ORGAN THING: Hawkwind? At the London Palladium? Don’t be silly, that didn’t just happen…

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HAWKWIND, London Palladium, November 4th 2018 –  Sunday night at the Palladium, what?! Have we fallen sideways through one of Michael Moorcock’s reality holes? Some context first, Hawkwind are a band who mattered, a band who should still matter, an important band, a genuine slice of counter culture, so what to make of all this? What to make of Hawkwind at, of all the places, the London Palladium and all that the place stands stands for? The Palladium??! Your old folks watching the box on a Sunday night with the Queen and Cilla Black? Bruce Forsyth? And what to make of stay in your seat and do not dance?  And while we’re asking questions, how much for a ticket?! Is this really the same band who protested the ticket price while playing outside the fence at Isle of Wight back there? Oh come on, the idea itself is preposterous, Hawkwind at the London Palladium for gods sake, don’t tell me you didn’t do a double take when you first saw it announced. Yes sure, other rock bands have been playing there recently, but this isn’t any old rock band, this is the great unwashed beast called Hawkwind, fly me back to Stonehenge in 84 or Acid Daze in 87 or one of those Hawklords gigs back there with a flyer for the Palladium gig in my pocket, I;d be laughed out of the place, no way would anyone believe it, all those people, those heads with those “Hawkwind into the 80’s badges” on their labcoats, the idea that Hawkwind made it to the 80’s was preposterous enough, those badges and patches were a celebration, they actually make it!  The 70’s were when they were at the pinnace of course, out front as music thrust  forward,  they were still on the cutting edge, certainly in terms of counter culture and the underground and free festivals in the 80’s, gigs and gatherings like that Black Rhino benefit gig (the last time we talkhawkwind_palladium_12ed to Robert Calvert), like Acid Daze, in Finsbury Park, Hawkwind were on the edge, the band of the people, the anti-establishment, Hawkwind At The Palladium on a Sunday night? Bruce Forsyth’s place?Don’t be silly, that could never happen?

Okay, so we didn’t pay for our tickets, even if I could have afforded it I probably wouldn’t have done so on principle, it was only curiosity and the thought of both Arthur Brown and the orchestra, that and a couple of seats going to waste if we didn’t use them, it felt like a dirty job, it felt like a bit of a sell out to even go, it felt like someone had to do it though, we’d covered them so many times over the years, it felt like it had to be documented, witnessed.. Hell, we launched Organ at a Hawkwind gig, we launched it far too many years ago now, we launched it out of the back of an old army ambulance, smoke machine in the cab, blue lights on in the car park outside Guildford Civic Hall, long arm of the law not happy about it, Grab your Organs, 50p a shot, issue one, all hand painted, pick your colour, we sold the entire print run before the gig started, wow, this is easy/ Little did we know that not all audiences lapped up alternative publications with as much enthusiasm as a Hawkwind audience did, they were peak fanzine buyers, we sold hundreds, thousands of Organs outside Hawkwind gigs. We sold out that first day with very little effort, we headed back to the printer the next morning and off to the Reading Hexagon for a second batch of selling the day after that, the first Dave Brock interview appeared in issue two a couple of months later and Organ was off and running. Hawkwind and their family were a big part of our lives back in those late 80s, Acid Daze, Robert Calvert, Brixton Fridge, Hammy O, that brilliant Nik Turner gig at the Clarendon that Ring opened at, adventures with Skreech Rock and 2000DS, we interviewed various Hawks on many occasions over the years, Huw Lloyd Langton while he sat in a deckchair round the back of the Odeon, down in the red dust of the Treworgey Tree Fayre in the wastelands of Cornwall (these a whole book of tales from that one alone), Hawkwind mattered back there…

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Hawkwind were a big big part of Organ for many many years, there were starting to lose their edge though, we bailed out of the spaceship somewhere near the end of the 90’s, they were starting to lose the magic, they were still good but the evidence was there, they were starting to lose it, time to get off the ride while it still felt good – a policy adopted for several very special bands, walked out of my last ever Motorhead show at Hammy O somewhere in 2005 with a great big shit-eating grin on my face, I’d seen Lemmy and co so so many many times, followed them around the land, I loved that band to bits, I didn’t want to watch them go down hill, it didn’t bother me that they were still out there playing and that others will still going, I’m not saying they should have stopped, but you have to know when the time has come for you to get off.  I caught Motorhead now and again on TV or footage on YouTube, it felt like I’d made the right decision, likewise Hawkwind, bits we saw or heard didn’t really make us want to go back for more, I have only the vaguest of idea in terms of who was playing in the band last night alongside Baron Brock, someone from Mandragora maybe? The bits I’d heard of recent albums, various releases that had been sent in and such, we politely chose not to cover them, the policy around here is still to only cover things we’re mostly positive about where we can.  Hawkwind hadn’t seriously interested us for a good few years (other than regularly digging out the old albums, those recordings still sound as vital as ever, that string of albums they made right up until the end of the 70’s are still as vital as ever.

