is one of their best albums in a while, they are spot on. (One review states it is the best since 1975’s Warrior on the Edge of Time, a bit of misguided hyperbolic praise). But this is definitely the most satisfying and complete work since 1992’s Electric Teepee (or some others have pointed towards 1995’s Alien 4 as their last really satisfying and complete album). Either way, it has been over 20 years since a Hawkwind album that really gets you excited and makes you want to play it again immediately has been released. Hawkwind releases used to be cause for celebration, make you want to take the day off from work or school and just—you know-get into it, get out of it, get into it.  Blood of the Earth I played a few times and haven’t revisited in six years. Onward? I actually sold it after two plays knowing I’d never listen to it again. Hawkwind’s recent output was starting to tarnish the unique power and beauty of their 1969-1992 era of near perfection.

Their recent attempts at sticking their toes into the prog rock pool also didn’t sit right. Prog bands are known for their chops and tricky compositional skills, this was never Hawkwind’s vibe. Hawkwind was always about the SOUND. They always had taken a punk rock approach, long before punk existed. “Plug a bunch of things in, wail away, and let’s see what happens” has always been their approach, and nobody in the history of the band would claim virtuoso status in any era of their existence. This is what made Hawkwind stand out from the crowd, in a field crowded by anorak prog geeks wielding moogs, Hawkwind were the Neanderthals armed with technology who co-opted the fancy gear and created a glorious primal electronic caterwauling, a maelstrom of sound that could pluck your consciousness from your shaking body and take it to new dimensions, something ELP and their ilk could never do. Attempting to enter territory they weren’t well equipped for wasn’t playing to their strengths, and their recent work showed it.  Only 2012’s Hawkwind Light Orchestra’s Stellar Variations avoided this trap, stripped to a trio of Brock, Chadwick and Hone.

Is this album perfect? No. Although it does not fare as well in comparison to their groundbreaking 1970-1977 period, and can suffer from time to time from overly generic synthesizer work, it should quickly grab the attention of any Hawkwind fans who would consider themselves a bit disaffected in the millennium. Overall, this album has an elegiac feel to it. Under the guises of following the storyline, the third to last (and best) song on the album, the infectious Solitary Man sounds as if Dave Brock is finally letting the long term fan peek behind the curtain into his private life for both a quick glimpse and large statement, and has pinned an appropriate title to let you know.  For as the song says,  Dave has always been a Solitary Man, single-handedly guiding the starship Hawkwind through the Cosmos, surrounded by friends, but alone with his thoughts. If this is the last Hawkwind album ever, it is a solid final statement, and they have done us proud. Highly recommended for Hawkwind fans both old and new.

Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmininster-Stone Dead, Forever (or 14,600 Bottles of Jack on the Wall)

Lemmy; WIldest Moments

The bass that launched a thousand trips

Lemmy’s death this week has spawned more hurried articles in more unlikely places (even porn sites were changing their front web pages to give tribute to him…)  But there is a reason for this-Lemmy was a force in rock n roll rarely seen: part of the rock scene since before the Beatles caught the nation’s fancy, and one of the loudest and hardest partying motherfuckers  ever spawned from the growling  belly of the six string hell-beast had touched many lives in the five decade swath he cut through polite society.

In short, Lemmy was unique in rock, an eye blinkingly difficult feat to achieve in a field of fairly unique personalities. His dedication to ‘heavy’ single handedly spawned most of the current metal bands dating over the past three decades-thrash metal, speed metal, death metal, black metal? All of these genres can be traced directly to the humble Motörhead origins. A simple power trio, unapologetic and single minded in approach to the end, Lemmy and company pushed the limits of volume to unimagined heights of “huh? what?” as folks tried to assess what the hell had just happened at the end of a show and where the hell had their hearing gotten off to.

nascent Lemmy with Vicars
Why is there no hold button on this thing? -Emerson with dagger
Hendrix: currently experienced

Many sites have chronicled his curriculum vitae, but in short: Ian Kilminster started his career proper in roughly 1965 in the Rockin’ Vicars, his third or so band of his career, but one who released a few singles that made no dent in the charts or hearts of the grim Manchester surroundings. His involvement in the late sixties as a roadie for the Nice and Jimi Hendrix showed him what the road could really be like, from pulling birds and loads of equipment while out of his mind with Hendrix (“That’s how I learned to function on five hits of acid”) to giving Keith Emerson some of his Hitler Youth knives as a present (some of which were used to stab keys down to hold notes as an early pre-ELP  band the Nice stage trick), Lemmy was fine tuning his act.

Hawkwind Space Ritual, Lemmy center

It was with the space rock band Hawkwind that the legend began to form. Hawkwind was a collection of furry freaks from Ladbroke Grove who took the Pink Floyd blueprint from Interstellar Overdrive and ran with it. Lemmy’s legendary 1971 debut gig introduction to the band was being told by Nik Turner, “make some noises in E” and he was off. His Motörhead style of bass playing was honed here: two note chords strummed to give a helluva bottom to the sound– simultaneously functioning as bassist and a second guitarist in a one guitar band. The drug taking? Legendary. Hawkwind’s only hit, Silver Machine, was one of the rare tunes sung by Lemmy and became a huge hit across Europe. It was recorded live at the Greasy Truckers Party.

