Tag Archives: Hawkwind

When does a band become a tribute act?

Quite a few veteran acts touring with just one or two original members get accused, rightly or wrongly, of being glorified tribute acts. Yes are a case in point; since the untimely death of Chris Squire the band have been touring without a single founder member, and just guitarist Steve Howe remaining from the early 70s band that made their reputation. There is a noisy faction of their ‘fans’ who refuse to accept the existence of the band without Jon Anderson, going to the extent of creating a Facebook group called “2/5ths of Yes is not Yes”. Given that Yes have gone though many personnel changes in their long history, that attitude is rather silly.

But what about AC/DC? With Phil Rudd in trouble with the law, and first Malcolm Young and then Brian Johnson forced to step down due to ill health they’re down to Angus Young and a bunch of hired hands. The Guardian’s Michael Hann has made a good argument for the band to call it a day after finishing their tour, and I find it hard to disagree with that.

There are plenty of bands on the nostalgia circuit for whom the label “glorified tribute band” is entirely appropriate. Bands who have been playing the same greatest hits sets for the past twenty years with diminishing levels of passion, and have either stopped recording new material altogether or release forgettable albums that add little to their legacy. But that has little to do with how many original members remain. One might even put The Rolling Stones in that category.

But there are others for whom the opposite is true. Look at Hawkwind, for example. Dave Brock spends much of the set sitting down, plays a bit of rhythm guitar, and lets the guys who weren’t even born when he started the band do all the work. But it’s his presence on stage that makes it Hawkwind in a way the rival bands featuring assorted ex-members are not. And what about The Enid, set to continue without mainman Robert John Godfrey with Robert’s blessing?

And how do you classify Zappa Plays Zappa, led by Dweezil Zappa and playing the music of his late father? Early incarnations of the band included Zappa alumni Napoleon Murphy Brock and Stevie Vai, though more recent lineups are made up entirely of younger musicians who weren’t part of any of Frank Zappa’s bands. But the spiritual connection is obvious.

As death or ill-health claims more and more of the classic rock generation it would be sad if their music stopped being performed live. The dividing line between tribute acts and original bands with no original members is likely to become increasingly blurred; a lot of it depends on whether they revolved around larger-then-life personalities, or whether, as in the case of Yes, the music itself is bigger than the performers.

In the end does it really matter? Is “authenticity” more important than the quality of the actual performances?

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What was your first ever gig?

The Guardian’s Michael Hann writes about first gigs. His was pre-hairspray Whitesnake, in the days where every member of the band played extended solos including the bassist. Though somehow I doubt that each solo was realy ren minutes long, even if they might have seemed that long to the 13-year old Michael Hann.

What my first gig actually was depends on what you count as a gig. Was it new-wave one-hit-wonders The Jags, who played a student gig at Bridges Hall?

I can’t remember now if it was a student-only thing or whether tickets were available to the general public. What I do remember is they were truly awful, a drunken shambles who stumbled their way through a barely-recognisable version of their one hit and a dozen other numbers that sounded exactly the same. The guitarist was so blotto he didn’t even notice he’d broken two strings. It’s not surprising they faded away soon after.

Or was it the 1980 Reading Festival, then as now a teenage right-of-passage?

The headliners that year were Rory Gallagher, UFO and Whitesnake, and the bill also included Gillan, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Slade, and many, many New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands (You name them, they were probably on the bill). I remember the huge cheer when Ian Gillan came on stage for his special guest spot on Friday night, and the whole field full of people singing along to Smoke on the Water. Then there was Iron Maiden on Saturday, again in the special guest spot. It was right at the beginning of their career, still with original singer Paul DiAnno. They’d just released their d├ębut album, and the energy on stage made it clear they were hungry and going places. Then there was Slade, late substitutes for Ozzy Osborne who’d pulled out at short notice. Nobody expected much from them at the start, and a low-key beginning with a couple of new songs gathered polite applause, but little more. Then they started playing the hits, one after another, and everything changed. By the end they’d completely stolen the show. When they came back for an encore, the crowd wanted that Christmas song. “Ye daft buggers”, said Noddy, “You’ll have to sing that yourselves”. So we did. Then they left us with “Born to be Wild”. Def Leppard found that very hard to follow.

Or the first “regular gig” in an indoor venue? That would have been Hawkwind at the now-demolished Top Rank Club in Reading.

The support was power-trio Vardis who sounded like a 30 second excerpt of Love Sculpture’s “Sabre Dance” repeated in a loop for 40 minutes with occasional vocals. As for Hawkwind themselves, this was one of the more metal incarnations of the band, with the late Huw Lloyd Langton on lead guitar and Dave Brock sticking to rhythm. They also had, of all people, Ginger Baker on drums, a legendary musician but quite the wrong sort of drummer for a band like Hawkwind. In retrospect it was probably not the greatest gig ever, soon eclipsed by far better gigs by Gillan, Budgie, Iron Maiden, UFO and Thin Lizzy. If anything, Hawkwind were actually better when I saw them thirty years later at St David’s Hall in Cardiff, but the superior acoustics of a symphony hall probably helped.