And so some last minute tickets came up, a (very) early morning phone call, are you interested in seeing Hawkwind tonight? And well the idea of the Hawks with an orchestra at the rather unlikely London Palladium, spiritual home of people like Arthur Askey, the Royal Variety Performance and the uber establishment, a place for granny and granddad, not the kind of place you expect some (at times very) anti-establishment scumbag space rock band who were more accustomed to being chased around Wiltshire and Somerset by the various (unnumbered) convoy-smashing police forces than playing the Royal Family’s favourite London theatre – surreal is a word way way way to overused by far too many not very surreal people, just the idea of last night was very surreal indeed.

It felt awkward from the start, we tried to work up to it with a couple of pints over the road in an Oxford Circus pub wile we searched for a familiar face or two, six quid for a flat can of warm Guinness poured in to a plastic glass was a hideously cynical rip-off inside, shame on you Palladium, you’ve already charged most people an arm and a leg to get in, no need to milk them for more inside. We resisted the champagne popsicle kiosk or the popcorn bar.  The support band weren’t up to much, nothing warmed up there then, there isn’t a really that much of a sense of occasion as we’re waiting for the giant stage curtain to go up for the main event, feels a little polite in here. The orchestra occupying centre stage looks impressive when the big curtain does eventually go up, the compare gets things going a little, he adds to the surrealness of it all, up there boldly in his sit and bow tie, tongue in cheek, introducing us to Sunday night at the Palladium like we’re here for Little and Large or Cliff Richard or Tommy Trinder or god knows who or what, he actually references Bruce Forsyth as he welcomes us to “this most magical of theatres” for it is a theatre, this in not a rock venue, he welcomes us for what he says he hopes will be “a splendiferous occasion” , he shouts “Nice to see you” and gets the expected reply from almost everyone, “to see you nice”, “Ladies and gentlemen, Hawkwind!” – Hawkwind at the Palladium Theatre on a Sunday night, what the hell is going on? Just what the hell is going on?!

The orchestra sounds good from the off, amazing sounds, astounding arrangements, the visuals are looking fine, 50’s looking science-fiction comic book graphics, Assault and Battery sounds a little flat though, we can’t get out of our seats, most don’t seem to want to, we can’t connect, a few try a fist pump to two but it doesn’t feel right, the ushers are on edge, do not dance (do not panic).  The natural orchestral flow of The Golden Void lifts things, we’re starting to take off. There’s Brock relaxing into it, telling tales of getting busted for busking outside the Palladium and ending up in a police cell around the corner, find a pound by the beak apparently, “and look where I am now!”, You have to love Dave Brock. Not sure who the others are up there on the stage in front of the orchestra, besides orchestra leader Mike Batt of course, he’s doing a brilliant job, he’s really got under the skin of this treasured pieces of music, Mike Batt is carrying it all, not sure who the rest of the band are.  Hawkwind have always being about big characters, Calvert with his flying goggles and a hawk on is arm, Lemmy, Nik Turner speeding about the place on his roller skates, Stacia, the textures of Simon House – really don’t know who these people are alongside the ever present Mr Brock, and they’re not really making me want to care about them, just a bunch of politely dressed blokes who’ve ambled on stage in their Marks and Spencers shirts and jackets, politely playing as the audience politely sit and polite clap, everything is so polite when you really want it to take off, Where’s the danger? Where’s the edge? Where’s the attitude? This doesn’t feel like Ladbroke Grove counter culture any more, there’s no sign of the Angels or the heads or the punks, priced out to just not that bothered any more? And the drumming!  Hawkwind drums are suppose to stab, they’re suppose to drive, that staccato Kraut rock proto-punk thing, that vital forward-moving thrust,  those drums of Simon King were so so important to that pioneering sound back there, te drums tonight are so so ordinary, the band sound ordinary…