After three days spent taking Dexedrine with Dik Mik, Lemmy and his bandmate took Mandrax, a depressant, to lessen the intensity of the high. But Lemmy got bored, so he dropped acid and mescaline, then took more Mandrax. Dik Mik drove to the venue, where they pair partook in cocaine and eight Black Beauties (uppers) each. “Fuckin’ hell, Mik, I can’t move,” Lemmy said. “Can you?” As he explained in his book, the band’s roadies helped them onstage for the show, which was taped for the Greasy Truckers Party live album “That was one of the best gigs we ever taped,” Lemmy enthused. “The jamming between me and [leader Dave] Brock was great. We got ‘Silver Machine,’ our only hit – and Number Two at that – from that gig!”

This wasn’t his first trip to the edge, nor his last:

In 1969, before Lemmy joined Hawkwind, a friend convinced his nurse girlfriend to sneak them some amphetamine sulfate from the dispensary where she worked. She accidentally brought home a jar of atropine sulfate. Lemmy did a teaspoon full, which he said was “200 times the overdose,” and then everyone “went berserk.” In his memoir White Line Fever he recalled talking to a TV held under his arm, then passing out and waking up in the hospital. “If we got you in another hour you would have been dead,” the doctor told him. Even after being treated, he had sporadic hallucinations for two weeks and recalled, “sitting, reading a book, and I’d turn to page 42 – but there was no book.”

Seemingly not possible, yet…

Stacia explains Hawkwind to crowd

…on another night in the early 70’s, the band was coming from a show and were pulled over by the police. Already aware of the unfriendly attitude that the constabulary had towards them, Lemmy and Bob Calvert split up the bottle of speed and Mandrax, eating the lion’s share himself. Later in his hotel room he shared with Stacia, Hawkwind’s statuesque naked dancer, Lemmy passed out cold. She phoned the band in other rooms and said Lemmy was unresponsive  on top of her, she was trapped and couldn’t move at all, and he was apparently dead. The band came, dragged him into his bed, and let him sleep it off. “‘Tis but a scratch”

Motörhead mk1-Larry Wallis, Lucas Fox, Lemmy

Motörhead proper began shortly after Lemmy had been sacked in 1975 from Hawkwind. His playing and integration into the band had given Hawkwind the sound and the success that had been eluding them for so long. Success in America beckoned. But getting caught crossing the US/Canada border mid tour with an inordinate amount of amphetamines led to a muddle headed decision to sack him immediately.

“If I was busted for acid, everything would have been fine,” he said. “But they were all about the psychedelic experience. The most cosmic band in the world fired me for getting busted with the wrong kinds of drugs!”

Lemmy joined forces with Larry Wallis of the Pink Fairies, who had laid down a rough blueprint for Motörhead  with the Fairies recent “Kings of Oblivion” lp-a dash of Hawkwind stirred into an uncomplicated pot of pub rock and heavy rock. Lemmy brought up the volume, scaled back the psychedelia, used his last tune written for Hawkwind as the sign out front, and hit the throttle and popped the clutch on the motorcycle.

Things did not go well. Fox couldn’t cut it, and was replaced by Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor on drums. (he is a story all by himself). Wallis had his fingers in other pies and as interest waxed and waned (Motörhead won NME’s poll for worst band of the year in 1976), the future was uncertain. Fast Eddie Clarke replaced Wallis, and the classic trio was in place. The only thing missing were two important parts: fans and a record label.

Clarke, Philthy, Lemmy

The band flew through a couple of labels, before Hawkwind’s management put them on to Bronze records to make a final go of it. They reworked their first unreleased album to no avail and things looked grim. But those in the know had noticed they had a crossover following lacking in all bands on the UK scene: Metal heads liked them,  punk rock kids liked them, bikers liked them, and a few die hard Hawkwind fans (see: hippies)  liked them- that covered most of the bases. The potential was there, and in 1979 they released their first tour de force, Overkill. These three albums: Overkill, Bomber and Ace of Spades were the trifecta of metal, creating a genre. This started a five year run of over the top metal-stuff that unscrewed your brain case, rewired the the hardware, and nailed the whole thing shut again.  Microphone stand impossibly high, with microphone pointing straight back back down towards the floor (supposedly to stretch Lemmy’s vocal chords for maximum effect), Motörhead re-defined metal for the next decade.

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The Big Three

Overkill       Bomber     Ace of Spades

All of this stuff was available in Europe only. In the States, punters had to find independent shops that carried imported vinyl- easy in cities, not so easy in the sticks. But America was in for a treat: Motörhead opening for Ozzy with Ozzy allowing them to bring their ‘Bomber’ rig-a lighting rig that simulated a somewhat life sized WW2 German dive bomber, complete with sound effects and an ability to dive into the stage (and first rows occasionally) The tour was accompanied by the first ever big US Motörhead release and most peoples introduction to the band  -No Sleep til Hammersmith, an introduction if there ever was one-one of the heaviest live albums ever put to vinyl. (technically Ace of Spades was first, but this one got the push) I got this the week it came out, hurried home and dropped the needle down on this one while my roommate slept in the other room-it sounded like a car crash as they took the stage. I turned it up to aircraft landing volume, and  as he staggered into the living room worried and confused he said “I honestly thought a truck had just come through the fucking front wall and smashed into the kitchen..”  That’s what would make Lemmy smile.

