March 6, 2022

Two hours and forty minutes of prime recordings from the undisputed heavyweight champions of space rock…

It can be so boring to be a Hawkwind collector, as we’re rarely treated to much in the way of archival releases or boxed sets…

…okay, I tried to say that with a straight face and failed. Yes, the seemingly inexhaustible supply of Hawkwind’s vault material continues to be mined on an impressively regular basis, and the budget-conscious fans find themselves forced to pick and choose between the essential titles and the dust collectors. But let it not be said that the fine folks at Cherry Red can’t compile a tantalizing collection of Hawkwind goodies that lands easily on the ‘essential’ side.

Live performance has always been where this band is at, through all eras of their career. Dreamworkers Of Time: The BBC Recordings 1985-1995 gathers together two hours and forty minutes of prime recordings from these grandfathers and undisputed heavyweight champions of space rock, newly remastered from the BBC master tapes and presented in a deluxe clamshell box with an illustrated booklet.

Disc one features the BBC Friday Rock Show broadcast from 1986 highlighting the band’s enthusiastic headlining gig at that year’s Reading Festival. It’s a stellar show, with decidedly heavy takes on favourites from their catalogue mingling with newer cuts from then-recent albums Choose Your Masques and The Chronicle Of The Black Sword. Opening track Magnu swirls to life, emerging from the inky darkness like the galaxy on the mysterious cover artwork, and the band then storm through a memorable set with killer classics such as Brainstorm and Master Of The Universe. The show culminates in the return of the one and only Lemmy, who guests on an epic performance of Silver Machine. Newest member Danny Thompson Jr. bashes the drums with abandon but holds down the fort admirably, providing Dave Brock, Harvey Bainbridge, Huw Lloyd-Langton and Alan Davey ample landscape to lay down ferocious lead guitar, bubbly synths, and trademark layered vocals. Incidentally, this disc marks the only material in this new boxed set that was previously issued on CD. But that was way back in 1992 and long out of print now, so it’s a treat to see it return and kick things off here.

The second disc finds that same lineup in the middle of touring their album The Xenon Codex in the spring of 1988. Recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon date by the BBC’s mobile recording unit, it’s another spirited set heavy on the recent material from this interesting period in their legendary career. Xenon‘s bizarre, acid-tinged Mutation Zone is a quirky highlight, The War I Survived is played with an urgent gusto, and Lloyd-Langton delivers typically fiery leads on Moonglum, a cracking track that illustrates how criminally underrated the dearly departed guitarist was, and what a brilliant chemistry these musicians had on stage. Simply an excellent live disc from a well-oiled (silver?) machine.

Disc three is an interesting combination. A year before the Reading Festival gig, Hawkwind had visited BBC’s Maida Vale studio for the first time in 13 years. Featured here are tracks such as Assault Of The Hawk (which combines 1975’s Assault And Battery with 1983’s Night Of The Hawks), Magnu coupled with Dreamworker (to form Dreamworker Of Time), and They’ve Got Your Number, a strong – if comparatively normal – piece from Huw’s Lloyd-Langton Group album Night Air.

A full decade later in 1995, Hawkwind returned to Maida Vale to record a session for The Mark Radcliffe Show. Now a quartet consisting of Brock and Davey joined by Ron Tree on vocals and Richard Chadwick on drums, public tastes and lineup changes had seen them experiment with their sound, incorporating ambient and techno approaches, but their rockier new album Alien 4 was in the can and they were ready to promote it. That session rounds out this third disc, with tracks such as The Right To Decide and a pair of mini-medleys. Death Trap, Wastelands, and Are You Losing Your Mind, the closing trio from Alien 4, are performed here as one long piece, and the blending of Assassins Of Allah and The Dream Goes On proves a mesmerizing, mystical ending to this collection.

It all makes for a fascinating glimpse into something of a lost decade. 1985-1995 was a pretty bleak era for many a 70s band who suddenly faced an ‘adapt or die’ scenario. But some musicians withstood the tough times better than others, and while Brock & company did teeter somewhat, you wouldn’t know it from the performances here. Bravo to Cherry Red for making this material available, either again or for the first time, and for reminding me not to ignore periods of any band’s career based on my own failing memory or others’ biases. Had this boxed set been my first exposure to Hawkwind all those years ago, I still would have fallen in love with them. What a pleasant surprise!

Dreamworkers Of Time is released 25 March.