Hawkwind – Days Of The Underground: Album Review

Or to give it the full title, Days Of The Underground – The Studio & Live Recordings 1977-1979. Almost as huge as the 10 discs brimming with content!

Release Date: 31st March 2023

Label: Cherry Red / Esoteric / Atomhenge

Format: 8CD + 2 Bluray box set.

As if we don’t get enough Hawkwind in various forms from beneath the Cherry Red umbrella (including an upcoming new studio album at the end of April) here’s a collection that pushes the boat out. The period between 1977 and 1979 when Hawklords continued to fly the Hawkwind flag is safely gathered in with a set of live and studio material from the era. Steven Wilson’s been at it again, with new masters/remixes of Quark Strangeness & Charm, PXR5 plus the Hawklords’ 25 Years On, all of which get expanded into a swirl of surround sound in 5.1 on the Blurays.

The late Seventies was a period with Hawkwind signed to Charisma Records and where their trademark Space Rock trips and flights of fancy took on a new urgency that could even have them vying with the leaders of the current musical vogue as renegade Space punks. With Dave Brock and Robert Calvert in prime position and on top form, their writing partnership resulted in, with hindsight, what we’d label a series of most accepatble albums – whilst their live performances (with Calvert as an able frontman) became legendary.

The period between February 1977 and June 1979 saw the recording and release of a trio of albums – Quark Strangeness And Charm, 25 Years On and PXR5 – which saw Hawkwind adapt to the changing musical times and adopt a ‘new wave’ approach both on record and on stage. So with no other reason than to do the obvious and avoid the ‘in no particular order’ trap, the set runs as follows:

The first Wilson remix comes via the Quark… album Spirit Of The Age pumps out in familiar fashion as it will on several of the live sets and yes, with a certain mindset, you can see the new waviness of the title track and Damnation Alley (there’s. a nice studio live version tagged at the end – worth the wait – “this might be the one“) and its radiation wasteland theme. More typical fare is on show; Fable Of A Failed Race and the bubbling electronics and skitter on Forge Of Vulcan stick resolutely to the roots while SW gives them a decent punch. Hassan I Sahba might be the under-the-radar rediscovery with a snaking and ethnic vibe accompanying the standard riffing. where Simon House’s violin makes a significant appearance. An album that’s highly regarded and perhaps the pick of the period and despite pressures from the musical landscape, Hawkwind defiantly ploughing their own path.

The Rockfield sessions from 1977 will be familiar to anyone with the Atomhenge version of Quark with these tracks on the bonus disc. Five tracks from the album (with the addition of a few jam/doodle curios) get a run though. Nice to hear the versions that are a little rawer (maybe ‘less polish’ is a better phrase) as opposed to having undergone the SW treatment.

The transformation into Hawklords and the 25 Years On gave a chance for the band to reinvent and regenerate in the style of Dr Who and provide a new context for what might have stunned fans had it been a Hawkwind (in name) album. What’s in a name eh? The Only Ones and Free Fall might even initially channel some Moody Blues lushness but is typical of the bases the band were touching via the electronics of Automaton and the Roxy quirkiness of the title track. Again, many of the add-ons will be familiar from the previous Atomhenge bonus, ‘Sonic Sessions’ – early takes, demos, studio rehearsals and suchlike double the content from the Hawk’wind’ pause point.

A punky Death Trap reminds us on the SW mix of PXR5 that we’re still in the spirit of the new wave age plus some more straightforward rock and roll songs although there are plenty of signature whizzes and whooshes in the likes of title track. It sounds like Bryan Ferry (again…?) nips in to add a quivering contribution on High Rise. Robot is a personal fave that’s not often amongst the more obvious choices, as Calvert digs into Asimov for inspiration and by contrast, the acoustic Infinity has a hint of the bucolic jugband charm of Hurry On Sundown. Ignore the cowboy electrical wiring on the cover and add a touch of remastered polish and you have the bones of a decent album that doesn’t quite rank up with the Quark… of the era.

And suddenly we’re into the live collections, the significance in these being new mixes from the original multi-track tapes of all the surviving live recordings made on the band’s September 1977 tour, the Sonic Assassins concert in December 1977 and a Hawklords’ concert from November 1978.

Croydon and Ipswich might not ring with the appeal of being centres of the Space Rock universe, but five songs from Croydon centering on PXR5 include a stomping and sinister version of my go-to track of the period, Robot. Ipswich is immortalised with some bite-sized – ie, not expanded sonic workouts – of several Hawkwind classics. Quark… rocks and rolls in an under three-minute blast and our first experience of the drama of Master Of The Universe packs the trip into a condensed form.

Inevitably, there’s some overlap, but maybe you can never get enough Masters Of The Universes or Spirit Of The Ages. With an arm twisted up the back, and forced to choose from an embarrassment of live riches, it would be the set from Leicester 77 that would be in my desert island bag. It sounds a little cleaner and the slight trimming of the set collated from Croydon/Ipswich, it also has the best (most thrilling) Robot – with the strength of the keyboard presence making the difference when it kicks in.

We journey not so much across time, across the seasons from September to December of ’77 for a Sonic Assassins show from Barnstaple 77. Perhaps an indication of the tour name, we’re into a set that pushes the sonic envelope a tad, Magnu/Angels Of Life typical of the band veering into some experimentation; a philosophy that’s the order of the day on the evidence of the Hawklords Brunel Uni set from November 1978 which has previously seen the light of day via Atomhenge. Space Rock, even Masters Of The Universe to an extent, gets the Punk treatment and Brainstorm has evolved into a much faster thrash.

That just leaves two Blurays, from which rises a previously unreleased film of the Hawklords Uxbridge Uni show in ’78 and a slightly bizarre appearance on the Marc Bolan TV show. A handful of promos and a nicely compiled (as usual – comes as standard I guess now as the expectation) booklet and assessment. A grand compilation, but we’d expect no less – compilers of the ‘light touch’ Genesis BBC Broadcasts take note….

Here’s – what else but – Robot:

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1 reply »

  1. Hi Mike. I had read some reviews about Hawkwind – Days Of The Underground, but remained unclear on if I could view the video items. You are the first person to make it clear that section is on Blu-Ray. I am not blu-ray equipped, so I am now all set on that question. Now if only I can locate an ‘old-person – NTSC’ version. Again thanks. Take care. Todd – Oakland.

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