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Bomber rig in action

The follow up, Iron Fist, seemed to have something wrong. Other than the title track, even this three chord outfit seemed to be running out of ideas. Nobody was surprised when Fast Eddie exited at the end of the 1982 US tour (supposedly pissed over  Motörhead’s collaboration with the dreadful Plasmatics, who made Motörhead look like King Crimson in comparison)

Motörhead seemed dead in the water. The choice of Brian Robertson from Thin Lizzy was an odd one. Too melodic. Too..uhh…pretty. Motorhead prided themselves as being the ugliest band around, and were a band that- to quote them- “if we moved in next door, your lawn would die”  Musos were excited though, could a guy who literally dripped melody from his fingers get anything out of Lemmy and Philthy, or was a multi car pile up imminent?

Early buzz had it that something really special was going on in rehearsals. Robertson had made Lemmy change to the other side of the stage (“he was so deaf in one ear, he needed to change and have his good ear pointed at me so he could follow what we were doing”) Sounds magazine in Britain chronicled their early days and pumped the hype with a weekly comic strip.

The results? Some would say the best Motörhead album ever. It certainly was the most daring. Robertson’s natural melodies swirled through the new tunes, and the cover was a pretty accurate depiction of what was happening inside-a swirling rainbow of color coming from the Motörhead skull. I Got Mine was the first single, and was likewise a pretty good representation of the change that Robertson brought to the band:

Lemmy trying to actually sing, melodic arpeggiations-what was going on? I was delighted-Motörhead had done a fairly challenging musical album. At the time I had been working at a fairly well known Northeast heavy metal record store. Motörhead was due to come for an in store appearance and record signing. The whole  store was pumped-the owner sent me off to buy a case of Carlsberg Elephants, Lemmy’s brew of choice. “So we can drink at work while the band is here?”  Yes, yes we could. The band showed up, living legends strode in and a line went around the corner. I stood in line near the end and unfolded Space Ritual, Hawkwind’s masterpiece. It folds out triple gatefold, then opens downward again into a full six panel 36″ x 24″ tablecloth unfolding kerffflopp:
Lemmy took one look at this and growled:    “Aaargh ye still listen to this do ye?”
But he signed it.(six years later, Dave Brock signed the same album and said “hmm, Lemmy. Alright, there’s two now”)  That night at the Paradise, they almost literally blew up the whole sound system. Robertson had four 100 watt double stack Marshalls, Lemmy had two 200 watt HiWatt heads on two double high stacks. Lets clarify: you could play Madison Square Garden easily with this rig, and be heard clearly in the rafters. I had never experienced volume even close to this in my life. I spoke later to the house sound guy as he chronicled the damage the volume had caused: all floor monitors blown out, left side of stage PA fully blown out, right side stack half blown out, overhead monitors two of three fully fried. He had never seen anything like it either. I had expensive earplugs with metal internal baffles, useless. My internal organs actually hurt the next day. I realized that the bass had set up standing waves in my body cavity and were rattling me like a slow motion maraca. It took days before my hearing returned and my internal bruises dissipated.

The next night in Providence, a club about twice the size of the Paradise, Robertson was down from four to two double stacks, and Lemmy down to a single from a double rig.  Apparently they had learned their lesson. The volume was sane, but the music? The combination of Robertson, Taylor and Lemmy was one that had to be seen live to be believed. Musicality and Motörhead in one sentence? It didn’t make sense. (quick aside: in Sounds that month, Motörhead had done a stunning multi page interview by an open sewer pouring into a river. Within the interview, Lemmy semi-bragged about having anal warts. Not mad, not proud, just telling something nobody should ever tell.  In another magazine interview the same month, Philthy Animal Taylor allowed that he had a case of warts on his dick. In the bathroom of the Providence venue, I noticed I was at the urinal next to Philthy. We chatted (while peeing) about the insane volume of the previous night, and then…the thought flickered for a second-putting two and two together–and asking if his dick warts came from the warts on Lemmy’s ass? Y’know, investigative reporting and such. I calculated the odds of getting punched out instantly as pretty high and kept that one inside)

