Over the years, the market has been flooded with Hawkwind compilations, reissues and retrospectives. From the comprehensive and brilliant (‘This Is Your Captain’, a huge set pulling together the United Artists albums), to the interesting (box sets of Flicknife and Emergency Broadcast era albums aimed more at the completist), to the perfunctory (various cheap “best of” type sets, thrown together by budget labels with no thought), it seems as if no stone has been left unturned in terms of anthologies celebrating the legendary space lords.
There hasn’t really been a decent domestically released compilation spanning their whole career for a very long time, though; nothing that even touches on a late career return to form, and this is where ‘Dust of Time’ – a 6CD box set issued at the end of 2021 – comes in. It bravely tries to give an insight into over half a century’s worth of experimentation. For better or worse; through the early space rock jams, through misjudged new wave inflected rock, in and out of proggy weirdness and into dance oriented grooves, this set shows off – perhaps better than most – Hawkwind’s constant desire for constant growth and change, and how founding member Dave Brock has always been able to adapt, working with different musicians for vastly different purposes, never getting stuck in a rut.
It’s only the first two discs that feature material that most casual observers would recognise, so the fact that the band’s most commercially successful period is glossed over relatively quickly really ought to give the Hawkwind novice some huge pointers into how much more material was at the compilers’ disposal. Somewhere near the beginning of this long journey, the hits (‘Silver Machine’ and ‘Urban Guerrilla’) are joined by the brilliant ‘Shouldn’t Do That’ (from 1971’s ‘In Search of Space), a huge proto-stoner jam that sounds like a direct influence on the early Monster Magnet, the single mix of ‘Seven By Seven’ – a tune never likely to be a hit due to an unsettling combination of other worldly vocal with a theramin overdose – and ‘Mirror of Illusion’, an early track that showcases a fusion of busy rhythm & blues with busy, jazzy bass work with futuristic electronic sounds. This brief snapshot of a popular era alone gives a valuable glimpse of an already restless band. Recorded in 1970, the latter is the perfect snapshot of the head expanding places the band would venture in the not too distant future.
Further early years highlights come via ‘Brainstorm’ and ‘Space Is Deep’ (from 1972’s ‘Doremi Fasol Latido’) which further show off Hawkwind’s musical growth with numbers that shift between proto-metal pounding intercut with trippy electronics, and weird space folk that might have sat just as effectively within the similarly daunting Gong canon. ‘Space Is Deep’ – a collection of clanging acoustic chords set against some of Dik Mik’s finest electronic experiments – feels more like a left field choice, even for the broadest anthology, but it really helps give these early years a much more scope when approached in such a selective way and worked through at a breakneck pace. A stone cold classic, ‘The Watcher’ wields a heavy bass and growling vocal that not only would be reworked by Motorhead in 1977 in a more direct way but also further inspire generations of stoner rock bands to unleash their heavier side, and ‘Spiral Galaxy 28948’ is a pleasing enough jazz oriented instrumental that shows off Nik Turner’s flute work admirably. Although that number works very well as part of the sprawling sonic texture of its parent album (1975’s ‘Warrior On The Edge of Time’), it is perhaps a less worthy inclusion on a box set that somehow manages to side step the brilliant ‘You Better Believe It’ from the previous year’s ‘Hall of The Mountain Grill’.
It isn’t that ‘Hall’ is under-represented, though. Three numbers from the classic line-up’s most accessible album are featured. The unmissable double whammy of ‘Psychedelic Warlords’ and hazy ‘Wind of Change’ sound as brilliant as ever – and in many ways, should still be the first port of call for anyone who thinks that Hawkwind are only about the fuzzy rock of ‘Silver Machine’ and a dancing nudey lady. The shift from the head pounding groove of the former into the soundtrack inspired moods of the latter (showing off some great violin work from Simon House) pretty much demonstrates the Hawkwind range in a little over eleven minutes. ‘Paradox’ works a heavy groove with Simon King’s drums taking centre stage against a mellotron-esque drone and a choir of vocals that waver between angry and non-committal in a typical style for the band at that time. The inclusion of forceful blues rock lead guitar breaks and a superb bass rattle from Lemmy (edging ever further towards his trademark “Rickenbastard” sound) make it a great cut for those unfamiliar with most Hawkwind works. ‘It’s So Easy’, a b-side from the period, is equally cool with its combination of heavy riffing – again, looking towards the early basis for Motorhead, some shout-along hooks and bluesy lead guitar break. Even if it doesn’t sound like “typical” Hawkwind, there’s plenty of enjoyment to be found within a particularly punchy five minutes. For an easy entry point, and an example of how an ever evolving band could be commercial and yet still part of rock’s counter-culture, the ‘Hall’ era tunes remain absolutely vital.
