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Hawkwind: Space Ritual - Album Of The Week Club review

Recorded in Liverpool and Brixton, Space Ritual is the perfect summary of Hawkwind’s musicnauts ethos

Hawkwind - Space Ritual
(Image: © Hawkwind)
Hawkwind - Space Ritual

(Image credit: Hawkwind)

Earth Calling
Born to Go
Down Through the Night
The Awakening
Lord of Light
Black Corridor
Space Is Deep
Electronic No. 1
Orgone Accumulator
Upside Down
10 Seconds of Forever
Brainstorm
Seven By Seven
Sonic Attack
Time We Left This World Today
Master of the Universe
Welcome to the Future

If a live album is supposed to sum up a band’s career to that date, then this one more than does the job for Hawkwind. One of the most iconic of all double live albums, it was recorded in Liverpool and Newcastle in 1972 on the Doremi Fasol Latido tour.

As you’d expect, much of the set comes from that particular studio album, with three new songs included to add further spice. And the presence of electronic and spoken-word interludes linking the music together adds to the atmosphere.

“I’d been a Hawkwind fan since Silver Machine came out in 1972, but they never played my hometown," author Ian Rankin told us. "To get a sense of what they’d be like live, I bought Space Ritual in a second-hand shop in Fife. I’d put it on, sit on my bed and spread out the packaging. It took me into this weird, spacey environment that was full of possibility. I had no idea what an orgone accumulator was but I wanted one. And there were no wacky substances required – I’ve always used music as the way to take my head somewhere.

“What bands tended to do was clean the sound up to make it as much like a studio album as possible. Space Ritual was different. It was an grungy live sound, with lots of opportunities for things to go wrong. It was the first that made me feel like I was there, a propulsive, hypnotic show with all these wonderful bleeps, blips and droning guitars that were almost transcendental.

“Even now it’s the only live album I go back to time and time again – I must have four or five copies in various formats. And still no-one really sounds like them.”

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Background

After poet and musician Robert Calvert first joined mothership Hawkwind in 1972, the band went into overdrive. Working with the band, Robert was able to do his rock opera, the "Space Ritual". 

He was suddenly very creative, and the Space Ritual tour – featuring narrating collaborator Michael Moorcock, stunning Barney Bubbles stage sets, a light show designed by Jonathan Smeeton, a.k.a. Liquid Len, and, on Nik Turner’s part, a flute (“Someone gave it to me. It was really bent. I think it was stolen, or someone had sat on it”) – took to the road in 1973 and expanded all sorts of minds in all sorts of directions.

Other albums released in May 1973

  • There Goes Rhymin' Simon - Paul Simon
  • Space Ritual - Hawkwind
  • Wishbone Four - Wishbone Ash
  • Bachman–Turner Overdrive - Bachman–Turner Overdrive
  • Yessongs - Yes
  • Flying Teapot - Gong
  • Living in the Material World - George Harrison
  • Bananamour - Kevin Ayers
  • Country Casanova - Commander Cody
  • Honey in the Rock - Charlie Daniels
  • Razamanaz - Nazareth
  • Rigor Mortis Sets In - John Entwistle
  • You Broke My Heart So I Busted Your Jaw - Spooky Tooth
  • Tubular Bells - Mike Oldfield

What they said...

"Brainstorm is a heat-seeking missile to the centre of your cerebral cortex: more relentless, distorted riffing with unbalanced electronics over pagan-simple drums all race to the end of each chorus, where they trail off like comets…only to start up all over again as they gun full blast into the next dimension with thrusters full on as Starship Hawkwind begins to buckle with metal fatigue." (Head Heritage)

"An intergalactic proto-punk synth-boogie odyssey, Space Ritual is an album that relies on repetition, oscillation, gradual dropdown, accelerated build-up and sudden attack. That line-up of Hawkwind knew how to do a number of simple things well – with sensory overload its number one objective – and they could repeat the same chords for eight or nine minutes until it was time to make a decision whether to play the song forever or let it shapeshift into something else." (Uncut)

"Space Ritual as a whole is loud, messy, simultaneously pretentious, and gloriously dumb, and it stands as monument to making prog rock, that potentially most dull of all genres, sound utterly thrilling, yet one of the most disorientating creative tasks possible." (Backseat Mafia)

What you said...

