Hawkwind / Arthur Brown – Manchester Academy – 28th April 2023
Would the real Hawkwind stand up please?
Heard the one about the two gig photographers? Stood at the side of the pit just as the show is due to start, a member of the Hawkwind touring crew dashes up to us. It might even have been Dave Brock’s wife Kris, but it was dark… She asks: “Are you ready?”
“Ready when you are,” I reply cheerfully, wielding a camera, maybe expecting her to tell us that we should be getting in position to shoot a particularly strong visual opening to the gig, or maybe getting a few tips about how to catch the best shots.
“Where’s Richard?” she then asks, seemingly in somewhat of a fluster.
“Richard?“‘ we puzzle as she then skitters around checking around and behind some of the stage right detritus.
Turns out, I think, that we’ve been mistaken for members of the band, who’ve gone AWOL just as the gig’s about to start. Twigging now that the aforementioned ‘Richard’ is, or could be, drummer Richard Chadwick, one of us is all ready to assume the drum mantle in a late replacement for the missing drummer, while the other thinks about what instrument he can blag enough to carry through a Hawkwind gig…
Fortunately, the band seems to have been located and the lights dim, a big logo flashes up on the backdrop and shadowy figures, presumably the ‘real’ Hawkwind, take up their places and launch into an explosive Levitation. Interestingly, an album on which Ginger Baker made his only Hawkwind appearance and one of the subjects in the conversation that was interrupted by the ‘are you the band’ scenario. As Dream Theater would remark, strange deja-vu.
Meanwhile, the band is on fire. Magnus Martin declaring (with believable honesty and integrity) how Manchester is his favourite place to play, while the latest recruits, ‘thighpaulsandra’ and Doug MacKinnon add to the sonic palette with gusto; delivering just what you want a Hawkwind bassist and ‘sonic architect’ to do. They set about You’d Better Believe It and Psychic Warlords with a fervour and spirit which may make some in attendance think they’re going to peak too early – can they maintain the excitement? No problemo; more a case of can those in the house keep up.
Dave Brock at 81, a few months younger than Dylan, and recipient of PROG’s lifetime achievement a decade ago, is well into his second wind. He arrives onstage in his trademark baseball cap and hoody, plugs in his guitar and mount his notes on a music stand. All set for and stamina testing trip of Arrival In Utopia that maintains an exhaustive pace.
It’s release day too for Hawkwind’s The Future Never Waits. ‘No one has complained yet’ seems to be the go-to phrase, the tour catchphrase maybe, before they head into a couple of songs from the new album. Rama and The Beginning a pair of sensible choices which fit, glove-like, into a set that contains enough fan faves and diversions from the obvious (ie, no Silver Machine!). New songs ticked off, it sets us up for a run of bonafide classics and after listening to countless versions of Spirit Of The Age on the Days Of the Underground box set, tonight’s version surprisingly doesn’t offer up the toilet break opportunity. Crossed legs in place, Assault And Battery (on the human anatomy…) and The Golden Void has the quintet rocking the classics. However, it’s a personal fave, Right To Decide, preceded by a gentle and erm, peaceful, Peace, and Brainstorm that maintains the pounding and relentless riffing.
We’re almost back in’72 and experiencing a time tunnel experience, heading back half a century and reliving the groundbreaking Space Ritual. And while we’re all wallowing in a welcome mental health boost of nostalgia, we’re off in search of space with a final flourish of Born To Go/You Shouldn’t Do That and the spirit of Lemmy – could be Doug’s Rickenbacker – might have ghosted into the room. Given Hawkwind’s longevity and with Captain Brock still charting the course, the 2023 version is as good as we’ve seen them.
Support has come from an hour’s set from Arthur Brown. The incredible Arthur Brown who at 80, is just a slip of a lad compared to Dave Brock. Of course, he’s a mate of Hawkwind having sung with them (and donned many similar costumes) on their orchestral tour. a few years back.
He’s evolved from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown to The Real Arthur Brown. Considering the crazy world in which we live, the vision of Arthur doing his work bedecked in his finest is tame by comparison. The absence of real flames tonight during his signature song possibly reflect the health & safety/risk assessment culture, yet the number of costume changes and sheer visual spectacle more than make up for setting his hat alight. The God of Hell Fire now comes dressed in a wild assortment of feathered hats, masks and ‘Bono as The Fly’ shades, while the illuminated mesh cape and wings that appear late on wouldn’t be out of place creating a stir at Eurovision.
Talking of which, what with being mistaken for Hawkind, we’ve earlier queued up behind a gentlemen with a brown holdall who’s desperately trying to get into the gig as he claims the contents are “Arthur’s stuff,” whatever that means. Judging by the number of outfits, hat and masks he goes through in an hour’s show, one can understand why the incredible Arthur might need a costume roadie.
He’s surrounded by a bizarre collection of mannequins and a two-piece band – drums and keys/guitar – that create an immersive sound for the songs that naturally include ‘the hit’ that’s done and dusted early enough in the set to reinforce that there’s more to Arthur Brown than Fire. Occasionally, he, his band and their static friends, disappear into the background, camouflaged by the psychedelic light show that occasionally casts vast shadows of Arthur and his headgear onto the backdrop.
There’s plenty of fizz and fire from the Hammond and hanging Floyd-y chords and his two-piece band aren’t averse to flying off into some pulsing trip or indulging in some deep bluesy guitar excursions while their boss does a costume change. Arthur himself impresses with the way he still belts out a tune or the Country & Western croon of The Voice Of Love or indeed some of his more dramatic Kingdom Come songs.
Still totally unique/bizarre/crazy (insert/choose your own) but the warmth of the reception he’s given at the conclusion of an excellent set, shows the esteem in which he’s still held.
Hawkwind online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Arthur Brown online: Website / Facebook / Youtube
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