Other unmissable treats from the mid 70s come from the ten minute ‘Assault & Battery’ / ‘Golden Void’ which expands on the Hawks then mix of melodic prog, space rock and shamelessly 70s grooves, and the heavily phased ‘Magnu’, a tune driven by some excellent multi-layered sounds and busy sax breaks. A couple of deeper cuts are supplied by solo Dave Brock offering a lively cover of the blues standard ‘Bring It On Home’ from ’68 and Hawkwind Zoo’s ‘Sweet Mistress of Pain’. The latter, recorded in 1969, really gives an insight into the sounds the earliest Hawks would make their own, blending garage rock guitar parts with clattering rhythms, blues guitars and semi-atonal sax work. At the time, lots of bands were tackling such a jazz/blues fusion style, but none were really hinting at the head expanding noise that would come from the psych movement quite in the same way. It’s a brilliant five minutes that never seems to get old. Both tracks were included on the expanded remaster of Hawkwind’s debut issued in 1996 (now out of print), and although both fall into the category of being nice to have if you don’t own the original disc, their cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Cymbaline’ – treated very respectfully – might’ve made a more interesting selection since it was conspicuous by its absence on the ‘This Is Your Captain’ box set and never appears on compilations.
Obviously, with regards to early Hawkwind, the studio work is good, but the live recordings are something else. You won’t find too many of them within this box (partly due to records like ‘Space Ritual’ being better experienced as a whole), but a few choice cuts give a reasonable representation of those early shows. A sprawling live rendition of ‘Born To Go’ (from the once hard to find ‘Greasy Truckers’ live set) shows an early line up in full flight as they fill the best part of ten minutes with a world of synth drones pitched against loose guitar noise, eventually forming into a heavy, buzzing groove that really pushes Brock’s repetitive rhythms. The vocals are pretty ropey, but that’s not why you’re here: this track, from a musical perspective, really advertises Hawkwind’s heavy, relentless combination of pounding rhythms and space prog atmospherics at their most pure. By the time everyone falls in line for the first instrumental jam, there’s a feeling that the groove could last forever, and its often down to the flawless rhythm section of Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister (bass) and Simon King (drums) to steer everyone through. Those paying closer attention will certainly pick up on a very distinctive tone from Kilmister and hear elements he would take to his own Motorhead later, but also start to appreciate how the electronic sound collages from Dik Mik were years ahead of their time. More live brilliance can be experienced via a version of ‘Down Through The Night’ (extracted from the best selling ‘Space Ritual’ LP). Picking just one or two performances to represent that seminal work on this box set is a bit like having to choose your favourite child, but hearing it in context, it’s obvious why this has taken pride of place over brilliant versions of ‘Brainstorm’ or ‘Master of The Universe’; it’s down to sequencing. Heard directly after ‘Born To Go’, it’s like polar opposites. Whereas ‘Born To Go’ shows the band’s primal side, this demonstrates a more melodic streak. Lemmy’s bass is complex and warm; the vocals are accessible, and the contrast between fuzzy, prog-ish guitar work and weird, hippie flute loops really shows off the band’s abilities to construct some fine music without losing any of their heady, repetitious intensity. Of course, ‘Lord of Light’ might have done such a job with equal effectiveness, but ‘Down Through The Night’ shines a light on a more overlooked tune. The other ‘Space Ritual’ pick seems a little more random; ‘Orgone Accumulator’ is brilliant – a full ten minutes loaded with an almost funk driven intensity, with upfront bass – but extracted from the live album and presented without context, its overall impact is lessened. For first time listeners, it might seem little more than an unfinished jam, even if it does show this line-up’s unquestionable ability to really jell when the mood is right.