It was too good to be true. Robertson’s illogical insistence on exercise headbands and jogging shorts for a costume alienated a large part of the fanbase. He was resistant to much of the back catalog and wanted to create a new version of  Motörhead based on their new sound. Bikers, tweakers and metal heads looking to Motörhead as the point of the plow tearing metal forward saw this as an unnecessary slip off the rails. Metal was heading further into the unknown realms of heaviness. This wasn’t. I was devastated. (Philthy proved I wasn’t completely off base by also quitting the band– to join up with Robertson in a new project.)
After this LP, I put Motörhead into the background. Oh sure, I bought the greatest hits double LP that came in an actual leather sleeve, No Remorse. It was the first appearance of Wurzel, Phil Campbell and Pete Gill-the new Motörhead. For me-it was pretty much over.
Not completely though. I still checked in once in a while. The line up stabilized in 1995 with Mikkey Dee already in and the departure of Wurzel, the band was a trio for the next two decades, steady and consistent.  In the early aughts I worked at a high school and had a punk rock chick student. Her mom had been one of Lemmy’s girlfriends and actually had him on her answering machine, all growling and shit. I went to an area show. On the way in, a bloodied guy in the lobby was on a stool surrounded by security trying to ascertain what happened. He was all covered in blood-shirt, nose, face….he muttered a snippet ‘he was in a Slayer shirt’ as I passed. Well that’s still a Motörhead show. The show was pretty good, but they were no longer the Motörhead I had known. They did get there finally by the encore, full on rip into the stratosphere. (My student brought an autographed band photo the next day: “take it easy on the kid in math today–love, Motörhead and then signed by all. Probably the only document of Motörhead trying to influence a teacher. )
In later years, Lemmy’s health slipped, but the constancy of the band did not. Lemmy knew that “rock n roll is gonna save your soul, you gotta let it” This gave him a nearly universal respect across the board-Ozzy, Jarvis Cocker, Slash-hell pretty much everybody knew who Lemmy was and what he did: leather, spikes, Rickenbacker bass powered metal. Good metal. It was like thousands of people had a universally shared crazy uncle, depraved and beloved in the same breath-people knew his lifestyle… and liked it.
An auto defibrillator was installed in 2013 after a few heart related events, but the band didn’t really slow down until the very end (sixteen studio albums and seven live albums released post 1983). But still Lemmy had reasons to keep going with the band, and reasons to keep rocking out towards age 70. On his 65th birthday, he said: “Rock ‘n’ roll is rock ‘n’ roll – it speaks for itself. You hear it and you know it, whether it is or not. It’s quite simple. It means ‘fuck you’ – that’s the attitude of rock ‘n’ roll. It’s about music that makes you 10ft tall and immortal.”
Events related to his conspicuous consumption of alcohol and cigarettes started to take their toll. Lemmy had bragged that he had drunk a full bottle of Jack Daniels every day since his 30th birthday. (hence the 14,600 bottles of Jack in the headline). He hadn’t thought that the multiple liters of Coke  he drank every day in his dozens of Jack and Cokes would be a problem. He switched to vodka and orange juice from whiskey “for health reasons” in 2015. He cut down smoking from two packs a day to one pack per week. It was too late. But he didn’t stop. Motörhead played over 50 shows  between May and December 2015. Hell, they played six shows in December by the last show on the 11th. Lemmy was diagnosed with cancer only fifteen days later. Two days after that, he died in his sleep-in his chair with his favorite video game in his lap. A living legend no longer, the motto of the 2015 tour said it all: victoria aut morte–victory or death.

Click below for a quick run through of Stone Dead Forever from Bomber:

The final show ever, December 11, 2015 below….gawdammm he died only 17 days later, probably thwarting his plans to die onstage.

So hats off to this one of a kind whiskey swilling, ear drum smashing, gun toting, Nazi memorabilia collecting brawling tripping speeding banging living biker legend. Summed up in the eponymous song, the last one he wrote while in Hawkwind in 1975, this both sums up and predicts the whole imbroglio perfectly:

Fourth day, five day marathon,
We’re moving like a parallelogram,
Don’t move, I’ll shut the door and kill the lights,
I guess I’ll see you all on the ice,
I should be tired,
And all I am is wired,
Ain’t felt this good for an hour,
Motörhead, remember me now, Motörhead alright

We’ll remember you, mate

The Demonization of Nik Turner-Hawkwind, Hawknerdz and the Flame Wars of 2014-2015

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Not since Martin Luther nailed up some truths on an imposing church door has there been such a troubling schism in a monolithic religious organization. Pastoral and visionary, this highly bonded group have worshipped at the altar of the band Hawkwind for nigh on five distinct decades. But what could cause such a rift in this pacifist (minus the home made lager) and like minded group? Nik Turner. Just saying that name in certain circles is a call for public hangings, vitriol, character assassinations and general flame wars. Why does this septuagenarian gentleman get singled out so consistently and what is his publicly offensive crime? Only one thing-playing Hawkwind music. So why do some UK fans get such a bug in their butts about Nik?
The Backstory
Nik was a founding member of the seminal space rock band Hawkwind in 1969. Co founder Dave Brock and Nik pretty much created space rock (Edgar Froese may disagree). To be truthful, several other key components rotated through Hawkwind from the key years of 1969-1976: Lemmy (Motorhead), Robert Calvert, Simon House, the dual electronic maelstroms of DikMik and Del Dettmar. But the foundation sound and vision came from these two twins of space rock-Dave Brock and Nik Turner. Dave was the sound and Nik was the voice, and both came from beyond the edge of the cosmos. Hawkwind came slowly through unending waves of music press criticism, shrugged their shoulders and set the controls for the unknown. One of the few bands to remain mostly relevant throughout their 46 year history, their iconoclast view ended up being correct. Pink Floyd? Gone. Tangerine Dream? Gone. They are name checked by hundreds of known and unknown bands across the planet. Hawkwind showed the early critics who was correct.
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The Trouble With Nik
Nik began to have some trouble in the band in the mid 70’s. Dave had sacked more than a few (although it is reported that Nik was tabbed to sack Lemmy on their 1975 tour for getting caught with speed crossing the Canadian border) and the band line up had become fluid. The last one on the chopping block was Nik. He was sent to the wilderness in 1976. This set off a film worthy love/hate relationship between these two stewards of spaceship Hawkwind that has lasted until this day. Like some lingering diseases, the disorder occasionally went dormant (Nik rejoined the band full time in 1983, saving them from their formulaic metal bent and getting them back towards a festival and space rock track) and reconciliations were offered. Nik was shown the door again in 1985, ostensibly for being a stage hog (partly true). Although some debated their likes and dislikes of 15 years of Hawkwind, everyone agreed that this was not only THE band, it was their band. Reunions in the millennium included many former members, and the Hawkwind family was one huge extended clan.
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Enter the Hawknerds

