Wednesday, 30 January 2013

GIG REVIEW: HAWKWIND IN BEDFORD: a track-by-track description

Hawkwind in Bedford, Sunday 27th January.

The value of there being at least one person at a
Hawkwind gig who isn't off his face is demonstrated by this comprehensive gig review, which includes a detailed track-by-track description of the Bedford gig.

Guest reviewer Derek Wilson also includes a review of the parking problems in Bedford!

Photos by the author.

I came to the Bedford Corn Exchange the last time Hawkwind played here a few years back - in, I think, 2010 - and all was quite straightforward getting parked in one of the many multi-storey car parks not far from the venue.  This time, it all went horribly wrong for me after discovering the same car park doesn't seem to be open on a Sunday night (I’ve since been told there was one open across the road from the venue, and not charging a fee, doh).  After encountering three shut car parks, and enduring the increasingly unhelpful suggestions of the American electronic voice from my Google Maps app, I was forced to drive aimlessly around until I found a pay and display meter and an empty spot down a deserted dark side road.  Having emptied my pockets of change for the meter, and apologised to a passing beggar for my subsequent lack of change to spare, I set off in search of the venue, wondering if there'd be anything left of the car when I returned.

It turned out I was only five minutes from the venue, just long enough for the biting wind to remind me that although the snow has melted, we are still very much in the throes of winter.  I got into the venue at about 8ish and had a look at the merchandise stand: the HLO [Hawkwind Light Orchestra] and Dave solo CDs being sold as well as a variety of t-shirts from the Onward and Blood of the Earth tours. Oh, and it seems they still haven't quite run out of the Take Me To Your Leader posters just yet!

Maria Daines was on and although her music isn't really my cup of tea, she's got a great voice and the guitarist seemed to know his way around the fret-board as well, so it was enjoyable enough.  The venue was quite busy, and having just turned 41 this week I was quite enjoying feeling rather young compared with the majority of other attendees.  That said, a teenager slumped past me with a Justin Bieber swirly cut looking rather out of place, followed shortly by a drunken guy in his sixties shouting "Save the fucking badger!" 

Only at a Hawkwind gig eh?

In between bands we got a hefty swathe of Dave's solo album played, which made sense as they were selling it on the night.  There was a wave of recognition and excitement when "We took the wrong step years ago" started.  They probably made a few sales from playing that song alone.

Before the gig I had been thinking how I missed the sense of mystery at attending a Hawkwind concert in my pre-internet earlier days.  You generally had no idea who would be in the band let alone what songs they were playing, so this time I made a resolution to not look at any reviews or comments about the Manchester and Skeggie gigs in an attempt to recapture the sense of mystery and anticipation.

The band came on at about 9 in great spirits - Niall first from the right, smiling and waving at the crowd, Dibs from left stage - indulging in a spot of sword play with his cello bow against Tim, who was sporting an almost Parisian beret in favour of last year's early eighties Miami Vice white jacket look.  Richard and Fred get into position and Dave saunters on stage and with a smile -  opened his arms majestically in greeting, as if to say Ta Daaaa!  No line-up change then.

And so on to the songs.

It is a great atmospheric start with rather ominous musical accompaniment to Dibs' commanding narration of Calvert’s "The Awakening."  Dave adds a bit of additional texture with a solitary maraca.  Throughout the evening he will pick it up now and then and shake next to the microphone for comic effect with a cheeky grin on his face.

Next up is "Master Of The Universe,"  and a really strong, tight and fast paced version of it too, not to mention ferociously loud.  My main criticism here is that Dave's guitar wasn't very high in the mix to begin with.  Somebody clearly noticed and turned him up after a bar or two though, but still his guitar sound at this point lacked a bit of bottom end.  This seemed be sorted out as the gig progressed though.

Great performance so far - Dibs appeared to be occasionally playing the cello through a waa-waa pedal if my ears are hearing correctly, resulting in some vintage spacey sound effects.  From the backdrop and dancers' outfits this should be, I guess, considered a continuation of the Onward Tour.  The green-eyed stilt walker is back.  It's a more polished dancing performance from them than the last time I saw them, which was only the third night of the tour (last year's Stamford gig) - probably helped somewhat by the larger space they have to play with tonight.  They're always enjoyable to watch though and really add to the performance.

"You'd Better Believe it" is up next - the tempo is kept high and the music remains loud.  A quieter passage in the middle allows Dibs to narrate a poem - I understand from Steve Starfarer's site that it's called "Space 2001."  After a while, the tempo is raised again and with a cheer from the crowd we're back into the finale of "You'd Better Believe It."

Next up is a trio of numbers from the 2012 "Onward" album. "The Hills Have Ears" is a great version though I could only just hear Richard's vocals over Dibs'.  Still, better than the version at Stamford last year where they forgot to turn Richard’s microphone on altogether.   "Seasons" is a very enjoyable powerful version and has a good elongated middle section.  The back projections on this one are great, too.