Martin Millar: I was at school when I bought this and it wasn't just a great record, it was a great artefact. Album sleeves were important and this was the best. It folded out into six sheets, meaning there were twelve sides to examine. You could listen to the record in your bedroom and look at the words and pictures and it was a complete experience. Space Ritual was the first time I realised that live versions could be better than studio versions. Compared to the studio takes, these live songs are ferocious. Lemmy's bass playing probably had a lot to do with this, but the other musicians all seem to be freed of constraints too. Master Of The Universe is so great I can't describe how great it is.

So these live songs were all much better, although they're not exactly 'songs' as other bands might understand the word. No steady procession of verses and choruses, more a furious noise that goes on and on like a relentless mixture of heavy rock and German motorik (which Hawkwind would experiment with later) When Hawkwind got into a good live groove, they weren't going to give it up. Few songs actually come to an end, each flows into the next, meaning the audience doesn't get diverted with gaps for applause, they just have to go along with the whole experience.

There are no epic solos, a point in the records favour. What solos there are never interrupt the rhythm section and the drummer isn't stopping for anything. We have a clear century of space to get through. When this came out I really desired some exciting space rock and this delivered like nothing else. There were other, dreamy, "spacey" sounds around, but they never convinced me they could be real. But Hawkwind's 'Sonic Attack?' Yeah, that might actually be on the way.

There are things here that could have gone disastrously wrong. Random noise generation. Space poetry. Dramatic monologues. It's all set up to be a terrible, self indulgent failure. Except it all works. Dave Brock and Robert Calvert were good writers and so, of course, was Michael Moorcock. The poetry and spoken interludes worked. The segue from Ten Seconds Of Forever into Brainstorm is utterly thrilling. Hawkwind set out to make a coherent piece of musical theatre, a space ritual, and they succeeded brilliantly. (and and and Liquid Len's light show, Barney Bubbles' designs, Stacia's face paint, clothes, dancing and female stage presence… OK I'm wandering off-topic…)

Mike Knoop: Fantastic in both definitions of the word: extraordinarily good and remote from reality. 

Author and frequent collaborator Michael Moorcock described Hawkwind as "barbarians with machines" and I can't think of a better description. While the guitar (Dave Brock), bass (Lemmy), and drums (Simon King) charge relentlessly forward, the other three band members use unfettered noise to inspire panic and chaos. Nik Turner doesn't play sax so much as use it a sharp tool to slash through the deafening thunder of the front line. 

Dik Mik and Del Dettmar use various devices to make sure nothing sounds remotely mainstream. And then there's Bob Calvert with his "poet and swazzle." His spoken word bits might give a respite from the sonic pummelling but his prose and vocal delivery only ratchet up the tension and unease. "Do not panic (Do not panic) Think only of yourself (Only yourself)."

While maybe not as commercially successful as they coulda shoulda been, I hear their influence in a long line of stoner metal bands including Queens of the Stone Age, Monster Magnet, Orange Goblin, and the Sword.

John Stout: Another of the classic 70s double live albums where the songs become the definitive versions, blowing away the original studio recordings. You really have to listen to this album in one uninterrupted session to fully enjoy the trip.

Sam Millington Mills: Ah yeah. This is one album I could happily take to a desert island... as long the island in question had a crop of a particular kind of mushrooms.

Martin Painter: Absolutely the best thing Hawkwind have ever released imho. If I ever see them live now this is the stuff I’m hoping for (but don’t often get!)

