Space Rock is a musical label that instantly conjures a few pre-conceived ideas. It’s become synonymous with long, prog-like arrangements, heavy droning riffs – some of which could be considered a precursor to the US-centric stoner/deep psych scenes – and other-worldly synth freakouts. This isn’t entirely unfair since space rock pioneers Hawkwind have relied heavily upon various combinations of those sounds and moods throughout their career, but, as this box set shows, there’s more to it all than that, and a world of bands beyond the obvious practitioners. Taking a voyage through a twenty year stretch of cult noise, ‘This Was Your Future’ serves up various treats too marginal to be considered obvious nostalgia for a lot of people, but somehow manages to be accessible enough to retain the interest of the vaguely curious. …And who better than to guide you through this world of free festivals and hazy noise than Hawkwind’s very own Dave Brock?
Fans of space rock and other psychedelic offshoots will be pleased to note that the brilliant Delirium label has been heavily plundered for musical goodies, instantly giving this set a very strong heart. Their best known band Porcupine Tree are notably absent, but then, it could be argued that beyond the brilliant Dave Brock meets David Gilmour wanderings of ‘Voyage 34’, they were only really on the fringes of space rock and neo-psych anyway. Delirium’s other big hitters, Ozric Tentacles, are very much present, and ‘Velmwind’ (taken from the 1985 cassette ‘Erpsongs’) shows off a very basic Hawkwind-esque homage, but despite any derivative elements, it shows why the band are so loved by filling a brilliantly busy five minutes with a busy drum and bass led groove, over which Ed Wynne throws out sheets of mind-bending guitar. A wandering keyboard teases with a very eastern sounding riff, and with Hawkwind’s material often taking on a straighter rock sound in 1985, it’s great to hear this soon-to-be-big band tapping into some very mid/late 70s vibes with a feeling of authenticity. There are times during the performance where it’s clear the whole thing grew from a jam, but its relative brevity brings a focus that ensures the track has a real punch. Although it could be argued that the band got better over the passing decades [their 2020 release ‘Space For The Earth is fabulous], it’s always a pleasure to revisit Wynne and his assorted friends during their formative years.
Offering something heavier, Ominia Opera take a very obvious influence from ‘Quark’ era Hawkwind and the original Hawklords on ‘Space Bastard’. A sharp edged riff conveys a definite energy; an intermittent chug tips the hat to more of a doom-laden mood, and that sets up a genuine tension that works. Whether knee deep in instrumental breaks where shrill keys solo with abandon, or the band are locked down in a semi-metallic riff-fest, this is incredibly sharp. Even a very natural vocal can’t keep down the brilliant riffs, and for anyone who’s ever persevered with Hawkwind beyond Lemmy’s departure in ’75, it’ll be immediately clear why Brock has singled out these guys for attention. Being a curio from the early 90s, Ladbroke Grove’s Magic Mushroom Band have more of a punchy indie vibe than most, but there’s something at the heart of their multi-layered Creation Records-friendly sound that lives in the past. A whirring lead guitar sound owes more to 70s weirdness, and again, a hook filled chorus can be traced directly to Hawkwind’s rockier late 70s sounds with Robert Calvert at the helm. This might not be an instant favourite for anyone looking for lengthy prog-oriented workouts, or even something directly linked to the classic ‘Space Ritual’, but it’s a superb track that becomes quite infectious after a few plays. If nothing else, it definitely gives this anthology a little more musical range than expected.
Moving more towards a jazz rock/prog hybrid, Moom are very obviously influenced by Soft Machine. A strong focus on jazzy chords and electric piano highlight a love for Robert Wyatt and Hugh Hopper instantly, but their blatant disregard for any of the vocals being in tune hammers home the Softs-ness of their ‘Higher Sun’ even more. Despite being wantonly ugly, it’s to the band’s eternal credit that it’s in no way bad. There’s plenty within the track’s warm basslines and shameless 1972 vibes that makes it all work – even if it does veer dangerously close to sounding like a Softs outtake at times – and by the time the band reaches a strange robotic coda loaded with ugly synths and treated vocals, you get the sense that they also had some cool ideas of their own. For those who still remain unconvinced, there’s even a hint of ‘Meddle’ era Floyd creeping through at times to provide a very solid groove. This won’t be for everyone, but as a point of interest within this set, it’s a great rediscovery. Even more out there, Kava Kava’s ‘Poke’ sets up a repetitious riff where a loose folk element collides with elements of ambient/chill out dance from the 90s. It’s clear in the way that they’ve set up a very circular riff that someone within the band loves 70s Steve Hillage recordings; the tin pot semi-acoustic parts even suggest that someone cloth-eared has been listening to Incredible String Band whilst wazzed. Like Moom, the appeal here is more of a slow burn, but if you can get your head around the mish-mash of understated styles – which by the end, even tease with bits of dub – it’s a cool listen, even if it’s ever likely to become a cast iron favourite. Crow, meanwhile, opt for something a bit more straight ahead in space rock terms when their ‘Led Zep’ whips up a busy drum beat, repetitive guitar buzz and prog-ish vocal. It’s more about groove than melody, but it’s the kind of tune that long time fans of retro rock will love in an instant, which is more than can be said for the contribution from Praise Space Electric (‘Cybergenetic Experiment X’) which fuses elements of Gong, electronic treatments, dance loops and a heady guitar buzz into a furious and slightly scary mess. It’s one of those audio experiments that needs to be heard to be believed. It might well be brilliant, but it definitely sounds like a band trying too hard to be “out there, man”.
