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Hawkwind - Atomhenge 76  CD (album) cover




Psychedelic/Space Rock

2.51 | 25 ratings

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3 stars 1976, a year of transition, was not a good time for the relationships in Hawkwind as they struggled to move on from their classic free-form space-rock era. Already gone were such legends as Stacia, Lemmy, Dik-Mik and Del Dettmar and in had come a "funkier" direction. An extravagent audio-visual tour of the UK - called Atomhenge as the stage-set was based on Stonehenge - was undertaken during the autumn to support the new album Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music. The album under review was recorded in Bristol during September.

As with most retrospective releases of archived live material the sound quality leaves a lot to be desired. In this case though, most of the problems are related to the mix. This has clearly been sourced directly from a 2-track tape recorded directly from the sound-desk, so we are in the hands of the live engineer. It is at best variable: the keyboards/sax/violin are nearly always too quiet and Calvert's vocals are too loud, creating an unbalanced feel leaning more towards heavy metal than space rock. Added to that, the engineer clearly misses many cues to adjust his faders, poor Nik Turner suffering the most.

The recorded quality is actually quite good. Though restricted in upper frequencies, the bass is strong and meaty giving the new material a power lacking on the original studio renditions. Clarity is also excellent despite the usual leakage through open mics and poor/non-existent stereo image. Noise is well-controlled with very little hiss but there are one or two insignificant little pockets of distortion or interference - nothing to worry about until the final track Kerb Crawler which has increasing problems and cuts off abruptly at the end.

The band are on good form. Brock may have been having a crisis of confidence at this time but his playing is assured. His guitar is well to the fore, as is Rudolph's bass which thunders and glides to good effect, appropriately backed by twin drummers. The bass drums really do pack a punch! Generally, the new material sounds quite different from the detailed light and airy originals, being rougher and beefier but at the same time a little more leaden.

There are highs and lows. Reefer Madness has some excellent guitar riffing and a pumping one-note bass, but is not as lively as the studio version. Paradox (an older track) is much heavier than its studio counterpart with a lolloping riff and Prog-like chord progression. It features Turner's flute on an extended coda before the rhythm breaks down to an ambient end. Chronoglide Skyway is essentially a slow and dreamy rhythm backing some noodling and a searing guitar solo by Rudolph. Hassan I Sahba is the earliest recorded version of this song and it shows as it is very rough around the edges. Calvert gets his vocal wrong and it ends with pointless noodling, but Brock's guitar is gorgeous. Brainstorm is a high energy version of the old Space Ritual classic, one of the better renditions despite Turner's vocal being swamped. Brock's Wind Of Change (another Mountain Grill track) is transformed into a rock instrumental, beginning with some ambient keyboards, then a slow riff with spacey guitar before developing into a full-blown heavy riff.

CD2 begins with Steppenwolf. In its studio form it was a Prog epic, but here it becomes a long meandering hard-rock piece which outstays its welcome. Uncle Sam's On Mars would later appear in 1979 on the studio album PXR5. This is its earliest form and it is a right cracker, with a pulsating metronomic 2/4 beat, and repetitive 'octave-notes' from Rudolph's bass, the band combining to build towards a genuine climax. It has one of the few moments of Space Ritual era guitar atmospherics from Brock. With a better mix this would have been as good as anything they have ever done! Time For Sale was never recorded for a studio album and you can see why! Despite a good driving one-note bass rhythm, it lacks ideas and is several minutes too long. Back On The Streets is a Status Quo soundalike 12-bar complete with heavy guitar riff and an engaging fluffed start. House's violin solo is half missed by the tardy engineering. Sonic Attack is uninspired while Kerb Crawler ends the album with another heavy rock riff but is dominated by a worsening sound quality.

As always there are pros and cons, but the main issue is whether the listener can live with the rockier, heavy metal material and the obvious deficiencies of the sound. I like it a lot and I believe others will too.

Note: there are at least two other versions of this concert - 'Thrilling Hawkwind Adventures' (just 7 tracks) and the box-set 'Welcome To The Future' (which has 12 tracks amongst other things), but this is the only one with the complete show.

Joolz | 3/5 |


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