Michael McAleer: One of the best albums in the world ever. They never sounded so good before or since.  As someone else commented, I have a lot of history with this mighty record.

Eddie Peuker: Awesomely awesome intro for me. How is it I have never heard this piece of beautifully psychedelic space sounds before now? This album will be high on my all time favourites list.

Julie Plumpton: This Album brings backs lots of memories, Sonic Attack and Masters Of The Universe were my favourites although I think the latter one is better on the original rather than the remastered version. Still love it though.

Richard Cardenas: I’ve owned this for over forty years and it’s still in heavy regular rotation. For me it works because they did a great job of selecting the songs that went on. While it may have its flaws, I have to give it a 10 because of its presence in my life.

Jonathan Novajosky: I almost have to respect this album just for how weird it is. I'm not a big space rock fan by any means, but I still got some enjoyment out of Space Ritual

A few of the songs are way too long, and a couple of the short "interludes" are just a mash of sounds without much rhyme or reason; but once Space Is Deep and Orgone Accumulator hit I was getting into it. The concept behind it is pretty interesting, if not a little too trippy for my liking. The use of brass instruments always warrants a thumbs-up from me, so I was glad to hear that in a few songs. 5/10

Marco LG: I arrived at Hawkwind following backwards all the influences of my favourite bands, chiefly among them Voivod of course, but I was never blown away by them. This live album is probably my favourite release of theirs, as it truly is an immersive experience with other-worldly atmospheres, but it is telling it was probably twenty years since last time I listened to it (or any other Hawkwind release in fact).

Not much has changed in the interim as well. I still marvel at the melodies and the guitar work, still headbang to Lemmy’s bass lines, and still find the spoken words and the random noises captivating. At the same time I still hear all the familiar riffs, bass lines and melodies ripped off by countless bands and cannot help thinking all that works better elsewhere.

True trailblazers deserve to be recognised though, so I cannot score this album anything less than 10.

John Davidson: Listening to Space Ritual from the distance of over 40 years it is still as weird and wonderful as it was when I first heard it in my darkened bedroom , hypnotised by the interplay of bass lines chaotic synthesisers and cosmic poetry.

This is in many ways Lemmy's album. He is the rhythmic heart of the music, steadily carrying the beat and the tune ( supported by Simon King's drums and Dave Brock's guitar).

The electronics and saxophone create a messy swirling noise, verging on the tuneless at times but rarely dull and the lyrics and poetry are an essential part of the experience. Batshit crazy as they may be, they work in the context of the album.

The vocals are a bit flat in places but retain a shambolic and scuzzy charm. The only sour notes are from Nik Turner's sax which occasionally bleats tunelessly across the songs without adding melody or counterpoint (although I'll concede that in part at least my criticism of Turner is influenced by his dreadful performance and behaviour on the Choose Your Masques tour from the 80s).

Overall this is as much a piece of performance art as it is a classic rock album but it does contain some stone cold classic versions of their best studio songs - as well as the magnificent Orgone Accumulator, which is the standout on the whole album for me.

Remember, as the music fades and you return to your own reality.

Do not panic.

Think only of yourselves.

Bill Griffin: When it started, I thought "that sounds like some really dated psychedelia" and almost stopped listening but then it occurred to me that if it were Pink Floyd, I would keep listening and end up liking it so I let it play. As predicted, I do like it and it also sounded less dated as it went on. I'll be adding this to my collection.

Carl Black: Whenever I listen to Hawkwind (which is never as often as I'd like) I always remember what Lemmy said about his former employers. Buried inside Hawkwind Is a four piece rock band trying to get out. 

This album is a fine example of that statement. Interwoven with strange noises, poetry and saxophones is a very decent rock band with some very decent tunes. Just lie back and enjoy it. This sonic soundscape just washes over you. 

A great way to spend an hour or so. I'm going to the 50th anniversary show in Guildford later this year. If its half as good as this album I'm in for a great night.

