The Top Ten

Before WordPress I had a blog on the photosharing site multiply.com but that mysteriously disappeared without warning (and the domain name has since resurfaced as something else entirely). One of the posts I published was my all time top 10 concerts, I think it might even have sown the seed in my mind for starting this blog, which was initially for gig reviews and little else. Then the gigs got more and more scarce but my appetite for writing stayed healthy so I’ve tried to launch other blogs, but I can never really sustain the same enthusiasm levels as I can when going on about music. So, I am re-hashing blog posts from history now. I know the top 5 probably hasn’t changed since I wrote this the first time (7 years ago maybe?) but maybe the rest has. Who knows.

Here are my top ten gigs in ascending order from 10

10 Hawkwind @ Fairfield Halls, 1989

Difficult to choose a best one of 3 or 4 excellent Hawkwind gigs, but this was the first one. I only knew half of the songs in those days, so a lot of it was a journey of discovery.

9  Datsuns @ The Astoria, 2002

As with #10, the first of several epic performances. They’ve never put in a less than amazing show, but the first time will always be the greatest. One of the very  best live acts on the circuit, even now.

8  Queens Of The Stone Age @ The Forum, 2002

Awesome due to the fact that I only knew the first 3 or 4 tracks off Songs For The Deaf, and the rest of it blew me away completely. I scarcely listen to them any more, which definitely makes this gig the odd one out on this list.

7  Def Leppard @ Brixton Academy, 2003

The very best of big hair and spandex rock, American stylee. The consummate professionals, made me wonder why I’d never seen them before. I’d go and see them again, I really would.

6  Dandy Warhols @ Brixton Academy, 2003

Much better than I expected them to be. I thought they’d be all sloppy and stoned and shit but they are incredibly tight (for a tripped out jam band).

5  Muse @ Big Day Out, 2007

Awesomeness abounds. Hideous environs, awful festival saved by a great performance.

4  Rush @ Wembley Arena, 1992

My heroes. Possibly the best sound I’ve ever heard at Wembley (to put it another way, possibly the only time it hasn’t been shit). They were just so fucking good.

3  Porcupine Tree @ Bloomsbury Theatre, 1999

Reignited a love affair with the works of Steven Wilson that had taken a bit of a back seat while rave happened. There is very little he has ever been involved in that I don’t absolutely adore. I probably listen to his stuff more than Rush or Nada Surf, even.

2  Nada Surf @ ULU, 2003

They taunted me by not playing again in the UK during the 2 1/2 years I lived there after this. Now Matthew Caws lives there and they play there (relatively) regularly and I know I’ll probably never see them again, much as I would like to.

1  Metallica @ Hammersmith Odeon, 1988

Best because of what it meant to me, as well as the fact that Metallica fucking kick ass live. I have since passed up the opportunity to see them in Christchurch, I would definitely see them if they played in Dunedin (as has been rumoured once) but that’s about it. It’s all about the time and the place.

 

The top 3 or 4 are never likely to change (especially not now I live in Dunedin!) but the rest are somewhat fluid and there are a few at the lower reaches of the top ten that might drop out in favour of others, depending on mood, what I’m listening to when you ask me etc etc. NMA hasn’t quite made the cut, neither has Maiden or Sabbath. Oh the fickleness of Aoide (the muse of song, classics nerds)

I haven’t included any electronic acts, as the circumstances in which I saw them make it less easy to be objective about things (i.e. I was trolleyed) but Orbital or Eat Static at Brixton might have made the cut on another day, as might The Orb. If I wrote a list of top 10 most trolleyed gigs then they’d definitely be on it.

I have tickets to see The Cult and Steven Wilson in the next couple of months. I would be very surprised if Astbury & Duffy came anywhere near getting themselves on this list, but I would be mildly disappointed if Steven Wilson doesn’t disturb the order of things. To say I am looking forward to that one is something of an understatement. I’m flying up to Auckland on my own for that one…

On the subject of space rock…

Space rock is one of my most favouritest musical genres. I fuckin’ loves it, even though it’s primarily designed for people that take a lot of psychedelic drugs, and I haven’t done that in a long, long time (like nearly 25 years! Eek!). It seemed like the logical thing to move on to, after I cut my musical teeth on Heavy Metal. The band that made the transition for me was Hawkwind.