Something started to go wrong recently. In 2013, posts on Amazon and Yahoo groups indicated a new breed had arisen–the self appointed Hawkwind police. They trolled the internet looking for mentions of Nik Turner, gathered the troops, and attacked. Where this new strain had come from was a mystery for a while. Somewhere in 2014, something happened on the UK Hawkwind fan site. Known amongst themselves as Hawknerds, the site began to show some troubling signs. ‘Wanted For Treason” and other nasty threats were posted over pictures of Nik Turner. Beheadings, Hangings, stonings were all mentioned. What the hell were these people talking about? Most of the folks on this site are straight shooting music fans, unwilling to be drawn into political discussions of the “schism”. But moderators either tacitly or actively approved of this misbehavior. Posts by members of the band fueled the fires and opinions got very heated. A strong cadre of members were increasingly vociferous about their opinions of Nik Turner. And in sharing these opinions, they were not shy. Like a child in a divorce, they were told to take sides, and poisoned by…..someone. They took to the web (mostly friend face) and screamed the mantra “Nik Turner is the devil!” They started a flame war that was single minded: destroy anyone who disagreed with the party line. You like Nik Turner? You are banned from the site. Did you have your own site? (Nik Turner’s main friend face site and the Hawkwind North America/Canada site are good examples) We show up and attack. When faced with logic or asked questions logically-they descended into name calling, attacks and bans. This happened on the UK site where many US fans questioning the double cancellation were just muted and sent away. They orchestrated a concerted effort to suppress and censor any information on the internet about the Hawkwind failed tour, and shifted all blame on Nik, by any means possible. “They had questioned the integrity of the band”. Why would they say this? Why would they intentionally divide a fan base that was such a global family? That some on the UK site were bothered by US fans complaining about losing two rounds of hotels and flights to go to unplayed shows-and offered a “who cares, they’re playing ten times this fall” attitude only added to an already forming rift.
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The Non Tour Saga and the Blaming of Nik
Although this is detailed here earlier, a quick recap: Hawkwind had a tour of America booked in fall 2013. Three days before the tour was to commence, they canceled the whole thing. The reason? Dave Brock had been stricken ill over stress by the fact that Nik was suing to use the Hawkwind name in America, and was unable to tour. Whether this was the idea of Nik or Cleopatra Records is to be determined. But given this excuse, people were sad and regrouped. Online,the complaints were solidified. It was stressed that a concurrent tour as Nik Turner’s Hawkwind would be confusing to prospective fans. Ignoring the fact that all US (and Canadian) fans know the difference, and would attend both bands no matter what, the claim of a single Hawkwind was a rallying cry to many UK fans. A larger problem developed in the spring. The rescheduled tour in 2014 was once again canceled two weeks before it began with the band citing some fairly implausible excuses-they had nowhere to sleep (tour buses are where bands sleep), they had no food plans (venues feed bands), promoters would not put up the cash (they had done enough in October to satisfy the band), renting a back line would be expensive (many US tours from 1990 to 1997 prove they know this isn’t a problem). When mentioning visas and airfare, the explanation gets into a twilight zone of logic. People started to doubt this story, and by proxy, the October story. (Hawkwind had gone on a short UK tour near the proposed US tour dates in October). Was there something else out there that kept them from coming? Nik? Certainly not a real excuse. (All of Nik Turner’s shows in cities that Hawkwind were scheduled to play were after Hawkwind had done a show, precluding any supposed confusion). Another troubling question was: Were Hawkwind legally prevented from coming to North America by the legal kerfuffle? This would go a loooong way to explaining the fairly unconvincing and contradictory claims regarding the spring 2014 tour. The fact that they couldn’t legally come would explain not touring and not telling anyone at the same time. ( a good article that chronicles this and quotes the reasons from Hawkwind’s main website can be read here )
What’s In A Name?
Now let’s set some history straight. Two Hawkwinds? Is that possible? A quick perusal of rock history can show us some things. Multiple Wishbone Ash, Queensryche, Foghat units populate a dwindling rock god gene pool. Steve Hackett’s Genesis just toured. Collins, Banks and Rutheford toured in 2007, are planning a tour now, and own the name-no problem. Yes? Well there’s Yes, and uh Yes featuring Anderson, Wakeman, Rabin (as of April 2017). Hawkwind’s space rock contemporaries, Gong are an even better example. Gong, Paragong, New York Gong, Gnog, Gong Maison, Mother Gong, Pierre Moerlen’s Gong? For better or worse, this band of UK and French stoners managed to get along and share…after all, wasn’t that the vibe of the sixties? Free shows and Portobello Road communes were the order of the day. Money? That’s for fat cats, the man, the establishment. Although it is sure that the Gong family squabbled about many things PHP, they never took their family fights public, and gave the illusion of getting along. And so did their fans.
Not the End But a Denouement
How this will play out isn’t easy to predict. As noted before, the band of Hawkwind fans was one of the strongest and longest lived underground and nearly religious cadres in rock behind Deadheads. But this divide in the following weakens a group that has never seen strife as fans. Nik Turner’s Hawkwind and Hawkwind? US fans don’t care. Bring ’em both. This US refusal to recognize any conflict drew vociferous attacks via the UK. The Hawknerds are partially guilty of inciting this schism in a fan base that was solid for decades. Not reining in wayward factions and tolerating or encouraging childlike internet behavior has gone a long way to creating ill will that never existed before. This campaign seems to have the quiet backing of the official band as well. Airing of dirty laundry in public is not a smart way to solve problems. There is no evidence of squabbling between Hawkwind factions, hell there were no Hawkwind factions before this recent flame war started. They have advised to be patient and wait until the legal battle is settled, yet actively promote a squabble over a conflict, a conflict between two band members, not fans. This is irresponsible, and uses age old smear and censorship tactics, spreading the hate that they gleefully accuse folks who honestly voice any opposing opinions of, and silencing and deleting whenever possible. But this article is not intended to be an apology for Nik Turner, it is a plea for reconciliation, and to get everyone back together, fans (and band members). Some will disagree.  I know that few of the hardened hatchet men will be moved by this message, but I feel sorry for them. “Cutting off one’s nose to spite their face” comes to mind as these people miss out on some amazing music to fight a battle, a battle that is not even theirs to fight. If a band splits, then either a limb dies off, or it roots and regrows. The obvious solution is to get the original band back together. (Nik had openly said on his 2013 tour that he had no problem with Dave and wanted to play at any time, and that he had contacted Lemmy’s son about a full on reunion…(sadly no longer possible).  But this is not always possible. So when a long lived band has two incarnations, it actually is double the fun for the crowd. Two Hawkwinds? Two Hawkwinds touring America at once? Hallelujah! Two space rock gods fighting-not something that has any winners. Two 70 year old guys fighting over a band name? It makes one shake a head and think…”why can’t stoner grandpas just get along?”