Iain Macaulay: Hawkwind aren’t a prog band or a metal band, or for that matter a faux techno trance dance band, although they have dabbled in all three genres over their 50 years. They are a band that just ‘are.’ The same way that David Bowie, The Doors or The Cure, just are. They transcend genres and exist within one of their own making by merit of the very experimentation of their sound, songwriting, image and stage craft. In that respect, Hawkwind aren’t just a band, they are a lifestyle. 

At this Space Ritual stage of their career they were, in my humble opinion, more a DIY, proto-punk band of disparate outsiders experimenting with psychedelic freestyle jams that originated out of songs that already had a clear lack of any conventional song structure, opposed to the common bar room blues based rock of the day. 

They were the free festival circuit, Wally Hope and the solstice at Stonehenge, (although that was still to come), London squats, and the traveller community, and had much more in common with the anarcho-punk tendency’s of CRASS than the overwrought pretence and melodrama of Yes. 

They utilised Heavy concrete melodic slabs of bass, repetitive beats, minimal power chord guitar work and deconstructed synths, and sang socio political lyrics or urban decay wrapped up in Sci-fi mysticism to connect with rockers, freaks, drop outs, jazz heads, and anyone who felt called to experience life outside the grid. They were not virtuoso musicians but they did not need to be. 

They were, and still are, a classic band and this is ‘one’ of a number of classic albums they have produced. (The live album for Chronicles is another, and very notably Metal in design.) It is an album that defined the end of their so called definitive era but kickstarted the existence of numerous bands to follow in their wake. An album that’s raw, minimal, animalistic, heart felt and brutally honest. An album that is not for everyone but transcends any divisive opinion by the very fact the band still exists and still produces new original music today, which is a wonderful legacy. 

I like Hawkwind. I like the idea of Hawkwind. I like a lot of their albums, but not all of them. But it is live where Hawkwind excel by unleashing a pure sonic attack unlike any other. So here’s to the masters of the universe. Born to go!

Roland Bearne: Whe first I entered this stately pleasuredome which is rock and metal music, I assumed I would be listening to a lot of Hawkwind. Silver Machine was one of the first "heavy" tracks I encountered and my 13 year old self loved it. Somehow it never really happened. I flirted quite heavily with Chronicles Of The Black Sword then bought The Church Of..., thought it was ghastly and turned my back. Twit. 

Anyway this is an odd one! It sort of shouldn't work, odd noises, guitars which sound like they are played through ten quid practice amps, some sax noodling and, let's face it nobody can really sing! Bob Calvert is channelling Viv Stanshall on cosmic mushrooms... wtf?! 

But then you listen further and there at the core is the absolute Stonehenge slab of bedrock which is Lemmy, who along with Simon King lays down foundations so solid you build a jelly skyscraper on them and it would barely wobble. Then there are the songs, they really are very very cool. I'd never heard this album in my 54 years on this planet. I'm very glad I have (must have been an absolute hoot to be there!!)

Brian Carr: I’ve long wondered what Hawkwind sounded like (or what ‘space rock’ was, exactly). I listened to more than half of Space Ritual and, with apologies to all of the fans, I don’t think it is possible for me to get high enough to like this.

Eddie Peuker: A very pleasant first listen. Space rock? Sure it is space themed.. but I believe it is more of a psychedelic experience of artfully arranged noise resulting in candy for my ears and food for my wandering mind. Then as I repeated the plays, I began to realise, the live nature of this was key to the haunting beauty of this arrangement. 

I normally prefer studio over live due to the lack of background noise. In this the background noise fills the experience with space realism that allowed my mind to wander the astro paths with Hawkwind as they loaded my head phones with a sense of not of this world experience with wonderful mix of driven grooves, rifts, and heady lyrics. Awesome! I gave it an 8... in hindsight perhaps a 7, in tribute to the tune Seven By Seven would be better.

Final Score: 8.20 ⁄10 (216 votes cast, with a total score of 1772)

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