As Hawkwind moved into the second half of the 70s and drug induced space rock became increasingly unfashionable, the band – with shifting line-ups – quickly adapted, and 1976’s ‘Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music’ and 1977’s ‘Quark Strangeness & Charm’ couldn’t be any more different from each other, despite just coming ten months apart. From a musical perspective, ‘Astounding Sounds…’ shares a lot in common with the more commercial side of ‘Hall’, but is a little more fluid; almost funkier, even. The full time presence of Robert Calvert on vocals doesn’t even shift the band’s mood that much, and it results in the kind of album that manages to both convey the Hawks’ sense of melody and adventure. Just two cuts from the original LP are included here, but the ten minute, Latin tinged jam ‘Steppenwolf’ – casting Hawkwind in the mould of a prog rock Santana, before floating off into a weird soundscape of ambient space rock loaded with soprano sax work – and the proto Ozric Tentacles sounding ‘Chronoglide Skyway’, are a fantastic representation of the album itself. A couple of extra period cuts show off a succinct and rockier side with ‘Back On The Streets’, a pub rocker that’s more Tom Robinson than anything, and the single edit of ‘Kerb Crawler’ attacks with the drive of the 1973 hit ‘Urban Guerrilla’, only to be tempered by brassy backing vocals more suited to a Bryan Ferry LP. Although not representing the “typical” Hawkwind style for the 70s, it shows a fearless band unafraid to move with the times.
Some of the ‘Astounding Sounds…’ material found the band adopting more contemporary influences, but ‘Quark’ further embraced the edginess of the era, grabbing sharp edged riffs with both hands. The album’s title track, in particular, has a directness in keeping with punk and a very new wave influenced vocal, even if the heart of the piece clings on to more than a bit of Hawkwind weirdness. Those looking for lengthy solos and repetitive drone-led jams still get consolation from ‘Spirit of The Age’ which has traces of older numbers like ‘Shouldn’t Do That’ and ‘Brainstorm’ in the way it latches onto a simple repetitious groove but, again, the delivery and production are much sharper, keeping up with the burgeoning new wave trends. As far as this lengthy recap is concerned, both deserve their place here. Less so, ‘Hassan I Sabbah’. Although it would become a fixture in future live sets, listening back to the studio cut is now something of a chore. Calvert’s vocal is ugly throughout; it’s made uglier by his insistence on shouting “hashish, hashish” incessantly. The music isn’t particularly thoughtful, either. Hearing the band hammer through various eastern melodies set against a hard stoner groove makes for a fairly dull five minutes where only House’s violin sets everything apart from a very ordinary rock band with pretentions. Prior to this, Hawkwind could be many things, but they were rarely this dull.
Into the 80s, Hawkwind’s ability and change with the times continued unabated. Three alternate versions of tracks from ‘25 Years On’ showcase a very commercial band, but each selection is superb in getting across the era’s mood in a really succinct way. The single version of ‘PSI Power’ is chockful of rock melodies that sound like a more natural take on a sound first heard on ‘Quark’, but given the benefit of some very power pop backing vocals. The only element that wouldn’t fit too well with the then new wave is a prog rock synth break, but even then, the melodies are inspired and probably could’ve been adopted by The Stranglers had Dave Greenfield seen fit. ‘25 Years’ is a relatively simple rocker where Calvert appears to be mimicking Toyah Willcox; again, this hardly ‘Warriors On The Edge of Time’, or essential Hawkwind, but it’s sort of fun, and although ‘The Only Ones’ sounds more like a Blue Oyster Cult outtake, new listeners will discover some superb bass work and surprisingly tight harmonies en route. It’s interesting to note that – in a complete turn-around from peak 70s Hawks – these numbers hold up much better out of context; listening to the Hawklords’ debut LP can be a fairly unrewarding affair, and as the years pass, it becomes more obvious why, perhaps, it should be kept separate from the band’s main body of work. 1981’s ‘PXR5’ is under represented, but ‘Robot’ and ‘High Rise’, at least, show the opposite ends of Hawkwind’s ouvre at that time, with ‘Robot’ sounding not unlike a ‘Quark’ outtake, and the sprawling ‘High Rise’ taking bits of the artier Japan and Ultravox material and appropriating it into a slow, hazy workout that could’ve found a home on an earlier Hawks LP. Neither are likely to be instant favourites with new listeners, but as part of a large sonic experience, they both sound great when rediscovered decades later. Although credited as being a single version, ‘Death Trap’ is practically indistinguishable from its album variant. Its semi-punky riffs and sneering delivery could be any number of post-punk bands from the time and it’s only parts of Calvert’s vocal that supply an obvious link with the recent past. The band’s desire to change and try new things is to be celebrated, but this isn’t what most fans would want, or expect, either then or now.