For verification of any of the above, the sources are the closed groups of Hawkwind UK fans, Hawkwind US/Canada, and the Nik Turner group, all friend face locations.

Update June 29, 2017-Out of the Woods

The trademark dispute ended in the US this week with the board finding for Dave Brock and Hawkwind, barring use of “Nik Turner’s Hawkwind” as a billing moniker. He still can play as “Nik Turner formerly of Hawkwind” on the bill, which seems as if two words were the cause of four years of strife in the Hawkwind fanbase. The result was pretty much expected by everyone when the complaint is read closely. (Brock has been the only constant member since 1969). The 22 page finding can be read here.

The confusion part of the case as argued relied on an early 1970’s trademark dispute between du Pont owning an automotive cleaning agent called Rally vs a smaller company who held the trademark for a detergent called Rally. Du Pont was originally refused a trademark for Rally, took the smaller company to court, and the original company was forced to share the name with du Pont. The argument that there would be confusion as to which was which was disputed by the board. That angle seemed unclear as to how this was so influential when the conclusions between this and the Hawkwind dispute were diametrically opposed viz a viz sharing. I would have thought the now forgotten Bay Area 80’s supergroup Dinosaur suing punk rock from Massachusetts Dinosaur (eventually settling on Dinosaur Jr to get out of it) would have been more relevant. Nik touring as Hawkwind Jr is probably not going to bring folks through the door though.

So who won? Obviously Brock will be happy to get Nik off his back. (reading the board decision, it is hard to tell who was the motivating power in this dispute, Nik or Cleopatra Records. From reading the 22 pages, my guess would point towards Cleo.)  Beyond that…?

Who lost? On paper, Nik loses the battle to be called Nik Turner’s Hawkwind, though as pointed out above, touring as ‘Nik Turner formerly of Hawkwind’ isn’t that much of a change. The general public is unaware of this squabble, so his following in North America will likely stay unaffected. He comes out mostly a wash. Cleopatra certainly is out lawyer’s fees for pressing the issue, so they’d be in the loss column. The real loss falls to the Hawkfans who have been polarized (even when not choosing sides) into some real rabble rousing hate camps. (see: Hawknerdz). Hawkwind, as the extended family, was once a mobile free festival- a moveable cosmic feast that spread across all of the continents, friends all whenever we met. We knew a secret. The rifts caused by elements of coordinated online social media fanning flames of dissent and causing an unnecessary UK vs North America, us vs. them fan squabble lasting years and something that  will take years to heal. Some folks should take time to reflect on what they’ve done to this pretty damn cool planet-wide fan base. Time for an Earth Ritual folks.

“oh yeah, only the stones remain…”    the Soft Boys

 

 

 

Divided Alien? Dingo Virgin? Daevid Allen and Pot Head Pixies Depart For Planet Gong

I've been off planet, have you?
I’ve been off planet mate, have you?

This has been a rough winter for fans of the cosmos. First Edgar Froese. Then Spock (supposedly actor Leonard Nimoy, but facts are unclear as to whether Spock is real or not) and now Daevid Allen. Although Daevid is the least well known of the three, he made a fairly large imprint on the minds of impressionable space rock aficionados across the planet as he wove his magic from the late 60’s up to the current decade. Six decades by my reckoning.

