Hawkwind – Space Ritual Deluxe: Album Review

Classic live album from Hawkwind sees the source archives raided for a comprehensive reimagining. Turning electric dreams into reality.

Release Date: 22nd September 2023

Label: Atomhenge / Cherry Red Group

Format: remastered 2LP / 2CD / digital / deluxe CD box set

Having set the standard by gathering the shows that formed the basis of the Be Bop Deluxe Live In The Air Age album for a comprehensive overview, Cherry Red do it all again for one of the bands whose back catalogue and ongoing releases they’ve taken under their wing.

Hawkwind’s Space Ritual tour was groundbreaking in the combination of out-there riffage, poetry and presentation. Held together by Robert Calvert’s poetry, the whole audio-visual extravaganza with dancers Stacia, Miss Renee and Tony Carrera, plus an elaborate light show by famed lighting designer Liquid Len was a revelation for the time.

The resulting souvenir release, garnered from three shows recorded on the Space Ritual tour – perhaps cashing in on the huge success of the Silver Machine single – has the likes of Duncan Harris in Sonicbond’s On Track, gushing over the original album – “awe inspiring and gutsy – an absolute pinnacle for Hawkwind, live albums and the Space Rock genre,” and “if you don’t have this album you will never like any Rock music. Ever.” New mixes of those three complete concerts recorded on the tour at Liverpool Stadium, Sunderland Locarno and Brixton Sundown, all mixed by Stephen W Tayler now form part of the package alongside remastered versions of the original album. It’s the Holy Grail with fans and critics. Atomhenge has chosen wisely with continued acclaim from the fans; Phil Aston from Now Spinning magazine is almost beside himself as he tells us to turn the lights off, put it on your big telly screen with the visuals and you’re dropped into late 1972.

The original mix from back in the day was typically muddy; most likely what you’d have heard had you been there and pretty representative of the morass of sound that Hawkind live in the early Seventies (and beyond) was about. The new set and in particular, Steven Tayler’s work on the new mixes, is a revelation. The remastered version is one thing, but the clarity on the 50th Anniversary stereo remix (plus the 5.1 on the bluray) is literally like having your ears treated to a real dousing. Previously unheard vocal and saxophone parts now emerge and for a Hawkwind album, and a live one at that, there really is a sense of hearing thins through new ears.

The opportunity to experience the source material on the three gigs presented sees them differ, not wildly, but significantly enough to warrant individual appraisal. Unlike many similar sets, they’re not going to sit as an unnecessary add-on, or simply tick the completeness box. Fans will appreciate and pick their own favourite from the three. Indeed, there’s now a case for the original Space Ritual ‘compilation of the best bits’ serving as the unnecessary guest at the party.

Sunderland might not exactly the centre of the rock universe, certainly by comparison with Newcastle’s City Hall as a rival, yet with this release and the reminder that parts of Free Live were recorded in Sunderland, the status of the North East town gets a boost in the annals of rock history. Having now had chance to run through the three full shows, it’s starting to become a personal favourite.

As part of the excellent package, Rob Godwin’s essay provides the context and is essential, nay ESSENTIAL reading along with the addition of a set of murky although atmospheric images. The very un-Hawkwind like precision with the geometric layout for the stage design reflecting the theories of Pythagoras was just one indication of the more professional attitude that was running through the camp at the time. No more turn up, plug in and jam around for a couple of hours then go home. It’s still quintessentially, slightly ragged but with plenty of verve, Hawkwind.

We’ve had a similar job done with Motorhead’s No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith, UFO’s Strangers In The Night and Thin Lizzy’s Live And Dangerous. Space Ritual is another fine example of how to curate a back catalogue and enhance what’s already an iconic piece of work (Roger Waters take note).

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