"Southern Cross" - slow number with the dancers dressed as constellations of stars.  A good song, but admittedly I earmarked it as the "Out Here We Are" slot - call of nature.  At least you can still hear the band from the loos...

Next up, I was left wondering whether we would be getting the full Warrior album treatment after all: "Assault and Battery - The Golden Void - Where Are They Now"

They've really turned this into a very powerful version.  I've not been entirely convinced when I heard them do it at Leamington in 2011 or Stamford 2012, for some reason the opening keys never seemed right and chords to "The Golden Void" seemed to be played back to front.  They really seem to have nailed it now though, and Tim really gave it some welly in "The Golden Void."  He's clearly recovered from the bizarre pruning accident, as has Richard from whatever ailed him in Poland - spontaneous combustion, Spinal Tap style?   Once again, the dancers are spot on with the stilt walking.  The trio of songs end to rapturous applause.

To my mild disappointment there were no wizards on hand to blow their horns next.  So, the full Warrior On The Edge Of Time set will have to wait for another day (in April), but we get a fantastic version of "Prometheus" instead.  Dave takes a step back in the middle section, but can't resist bobbing from side to side cheekily while the rest of the band continue without him.  Niall plays the lead melody much lower and slightly differently now.   It’s a great number for the dancers, they look fantastic in those outfits.  I can't see them dropping this number from the set for a while for that reason alone, and it remains a popular number with the crowd. 

I think it was around this point that the back projections had a fit and a big run time error dialog showed up above the band, much to their amusement.  Dibs said something about the evening’s full moon having its influence.

Dibs introduced the next number as a tribute to our Huwie, who we lost to cancer just before Christmas.  "Dragons and Fables" was played with images of him coming up on the screen behind during the performance.  It's done largely by Fred on organ and Dibs on vocals, with additional percussion by Richard and Dave.  Tim and Niall stood at either edge of the stage encouraging the audience to clap along, not that they need much encouragement.  It was a very touching tribute.

Next up, we're into another number associated with Huw: "Arrival In Utopia" - after the quiet and sombre "Dragons and Fables," this one is ferociously loud and heavy.  Dibs and Dave sing this, but I could hardly hear Dave's vocals.  A long middle section is intoned by Dibs in an almost Harvey Bainbridge-esque madcap style - about society and the fear of fear itself holding everyone back.  Powerful stuff and a lengthy jammed out version. 

At around this point some really drunk guy started attempting some kind of Tai Chi thing just next to me. Everyone looked on anxiously as it looked like he could fall any way at any moment!  Eventually someone asked if he was alright and got a drunken cuddle in return.  There was a lot of general drunkenness in the crowd which isn't entirely unusual and a strangely herbal smell which belied the 'no smoking' policy.  I looked on jealously as I siphoned the moisture off the top of a pint of weak lager and cursed the fact I had to drive.  At the end of the song Richard shouts out for everyone to stop standing there like statues.  It’s a little unclear if he’s talking about the band or the crowd; and Dave, who seems to think Richard’s referring to him, asks him if he’s taken his medication yet!

Next we’re down onto "Damnation Alley" and the song at least is not one hell of a mess.  This seems to have replaced "Angels of Death" as the big jamming number now and it sounds great.   Tim's soloing in the middle section was truly fantastic, though at the same time he seemed to be trying to move in time with the dancers - much to Dave's amusement.  It's a really long version of it, but really very powerful, and a fitting set closer.

The band wanders off for a few moments, and then returns for "Spirit of the Age," sang as ever by Dave with quite a bit of help from the crowd.  I didn't really see much of this one as it seems everyone around me was attempting to video it on their phone which in turn was disrupting my own vocal efforts.  The bloke directly in front of me in particular was titting around with the zoom almost continuously so I could barely see the stage.  Still, he’ll probably hear me singing rather than Dave when he plays it back so we’re evens.  In the end I moved.  As ever, Dave missed a few lines from the clone poem section, but then he's done that since 1979 so it's no surprise.

All that's left is for them to introduce the final number as Richard's favourite song: "Silver Machine."  This time, though, it was Dibs singing it, and didn't he do well, ladies and gentlemen?  At Stamford last year we missed most of the first verse as again someone forgot to turn Richard's microphone on.  Dibs' vocals seem to improve every time I see the band.  He really looks a lot more comfortable as a front-man now as well.

So that was it, about 1 hour and 35 minutes of music.  It was short but very sweet.  A quite similar set to last year's Stamford gig, but much smoother performance all round.  This was due no doubt to the many more gigs playing these songs since then.  No "Hassan-i-Sahba" this time, but then they've played it every time since I first saw them in 1989, so it’s due a bit of a rest.  No full "Warrior" album or "Demented Man," and - surprisingly - no "Stellar Variations" material [the new album].  It was a good performance though,  and good set-list with no real weak numbers.  This line-up seems to be playing together really well, long may it continue. 

I was left to wander out into the cold to try and find where I'd parked the car and hope it hadn't been nicked or vandalised. I was back home by half eleven. 

Sunday night gigs have their advantages after all!

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