October 17, 2020

Lockdown (Keep Calm) has one of those irresistible Hawkwind riffs over which guitars, synths and disembodied voices weave a hypnotic spell.

Imagine if Joe Biden came out on his presidential campaign with a guitar strapped around his neck and launched into Silver Machine or Master Of The Universe.  That rather bizarre image crossed my mind when I realised that Hawkwind’s Dave Brock is older than Biden by more than a year! He’s also older than Donald Trump by half a decade. Trump might of course jump at the chance of singing the line ‘I am the centre of this universe’, but I digress! Brock is within a few months of his 80th birthday and remarkably is still rocking as vigorously as a teenager. Unfortunately, Covid means that Brock isn’t allowed on any stage at present but there was something heart-warming and reassuring about this album arriving on my desk. Yes, we have the Covid-19 crisis but that’s not going to stop Hawkwind putting out an album just as they have done almost every year for the last half a century.

Chadwick Martin and Brock

The album is not released under the Hawkwind name but as the Hawkwind Light Orchestra, a nomenclature used once previously by Brock for 2012’s Stellar Variations. The link between the two albums is that they both were recorded as a trio, with Brock doing the heavy lifting, aided by Richard Chadwick on drums and Magnus Martin on guitars (plus vocals and keyboards). I would guess that ‘light’ refers to the number of artists contributing compared to the full Hawkwind complement. You might think that ‘light’ would equate to a ‘thin’ sound but that is not the case. On the contrary, there’s almost a live feel to the album with the bass and drums prominent and the band churning out a wall of sound in the manner of Space Ritual.

The album was recorded during the total lockdown earlier this year and two of the tracks are about those events, as is the album title – an anagram of coronavirus in case you hadn’t spotted it. Those two tracks – Lockdown (Keep Calm) and The Virus – are in my view the standout tracks on the album. Lockdown (Keep Calm) has one of those irresistible Hawkwind riffs over which guitars, synths and disembodied voices weave a hypnotic spell. The ten minutes long The Virus is also characterised by one of Brock’s trademark chugging riffs. Cynics might say it is the same riff that he’s been tweaking for half a century but it’s wonderful all the same! Brock effortlessly spins it out to the seven-minute mark where after repeatedly singing ‘is this how it’s going to end?’, the music collapses into chaos before a quiet and peaceful keyboard coda closes the piece. I’d like to think that this final section represents our relief at overcoming the coronavirus but with Brock’s well-known negative views about how we treat the planet it wouldn’t surprise me if the chaotic section represents the extinction of mankind and the peaceful conclusion represents the planet happily recovering without us.

The vinyl packaage

Other highlights are the punkish groove of Repel Attract, and Dyna-mite which has another infectious chugging riff (to these ears, borrowed from Led Zeppelin’s Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You) and tells of the joys of having an android as a partner. There are also a couple of songs which are slightly odd, even by Hawkwind standards. Forgotten Memories has a wild and discordant piano part which might be an effective attempt to represent the confusion of Alzheimer’s Disease (which is the topic of this song). The oddest track of all is Model Farm Blues which is a slow 12-bar blues. Imagine Hawkwind trying to imitate Status Quo around the Piledriver album and you’ll get the idea. All of this guarantees entertaining listening but one minor gripe I have with this album is the set of instrumental tracks. Without a bona fide keyboard player, I felt these tended to be pleasant interludes but not much more. The most interesting of them is perhaps Temple Of Love where congas and tubular bells create an unusual soundscape.

The 15 tracks last around 75 minutes so the package comes as a single CD or double vinyl. Lyrics are included too in a nice booklet where Brock also expresses his view that ‘Like most other pandemics Covid-19 stemmed from humans’ desire to eat flesh’ – which makes the album title even more meaningful than just a clever anagram. With large parts of Europe heading towards tighter lockdowns, the only advice I can give is: Keep Calm and carry on listening to Hawkwind.