Friday, 4 November 2011

Hawkwind Edinburgh 1977

Hawkwind Edinburgh 1977
19th September 1977

Edinburgh Usher Hall

I never really “got” Hawkwind, as a lad.  I knew about Silver Machine of course – a great throbbing wee tune, but that was sort of it.  Around 1975 a friend procured a copy of Space Ritual, and would play the thing incessantly whenever any of us came around – hoping, I think, that we would somehow “get into” the album, by osmosis, or some other equally insidious process.  But to me, even after repeated inoculation, it still sounded like 70 minutes of sub-Status Quo riffing punctuated by intervals of someone bellowing advice on how to survive a sonic attack, or informing me how big space was.

But when the band visited Edinburgh in 1977, two factors enticed me along.  Firstly the band’s current album Quark, Strangeness and Charm had just enjoyed a particularly favourable review in the music press and, although I couldn’t then afford the LP, I had bought the title track, released by the band as a single, and had found it a surprisingly accessible and bouncy piece with intelligent, funny, indeed some might say, moderately risqué lyrics.

The second factor was that I had noted the cheapest seats could be had for 90p.  Ninety-fucking pence!!  For a rock’n’roll concert!  Although, admittedly, this was up in the Usher Hall Gods, where the seating was so precipitous one’s feet were level with the ears of the person in the row in front.

No Bus-Stop Cowboy me, for this gig, as my friend P had just bought himself a motor bike.  This back in the days when any little Herbert with a fistful of dollars, a provisional licence and a Death Wish could pitch up at a bike shop, buy a machine (up to 250cc) and drive it off (usually to an early grave).

But we survived the trip through to Edinburgh, and the crash-helmets lent us a certain cache (or so I thought, at the time), when we wandered clutching them into the Shakespeare Bar for a pre-concert beer.  It was slightly less fun trying to wedge the bloody things beneath our seats in the concert hall, though.

Bethnal, a London (obviously) punk-rock band opened the show, but I am ashamed to say my RAM has been wiped of any memory of their appearance.  As, I have to say, has much of the Hawkwind performance.  Which perhaps, has more to do with my unfamiliarity with their set than anything else.  They did play a lot of their riffy/grungy songs, and Robert Calvert did his Sonic Attack shouty-thing, but the show for me was more memorable for what they didn’t play (i.e. Silver Machine or the Quark, Strangeness & Charm single), than what they did.  Indeed, I can only recall one familiar number: the encore Master of the Universe. 

I do remember the stage set boasting two illuminated, oddly–phallic looking structures, and also at one point the band stopped playing and we watched a slide show projected onto a large screen.  It showed a sapling growing into a tree; being surrounded by smaller then larger houses before, somewhat preposterously, finding itself hemmed in by skyscrapers.  These lofty structures then fell into ruin, which left the tree briefly standing alone, before it toppled – this last act, somewhat bafflingly, eliciting a huge roar of approval from the audience.  

So, a mildly diverting, rather than exciting concert, although I did enjoy another fun, if occasionally hairy, journey back home on the back of the bike.  I never got the chance of another go, however, as P scooted off to University a few weeks later, choosing to leave his Hog sitting on the road outside his folks’ house, where it swiftly became a source of spare parts for the local bikers.  I used to pass it each morning, noting that yet another couple of bits had gone.

I later learned to like, if not quite love, Space Ritual, but the Quark, Strangeness & Charm album has long been a boon companion.  The first side (vinyl, remember) is a wonderful adventure: three songs melding into a futuristic tryptich.  Spirit of the Age has Calvert singing two pieces of his rather witty poetry, over a relentlessly hypnotic groove.  Damnation Alley is a nine minute rollercoaster through Zelazny’s novel of the same name featuring some breathtaking violin work by Simon House, leading into in the poignant, plaintive Fable of a Failed Race, the intro of which still gets the hairs on the back of my neck prickling.  Side 2 is a bit patchy, but it is an album which sounds as fresh now, as it did in the early 1980s when I finally heard it for the first time.

Set List

(Pretty much all of these songs were unfamiliar to me, back in 1977, so I have had to rely on info from the web here)

Forge of Vulcan
High Rise
Wind of Change
Jack of Shadows
Spirit of The Age
Sonic Attack
Damnation Alley
Uncle Sam's on Mars
Iron Dream
Reefer Madness

Master of the Universe
Welcome to the Future

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