Hawkwind - The Refectory, University of Leeds

by Andy Brown Rating: Release Date:

Sometime back in the 70’s my dad saw Hawkwind play The Refectory in Didsbury, Manchester and tonight I’ll be seeing that very same band play The Refectory in Leeds. It’s fair to say that the Wind has been going for quite a while now and although they’re operating with only one original member they’ve managed to keep the Hawkwind name alive and well. A quick glance at their discography reveals a band that has barely had more than a year or so off since releasing their debut album in 1970. They released a sprawling sci-fi indebted concept album in 2016 and plan to release the ecologically minded Into the Woods later this year. You just can’t stop them.

Before the space-ritual can begin in earnest we’re introduced to tonight’s support act, Glass Mountain. The Bradford based band has been active since 2015 and are named after an etching by hometown artist David Hockney. Perhaps unfairly, I’m expecting something psychedelic but that isn’t really what’s on offer here. Widescreen, yearning indie is the order of the day accompanied by the gentle, pleading vocals of frontman Harry Hanson.

There’s certainly potential here. The likes of ‘Cowboy Song’ reveal an ambitious young band with a clear knack for emotive, big-hearted songwriting. Yet while the sets highlights melt the heartstrings (the appropriately named ‘Glacial’ in particular) the set lacks enough real punch to ever really take off. Considering previous support for Hawkwind has included the gloriously eccentric Evil Blizzard it’s hard to escape the fact that although I’ve enjoyed Glass Mountain they’ve not exactly blown me away. It’s early days for the band though and who knows what they’ll be like if they last anywhere near as long as tonight’s headliners.

The back of the stage is lit up like the night sky and there’s the distinctive smell of incense in the air; must be time for Hawkwind. Mr Dibs takes to the stage first, looking to all intents and purposes some psychedelicised roadie-come-bouncer. A road hardened, well-worn rock veteran if ever there was one. Mr Dibs aka Jonathan Darbyshire was in fact a member of the Hawkwind road crew during the nineties before joining the band as a bassist in 2007. These days Dibs is the bands frontman and spiritual conduit. To the right of the stage and looking like he’s just rolled out of bed is the bands guitarist and only remaining original member; the eternally cool Dave Brock.

The machine hums into life; oscillators whirl, synthesisers hum and the hypnotic, propulsive rhythm of ‘Assault and Battery’ begins tonight’s psychedelic evocation. Hawkwind were always a band that avoided easy categorisation, a band that melded the peace-and-love aesthetic of the sixties to a particularly loud and experimental branch of hard rock. Any band playing ‘space rock’ undoubtedly owes them a debt.

Many of the songs are met with hands aloft adoration, dancing and bouts of communal singing. Decades after forming there’s still clearly a lot of love for Hawkwind.  The night’s finest moments come when the band indulge us in their trademark epics and nigh-on-unstoppable space jams. A song will sound familiar for the first few minutes before it’s gradually swallowed up by a wind-tunnel of whooshing, sci-fi indebted noise and Brocks spiralling guitar. This band practically invented psychedelic rock and they’re here to show us how it’s done.

Projections light up the stage and amongst the steady stream of tie-dye rainbows, dancing girls and technicolour lights there’s some imagery that wouldn’t look out of place at a Mighty Boosh show. Like any huge rock band worth their salt there’s a sense that Hawkwind don’t mind embracing the ridiculous. At one point my friend becomes convinced he’s seen the Crack Fox but that’s probably just the beer and incense talking.  

The excesses of the 70’s might be confined to flashbacks but the songs from that period remain impressively huge.  ‘Spirit of the Age’ sounds glorious; a meeting place between post-punk, krautrock and flower power. The head-nodding, eastern tinged riff-o-rama of ‘Hassan I Sahba’ is nothing short of monumental. It helps that Brock and Dibs look like they’re having the time of their life playing these songs decades after they were first written.

New material, such as the wonderfully dark ‘Into the Woods’, slips effortlessly into the set and show a band with no intentions of slowing down anytime soon. They end with the mighty ‘Silver Machine’ and for a while everything is right with the world.  

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