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Well it looks like Abrahams & SAF have put together a book that finally does justice to this legendary band. This ain't no fanzine or flimsy cutnpaste job. This is a well-researched and thorough history of the psychedelic warlords from Notting Hill, containing much material from what must be exclusive new interviews (well I've never seen the quotes before) mixed in with choice contemporary quotes and reviews. The book itself is a thumping great hardback tome printed on top quality paper. Incredibly, most of the photos are previously unseen, or at least I only recognised a few of them and I've been into Hawkwind for 20yrs. Some are from Dave Brock's own collection!
The writing covers a lot of ground, starting with Dave Brock playing banjo in jazz bands in the 50s and finishing with the recording of the new album due out this autumn. Each chapter takes care of a major phase in the saga, often rounded off with great one-liners to put the whole thing in perspective. Many of the 50 or so people who've played in Hawkwind since they started in 1969 get a chance to say their piece, and the articulate and often iconoclastic commentary from people like Adrian Shaw, Harvey Bainbridge, Richard Chadwick etc makes fascinating and sometimes controversial reading.
The analysis of the various other contributors, influences, connections and spin-offs makes reading the book an almost psychedelic experience in itself, you soon realise just what a huge (and often uncredited) influence on contemporary rock music Hawkwind have always been. Rock legends like Bolan and Clapton crop up in the story, and everyone from Jello Biafra to Jarvis Cocker seems to be a big Hawkwind fan! Hawkwind seem to have played a part in every major music scene of the last 40 years, so Abrahams ties Hawkwind into the psychedelic underground of the 60s, the early 70s free festival scene, krautrock, punk, the Spinal Tap-esque horrors of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and the dance music scene.
My favourite thing is the way the book doesn't just dwell on the so-called Golden Age of Hawkwind (71 - 77), but gives the later versions of the band just as much credit, from the Langton-Bainbridge era, the Earth Ritual and Black Sword concepts through the "Dave Brock Trio" to the controversial contributions of alien obsessive Ron Tree and on to the Hawkestra re-union, the Hawkfests and the recent recruiting of Arthur Brown (it only took Brock 30 years to get him on board!). On a darker note, there's some good insight into the antagonistic relationship with certain ex-band members, throwing the recent XHawkwind debacle into it's proper perspective, it all makes a lot more sense now.
Abrahams also seems to have found new angles on most of the old Hawkwind myths or just plain debunks them all eg did Hawkwind really fail to appear on Top of the Tops because they didn't want to mime to Silver Machine, did Brock really sell his guitar in disgust when he split the band up on a US tour in 1978, and what was the real deal with Dave Anderson's sports car - it's all in here. I thought I knew everything about Hawkwind til I read all this stuff!
There's a long Appendix delving into the origins and inspirations of all the main Hawkwind album tracks. Although some of them are obvious (loads of Calvert's stuff was inspired by Ballard, Zelazny etc) many are quite surprising, especially Death of War. I've always wondered what the 28948 was in Spiral Galaxy, when I read the explanation I thought "duh!". There's also a list of Hawkwind-related websites, and a good index. And the book is longer than I expected, page count is 288.
Downers? Well the cover's a bit naff, bit too prog rock for me (all that's missing is a unicorn). And the author's a bit harsh on Warrior On The Edge of Time - it's a classic pal, give it another try! But these are small gripes. Overall this is a must for every Hawkfan, and would justify it's place in the music biog collection of any self-respecting follower of innovative rock n roll. Get one before the Gremlin makes em all Disappear in Smoke.
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on 14 August 2004
If you're expecting a salacious, muck-raking expose of sex and drugs and rock and roll on Hawkwind's 30 year legacy of ... well, sex and drugs and rock and roll then you're going to be sadly disappointed with this book. If, on the other hand, you're looking for a superbly-written rock biography on an interesting band who've been working away on the fringes of the mainstream of British popular music since the dawn of the 70s, then you're in for beautiful and often surpising ride.
Sonic Assassins tells the story of Hawkwind through the stories and memories of those who were there - not just the expected voice of Dave Brock, Nick Turner, the late Bob Calvert and Lemmy, but also less widely known, but in may ways more interesting, voices like keyboard player Steve Swindles, singer Ron Tree and drummer Richard Chadwick who all add their perceptive and fascinating observations to the mix.
Ian Abrahams's book is lovingly compiled and gorgeous to look at with dozens of previously unpublished photos. This is an absolutel gem of a book to read and is hugely recommended to all fans not only of Hawkwind and it's associated side-projects, but also of hard rock, the British underground scene of the late 60s and early 70s, trance and ambient techno and genuine British musical eccentrics.
Only one question remains unanswered - I was disappointed not to read anything about the background to Hawkwind's alleged contribution of music to a Doctor Who episode in the late 1980s. It was probably just a dodgy rumour but it would have been nice if the author had found any confirmation on whether it actually happened or not.
Still that's a very minor quibble over a genuinely major work.
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on 3 July 2005
I imagine it's faintly churlish of me to rail against books that I've only browsed through in a bookshop this afternoon, but having briefly checked both of the Hawkwind biographies they had available ('Hawkwind: Sonic Assassins' and 'The Saga of Hawkwind') I found it very annoying that they are both factually incorrect in the one instance I was keen to check up on.
Both books suggest that as part of the 1985 'Chronicle of the Black Sword' tour stage show (the tour based on Michael Moorcock's 'Elric' stories) that 'Elric' (Tony Crerar) mock-fought against Danny Thompson who 'came out from behind the drums dressed as a Chinese warrior to hit him with a big club'. They have quotes and everything.
Point is, I know it wasn't Danny Thompson, because it was me. I toured with the band as part of that stage show for most of the '85 tour, and it was (and still is, on the live DVD) me you can see dressed in samurai armour and wearing gaudy face paint, a horned helmet and playing the part of Theleb Kaarna. So there.
I'd known the band before the tour and they'd asked me to join them in Nottingham onstage to 'fight' Tony, and after that I was with them up the end (including the Hammersmith Odeon shows where I had a riser out into the audience to ham up being 'evil' on - great fun), and at the end of the tour they presented me with the 'Stormbringer' sword prop (wooden, painted black with UV 'runes' on it) that Tony used throughout the tour - I still have it, along with a load of photos of us all together and other souvenirs.
So I thought I'd mention it here. I've now 'officially' been written out of Hawkwind's history (which is a shame, but not the end of the world I guess) - but what worries me is if both authors (and maybe the band themselves) got that bit wrong, what else is too?
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on 30 July 2004
Well done Ian: this is a mighty fine piece of work worthy of the group. And what's a 35-year wait when you've got the (w)hole of space-time to play with? As the boy Calvert might have said himself, "Backwards go words that was book great this read we when noticed we thing first the..."
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on 2 October 2005
This will be the fifth time I have tried to review this book so I'll keep it short and sweet.
Whilst containing a lot of research and a fair few interviews with the main protagonists I have to pronounce this book as dull as matt grey paint. A hugely exciting, interesting and, sometimes, far-fetched story is demoted to the level of a chronological trot through the safe areas of history.
Little mention of the feuds, no mention of the transvestism, suicide and legacy of the band is even attempted.
Try the Carol Clerk book which is both better written and more comprehensive.
I give this book 2 stars simply because the layout and photos are excellent. Don't bother reading it though, you may find yourself in a coma.
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