Formed after seeing Hawkwind in concert, Brighton’s Mandragora gained a cult following in the 80s. ‘Rainbow Warrior’ (a track from their 1988 LP ‘Over The Moon’) presents a whole mess of riffs, starting with a busy, semi-bluesy Hendrix like workout, before morphing into a much more frantic, frenetic sound representing 80s Hawkwind on a supercharged buzz. The recording belies the band’s DIY origins – everything sounds muddy as if sourced from a second generation cassette – but the playing is absolutely stellar. A massive showcase for one of the tightest rhythm sections ever, the tune thunders along at a breakneck speed, whilst a few Ozric inspired synths and an echoing vocal are on hand to remind everyone of the band’s psychedelic heart. It’s the kind of track that grabs from first listen, and sounds even better when played loudly. Adding a little extra interest, and tying Mandragora further into the sprawling Dave Brock family tree, the line up responsible for this recording included bassist Niall Hone, famous to many for playing with Hawkwind, making his debut on the excellent ‘Blood of The Earth’ and remaining in the band until 2019.
Dr Hasbeen’s ‘Spirit of Brock’ wears its love for Dave on its sleeve rather shamelessly, but really isn’t that interesting otherwise. At best, it’s a tinny sounding, basic rehash of Hawklords’ punk infused space rock – too harsh to be enjoyable, but still too tight to be written off as pure trash. Nukli’s ‘Inner Days’ is much better, since it takes a few obvious genre tropes and twists them into something that sounds like it’s been modelled on a northern soul banger. The driving rhythm is great; the quirky vocal – clearly influenced by Robert Calvert – is greater. Throw in a synth that wavers between a late 70s prog staple and something that sounds desperate to drop into the theme from The Munsters at any moment, and this could easily be one of this set’s most lovable second division treats. Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts, meanwhile, really couldn’t be considered space rock or psych by any stretch, but Brock obviously has a fondness for them due to various shared stages in the past and their 1987 track ‘Hawkwind’ supplies a solid wild card choice here. Beyond name checking our space rock pioneers, the arrangement weaves bits of Hawkwind soundalike tunes into an energetic piece that should raise a smile for those well versed in Brock’s past works. Even after the joke has long worn off, it still sounds great, so it goes well beyond novelty and into the realms of genuine, loving homage.
In terms of marginal tracks, The Tryp’s ‘Lizard Sheds Its Skin’ is gold standard junk. Following a minute’s worth of gurgling noises, the listener is then subjected to repetitive noise that sounds like a cross between a didgeridoo and amplified rubber band, while a slowed down spoken word performance plays over the top. As a linking piece on a deep psych record, it might just work, but as a stand alone example of The Tryp’s talents, it’s something to be endured just the once before the skip button is employed. Supplying an interesting variation on a theme, Treatment’s ‘Damage’ features all of the fuzz and echo associated with space rock, but takes it somewhere a little different thanks to some hefty rockabilly rhythms and tones powering through. In terms of instrumental work, there’s still plenty of the expected wayward synth noise and gruelling guitar, so it fits in very nicely here even if it mightn’t appeal to the purists. For those who just can’t get enough fuzzy rock, a previously unreleased live version of ‘Red Delta’ by Pressurehed supplies a welcome collection filler, with the track tackled at full bore and breakneck pace. The buzz of the guitars is so deep and the vocal so affected that you might not even spot it as live, but in terms of driving, relentless performances with a debt to some of Hawkwind’s noisier experiments, it sounds great.
