Ah, Hawkwind. Yes, they are still going, and what’s more, they can fill the Royal Albert Hall, as they did this evening, with interplanetary psychedelic delights.
Hawkwind – The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
Royal Albert Hall, London – 29 September 2023
Words: Liz Medhurst
Photography: Paul Hutchings
Incredibly, the band made their debut at this venue only as recently as 2019. It fits them really well, though, the architects of sonic splendour aligned with splendid Victorian architecture. Those mushrooms on the ceiling seem thematically appropriate, too, with the plethora of psychedelic treats that await.
The full title for this evening is Space Ritual – An Evening Of Sonic Destruction 50 Years On … Celebrating The Rituals And Odysseys Of Space. It’s quite a mouthful, but then, this band don’t do things by halves.
Prior to the show, there was some expectation that the original Space Ritual album would be recreated to mark the anniversary of its release half a century ago, although if we are in a nitpicking mood, it needs to be made clear that it is the release anniversary as it’s fifty-one years since the actual tour.
This album is now available in a lavish 10-disc set, which has been remixed and updated to include the additional recorded Sunderland show as well as Liverpool and Brixton.
However, we didn’t get a repeat of that album; instead, the setlist was a journey throughout the many decades and editions of Hawkwind with only a smattering of duplication from the first Space Ritual.
Not that this mattered. This was an astoundingly good celebration of space rock and absolutely the right choice. It’s true to the spirit of the original, being a multimedia spectacular, and of course, there have been a lot more stories told, and indeed continue to be told right up to the present day.
The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown
As the lights dim, it’s time to put away earthly concerns such as train strikes and immerse ourselves into this otherworldly experience.
First up, it’s another true pioneer, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. It feels wrong to describe this act as a support, as Brown has such a long-standing relationship with Hawkwind.
It was fitting that he was the opener. You really wouldn’t have wanted anyone else. At 81, the energy he produces would put men half his age to shame. Although there was nothing in this set to genuinely shock, as would happen in the past, the capacity to delight was still very much intact.
From the start, as the prelude, he declared, “The price of your entry is sin.” We were treated to an absolute riot of colour and texture, with a bit of mayhem thrown in for good measure. Backed by a tight band who knows how to groove, Arthur’s stage presence still enthrals, with multiple costume changes and unique movements.
His voice remains strong and melodic, the acapella section at the end of Voice Of Love highlighting this to great effect. Sunrise, the Kingdom Come classic, was so beautiful and evocative, and Time Captives, originally the first recorded track to use a Bentley Rhythm Ace drum machine, still sounds fresh and innovative today.
Given the state of the modern world right now, I think I’d much rather live in Arthur’s crazy version. Maybe he was one of only the sane ones all along.
A slew of lasers signalled Hawkwind’s arrival on set. They’ve always been a visual band, including the pictures that are conjured in the mind (and additional substances for the listener are optional to achieve this).
Tonight, there was a huge LED screen projecting the various odysseys, teleporting us to futuristic and fantasy multi-universes. There may have been some stereotypical tropes maybe, but no matter, it was all captivating.
Twelve giant banners adorned the stage, each representing a character from the Space Ritual artwork assigned to a zodiac sign. It’s an interesting layout, too, not following the traditional order of the signs.
It’s probably not random either, given that the 1972 version of the stage was meticulously planned out on Pythagorean principles and mystical concepts. It’s safe to assume that something similar was at play here, although I am none the wiser as to the meaning. It looked great, though.
We were travelling at warp speed from the off, with Levitation. The sound was pristine throughout, and the arrangements heavy, facilitating this journey back in time and onwards into infinity.
Dave Brock is now 82 earth years old, and he’s another one who belies what ageing looks like. The cornerstone of the band, standing tall and straight, steadying the ship through the evening’s voyages.
Joining Brock in the 2023 version of Hawkwind are Richard Chadwick, Magnus Martin, Doug MacKinnon and Tim ‘Thighpaulsandra’ Lewis. Tonight, there is an addition to the ranks with special guest William Orbit, famed for all things electronica and ambient. It turns out that he is playing with his heroes tonight and received his stage name due to his love of all things stellar, so we are in good company.
Orbit joined the band for Utopia, immediately tucking himself away right at the side of the stage, cocooned with his equipment, and that’s where he stayed until Right To Decide. It was difficult to tell exactly what effects and sounds Orbit added, and perhaps that’s all well and good. The sound was beautifully enhanced, but this was definitely Hawkwind’s show.
On we went, at times dense, with a feeling of hurtling through space, sometimes claustrophobic and with a sense of menace, then at other times peaceful and flowing, all in an exquisite assault on the senses. You can dance to this too, as demonstrated when Spirit Of The Age got everyone going in the arena, which tonight was all standing.
There was a good variety of ages in the audience, but no surprise that it was heavily skewed towards ageing speed freaks and hippies, some pretending to be respectable upright citizens and some not.
This is not a nostalgia act, though, far from it. This band still manage to add exciting new additions to the catalogue, demonstrated here with Rama (The Prophecy) from 2023’s The Future Never Waits.
Arthur Brown came back for the poetry slot towards the end of the main set. Of course, there’s a poetry slot. Ten Seconds Of Forever was delivered in suitably dramatic fashion, and the act concluded with an epic Born To Go/You Shouldn’t Do That.
There was more to come with a long encore, starting with a heavy blast of Brainstorm, with another Arthur Brown poetry interlude. Eventually, proceedings were closed out, with Welcome To The Future serving as a call back to that original album.
Fifty years on, and there are not many bands that can take you to another dimension like Hawkwind can. An insanely stellar evening from two out-of-this-world forces of nature.