Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Hoaxwind - a Hawkwind tribute band

A review of my first Hoaxwind gig

Looking in the past...

I don't go to as many Hawkwind shows as I could do – in 2010, I attended four and I regarded that as sufficient, given their current style. They're pretty good, and I enjoyed the shows, but I didn't bother with a few other possibles. Four was sufficient, as I still wish they'd do a bit more blanga... and being a 70's Dave Brock fan doesn't help, as grungy power-riffing on a rhythm guitar just hasn't happened in the last 20 years or so.

This century, I've tended to use some of my gig-going budget in exploring the Hawkwind alternatives.

Nik Turner's "Space Ritual"

Nik Turner's
bands are an obvious option, but I've seen his Space Ritual band twice now, and found it fairly shapeless and it didn't really connect. Some people have said that Nik is the spirit of Hawkwind, and Dave Brock is the backbone. If I have to choose between the two then I prefer backbone every time. Brock's band is disciplined, solid and structured (albeit a shadow of its former self), whereas Turner's bands strive for those cosmic peaks but get lost in the foothills.

Assassins of Silence

In 2008, I went on a 300-mile round trip to see a tribute band called the Assassins of Silence. That's quite a journey to see an obscure bunch you've only seen before on the internet - and I would have regretted the trek, had it not been for the support band, Tribe of Cro.

Little did I know then that the Cro guitarist (Nial Hone) would one day join Hawkwind!

AoS have now ceased operation, but I wouldn't have gone to see them again anyway.

...and that brings us pretty well up to date.

This is Hoaxwind, do not panic...

Hoaxwind Hawkwind were playing at the Forum in London, 2010, and Hoaxwind had the bright idea of playing the same night in a pub just down the road – not competing with Hawkwind, but playing either side of them. So, fans could have their pre-gig drinks while watching a tribute band; then go up the road and see "the real thing," and then return for Hoaxwind's second set. It's a bold decision, a trib playing in a pub where fans are getting ready to see their heroes in action!

It worked. Hoaxwind were in a side room, so plenty of people stayed at the bar, as the place was packed... but I'd previously heard some of Hoaxwind's stuff on YouTube and fancied checking them out.

After the totally non-typical gig intro of squawking synths, that I felt didn't remotely resemble anything that Hawkwind have ever done, they suddenly settled down and their style thereafter was solidly modelled on the vinyl releases of 1976-77 - or the second Bob Calvert era, or the Charisma Records era, depending on how you like to categorise your space rock.

In some ways, this choice (1976/77) is a bit limited, really - it would be nice if they did a few tracks in the style of the "Mind Journey" shows ('75) and the rock energy of "Live '79" – and perhaps a prog instrumental from the first album and some blanga from the "Space Ritual" era. Now, that would be some show! As it was, though, they chose to paint on a pretty narrow canvas – just the '76 and '77 vinyl – but, yes, they did it well.

A chap called Julian dares to step into Bob's shoes, and he handles it with a nice mixture of panache and nervous energy. Voice is good... which is half the battle, but what about the visual performance? It would be easy to fall into the trap of over-egging the pudding, when taking on a job like this – but Julian went for understatement instead, and was all the more convincing as a result.

He'd sometimes step up to the microphone and clutch it, eager to deliver a vocal – and then think again and step back, or fretfully fiddle with the sweat towel that's draped over his shoulder. And I didn't feel that was mimicry, because Bob Calvert didn't do that – but Bob could appear similarly twitchy, from what I remember of those days. So, yes, as an emulation or re-interpretation of the Main Man, he does an excellent job.

The rhythm section sounds solid and authentic, and the sax honking by Eugene similarly rings true. I gather he's played with Nik Turner's band, so that would be a definite stamp of approval for him. Next step, play with Hawkwind?

Synth and keyboards... well, this is an area of Hoaxwind that I think could do with beefing up. If the band want to make their mark by being a retro-Hawkwind, then they might as well go for the jugular, and put the 'space' firmly back into 'space-rock'. The gig intro sounded promising (albeit damned peculiar, as I've already commented) but then those guys seemed to back off, and stay in second gear much of the time. Or perhaps it was just the mix.

And the guitarist who has the temerity to assume Brock's role? Phil's contribution was in line with the chosen era, ie solid background that seldom kicked ass or sought to drive the band or demand attention. That was authentic, within the '76/'77 remit... but maybe disappointing for those hoping for a Greasy Truckers type sonic freakout.

Verdict: If Hoaxwind covered a wider range of Hawkwind gig styles, I'd be prepared to travel quite a long way to see them in the future.

When they decided to embed one of my videos of the gig on their Hoaxwind MySpace page, I did feel rather proud and pleased, though!

Hoaxwind's next gig is 5 March, in Darkest Essex.

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