For a band once considered to be the epitome of counter culture and not in it for “the bread, man”, it sometimes seems as if the twenty first century Hawkwind are just a machine churning out new products. December 2021 brought the career spanning, anthology ‘Dust of Time’ – their fourth release in under two years. Although it was beautifully put together, it didn’t give hardcore fans much they wouldn’t already own. However, it successfully covered a lot of musical ground, and for the keen eared and eagle eyed, a couple of rarer BBC recordings could be found within its sprawling eighty one tracks. It’s hard to please everyone, but the six disc box set had a really good go.
The ink on the booklet of ‘Dust of Time’ was barely dry before the announcement came that yet another Hawkwind box was in the works. In some ways, the release of ‘Dreamworkers of Time’ could be seen as coming a little too soon (or more cynically, another topping up of the Dave Brock retirement fund) but it creates a great companion to the previous box. Making good on the previously teased BBC recordings on ‘Dust of Time’, it gives the hardcore Hawkhead a genuinely valuable history listen via a wealth of previously hard to find material.
The first disc presents an hour of the band’s headline set from the 1986 Reading Festival, as broadcast on the Radio 1 Rock Show, and later issued on the now impossible to find ‘Friday Rock Show Sessions’ CD in 1992. Looking at the basics, the sound quality is excellent and the band are in decent shape. From the moment ‘Magnu’ crashes in with the main guitar riff augmented by shrill metallic leads, it’s clear that the Hawks are in a rocky mood, and although the vocals are a little swamped in the overall mix, they too have a focus and drive that a lot of earlier live performances rarely captured. Sliding into a set regular ‘Angels of Death’, the vocals slide even further back and some of the arrangement’s complexities are drowned out by an insanely loud drum kit, but it all adds to the live feel. Despite being pummelled by the on form rhythm section, parts of Harvey Bainbridge’s swirling keys hint at a proggy heart, but the driving riff continues to bludgeon the audience in a way that casual listeners would never expect from the band.
Having now grabbed half of the inebriated crowd who might not have been up for a Hawkwind show – or perhaps had too many negative preconceived ideas about what to expect from one – a wandering ‘Pulsing Cavern’ offers some trippy, soundtrack like guitar work and some absolutely jaw-dropping bass runs before ‘Assault & Battery’ brings the perfect example of this line-up’s rocky sound. The core of the track works the studio cuts semi-punky riff incredibly hard, but those willing to dig deeper will hear more stunning bass work from Alan Davey (an integral part of the band between 1984-96). Massive fans will undoubtedly have dozens of live versions of this track already, but this, in its hard, fast and relatively succinct style, ranks among the best.
Both ‘Needle Gun’ – an odd hybrid of skull pounding riffs and Status Quo pastiche – and a supercharged ‘Master of The Universe’ – all howling lead guitar breaks and unrelenting riffs – further accentuate the band’s desire to really “rock out” in front of the festival crowd, and via a wobbly ‘Utopia’ where the pacing and metal edged riffs start to sound a little samey, everyone arrives at ‘Brainstorm’ during which the then present and the classic past converge in a brilliant way. The track manages to retain the droning, repetitious core presented on ‘Space Ritual’, but it shows how much Hawkwind have adapted and modified their sound since then. The main riff has an undertone of 80s metal; the lead guitars are piercing rather than trippy, and the rhythm section – as before – works hard to make the old standard fit seamlessly with the newer material.
Most live versions of ‘Hassin-i-Sabha’ run rings around the studio cut from ’77, but the version from this show is by far the noisiest, with the main riff played as if adopted by an 80s hard rock band and augmented by several angry lead guitar breaks. Hawkwind now sound like a band that could happily drop into a cover of Thin Lizzy’s ‘Cold Sweat’ at any moment which, undoubtedly, wouldn’t have pleased the older fans, but in demonstrating that they could change and adapt, it’s great. In proving they weren’t washed up old hippes, it’s vital. Finally, in a final piece of obvious crowd-pleasing, they crank the engine of ‘Silver Machine’ – at this point, always a rare treat, rather than an obligation – and the guest vocals from ex-member Lemmy make it special. Granted, Lemmy is about a thousand times raspier than his 1972 self, and this sounds sort of like a weird Motorhead tribute to Lemworth’s former band, but with everyone hammering at full pelt and with some unexpected Van Halen-esque fretboard tapping thrown in, everyone sounds as if they’re absolutely relishing the moment. The roaring crowd subsequently suggests that, although by 1986, some people would’ve considered Hawkwind a 70s relic, they weren’t short of supporters on the night.
For those who’ve never found a copy of the original ‘Friday Rock Show Sessions’ disc, this box set will provide a welcome reissue of that decent live recording, but it’s quickly outshone by disc two featuring a recording from Hammersmith in 1988. This London gig from the ‘Xenon Codex’ tour features a cracking eight minute ‘Utopia’ used to kick everything off, with the perfect balance between Davey’s bass and Dave Brock’s lead guitar, which both use the main riff to augment some solid prog rock elements with a fuzzy, repetitive old style space rock core. That’s enough to reel in any interested parties from the first listen, but by following that familiar cut with the then new (and incredibly aggressive) ‘The War I Survived’ and melodic, prog-leaning ‘Heads’, it covers a lot of musical ground within the first ten minutes or so. ‘Heads’ (also from ‘Xenon Codex’) is not only a highlight from this gig, but should be considered one of the all time great Hawks tunes. On this night, it was home to a lengthy, Gilmour-esque solo from Brock, and blankets of 80s keys covering a pulsing bass and a wonderfully natural vocal showed not only how Hawkwind’s other worldly spirit still lurked, but also how they could match other prog bands from the era in terms of both power and melody.
