The Royal Albert Hall, London
Friday, 29th September 2023
This magnificent, if acoustically challenging, venue is an unlikely setting for the once kingpins of the counter culture that is Hawkwind, yet here we are, and not for the first time in the band’s long history either. Billed as “An Evening of Sonic Destruction 50 Years On… Celebrating the Rituals and Odysseys of Space”, a lot of the fans I spoke to while queueing for the loo were expecting a full replay of the Space Ritual album.
Me too as it happened, although given our very last-minute arrangements to get here, and the attendant frantic emailing, at least I had a good excuse for not reading that flyer properly! As I know Space Ritual inside out, as it is the best live album by anyone ever, I thought this review would be easy. Now I have to work for my ticket… damn!
First up was the magnificent Arthur Brown band, resplendent in Claire Waller’s eye-catching costumes, which included a few changes of garb for the octogenarian singer as he and the band made their way through a set that covered most of his long career. The theatricality was enhanced by suitably psychedelic visuals, courtesy of Andy Hall.
The inevitable Fire, Health & Safety version sans flaming helmet, was the conclusion of a mid-set suite of songs from the debut Crazy World of Arthur Brown LP, music that has lost none of its dramatic edge some 56 years down the line. It was good to hear Sunrise from the Kingdom Come years, whose three albums rank as some of the most underrated prog of the original era. If you’ve not heard them, check them out, you won’t be disappointed. Perplexed maybe, as it’s not every day you hear songs about colonic irrigation, but you won’t be disappointed!
My memory fails me, but it may have been Sunrise when guitarist/keyboardist Dan Smith’s rig suddenly cut out in the middle of a particularly scorching solo, cueing much frantic scurrying about by Dan and his roadie with spare leads and gizmos. Triumph soon arose from disaster, and all was well.
A very entertaining if rather short set ended on a high with a marvellous rendition of Time Captives, another banger from the Kingdom Come era, Arthur resplendent in a silver cape. The amazing thing about Arthur Brown, now 81 years old (amazingly a year younger than Dave Brock!), is that despite some obvious physical frailty, his sonorous baritone seems to have lost very little of its power, and its once extraordinary range still covers scales a lot of male vocalists half his age would be proud of! Keep on keepin’ on!
Rutting Stag / Confusion
Voice of Love
Arthur Brown – Vocals
Dan Smith – Keyboards, Lead Guitar, Electronics
Jim Mortimore – Bass, Keyboards, Electronics
Sam Walker – Drums, Electronics
Claire Waller – Costumes, Creative Director
Andy Hall – Visuals
After a decent interval to regroup our synapses, enter the warriors on the edge of time, the mothership Hawkwind, still going strong after all this time. A fit and happy looking Dave Brock and his crew saunter on to the stage from the left side as we look, take up their positions, and after a “Good evening everybody” from the leader, one of very few interactions with the crowd, and one that wasn’t lost in the sound swamp that is the RAH, the band launch into an energetic take on Levitation. It becomes clear after a few songs that this isn’t going to be Space Ritual recreated any time soon, if at all. Ah well, who cares, the band are in great form, so let’s just go with the flow.
Arrival in Utopia saw the introduction of a seemingly unlikely crew member, William Orbit, on a second set of keyboards. Unlikely until you find out that the first record he bought as a young teen was In Search of Space. A kindred spirit then, it seems! Orbit stayed in situ until the Space Ritual selection started, much further on in proceedings.
To be honest, it was somewhat difficult – if not impossible – to discern his contributions from Tim Lewis’s, but that was probably as much to do with the weird acoustics of this enormous Victorian concrete cowshed as anything else. Let’s face it, the RAH was not designed for rock bands!
This middle section of the set flagged a bit, as Arrival and the two songs that followed it seemed to lack some of the spark of the preceding numbers, but that may well be because they are not that familiar to me. However, the spaceship took off again from a barnstorming Spirit of the Age onwards. Audience singalong time, as my already croaky voice, thanks to a persistent throat infection, was to regret the following day!
As it plucks songs from across the span of the band’s history, the setlist is nothing if not interesting, combining “greatest hits” with newer numbers, and it becomes easy to see and hear why they have been such an enduring influence on punk, post-punk, rave, and modern psychedelia. I very much doubt if Spiritualized, to name but one of a myriad of bands, would have sounded anything like they did were it not for Hawkwind.
The sweet course comes at the end of a satisfying meal, and this gig is no different. Arthur Brown returns to the stage to narrate Ten Seconds of Forever, and we have finally arrived at the Space Ritual. Just recalling the superb sonic attack of Born to Go as I write this is sending shivers down my spine. F**king fantastic, if you’ll ’scuse my language! The encore gives us more, and by the closing space whispers of Welcome to the Future, it was obvious we had witnessed something just a bit special.
[Photos by Roger Trenwith and Rosamund Tomlins.]
You’d Better Believe It
The Psychedelic Warlords (Disappear in Smoke) / You Know You’re Only Dreaming / The Psychedelic Warlords (Disappear in Smoke)
Arrival in Utopia
Rama (The Prophecy)
Spirit of the Age
Assault and Battery / The Golden Void
Right to Decide
Ten Seconds of Forever (with Arthur Brown)
Born to Go / You Shouldn’t Do That / Born to Go
Brainstorm / The Black Corridor / Brainstorm (with Arthur Brown)
Master of the Universe
Welcome to the Future
Dave Brock – Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Synthesisers
Richard Chadwick – Drums, Vocals
Magnus Martin – Guitars, Vocals, Keyboards
Thighpaulsandra (Tim Lewis to his mum) – Keyboards, Synthesisers
Doug MacKinnon – Bass
~ Special Guests:
William Orbit – Keyboards
Arthur Brown – Spoken Word