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Shot Down in the Night moves things along a little more, still hard to connect, to feel part of it while we politely sit in out seats, the orchestra and the orchestration is excellent, Mike Batt really had pulled it off – the orchestration fits, it feels good, it could have been awkward, The Black Corridor arrives and so does Arthur Brown, how tall is that man! At last a real on-stage presence, a larger than life jolt, The watcher is when things really do lift properly for the first time, thoughts turm to Lemmy as Arthur really grabs hold on things, has that man grown another foot since we last saw him?  Now Arthur Brown knows what the big stage is for, the god of hell fire is in the house! His vocal make the excellently orchestrated version of The Watcher extra special, brilliant actually, we’re finally feeling pleased to be here, and Mr Brown’s Sonic Attack is full of character, the orchestra does the piece proud – do not panic, okay it gets a little close to Sunday night panto (in the Palladium) when the original attack was so full of foreboding menace/  People are begging to loosen up a bit by the time Arthur leads us down Damnation Alley before leaving the band to get on with a rather impressive version of an 80’s piece called Zarozinia – now that one really does work with the orchestra and the orchestration, the band maybe a little flat compared with line ups of the last but they are working as one with the orchestra, working with Mike Batt’s very clever orchestration – it is working, it is good, strange, not quite astounding, certainly charm, yes, we’re enjoying it now/  By the time Arthur get back on stage (in yet another impressive costume, he’d grown even taller in the last fifteen minutes back stage – now if you really want to talk of national treasures on the Palladium stage then this man is remarkable, how old is he now? By the time Arthur Brown returns, and Utopia is arrived at there’s real life flowing in the old theatre – things are still strange, there’s a politely dressed man writing a review in the row in front, !’ve not seen this much headbanging since my student union days” he types on his brightly lit devise, he looks confused, I’ve never seen less headbanging at a Hawkwind gig until Grob takes flight of course –  things are starting to flow, nothing left to fear, not so mindless in Utopia, a grey-haired hippy with locks still down to his waste floats by in his flying goggles, he’s chased by an usher, a long haired girl leaps from her seat and starts to gyrate frantically, another couple of usher rush down to put her back in her seat, we’re not having it any more, a few more dare to out of their seats, Spirit of The Age, at last the audience or at least those who know, break into voice – your android replica is playing up again its no joke, when she comes she moans another name – “what did they just sing” asks the journalist – is this the spirit of the age? At last we’re up and dancing, we’re in the aisles, the ushers have given up, the Silver Machine takes off for one last encore – it might have been nice to see Mr Calvert’s face on that big screen or at least his bike rather than that dreadful animation, and yes Silver Machine is a bit of crowd pleaser, when other things would have been far better in terms of an end, god we needed a Brainstorm of an end to really life it up

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Oh look we’ve loved Hawkwind for years, so the band tonight might not have given it the full respect it deserved, and that bloody glove puppet, just no! But hey, when they do hook it up it still feels good – ridiculous that tonight should even be happening, that Hawkwind should still be here –  it was awful, it was excellent, it was bad, it was so so good, there’s old men on walking sticks in their old tour shirts looking like it really was an effort to get up and get here,, shame Mr Turner wasn’t invited (maybe he was? I don’t imagine he was), shame the others weren’t mentioned, beside Huw Lloyd Langton, his old guitar is up on stage and being played – oh look, the orchestra was brilliant, the orchestra really worked, Mike Batt did a brilliant job arranging it all, Arthur Brown was wonderful, and whatever he may have done. you have to love Brock and the fact that he’s still standing – oh how I wish they’d Brainstormed it at the end (never liked Silver Machine that much, great pop single, never liked it in the set), oh how I wish the current line up were a bit more/// well a bit more like Hawks should be – a bit more larger than life and maybe just a bit more in the zone – actually Have You Seen Them (a recent song) is a lot better live that the studio version would have you believe it could be – oh look, I love this band, they mean so much, I got off their spaceship somewhere on the Hammersmith flyover somewhere at the end of the last century so who am I to criticise the current line up? , I;m kind of glad I got back on for a short ride tonight, I don’t expect I ever will again, it is good to know that they’re still out there somewhere though, long live the good (space)ship Hawkwind and all who sail with her,  once it all got going, it wasn’t a bad gig/ Hawkwind, at the London Palladium in 2018? Don’t be silly, that could never happen…. (sw) …  ..

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