Elsewhere, the Floyd-like ‘Wastelands of Sleep’ segueing into the new wave-ish ‘Moonglum’ contrasts both ends of Hawkwind’s musical spectrum in a lengthy jam which showcases lots of brilliant sharp edged guitar work. In managing to capture the sheen of the 80s and the timelessness of great prog all at once, it’s almost the epitome of the ‘Xenon’ era, while set regular ‘Sonic Attack’ is augmented by a world of angry pseudo punk riffing, bringing an edge that many people wouldn’t necessarily associate with the band. The ever reliable ‘Brainstorm’, meanwhile, cranks its by now familiar riff across a near ten minute marathon, but in their quest to keep up with the times, a lot of the guitar work is sharper, the riff is a mite faster and Davey’s bass occasionally punches through with an angular noise that those far denser seventies performances likely wouldn’t have allowed. Finally, with Huw Lloyd Langton ripping into a fantastic solo, there’s proof that the harder edges of the earlier Reading set are still very much present.
The all round enjoyability of this recording is certainly helped by Hawkwind promoting their best album of the 1980s, but with the set better balanced between the rocky and the atmospheric, it’s an absolutely storming document of the band at that time. With only the weird spoken word oddity and ambient jazz noise of ‘Mutation Zone’ and ‘Tides’ losing a little momentum, these highlights suggest a fantastic gig. It’s such a pity the whole show isn’t present, but at this point it should be assumed that the BBC either only recorded the hour that was broadcast, or have since lost/wiped the remainder of the tapes. Whatever, there will be plenty of fans who’ll welcome an official release of this oft-bootlegged set.
Finally, a couple of previously unissued live in the studio sessions (compiled on disc three) are a welcome bonus. The tracks recorded for Tommy Vance’s Rock Show in August ’85 offer little variation on their studio equivalent, but a flat drum sound on ‘Night of The Hawk’ and ‘Magnu’ is a constant reminder of any differences. This session is worth hearing for the medley of ‘Magnu’ and ‘Dreamworker of Time’; even if any differences aren’t immediate, Brock’s guitar work is lovely and the general mood of “older Hawkwind” is more than present. ‘I’ve Got Your Number’, on the other hand, could be absolutely anyone. It represents three or four minutes of a band working through some fairly generic rock overlaid by Rush inspired keys – it’s never unpleasant, of course, it just doesn’t reach the heights of 80s Hawkwind at their best.
The second session, recorded for the Mark Radcliffe Show in 1995 is far more interesting, not least of all for the fact that an important figure at the Beeb still thought Hawkwind would still be worth booking for some exclusive air time. Whether or not it’s what Radcliffe’s listeners actually wanted at a time when Supergrass, Gene, and Cast were among audience’s favourites is a different matter. Nevertheless, the DJ’s faith in the veteran band was not misplaced. With driving basslines, echoing vocals and a general concession to a classic rock sound overlaid with tinkling space rock keys, the take of ‘Right To Decide’ is more than solid, proving to anyone who’d tuned in that Brock and friends could still cut it.
An extended ‘Assassins of Allah’, takes in a huge instrumental break where world music elements showcase yet another element of a broad and varied catalogue. This recording provides a decent alternative to the studio cut, but the whole performance hinges upon a huge medley taking in ‘Death Trap’, ‘Wastelands of Sleep’ and ‘Are You Losing Your Mind?’ where Hawkwind stretch out into a whole world of soundscapes. It sounds great in retrospect, but looking back, it’s easier to spot how structuring the short set around a vast range of styles was its main purpose, and possibly even the main reason for the unexpected booking. For the unsuspecting but impressionable listener, the medley is almost a crash course in Hawkwind’s chameleon tendencies. In just eight minutes, the band moves from the almost punky, into the Floydian, and into something that would’ve very much fit with the contemporary electronica of the age. There was always a hope that those immersed in Orbital recordings and the like would’ve been aware of the band beyond ‘Silver Machine’, but assuming they weren’t, this would certainly have won Hawkwind a few new fans. It’s fair to say that despite a wobbly start, the third sessions disc offers enough gold to put it on a par with the two archive live recordings.
With the original 1992 release of ‘The Friday Rock Show Sessions’ CD being rarer than honesty from Boris Johnson and commanding ridiculous prices on the second hand market, its inclusion here will surely be welcomed by many. ‘Dreamworkers of Time’ serves an important function by making that widely available once more, but with another two discs’ worth of equally good or better stuff included, this budget priced set eventually becomes greater than the sum of its parts. It should definitely be considered invaluable by anyone with more than a passing interest in Hawkwind’s post-70s work. Although some might feel that the market has been needlessly flooded by Hawkwind live material over the years – and the huge run of official bootlegs issued between 1999 and 2010 could, at least, lend more than a little weight to that argument – this archive release is definitely one of the most welcome additions to their already hefty catalogue.
Read a review of the Hawkwind ‘Dust of Time’ box set here.
Buy the box set here: HAWKWIND – BBC Sessions 1985-1995