Atomic Sunrise ran from Monday 9 to Sunday 15 March, 1970 at North London’s iconic Roundhouse venue. Billed as “Seven Nights Of Celebration” inside a “Living Theatre Environment”, and featuring top underground acts such as Arthur Brown, Quintessence and Third Ear Band, it was in fact a hurriedly organised replacement for a week of cancelled Grateful Dead gigs.
As well as those aforementioned names, Atomic Sunrise included a couple of up and coming groups from the early progressive music scene: Genesis and Hawkwind. Having recently escaped the clutches of Jonathan King, Genesis were in the process of becoming a compelling live band, while Hawkwind were establishing themselves as preeminent purveyors of cosmic freak-out music.
Not only that, but it also featured David Bowie and his new band Hype, who appeared on stage dressed as ‘superheroes’ in anticipation of glam rock’s imminent arrival.
Yet what makes Atomic Sunrise so amazing is that the entire event was filmed, and in colour. The identity of who was behind this has been lost to time – though rumours of Yoko Ono/Apple’s involvement persist – but the story of the film is almost as incredible as the line-up. Languishing unseen for years in an archive, the film’s current owner Adrian Everett bought it in 1990, just hours before it was due to be destroyed.
For over 30 years, Everett has been cataloguing and restoring 33 hours of rushes, concentrating in particular on the Genesis, Hawkwind and Bowie footage, with an initial – and so far only – showing taking place in 2013 at the Roundhouse.
But Everett plans to stream a longer, improved cut sometime early next year. While only two songs were filmed from each performance, and the original audio is lost, he promises that the new showing will also include short clips of some of the other bands, plus priceless scenes of spontaneous happenings and countercultural fashions.
Everett has released teaser clips of all three acts. Bearing in mind this the earliest known footage of both Genesis and Hawkwind, and the only film of Bowie’s Hype performances, this is absolute video gold.
Genesis are shown playing The Knife, with fresh-faced close-ups of Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford and original guitarist Anthony Phillips – Everett says that elsewhere on the film, Gabriel can be seen strutting “with the confidence of a young Mick Jagger.”
A young(ish) Dave Brock leads Hawkwind through his old busking number Hurry On Sundown, while sonic assassin DikMik agitates his box of electronic tricks. There’s also an appearance from Nik Turner’s flame-painted sax.
A silver-suited and shaggy-haired Bowie sings Memory Of A Free Festival at the organ, repeating “The sun machine is coming down and we’re gonna have a party” over images of some very relaxed looking young women.
In short, it all looks amazing. Find out more about the Atomic Sunrise stream here and watch some of the incredible footage below.