I’m a huge Hawkwind fan. Fucking massive. Among the many items I carted halfway round the world when I emigrated to NZ was a crate of vinyl, which contains about 50 Hawkwind LPs. I just couldn’t bear to part with them, even though I could have made a fair bit of wonga as many of them are original 70s releases complete with booklets etc etc. They took their fair share of hippy-bashing when punk burst on the scene, and have remained pretty much universally un-cool for the last 30 years, but now I think the music writers that once pilloried them realise that in their own small way they influenced a hell of a lot. I’ve even heard them described as proto-punk, for fuck sake. I grew up with them basically, since I first heard the legendary Tommy Vance play Rocky Paths (the Live Chronicles version) on the legendary Friday Rock Show, and I haven’t stopped listening to them in almost 30 years. As far as I’m concerned though, they haven’t really made a decent record since the 80s (Xenon Codex being the last studio album I will listen to) and their golden period, for me, is the Robert Calvert era ’76-’79. Live At Brixton from 91 is a corker, but I’m possibly biased because I was there.

Anyway I’m rambling, but what I’m getting at, in a rather roundabout way, is that I’ve just discovered the best thing to happen to space rock since Hawkwind (well, since the Ozric Tentacles anyway). Allow me to introduce you to The Hawklords. Not THE Hawklords, well not really, but sort of a bit similar, like. While Hawkwind have been steadily declining and going through the motions a bit, what apparently started out as little more than a Hawkwind covers band is putting out space rock more Hawkwind-like than anything the actual Hawkwind have done in three decades. The Hawklords lineup nowadays consists of Harvey Bainbridge (an original Hawklord), Ron Tree (a former Hawkwind vocalist) and a guitarist Jerry Richards who I have a vague feeling did a stint in Hawkwind too, and some other names not familiar to me. Adrian Shaw, Nik Turner, Steve Swindells and Alan Davey have all featured in the past apparently, so credentials-wise this band is at least as Hawkwindy as Dave Brock’s lot.

I don’t even remember how I stumbled across them (it would have been Spotify, obvs, but not sure if it was served up to me as a recommendation or I just got a bit lost or what). I’m listening to R:Evolution (2015) as I write this, and to be honest, it could easily pass as the logical next album after 25 Years On. They have taken the best bits of Calvert era Hawkwind and melded it with the rocky, more polished sound from the 80s, with production values that Dave Brock could only dream of. Ron Tree is an excellent Calvert impersonator, indistinguishable from the real thing really. Pretty sure I’ve seen him with Hawkwind a couple of times and come away underwhelmed but here he is majestic. Jerry Richards is an extremely capable string-twanger. Not too much guitar hero, just enough to excite the palate. Way better than (my hero) Dave Brock, better even than the late great Huw Lloyd-Langton. Harvey Bainbridge is just doing what he always used to do, brilliantly – his keyboard sounds are just legendary.

hawklords20r-evolution20R:Evolution is mostly reminiscent of PXR5 and Quark… but there is a nod to much earlier stuff too (One Day is basically Hurry On Sundown rebooted). Evolver has been lifted from Doremi or …Mountain Grill and there isn’t anything on here at all that sounds ‘original’, whatever the fuck that means anyway. I expect Dave Brock went fucking apeshit when he heard these for the first time, they’re that heavily influenced by his stuff. Pretty much every riff, every bassline, every melody can be traced to an earlier album somewhere but who cares? This isn’t self-indulgent and jammy like its forebears though, the songs are all very well crafted and well, songy, with choruses and bridges and all that shit you don’t often get in space rock. It’s all very psychedelic indeed though, crammed with lots of samples and trippy weird shit and permeated throughout by HB’s lush floaty breathy synth chords.

