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Hawkwind – The Charisma Years 1976-1979

Atomhenge

Hawkwind - The Charisma YearsHawkwind will inevitably be remembered for “Silver Machine” — an unlikely (even in 1972) top ten hit — and Space Ritual, possibly the greatest live album of all time. From 1970 to 1973, they were indeed the voice of the underground, the UK’s version of Grateful Dead, had that group been any good… or perhaps more accurately the UK’s Can or Neu!, for who Hawkwind apparently got deals with United Artists, having played with them in Germany.

Following the proto-punk single “Urban Guerilla”, which had no radio play due to it coinciding with IRA bombings, poet/vocalist Robert Calvert took a break. It seemed like the group were over, with lacklustre albums like Hall Of The Mountain Grill and Warrior On The Edge of Time just being Hawkwind by numbers — not bad by any means, but disappointing compared to previous releases.

Then, with a new deal with Charisma records, a sense of something new in the air and Lemmy leaving to form Motörhead, Hawkwind regrouped, Calvert returning to bring a far more contemporary vibe — reinstating the punk directness of the sound and connecting it with lyrical post-modernism — the title of the first LP of this period Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music directly referring to the comics we used to read in the 60s. Songs here like “Reefer Madness” and “Steppenwolf” have a wonderful retro-futurism to them, and are great songs too.

The second album is where it really hits the mark though. By now, punk had truly arrived and Quark, Strangeness and Charm didn’t flinch from sparking the gap between prog and punk. As a young punk at the time, it was one “prog” LP that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to my punk friends — the opening track “Spirit Of The Age” had me palpitating at the time, and still does today: “I would have liked you to have been deep frozen too, and waiting still as fresh in your flesh for my return to Earth, but your father refused to sign the forms to freeze you”; the ultimate soul song for the modern generation — take that Aretha! — and with only two chords.

“Hassan I Sabbah” scarily predicts recent events forty years ago (with a bit of help from William S Burroughs), connecting the then-current oil crisis with radical Islam. The rest of the album is genius as well – who imagined that the title track, concentrating on sub-atomic particles, would ever be performed on Marc Bolan‘s TV show?!

The third album in the set was released under the name of The Hawklords due to a legal disagreement over names, but was still was pretty much the same line-up, and when I saw them live in 1978, they were definitely Hawkwind… and still at their peak. A great album once again, and one that continued their sensitivity to the contemporary trends — a great lost glam-punk album with very little psych influence. The fourth, PXR5 came out after the Hawklords album, but was recorded before it. It’s great, but was probably just leftovers from Quark.

Anyway… if you don’t already have the original albums, this box is absolutely essential… if only for Quark, Strangeness and Charm.

-Alan Holmes-

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