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Hawkwind, The Blackheart Orchestra – Albert Hall, Manchester: Live Review

Simply an amazing spectacle of sound. If I were to find a single word to describe it would have to be ‘pulsating’.

Most concerts build up to a final crescendo; this show started with one, Motorway City, and never let up.  Richard Chadwick’s pounding, driving beat, accompanied by piercing lasers creating an almost continuous strobe-like environment swept through the whole performance. The raucous applause at the end of the first number must have been a great encouragement.

The early introduction of  new material  beginning with Flesh Fondue, was evidence that the recent material  from All Aboard the Skylark which took up half of the first 10 numbers in the set,  can easily stack up with their popular  pieces of work, Born To Go, Assault And Battery  from the 70’s when they were at their height. A major contribution to the 50 years of Hawkwind was the late Robert Calvert and tribute to him was made with The Song of the Gremlin.  Current writing contributor, Niall Hone, in one of the rare moments of chat to the audience introduced the epic The Fantasy of Fuldum, based on a Hesse poem.

The backdrop during the night gave us  multi-coloured kaleidoscopic pulsating patterns, asteroids, early attempts at flight,  Apollo astronauts dancing on the moon to  complement  the onstage antics, the centre of which was Tim Blakes’s hand manipulations over his  theremin and Magnus Martin’s computer-driven sounds which gave us all the whirling whooshes, pulsing whizzes, sonic gyrations  and oscillations you could imagine. Audience participation was encouraged in Spirit Of The Age and to finish the main set,  The Right to Decide. 

At one moment there was a slight lull as we seemed to be slowing down for re-entry back to Earth before it all kicked off again into a wild frenzy of lasers, sonic craziness and walloping beat in the encore which was completed with Masters Of The Universe.

Any group that can span 50 years is going to have its period in the doldrums or a lull in popularity, confirmed by one member of the audience, Mick from Huddersfield, who had been a massive follower in the early days epitomised by Silver Machine (which by the way although being their best-known piece was by far not the highlight of the evening). Mick turned up tonight with some trepidation but by the end of the night  was in awe of the evening’s entertainment with all of his early evening scepticism swirling somewhere, lost in space.  So, Mr Brock, you pulled it off with aplomb.

Supporting Hawkwind were local-ish duo, the Blackheart Orchestra whose “Anyone here from Bolton?” from Rick Pilkington, and with Chrissy Mostyn from Wigan, is a mix which is usually a sign for a punch up. However, they maintained a perfect union and harmony and gave a splendid performance, each playing a variety of guitars, keyboards and drum effects and on one occasion playing the same keyboard. 

Their half-hour, seven-song set was bold enough to avoid endless plugging the excellent new album Mesmeranto and give a swift overview of their work from the (new, granted) atmospheric Wolves to the more dynamic Sebastian and finish with one of their oldies, the slow build that is Hey Pluto. A duo well worth seeing on their own terms – they’re at The Castle in Manchester early next year.

Meanwhile, Hawkwind may have a reputation for creating a rather weird musical experience, a trip enhanced by the pre-show lost and stolen dog slideshow, raising awareness of missing and lost pups!! Fair play to them though for their dedication to a worthy cause.

So, after being taken ‘over the moon’,  flashed through the stratosphere, eaten by aliens, avoiding an asteroid storm, been to the end of the solar system and back via the VIP seating area, I’d better readjust and set the controls for the heart of Chorley…now that’s really weird!!

So how do I describe a Hawkwind concert to the uninitiated? It’s like have all your auditory and aural senses rewired by a mad surgeon without anaesthetic… yet enjoying every moment! Don’t stop boys, I’m ready for the next launch…10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1,……Houston we don’t have a problem!!!

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Hawkwind online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

The Blackheart Orchestra online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Bandcamp / Instagram

Photography by Mike Ainscoe. You can find more of Mike’s work on the At The Barrier Facebook page.

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