Censored (2014) was pretty much the same vein but the first two albums (2012’s We Are One and 2013’s Dream) are a little more basic, as you would expect. They still have the same influences, mostly the punky side of the Calvert era but with definite nods to the early 70s. I saw a post (Facebook? Twitter?) announcing the next album for later this year, featuring guest vocals from Kim McAuliffe (Girlschool), so I’m definitely looking forward to that.

In summary then, Hawklords is now basically a Hawkwind for the 21st Century, polished and produced properly. It’s like someone discovered 4 lost albums from the late 1970s. What a fantastic discovery. Thanks Spotify!

** Straw poll of other people in the room (namely, Mrs ByTor) – “Is this Hawkwind? I Didn’t know you still listened to them. It’s not actually that bad.” As positive a review as she’s ever likely to give of a space rock band, I might even be able to get away with playing it again some time.

Hawkwind + Shamanic Tribes On Acid – 25/03/01 – Croydon Fairfield Halls

Actually attended this gig in my capacity as ‘roadie’ to the support act, a very good friend of mine. My onetime dream of being a roadie had long since disappeared (since actually being in a band and realizing how heavy music gear is) but I jumped at the chance of possibly meeting Hawkwind, so I agreed to carry some shit from the van into the Fairfield Halls (where, incidentally, they have all manner of goods lifts and trolleys to make the job super easy). Of any kind of classic lineup, only Dave Brock remained and the rest of them were gophers even younger than me, but he was Mr Hawkwind. Anyway, I have to report that they were pretty uninspiring – I watched one of my all-time favourite bands from the wings, and was mighty disappointed. If ever a band could be said to be going through the motions, it was Hawkwind. And I never got to meet Brock either, as were distinctly not into mingling with their support act. Actually, drummer Richard Chadwick was quite friendly, and brought us the remains of their rider, but it rather brought home the wisdom in the old adage ‘never meet your heroes’.

They took my ticket off me and wouldn't give it back :-(

Hawkwind + Chumbawamba + Back To The Planet + Aphex Twin + Test Dept + Senser + Transglobal Underground + Dub Warriors – 14/08/93 – Brixton Academy

Hawkwind ticket Aug 1993Oh look, another all-nighter at Brixton. This time 24hrs. Hawkwind were very good this time, but the highlight of the night, apart from the excellent Aphex Twin, was Chumbawamba, featuring Credit To The Nation. It was the first time I’d seen them, but I knew their earlier, punkier material fairly well. This was the beginning of the poppy stuff, and the first time I’d heard ‘Enough Is Enough’. Credit To The Nation (the rapper MC Fusion and his two dancers Mistah G and T-Swing) made Chumbawamba really danceable – I’d heard his voice on one track on Shhh! but he was much more part of the band tonight. Remember me nothing more.

Hawkwind – 06/07/91 – Brixton Academy

Another 12hr marathon, this time 6pm to 6am. It was rumoured that Hawkwind would be playing 2 separate sets. I either missed The Chemistry Set, Drop and Nutmeg or they left insufficient imprints on my brain. Nothing to report. The 25th of May were a lively anarcho-punk-rap lot, rather angry and a bit out of place really. Entertaining though. Then the first of two psychedelic guitar bands I’d been angling to see for a while – Dr Phibes And The House Of Wax Equations. They played some very proficient psych rock, and the front man Howard King Jr was a very capable guitarist. I seem to remember thinking he was very Hendrix-esque, but I would like to think that it was his playing style that led me to that conclusion, rather than the fact that he was black. Dunno, too long ago. Then Levitation, House of Love guitarist Terry Bickers’ new band. They had been receiving a lot of press attention, and I was somewhat mystified as to why they were on the bill with Hawkwind, what with being an indie band and all, after half a song I realized they were a pretty good choice. They played a sort of Spacemen 3 soundscape sort of sound, less fuzzy and more prog and right up my street. Then RDF again – probably the best time I ever saw them. Really had the whole place grooving. It still amazes me that such a ‘collision’ of dub and poetry can be so danceable.

