THE RCA YEARS 1981-82
OKAY, I’ll lay my cards on the table and admit to listening to psychedelic space rockers Hawkwind since I was 16, which is a good while ago.
But the release of the three albums the band produced under the RCA label at the beginning of the 1980s (yes, 37 years ago, groan) made me remember why I got into their unique offering in the first place.
One of the albums in this collection, Sonic Attack, was the first Hawks LP I ever heard, booming out of the sixth form stereo and grabbing my attention.
They were the first live band I ever saw as well (1982 at Sheffield City Hall, if you’re interested).
So let’s say it was with a certain nostalgic fondness that I listened to the three albums again.
Most people know Hawkwind because of the perennial favourite Silver Machine single which got to number two in the charts in 1972 and regularly turns up in adverts and elsewhere but they had moved in a number of different directions since forming as Group X in 1969 and arriving at RCA for what was to turn out to be a big of a career shot in the arm.
But although the three albums here — Sonic Attack, Church of Hawkwind, Choose Your Masques — sounded much less spacey and psychedelic than, say, 1971’s In Search of Space or 1974’s Hall of the Mountain Grill and less ‘poppy’ than Robert Calvert-era works like Quark, Strangeness and Charm, Hawklords and PXR5, the old stylistic nuggets are still there.
I think it could be said that Sonic Attack and Choose Your Masques take a more political direction for the band, with songs such as Psychosonia, Coded Languages and Choose Your Masques hitting out at oppression, but there is also a lot of electronic experimentation here which has been a steady backdrop for Hawkwind right from the audio generators they employed on their first album, Hawkwind, so memorably and trippily (if that’s a word and, yes, I do speak from experience).
But the three albums incorporate science fiction themes in tracks like Fahrenheit 451 (a Calvert song) and poetry (Coded Languages and the classic Sonic Attack rebooted from its 1973 original in a good way) just as traditional Hawkwind fans would enjoy and, indeed, expect.
The RCA Years were probably Hawkwind’s last big commercial high point and immediately after leaving they veered off in a different direction again (well, a number of different directions) although always based around the guitar-driven engine of unassailable leader Dave Brock.
The Church of Hawkwind is the odd one out of the three and largely consists of works put together during the Sonic Attack sessions when the band was left in a pickle by the illness of then drummer Martin Griffin. The rest of them — Brock, Harvey Bainbridge and Huw Lloyd Langton — had to work on, mainly with synthesisers and drum machines. Tracks like Some People Never Die, Joker At the Gate and Light Specific Data came out of these sessions, as did quite a few on the Sonic Attack album.
The Hawkwind electronics/guitar space rock blitzkrieg goes on with a new album coming out in May (Into The Woods) but it’s nice to go back in time.
The Atomhenge label has done sterling work rereleasing the old Hawkwind albums as they should be released — good sound, mixed properly, great CD covers and extras.
The RCA Years is a good way to get into Hawkwind. I did and I have no regrets. You probably won’t either.