This month (March) had brought the sad news from the Gong camp that Daevid Allen was not doing well health-wise. He had made the decision to quit all radical chemo and radiation therapies and let nature take its course. Although this should not have been that surprising (he was born in 1938), Daevid Allen has been such a constant in many people’s lives that they were taken completely unaware. Because for my whole life of following bands and collecting records, Daevid Allen was always there, lurking in the background. The elusive Flying Teapot trilogy was legendary in the late 70’s, and nearly impossible to find in record stores. I remember getting Angel’s Egg in an import store in Boston when my parents refused to help me shell out the nearly 20 bucks a Japanese copy of Cheap Trick’s Live at Budokan commanded. (It was released within two months to the US market at a much more sensible six dollar price point). But with Flying Teapot already in the collection, Angel’s Egg upped the weirdness quotient exponentially, if that is even possible. How to describe the mythological weirdness that floats around Gong? A coterie of green pointy headed aliens with propellers on their heads, known as Pot Head Pixies, fly from their home planet, Gong, to visit Earth. From here the story gets a little murky. The pixies come to earth in flying teapots from across the galaxy to offer earthlings tea. Said tea will promote wisdom, peace, enlightenment and mischief. They broadcast to us via a cross galaxy station known as Radio Gnome. The healing vibes of Planet Gong….uhhh…..well Daevid was not quite clear about this part. But you get the idea perhaps. Drugs clearly are a big part of this. Gong as a band were inveterate stoners, and LSD was sprinkled in liberally to tighten up the recipe. Pot Head Pixies, from Flying Teapot is a paen to their drug of choice:

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David started his bohemian existence in Australia in the late 1950’s, the beatnik era. (Daevid was considerably older than his contemporaries). Stints in Paris and London in the early sixties led him to a musical pathway. Along this path he left no turn unstoned, and spread his burgeoning mythical vibes. He hooked up with William Burroughs to do soundtracks to live plays, lifting the band name ‘Soft Machine’ from a Burroughs novel. These free jazz experiments and lifestyle lay the foundations for some incredible moments: Allen overstaying a visa meant he was unable to return to the UK after Soft Machine’s first Europe tour, and was bounced from the band. (the other famous early member of Soft Machine, Kevin Ayers, chose to quit the band to hang out on the beaches of Spain and soak up sun, champagne, drugs and bang rich and bored European heiresses) David shifted to Paris in time for the commune revolts that spread in the spring of 1968 and nearly toppled the government. Now a borderline revolutionary, Daevid was getting close to being persona non grata in two of the largest European countries. It was in France that the seeds of Gong were planted. Gilli Smyth came on board as muse and space whisperer. Daevid perfected his glissando guitar techniques that he used until his dying day: sliding a metal bar over guitar strings yielding an astral sound of the galaxies and beyond. This was a sound that was integral to Gong’s whole ethos-bubbling synthesizers from Tim Blake, echoing leads piercing the sky from Steve Hillage, and an underpinning of galactic gravy gliss from Daevid to hold it all together. Gong famously sprinted from France to England to perform at the 1971 Glastonbury Fayre Festival. Their side long contribution-Glad Stoned Buried Fielding Flash and Fresh Fest Footprint in My Memory-is a classic of space rock and an indelible part of the hippy culture of England in the early 70’s.

Gong was signed to Richard Branson’s fledgling Virgin label in 1972 in the wake of the massive success of debut labelmate Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. Their communal lifestyle and music drew druggies to them like moths to a flame. Much like the Grateful Dead had Americans follow them everywhere while imbibing improbable amounts of psychedelics, and Hawkwind had a likewise following in the UK, Gong drew in the French hippies en masse. Concerts were like tribal family gatherings, and the line between band and fan was not always clear. Success bred insanity, break ups, reunions, line up shifts and a colorful tapestry of alternative living, with an undercurrent of ‘better living through chemistry”. Three albums later, Daevid quit Gong while onstage. During the 1975 tour for the third album of the Teapot trilogy, You, he was watching a jam from offstage waiting for his cue to return. But the vibes were not right. He said “I felt a wall, invisible but real, form while I stood side stage. I decided to leave through the stage door, and walk out into the night, still dressed in my psychedelic stage costume. I left Gong forever that night” Solo Daevid Allen albums became more pastoral and gentle as he honed his philosophy. Woodland critters and gentle streams and breezes informed his new work.Then a punky phase from New York. Then a stint with Here and Now, one of the only Gong influenced bands on the planet (Ozric Tentacles would be the other one) He continued to be prolific throughout the nineties and millenium. I met Daevid several times in the nineties, once at a solo show where gliss guitar filled the air, and once at a full blown Gong reunion show in Boston. A white haired wizard, he had not lost a step in wits or in cosmic attunement. daevid older

In retrospect, Daevid Allen was a unique synthesis of talents. A mystic, a mime, a musician, an artist, a visionary. Only Vivian Stanshall and his work in the  Bonzo Dog Band is a close reference point. Job descriptions blurred as Daevid took the stage. Performance art, rock, cosmic experiences, theater, jazz–it all blurred into one glorious experience, with Daevid as the psychedelic mastermind. From his busking daze in Australia to proto agit prop firebrand in France to elder statesman of space rock, Daevid carved a genuinely low key and delightfully positive path through the world. Would that were more folks like that in the rock world. I am sure Daevid would agree. If you point your antennae to the stars and can locate an obscure alien transmission known as Radio Gnome, you might just get an answer. The teapot taxi will not be visiting any more. But I will still be pointing my dish towards the galaxy, hoping to pick up a transmission. “You are I and I am you”.

Edgar Froese: Yes I Invented Space Rock. See You In the Cosmos

Edgar Froese passed away this week (January 20, 2015), and most of the world have zero idea what a legend this man was. That right there is a shame. John Lennon dies? John Entwistle? Johhny Cash? Headlines across the world. Edgar’s passing has created nary a ripple in most news outlets. And this is also a shame, for this man was a giant and a pioneer of synthesizer based music. He was the founding and sole surviving member of the German kosmische synthesizer trio Tangerine Dream. You may know them from the soundtracks to Risky Business or Firestarter. Others may remember darkened college dorm rooms with Stratosfear or Phaedra bending uninitiated minds to the edge of sanity. But one thing is certain: this man is single handedly responsible for most of space rock, krautrock and hell, even techno. That is a pretty large legacy for an under the radar German synthesizer  guy.

