HAWKESTREL – Chaos Rocks

Another branch of the complex and ever evolving Hawkwind family tree, Hawkestrel is a space rock project masterminded by ex-Hawks man Alan Davey. His vision to create an ever shifting line up to bring his music to life has previously involved other Hawkwind alum Nik Turner, Bridget Wishart, Simon House, Huw Lloyd-Langton, Ginger Baker and the mighty Lemmy. The fact that the ex-Hawkwind and Motorhead bassist managed to appear on the debut album three years after his passing flags up the potential problem with the band’s recordings, in that – much like Cleopatra Records’ other “all star projects” – they’re very much cut ‘n’ paste affairs, and don’t always hang together as well as you might hope. However, when they’re good, they’re very good.

Prior to this third record, the project has shown merit with some great tunes. For example, the instrumental ‘Circles’ shared a flowing, very 70s melody that gave the nod to ‘Winds of Time’ with a wonderful violin melody courtesy of Shankar; the riff laden ‘No Doubt’ called back to a few of Hawkwind’s heavier workouts showing how their riffs have a timeless appeal, and ‘Sea of Sand’ showed a great knack for setting up a groove. Despite misgivings about the way the albums are constructed, it was obvious that Davey had the ability to call upon a wide enough range of friends and musicians to bring any aspect of a Hawkwind past back to life in the present.

…And so it remains with their 2024 LP ‘Chaos Rocks’, a confident voyage through the unfashionable void of old style space rock and deep psych. ‘Near Earth Asteroid’ begins the musical journey in typically spacey fashion when a blanket of synths share an atmospheric drone that falls squarely between similar ambient-ish fare from the early 90s Hawkwind and classic Tangerine Dream. This creates an epic intro, from which a reworking of Robert Calvert’s ‘Evil Rock’ works a bigger riff, occasionally sharing a bluesy vibe above a solid, head nodding rock groove that sounds like a distant cousin to the likes of ‘Urban Guerilla’. In the vast musical landscapes of 2024, this kind of arrangement sounds rather dated, but its fair to say the riffs come with solid foundations. If anything here stands out, its the interplay between Davey’s strident bass work – taking a lead role pretty much throughout – and ex-Stones man Mick Taylor dropping in some aggressive bluesy lead guitar work. When its all over, these five minutes feel more indebted to sharing a massive riff than anything like a memorable song, but in terms of straight-ish rock, it shows that Davey is still capable of flexing some musical muscles.

It’s with the epic ‘Kinnikinnick Special’, helmed by Helios Creed, that things get a little more interesting, since Hawkestrel manage to seamlessly blend the rocky elements of the former track with a few atmospheric synths. The marriage of styles creates something huge – never a million miles away from something Hawkwind might have experimented with in the post-Calvert landscapes of ‘Leviathan’. The lead guitars work an intermittent bluesy fuzz, feeding back into the 90s stoner bands who’d obviously taken the Hawks as a primary influence; the blanket of keys beneath the main rhythm lays down an almost desert rock vibe, and the confidence within the rocky groove is very clear. Despite stretching to almost eight minutes, this has a directness that the earlier Hawkwind didn’t always possess, and the end result straddles the gulf between a retro sound and a timeless appeal with ease. The same goes for the even tougher sounding ‘Class One Kid’, which could easily pass as a lost Hawkwind recording from the late 70s, if not for the fact that Mick Taylor’s guitar sounds are a little too distorted. The bulk of the track works a brilliantly repetitive riff, part proto-stoner, part garage rock, which should please a wide range of Hawks fans, and with Nik Turner’s distinctive sax piercing through the wall of sound at regular intervals, there’s even more of a familiar link with the old band. Here, perhaps more than anywhere else on this collection, there’s a genuine feeling of musicians really coming together and feeding into something very natural, and by the time a world of weird space rock synths begin to sound more obvious beneath an even noisier riff, it’s a track that sounds like it might implode. In Hawkwind terms, it’s still quite predictable, but with Mick Taylor working up some brilliant lead guitar and Davey sharing some aggressive lead bass during the climax, this is nothing short of being a brilliant slab of brain melting noise.

Turner supposedly also plays a huge role throughout ‘Opa Loka’, but you won’t find any jazz inflected sax work on the track. Instead, these five minutes merely work up a repetitive groove that sounds like a better recorded but inferior cousin to old fare like ‘Shouldn’t Do That’ and ‘Brainbox’. For those who feel like sinking into a heady stoner riff in the classic Hawkwind mould, it will definitely appeal, but it’s safe to say that ‘Chaos Rocks’ offers more interesting material. The title cut is definitely a case in point, with Davey weaving some terrific basslines beneath a crashing drum part. The assembled musicians lock into some brilliant jazz rock that falls somewhere between Hawkwind at their most freakbeat, a late 60s Bluesbreakers and a mid 70s Soft Machine. Every piece of this busy musical jigsaw is on point, from the chaotic drum lines, through the fiery lead guitar stings, and atonal sax, which very obviously is of Turner’s hand. Factor in some sweeping violin from Simon House – never really a main feature, more a noise-based colourant – and this becomes the album’s stand out cut, and by some distance.

There’s even time enough here for a little novelty when William Shatner boards the starship Hawkestrel to share a spirited, semi-spoken rendition of ‘Silver Machine’. Fans will remember the recording that appeared on The Shat’s own ‘Seeking Major Tom’ album from 2011, but should be assured that this isn’t the same take. The guitars are a little heavier throughout, and Bill’s lead vocal has been subjected to a lot of distortion, making everything feel just a little closer to the classic ‘Space Ritual’ recording. There’s every chance that this dates from same sessions as the Hawkestral/Shatner ‘Sonic Attack’ from 2019, but it fits quite nicely here, and gives the merely curious listener something familiar as an entry point to a sometimes very enjoyable record. Less familiar, but still with the focus on fun, a cover of Alien Sex Fiend’s ‘Now I’m Feeling Zombified’ (featuring Nik Turner and Yes man Geoff Downes) blends space rock rhythms via a repetitive keyboard and bass pulse with an ugly, distorted post-punk vocal. It rarely sounds like the work of any of the musicians involved – save for Turner’s saxy honk – and isn’t the easiest of listens, but in sharing Davey’s vision of a collective that might be able to turn their hand to a broader variation of sounds, it’s still a success. That quest for variety also informs the core of the brilliant ‘2019 OK’, a slow blues where Davey’s bass adopts a loud but very melodic sound, and Turner’s brassy playing is finally allowed to stretch into more of an obvious melody. In finding these musicians in something of a relaxed mood, the tune is allowed to breathe a little more than most ’Kestrel fare, but without diluting their retro appeal.

Released just a week after the official Hawkwind’s thirty sixth official studio recording ‘Stories From Time & Space’, the timing of this release was rather poor. With new works by Dave Brock and company often gaining positive press, a bunch of hastily assembled recordings by associated musicians will always feel like something from the second division. ‘Chaos Rocks’ doesn’t quite reach the heights of Hawkestrel’s 2020 offering ‘Pioneers of Space’, but at its best, it sounds like a solid throwback to the more distinctive elements of Hawkwind’s early to mid 70s work, and occasionally stretches beyond. Hit and miss as it may be – and lets face it, lots of genuine Hawkwind albums are similarly inconsistent – but it should offer dyed in the wool Hawkwind fans more than enough to enjoy.

March 2024