I've a little bit of mixed feelings when I go and see Hawkwind these days. When I was writing 'Sonic Assassins' I had this idea that it would be straight forward - write about this band that I've loved for 25 years or so now, meet the various characters, and then fade back into being a fan at the back of the hall.
Now, that's just not as easy as it sounds and just proves the naivete at work really! There's a certain mystique in following your favourite band from a distance that goes away once you've become an "in the loop" person - even if being in the loop just means that you've had the opportunity to graze the outer circle of the band's associates. I noticed this very quickly, going to a gig became more like going to see a local band of people that you know, and the mystery and anticipation kind of goes away. Funnily enough, I talked about this with their longtime bass player Alan Davey, who having been a fan who joined the band knew exactly what I was talking about but multiplied a hundred times or more. So I don't see the band in the same light, even though I've met most of them and found them amicable, decent people.
I've avoided going to see them for some time now, having last caught them in Cheltenham a couple of years back and determined that perhaps it wasn't for me anymore. But, the chance to see them in Exeter on Friday night proved too tempting and there I was again.
And what a nightmare the journey was! It seemed so easy until 20 miles or so the wrong side of Exeter and we hit a tailback for roadworks that lasted nigh on an hour. And, roadworks everywhere! Forecasted to last until Spring 2007. We're trapped in Cornwall!
Exeter Phoenix Arts Centre - small venue, but local to the band and absolutely packed shoulder to shoulder. Fantastic lightshow, which we've come to expect. Hawkwind, as usual, are Dave Brock, Alan Davey and Richard Chadwick - plus their new keyboard player (Jason?) who really adds a new dimension to the music, and guest flute/clarinet player Jez Huggett, who has been around the band for a while but I've not seen guesting before. The music has taken a bit of a turn again, that continual regeneration thing that Hawkwind have going, this time slightly less harsh sounding because of the keyboards, more melodic and the quiet moments are really spacey and atmospheric.
As they have done for some time, they're looking into their back catalogue and bringing back neglected classics - for the first time at a gig I hear Paradox (or would have done if I hadn't picked the wrong moment to go to the bar for a Red Bull in readiness for the 90 mile drive home), Lord of Light and Upside Down. But it's a great set - not much from the new album (in some ways a pity as I haven't heard the record) but some great reworkings of Hawkwind classics: Psi Power, Brainbox Pollution, Lighthouse (with Richard on vocals) and a couple of newer ones: Angela Android, which sounds nice and contemporary to me, and (I think) Greenback Massacre which is a little clumsy and overdone.
I enjoyed it - a good sound, well performed and presented (aside from the dancers who had no room for expression and little relevance to the music). But that feeling of mystique - I don't think it's coming back anytime soon sadly.