So, what was your first gig? Was it somebody legendary, or someone as awful as The Jags?

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Hawkwind featuring Brian Blessed – Sonic Attack

Hawkwind have re-recorded the classic “Sonic Attack” featuring the legendary Brian Blessed.

Sorry, I’ll say that again….

HAWKWIND HAVE RE-RECORDED THE CLASSIC “SONIC ATTACK” FEATURING THE LEGENDARY BRIAN BLESSED.

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Four Days, Four Gigs

It’s been one of those bank holiday weekends – four gigs in four days, which I think is the greatest amount of music in the shortest time I’ve ever done outside of a festival!

Thursday was The Reasoning ably supported by Morpheus Rising at Bury Met. Morpheus Rising are a five piece band shamelessly citing the 1980s NWOBHM as a principle influence, now reclassified as hard rock following boundary changes. Entertaining high energy stuff, and I’m sure I’ve seen their bass player before somewhere – he looked naggingly familiar!

I’d seen The Reasoning a week earlier in London, where a very poor sound mix really hadn’t done the music justice, and the performance suffered badly as a result. Tonight was far, far better. Bury Met is always a great gig whoever is playing, and The Reasoning I know and love were back with a vengeance, now expanded to a seven-piece with new members Jake Bradford-Sharp on drums, ex-Fish keyboard player Tony Turrell and vocalist Maria Owen. The new album “Adverse Camber” features heavily, which takes a slight step back from prog-metal in favour of some elements of the atmospheric melodic music that Rachel did with Karnataka. Not that the twin guitar attack of Dylan Thompson and Owain Roberts doesn’t still rock hard plenty of times, but the overall effect is to make their live set a lot more varied and multi-dimensional, which cannot be anything other than a good thing.

On Friday I travelled down to Cardiff to see Hawkwind supported by Panic Room at St David’s Hall. I’ve seen Panic Room many times before at their own shows, here they made the most of their five-song 30 minute slot, naturally including a great version of “Apocalypstick”. Blessed with a good sound mix for a support, they seemed to go down well with Hawkwind’s audience, and told me they sold a lot of albums after the gig.

Hawkwind themselves I hadn’t seen since 1980, and had lost track of what they’ve been doing since the mid-80s, so I really didn’t know what to expect. They turned out to be amazingly good – they played a great mix of 70s classics like “Lord of Light”, “Magnu” and “Lighthouse” with more recent material. And there plenty of Theramin courtesy of Tim Blake. Nowadays they seem to be the missing link between metal, prog and rave/techno culture – Their music ranges from heavier songs atmospheric floydian bits, and several moments where they all started playing laptops and looked and sounded like Orbital. On quite a few songs they had two bass players, with guitarist Niall Hone playing ‘lead bass’ and Mr Dibs playing ‘rhythm bass’, strumming chords like Lemmy used to do, producing a sound with an awful lot of bottom-end. And hats off to drummer Richard Chadwick for getting Simon King’s very distinctive drumming style off to a tee. Amazingly Dave Brock looks no different from how he looked 30 years ago. The first encore of Hasan-I-Sabah with a lengthy techno middle section was amazing, and I really wasn’t expecting them to finish with Silver Machine.

Saturday was Veteran Welsh proggers Man at The Garage in Swansea. There were two supports ,the first being a bluesy-rock trio who all looked about 15, some meaty riffs and good songwriting let down by poor vocals, but their youth must show long term promise. Next up was a truly dire landfill indie band. There might have been a few flourishes from the guitarist, clearly a frustrated rocker, but the tuneless songs did nothing for me at all, not helped by the fact they were louder than Hawkwind.

Man themselves were great, even if, like so many veteran bands, they only had a couple of original members left, Martin Ace on vocals and bass, and Phil Ryan on keys. Without knowing any of their songs, I found the most enjoyable moments were when when they went off into extended jams, with the rhythm section saying down a solid groove with Hammond organ soloing over the top. Proof that grey-haired wrinkly rockers can still do it.

As for Sunday, I’ve always meant to step out of my comfort zone of prog, metal and classic rock and investigate genres like jazz and folk, so spending a weekend in Swansea at the same time as The Mumbles Jazz festival seemed like a opportunity not to be missed. From the programme, the most attractive sounding one seemed to be Sunday night’s double bill, even though I’d never heard of either act. First on was the Mark Nightingale All Star British Jazz Quintet. With trombone, sax, electric piano, bass and drums, it was pretty muso stuff, with 13/8 time signatures (7/8 and 9/8 favoured by prog is for wimps!) and many, many bass solos. Still very entertaining even if they occasionally strayed into easy listening territory.

The second act, Protect The Beat, were billed as “seriously funky jazz/groove from five top UK session musicians”. Their session credit CV read like a who’s who of rock and pop with artists like Massive Attack, Sting, Chaka Khan and, er, take that. Led by sax player Derek Nash they were both awesomely tight and completely on fire, and clearly enjoying every minute of their two hours on stage. One of those nights when you realise that recorded music on CD is just a pale imitation of live music; there really is nothing like being in the same room as a bunch of great musicians giving it all they’ve got. Not that anyone reading this needs to be reminded.

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