The revolving door of Hawkwind has spat out so many ex-members it should be no surprise that some of them would regroup and coalesce into new bands. Until recently, the most prominent has been Space Ritual, the product of the acrimonious and litigious relationship between Dave Brock and Nik Turner. Of late, however, coming up on the rails like an outsider at the Grand National, has been Harvey Bainbridge’s Hawklords, who have been diligently producing and touring new material since 2012. An extraordinary six albums later they were back at the Brickmakers in Norwich promoting “Six”, their latest.
The Brickmakers is something of a Norwich institution, its inauspicious frontage hiding a cavernous performance space in what is otherwise a standard local boozer. While brighter, shinier, better located venues have come and gone, the Brickmakers has plugged away for years on the very outskirts of town, just off the ring road in the middle of nowhere, offering a platform for eccentric and unfashionable bands to play for their eccentric and unfashionable fans. And they don’t come more eccentric and unfashionable than the Hawklords.
Launching into what proved to be a two hour set of full on Space Rock, the band seemed from the outset to have a point to prove. They were never a Hawkwind tribute band, but the set had always included a sizable quota of the parent band’s biggest hits. This time, having opened with “Out of Phase” off last year’s “Fusion”, they audaciously played two new tracks before finally offering up a version of the original Hawklords’s “High Rise”. Along the way there were a couple of Calvert covers, along with “Coded Languages” - Bainbridge’s finest Hawkwind moment - but that was pretty much it. It’s hard to say whether a glut of new material is simply squeezing out the old, or if this was more in the way of a defiant mission statement, but you can’t help wonder how the die hard Hawkwind fans felt about this.
Of course, it may simply have been that there was no longer anyone to perform the older numbers. The elephant in the room – or rather not in the room – was former frontman Ron Tree, and his absence frankly left a great big hole centre stage. Vocal duties were consequently split between Jerry Richards and Harvey Bainbridge, with Richards, particularly with newer numbers such as the elegiac “Ghost in My Machine”, making a surprisingly good job of it. It was also nice to see there was still room for electronic indulgences like Bainbridge’s nutty “Whisperer’s Downfall”, but there was no denying that proceedings lacked a ringmaster. While Richards did his best to chat between numbers, and while he seems a perfectly pleasant and charming individual, you get the impression this was done under sufferance. Comparisons are invidious, but I was unavoidably reminded of how mordant the live Hawkwind experience became after Nik Turner was booted out - I do hope the Hawklords don’t go the same way. Like Nik of old, Ron may not have been always strictly necessary, but he was always on the go - even when he had little to do he would jig about and get the crowd going too. The vacuum he has left behind was apparent, and might explain the somewhat diffident crowd.
For while there were, as there always seems to be, a few gentlemen of mature years loon-dancing down the front with abandon, far more seemed content to hang back, many of them leaning against the bar, or seated around and about, as if not wanting to commit to complete involvement. There was a feeling of disengagement that must have been a tad disappointing for the band so close to the end of the tour, notwithstanding the rapturous applause they received at the end of the set. Perhaps they just don’t like to make a fuss at the Brickmakers. In any event, this belated rowdy appreciation brought the band back on stage for an encore of the old Bob Calvert number “Ejection”. A final nod, perhaps, to those who had come seeking more familiar material and a damn fine version too.
I’ll admit to being one of those people initially disappointed once the penny dropped that we weren’t going to hear “Silver Machine” and its ilk, but in hindsight the decision to focus on newer material has to be seen as quietly admirable. Rummaging through classic Hawkwind’s back catalogue can often produce a set highlight, as bands as diverse as Zetan Spore and British Sea Power have discovered, but it’s perfectly understandable that the band didn’t want the audience impatiently rocking on its collective heels, waiting for “Master of the Universe” or “Spirit of the Age”, while they’ve got songs of their own to showcase. Once settled into the idea, it quickly became apparent that a more balanced, nuanced set was emerging, offering an opportunity to listen to and appreciate what they are doing now, and understand that for the band, at least, things have simply moved on.