The fourth disc leads off with the single edit of ‘Jack of Shadows’, before taking a detour with a really trippy ‘Lighthouse’ (taken from ‘Live Seventy Nine’). It then shines a light on a brief, but rather prolific, period in the band’s history, beginning with a run of tracks from ‘Levitation’. Recorded by a unique line-up featuring the legendary Ginger Baker on drums, it’s an album that isn’t to be missed. The title cut sounds more like the natural successor to ‘Quark’ than most of ‘PXR5’ with a natural vocal colliding with a punchy riff throughout. Of note here is not only the way Brock and relatively new members Harvey Bainbridge (bass) and Huw Lloyd Langton harmonise, but the way the track twists from a punchy but melodic tune into a full on banger, akin to a couple of bits from the Lemmy era, when you least expect it. Calvert has his vocal supporters, but these six minutes are a sharp reminder that Hawkwind were so much better without him. ‘Motorway City’ shifts into some great melodic rock, with Brock throwing out confident lead guitar against a vocal arrangement that, again, owes more to the mid 70s and ‘Hall of The Mountain Grill’ than any of the more recent works, and ‘Dust of Time’ bravely fuses heady space rock with driving riffs and a few almost new romantic keyboard sounds, ever pushing forward, but more so than ever, making sure that melody is key. If these tracks appeal, and you somehow don’t own a copy of ‘Levitation’, then you should rectify that immediately. Although some of the expanded editions of 80s Hawkwind albums don’t benefit from the extra padding, the triple disc ‘Levitation’ becomes even grander, and the inclusion of the full show from Lewisham Empire is fantastic – one of the greatest, from any era.
1981’s ‘Sonic Attack’ is a tricky listen by comparison but, thankfully, is glossed over relatively quicky with the noisy ‘Rocky Paths’ and an alternate take of ‘Angels of Death’ – sounding like a very 80s influenced Hawkwind tribute band – appearing, but there’s a marked improvement once material from ‘Church of Hawkwind’ and ‘Choose Your Masques’ roll around, and things take a further unexpected twist with Hawkwind reinventing their sound yet again. ‘Nuclear Drive’ sounds like an unholy hybrid of late 70s Hawkwind and Devo; ‘Look Into The Future’ is a bizarre noise where jarring electronics and synths smother an otherwise beat-laden rhythm and a heavily filtered Brock takes his Space Captain routine to extremes (material only to be approached if you’re feeling especially brave), and ‘Arrival In Utopia’ melds their older sound circa 1973 to something closer to the goth rock movement of the 80s. As you’d imagine, this works excellently by driving Bainbridge’s bass to the fore, adding more of a strident rhythm, but still leaving enough space for samples, synthesized oddity and other head expanding tricks.
From herein, there’s a valiant attempt at squeezing a lot of history into a very limited amount of remaining disc space. Everything from 1984-2021 is crammed into approximately two and a half hours, meaning that hugely overlooked periods of the band’s history actually remain overlooked. Still, the material offered is often very good indeed. An instant standout, ‘Needle Gun’ (from 1985’s ‘Chronicle of The Black Sword’), comes with a collection of gang vocals that call back to the edgier moments of the ‘25 Years On’ period, but musically, the band seem to adapt to a contemporary rock sound much more naturally. Despite a lot of Huw Lloyd Langton’s guitar work resembling Billy Duffy circa 1987, there’s a drive in his playing that’s wholly sympathetic to the vocal, meaning that Hawkwind actually create the great radio friendly rock single that never was. ‘Cajun Jinx’ (the sole offering from 1987’s ‘Out & Intake’) shows how the Brock/Langton line up handle Neu!-like sounds with ease, and although some of the keys evoke the TV themes of the age, it never detracts from the hard bass at the core of the piece, something explored more intently on ‘Treadmill’ (from 1991’s ‘Palace Springs’. Although, by this time, Hawkwind appeared to be yesterday’s men, tracks such as this show an easy transition into dance rhythms, placing them alongside Steve Hillage when it comes to finding their way to a new audience. The albums from this time are worth seeking out if your Hawks knowledge isn’t too broad, especially since this box set effectively airbrushes Bridget Wishart’s brief time in the band. Since she recorded three albums during her tenure, it would seem only fair that a track featuring her vocals would be found here somewhere…but, nope. She’s not even mentioned in the accompanying interview or sleeve notes. Elsewhere, ‘Heads’ latches onto more sharp edged, sub-goth pop, occasionally sounding more like Killing Joke circa 1986, and a live recording of ‘Moonglum’ is a little rough around the edges musically, but conveys a definite energy that confirms that Hawkwind were far more than the 70s throwback some believed they still were.