Hawkwind ticket Jul 1991

Then the first Hawkwind set. Nothing stands out except a very, very good version of Steppenwolf with Bridget Wishart doing all the vocals. I was initially very skeptical, and horrified that she was about to commit sacriledge but within a verse and a half, she had me hooked. Never really liked much of her other stuff, but Steppenwolf was the pinnacle of her career as far as I was concerned. I then somehow slept for 2 hrs on a staircase, in amongst piles of assorted army surplus gear and ripped up Rizla packets, and returned to the auditorium in time to see their second set. This time they had ex-keyboardist and true electronic leg-end Tim Blake on stage with them. He didn’t appear to bring a great deal to the proceedings, poncing round with a ‘keytar’, but at least it meant they played a few off Levitation, and Lighthouse too. They played mostly old stuff, and if I hadn’t been half-asleep I think I’d have appreciated the set a whole lot more. Overall, one of Hawkwind’s better shows.

Hawkwind NME advert Jul 1991

Hawkwind + Radical Dance Faction – 09/11/90 – Southampton Mayflower Theatre

Another cracking sit down venue, used to panto and Des O’Connor rather than smelly hairy yoghurt-knitters. RDF were the best I’d seen them, they had recruited a fairly well-built black lass for backing vocals, and she had a cracking voice. It was also the first time I’d seen them play for longer than half an hour, and in their full 45 min support slot they played just about everything I knew, including a somewhat bizarre version of ‘Dirty Old Town’.

Hawkwind ticket Nov 1990

This was the first tour with Bridget Whishart (formerly of the Hippy Slags), and they had at some stage since I last saw them, lost Harvey Bainbridge, Danny Thompson and Simon House. The new drummer, Richard Chadwick was a solid pounder in the mould of Simon King but I really wasn’t taken with the new singer. Hawkwind just doesn’t sound quite right with a female vocalist, but luckily she only sang about half the songs. Space Bandits was heavily plundered (this being the Space Bandits tour) and her vocals were OK on those, as well as ‘Back In The Box’ but it did sit a bit oddly her doing the back catalogue stuff. She brought nothing to the sound, definitely not an improvement.

Hawkwind Sounds advert Nov 1990

Hawkwind – 01/09/90 – Brixton Academy

This was one of Hawkwind’s legendary all nighters that I’d heard about. The line up was Hawkwind flyer Sep 1990pretty awesome, all bands I’d heard of, most of whom I had records by, so it promised to be a good’un. I think we got a bit lost in South London, so we were an hour later than we had planned. Brixton on a Saturday afternoon is a bit of a nightmare. Missed World Exit (trying to find a parking space) and The Dark Side (trying to score), so Radical Dance Faction were the first band I saw. They really are an odd band. Rumbling dub basslines and a wicked skank guitar and piano, melodious female backing singers, with the most unappealing monotonous spoken word over the top. A very aggressive massive white dready guy sneering angrily into the mic, very agit-prop lyrics but the whole thing somehow worked. I went back and saw them many times on the strength of this. It didn’t work so well on vinyl (maybe just thin production on Borderline Cases) but live they were so good, really difficult not to dance to. Then Ambitious Beggars, Nutmeg and The Chemistry Set, of whom (and I’m not going to lie to you), I have very little recollection.

Hawkwind ticket Sep 1990

This was the first time I’d seen the Magic Mushroom, and they didn’t disappoint. ‘You Can Be My LSD’ went down a storm, along with ‘Don’t Be Afraid’ ‘What’s On Your Mind’ and the excellent ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ from the ‘Process of Illumination’ album. They were massive Hawkwind fans themselves, and did a reasonably passable version of Hurry On Sundown to finish. Ozric Tentacles were probably my favourite band at the time. They weren’t as good as the two previous times I’d seen them, but that could just have been the awful sound in that place. ’Kickmuck’ is always the crowd-pleaser, and this was the days before they started trying to play it as fast as they could. Bevis Frond were good, but I couldn’t tell you a whole lot about them. Then to Hawkwind. Fuck, I don’t remember anything. I’m sure I’d remember if it were a bad performance, but this is one the few times I’ve seen a band, sat intently through the entire set, and nothing stuck. Hasn’t happened too many times over the years, but sorry folks, no idea.

Hawkwind Sounds advert Sep 1990