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For those who are new to this, let me get this out there: you need to own some Tangerine Dream albums. This band pretty much created a sound and scene on their own. Meetings and work in the late 60’s with Salvador Dali and Karlheinz Stockhausen cracked Edgar’s rock n roll reality. Multi media, lights, plays, music, improvisation? This was the signpost for the future.  A new wind blowing through Europe encouraged experimentation.   Fledgling experiments under the  moniker Tangerine Dream started in 1967, with Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive as the blueprint. But where Pink Floyd quickly abandoned their massive sonic improvisational sound for songs, Edgar and company took the model even further. The first Tangerine Dream album, Electronic Meditation (1970), was a miasma of sound. Klaus Schulze, future synth god was aboard as the drummer. Many of Germany’s great space rock musicians had floated though the band before they broke internationally. But still it was rooted in the rock format-drums, organ and guitar were the predominant blueprint.

Phaedra             Rubycon                 Ricochet         Stratosfear           Encore               Tangerine-Dream-Sorcerer

It was the period from 1972-1978 that was their glory period though, and the stretch where the albums that defined a genre were created. Kraftwerk, another synthesizer trio from Germany that broke in the US, were filled with repetitive blips and clicks. Tangerine Dream pulled in the sounds of the cosmos. Huge soundscapes were the order of the day. Melody, rhythm, chord structures? No thanks. 1972’s Zeit was a sprawling double album that sounded like a 60 cycle electronic hum accompanied by droning cellos. This was about as far from rock that anyone could get. Yet they swung in rock crowds, and attracted rock audiences. They caught the attention of Virgin Records, who were coming off the massive success of Mike Oldfield with Tubular Bells. They were looking to grab any fringe bands, and the enthusiasm of DJ John Peel for the band ensured they got signed. 1974’s Virgin debut Phaedra was the result. The classic trio of Edgar Froese, Chris Franke and Peter Baumann had pretty much abandoned their ‘normal’ rock instruments (guitar, drums, keyboards respectively) for a new form of musicianship. VCS3 synthesizers, mellotrons and electronic effects replaced normal instrumentation for most of their tunes. Prototype sequencers generated hypnotic rhythmic patterns, drawing in the LSD and stoner crowd from England and Europe. Fans of space rock who thought Pink Floyd had sold out and gone commercial and that Hawkwind was stagnating in format now had a new darling-a synthesizer trio that could genuinely freak out the hard core freaks. Washes of sound induced paranoia could come on the heels of delicately beautiful piano driven melodies. Moog modular synthesizers could conjure up genuine vertigo as the sensation of the floor suddenly slipping away poured from your speakers. This was some heady stuff. But was it rock? Lester Bangs described it as the “sound of silt seeping across the ocean floor”.

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Phaedra was the breakthrough. It sold massively in the UK, and was the underground hit of the year. With little publicity and zero airplay (barring John Peel’s rabid enthusiasm), it shot to near top ten in British charts. Europe and America started to notice. A tour in 1974 used cathedrals as venues (the natural ambience providing a powerful and impressive reverb character to the sound). A concert at a cathedral in Reims France in summer 1974 drew international attention when over 5,000 fans tried to cram into a cathedral that barely held 2,000. People were literally hanging from the rafters. (the Pope banned them from cathedrals, and sent emissaries to ritually ‘exorcise’ the sullied church) What the hell was going on? People were in a frenzy trying to see what many thought was just subliminal hums and static? And the band reinforced the image by never acknowledging the crowd. They came on to a darkened stage, played, and left. No song introductions, no hello or goodbye. Was this rock n roll?

After the international success of Stratosfear (1976), Tangerine Dream’s legend was assured. A massive tour of the United States was documented on the 1977 live album Encore (highly recommended as a starting point for anyone uninitiated, as is Ricochet). Krautrock was a recognized genre (see: Can, Cluster, Klaus Schulze, Conrad Schnitzler, Amon Duul 2, Faust, Neu, Guru Guru, Klaus Schulze, Kraan, Eloy…) and German synthesizer pioneers started to work with dance club divas (Donna Summer’s I Feel Love was a prime example). The seeds that spawned techno had been planted by German synthesizer pioneers.

So this brings us back to today, and the passing of a genuine electronic music genius. His work has been massively influential on swaths of musical fields. I had the pleasure of meeting Edgar briefly back stage after a 1986 US show. I approached him to shake his hand, and said “Danke schoen Edgar”  He looked me in the eye and said in a thick German accent: “You’re welcome”. Thank you Edgar. See you in the cosmos.

Hawkwind’s Non Tour of America Saga, 2013 to 2014

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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.

Spacehawks (Rock Classics 2013)
This album was created to be sold on the twice aborted US tour of 2013 and 2014 as a promotion and reintroduction of the band to America. In view of that, it is an interesting compilation of songs recorded recently, designed to grab people unfamiliar either with the band or with their work in the 21st century. It succeeds as a primer to latter day Hawkwind, with highlights from their Warrior on the Edge of Time recent revival tour (planned as the theme of the US tour) and contains some songs previously released on Blood of the Earth, Onward and Hawkwind Light Orchestra recent LPs.
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.