Islington Assembly Hall, London
November 9 2012
"Never trust a hippy", sayeth the old adage: alternatively, "Hawklords onstage 9pm", quoth the stickers posted everywhere round the venue. Which means, lo and verily, that in the honoured traditions of people to whom time is merely an abstract concept to write about flying through upon an astral conveyor belt, the band actually take to the stage at 8.50, at which point I'm still ensconced downstairs. Ironically, the last time I saw them, at Chislehurst BeaverwoodClub, they finished ten minutes early: eventually, one day, they'll get it right.
Dashing back to the main auditorium I can see Ron Tree belting it out, mike-stand-a-shaking and vocals commanding in the best traditions of his mentor Bob Calvert. Adrian Shaw, surprisingly chipper for a man who in the last ten years spent some time at death's door, pummelling his bass with cheerful chutzpah: Harvey Bainbridge, ever the Grande Aulde Wizard of the keys, even with just one low-budget synth at his disposal: Jerry Richards, still looking for all the world like the LA sleaze metaller who got lost in a space rock band by mistake, and, in place of Martin Griffin (who seems to have been edged away from the band at the advice of you-know-who), "some bald bloke I don't recognise" on drums. Sadly no Steve Swindells this time (although he's very much present on new album We Are One, he's currently undergoing treatment for emphysema- but I'm assured by the friendly merch bloke that he'll be back soon) and no Nik Turner or Alan Davey either, having both re-decamped to Space Ritual and Gunslinger respectively. With this in mind, the link betwixt the band we're seeing and the classic 1978 lineup (essentially Hawkwind under another name at that point) is a lot more tentative than it was 2 years ago, but maybe on reflection, that's a good thing.
After all, right from the start, they've always made it clear that this isn't a nostalgia trip, more of a continuation of the groundwork laid down by the departed Calvert: dispensing with 'Master Of The Universe' early on in the set seems to lend this theory extra credence, and, lest we forget, they have a new album out. However, that doesn't mean they have to play practically all of it- which, tonight, is sadly what they do. Maybe if I was more familiar with the tunes contained therein, I'd be going apeshit for the likes of 'Digital Age' 'Sun Child' and even the trite eco-posturing of 'Global Warning' - melodically, they're all worthy of both the late 70s and mid 90s incarnations of the band from which this line up has been assembled. They swoop, twirl, pound and pummel beautifully in a live setting, and I can spot several fans rushing to the stall to buy the CD - but after a while, the continued onslaught starts to wear thin, so much so that when, finally, familiar faces poke their head out in the form of 'Uncle Sam's On Mars' and the definitive Lords anthem 'Psi Power', massive sighs of relief are breathed.
Or are they? Maybe I'm the only one who thinks like this. And make no mistake about it, the new material is strong, far more cohesive than anything released in recent years by the 'other lot'. Am I, then, merely displaying my encroaching middle age by longing for displays of greatest hits, or are albums like Quark Strangeness And Charm, PXR5 and 25 Years On simply so perfect that the desire to hear that material played live by at least two of the people involved is too hard to resist? Perhaps also, a little of it stems from the fact those records, under-appreciated for so long, are now finally being acknowledged. Yet inevitably this leads to the need for new material to continue the growing concern, the downside being its gradual encroachment on the old favourites.
Many bands who reform after a long absence find themselves in such a predicament: for Hawklords, the situation is even stranger as they are essentially a reformed version of one line-up of another band still in existence under a slightly different name, attempting to continue on from where one single album left off, but at the same time, they are also a separate entity. A new band with an ancient history? Maybe, but it's one to be respected, and one I hope they don't divorce themselves from entirely - the worst they could do would be to turn into just "a bunch of blokes playing songs nobody knows". If they did, I'm sure the attendances will drop off accordingly: conversely, by continuing to combine new material as strong as 'Spark In The Dark' (sadly, not an 80s Alice Cooper cover!!) and the title track with stone (r) gems like 'Brainstorm' and 'Robot' - the latter of which tonight is simply staggering in its immenseness- they'll always reflect the best of both worlds.
Welcome, then, indeed, to the future. One minor caveat, though, lads- if you're going to encore with a song as brilliant as '25 Years', could you maybe try to remember the lyrics and the chord changes, rather than just singing the first verse and then repeating the title endlessly over the riff while the rhythm section becomes increasingly confused? Trust me, it would elevate an average ending into a truly great one...
Darius Drewe Shimon