For bigger fans, a handful of BBC recordings make this set rather essential. ‘Magnu/Dreamworker’ (from an ’85 studio session) offers some superb guitar work throughout, whilst reacquainting everyone with the drone and drive of peak 70s Hawkwind. Alan Davey’s bass sound, in particular, is never less than terrific, and by the time everyone gets into a heavy rhythm overlaid by echoing spoken word accompaniments, it’s almost like so little time has passed. Two numbers from a previously bootlegged 1988 “In Concert” release can be enjoyed in pristine quality: the ambient ‘Tides’ flows into a vaguely haunting ‘Wastelands of Sleep’, a slow number full of pulsing keys and soaring guitars. Although everything fits nicely with the other prog of the decade – especially in terms of shiny keys – the heart of “old” Hawkwind beats throughout, with Danny Thompson Jr laying down a pleasingly mechanical groove.
A fallow period in the late 90s is easily – and somewhat fairly – glossed over, and tunes like ‘Right To Decide’ (from 1994’s live but not live ‘Business Trip’) and ‘Sputnik Stan’ (from 1995’s ‘Alien 4’) seem to be more of a Hawkwind on autopilot, plotting their next major move. From 2012 onward, there’s a definite upturn in quality from all concerned, though. Trying to showcase these great albums in such a limited way is not an easy task, and since only six songs have been selected from the five releases between 2012-2021 albums, it seems to sell the later years really short. That said, each selection is first rate. ‘The Hills Have Ears’ essentially takes the band forward by going backwards; its heavy riffs could be taken straight from the aggressive end of ‘Space Ritual’, yet at the same time, the ambient sections fit more with 90s ambient works. The collision of the two makes for superb listening – making Hawkwind hugely relevant again, without too much effort. ‘Synchronised Blue’ combines garage rock noise worthy of Pink Fairies with swirling keys (courtesy of Niall Hone) and a vocal that could be lifted from any point in the band’s history, pre-’75, and the more song-oriented ‘Have You Seen Them’ (from the critically acclaimed ‘Into The Woods’) offers a great other-worldly vocal contrasted with a busy prog rock riff, sounding like the best Steve Hillage tribute ever. ‘All Aboard The Skylark’ is less immediate, but for fans of Brock’s legendary guitar work, a multi-layered riff driving against an almost dance oriented rhythm creates the kind of tune destined to be a cult classic. Also with Magnus Martin unleashing his inner Mike Garson for some atonal jazz chops and various sampled saxes reminiscent of the long departed Nik Turner, it feels so…complete. If there’s anyone who seriously thinks Hawkwind were long past their best by 2019, this track is definitely required listening. The token gesture from 2021’s excellent ‘Somnia’ can’t really compete with that, but its four minutes’ worth of relentless riffs and augmented noise carries so much of the heart of ‘Brainstorm’ and ‘Born To Go’ it brings the band full circle. …And what a trip it has been.
Looking at everything here, from some of the deeper track selections to a beautifully packaged physical set, it’s a superb example of how to compile a box set without being really niche or elitist. A little more time spent shining a light on late career albums like ‘The Machine Stops’ and ‘Into The Woods’ would have made it a little more interesting than dishing out bits of ‘Warrior’ for the thirty seventh time but, of course, your Hawkwind obsessive who’d be a little more interested in the later stuff will have most of those albums anyway. Looking at this box set in isolation, it’s possibly too daunting a prospect for your average joe who’s never made it much past the hits and that now tatty copy of ‘Space Ritual’ inherited from their uncle, but if you’re someone who lost track of the band somewhere around ‘Sonic Attack’, it provides a really easy and affordable way to (almost) get up to speed. A bigger selection of unreleased tracks would have made it even better, but from the viewpoint of an expansive “best of” – though to label it as such would surely be cheapening the end result – ‘Dust of Time’ provides an interesting journey from start to finish.