Since Brock’s heavy guiding hand is at work here, a huge swathe of Hawkwind related recordings form the backbone of the musical journey. These will already reside in a lot of collections, but the opportunity to hear them scattered between other cool stuff gives them a certain sparkle and freshness. If nothing else, these tracks will remind the less obsessive listener that there was always far more to Brock’s work than ‘Silver Machine’, ‘Brainstorm’, ‘Urban Guerilla’ and a dancing nudey lady.
An occasional presence during later Hawkwind live sets, Brock’s solo ‘Green Finned Demon’ is a reminder of the songwriter’s most ambient work, with a world of spooky organ melodies underscoring a Floydian melody – not ideal for first time listeners, but will be a welcome addition for anyone looking into any of Dave’s extra-curricular work. His Agents of Chaos serve up something more akin to a low budget Hawkwind leftover on 1988’s ‘Hades Deep’, working a very familiar sub-metallic riff against some very 80s synths and treated vocals, and the more familiar Sonic Assassins (a short lived Brock project with Robert Calvert) add something very reliable with ‘Golden Void’, a staple of many Hawkwind live releases. It makes a change to hear the lesser circulated studio cut, and it should be applauded that the Assassins’ ‘Over The Top’ has not been wheeled out here for the umpteenth time, but nevertheless, most people will have at least one version of this track in their collection already. Also verging on the over-familiar, ‘Age of The Micro Man’ from the 1978 Hawklords LP gives a quick glimpse of how Hawkwind had changed and adapted to fit the late 70s alternative scene by sounding more like a Roxy Music tribute than a skull pounding riff machine. In some ways it sounds better here than on its parent album, so its inclusion is justifiable, and for the more casual listener it could be a genuine ear-opener. If Brock is optimistic enough to think this set will have any real appeal beyond Hawkwind’s extant fan base, he couldn’t have picked a better Hawklords number.
Robert Calvert became the frontman for Hawkwind on a full time basis in 1976, steering them through one of their trickiest periods (especially in terms of media friendliness), but he also maintained a solo career. His solo albums are genuinely hard work – to be approached with caution – but his 1980 single ‘Lord of The Hornets’ supplies some reasonable new wave/synthpop thrills more akin to an Adrian Belew experiment than anything in the Hawkwind universe. Nestled between fuzzy guitar driven tracks, it would’ve stuck out half a mile, so it’s gratifying to note that the sequencing of this box set wasn’t left to chance. Heard directly before his more famous work with Hawklords, it kicks off a one-two punch of some very forward thinking sounds. A little more melodic, Lloyd Langton Group’s ‘Candle Burning’ applies a very Hawkwind-esque vocal melody to a busy, almost goth rock backdrop, falling somewhere between a late 70s hoary rock band and mid 80s Killing Joke. With a wandering, slightly flat vocal and even flatter production, it presents itself like a polished demo, but it has a promising energy and also effectively conveys how Hawkwind’s revolving cast of musicians would not be easily pinned down to one genre.
For those who love 70s analogue synths and soundscapes, Tim Blake’s ‘Passage Sur La Cite’ is an unmissable treat. Its eight minutes deliver something that sounds so much like a Tangerine Dream out-take from 1979 – all pitch adjusted noises and sequencers – it’s hard to believe it isn’t actually the work of Edgar Froese and Christopher Franke. Delving into electronica of a very different kind, Hawkwind released one album under the Psychedelic Warriors moniker in 1995. ‘In Search of Shangrila’ is a great snapshot of ‘White Zone’ as an album, and it serves up some tight techo-based sounds, over which Brock and associates add their own musical colour. If not for Brock’s presence, this could easily be a leftover from one of Hillage’s System 7 sessions – showing how much of Hawkwind’s adventurous spirit influenced the alternative end of the 90s dance scene. Much like the Tim Blake track, it isn’t necessarily the most natural fit on this three disc set, but when heard as a stand alone track, its great – and if it encourages people to check out the Warlords album somewhere down the track, its work here is done.
All of this forms a mostly enjoyable listen (The Tryp excepted), but with assorted jams from Delirium artists Nick Riff, Tangle Edge and Sons of Selina rubbing shoulders with Outskirts of Infinity and Sun Dial, it always feels as if there’s something interesting to (re)discover. Between a decent track selection and very informative booklet, ‘This Was Your Future’ is a budget priced box set that offers some welcome nostalgia for the well versed, and a very entertaining education for the curious prog/psych fan.
Buy the box set here: DAVE BROCK PRESENTS…