“Hearing each concert side by side demonstrates just how well rehearsed the presentation was, while allowing for individual improvisation”: Hawkwind’s Space Ritual 50th Anniversary Box Set

Complete with the previously unreleased third concert recording, 11-disc collection goes beyond the wildest dreams of even the most avid Hawkfan

Hawkwind - Space Ritual 40th anniversary
(Image: © Atomhenge)

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As the ultimate expression of Hawkwind’s unique brand of brain-melting, deep space psychedelia, it was inevitable that the 50th anniversary of Space Ritual – first released in May 1973, and the band’s only Top 10 album – would be celebrated with a new reissue. But the contents of this box set go beyond the wildest dreams of even the most avid Hawkfan.

The original double album was a mash-up of two live shows from December 1972, recorded at the Brixton Sundown (now O2 Academy) and Liverpool Stadium. What’s less well-known is that a third show was recorded on the same tour, at the Locarno in Sunderland. Long referred to as unusable due to a fault with the master tape, it was recently discovered to be in a “workable shape” after all (no other explanation is given). 

So this box not only contains a remaster of the original album, but also for the first time the full show recordings from Brixton, Liverpool and Sunderland, the latter a completely unknown quantity until now. And if that’s not enough, there’s also a new stereo and 5.1 mix of Space Ritual from Stephen W Tayler – who did a fantastic job remixing VdGG’s key albums on The Charisma Years box set – including the full versions of Brainstorm, Time We Left This World Today and encore You Shouldn’t Do That.

Listening to the complete shows is an absolute revelation. As the informative sleeve notes from long-time Hawkwind associate Rob Godwin points out, hearing each concert side by side demonstrates just how well rehearsed the Space Ritual presentation was, while allowing for individual improvisation on the night.

And rather than just being the ‘best bits’ from Brixton and Liverpool, both shows are revealed to be tremendous performances in their own right – Liverpool in particular crackles with proto-punk energy from Born To Go onwards. Sunderland is something else again, the Locarno’s brutalist concrete architecture producing a spacier, brighter sound, concluding with Dave Brock ripping a hole in the time/space continuum on a blistering version of Master Of The Universe

The show mixes are also different from that on Space Ritual, with the alien glossolalia of Nik Turner’s sax noticeably more prominent. Tayler offers more than just a cosmetic clean-up across the board, with dynamics lost in the black hole density of the original now brought out. The celestial coda to Space Is Deep is just beautiful, Sonic Attack more terrifying than ever, and the vocals are clearer in general. Finally, a 68-page booklet features wonderful stills from Cynthia Beatt’s (unseen) Wembley Empire Pool film. An indispensable package.

Space Ritual is available now via Cherry Red in multiple formats.

Joe Banks

Joe is a regular contributor to Prog. He also writes for Electronic Sound, The Quietus, and Shindig!, specialising in leftfield psych/prog/rock, retro futurism, and the underground sounds of the 1970s. His work has also appeared in The Guardian, MOJO, and Rock & Folk. Joe is the author of the acclaimed Hawkwind biographyDays Of The Underground (2020). He’s on Twitter and Facebook, and his website is https://www.daysoftheunderground.com/