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Album Review : Hawkwind Space Ritual Live 50th Anniversary Deluxe Box Set.

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Review by Rob Broom for MPM

Celebrating 50 years of the seminal classic live album with a 10 CD and one BluRay box set. 

Space Ritual is – in my opinion – an absolutely classic live album. Upon original release it was a double LP package  – of which there were many released during this period – such as Deep Purples ‘Made In Japan’, Thin Lizzys ‘Live And Dangerous’, UFOs ‘Strangers In the Night’ and Lynyrd Skynyrds ‘One More From Road’ to name but four. 

I was first introduced to Space Ritual sometime around 1976 and still listen to the album regularly today so this box set announcement got my attention and curiosity. 

How many versions of Space Ritual do we need? Well, for the 50th anniversary we get vinyl offerings, an expanded 2 CD set and the limited edition box set which I shall be reviewing. In the box set you get the original album remastered by Ben Wiseman on two CDs ( referred to as the deluxe version), three live shows – Liverpool and London (from which the original album was created) – and Sunderland, which is previously unreleased. These shows are each spread over two CDs and mixed by Stephen W Taylor.

Then there’s a new stereo remix (again over two CDs) and finally a Blu Ray with High Resolution 5.1 Surround Sound Mix and Stereo remix (which I haven’t heard), again all mixed by Stephen W Tayler. That is a lot of Space Ritual!

Fortunately for you readers out there, I am up to the challenge and have listened to all of them back to back and then just started again and kept going and going!

The album commences with the preparing to launch drone and call out of ‘Earth Calling’, before the band blast into ‘Born To Go’. It is a full on aural assault and what is instantly noticeable is the clarity and cleanness of the sound.

This permeates throughout the album and all the different versions and whilst this does perhaps reduce the chaos and fury of more recent rereleases it does make listening to all four 2 disc set’s fascinating (we will talk about the stereo remix separately later) as you pick out the differences between the final ‘original’ album and the three live sets. 

‘Down Through The Night’ is song number three in the running order and across the 4 sets this has some differences, noticeably on the Liverpool set which was a pleasant surprise to my ears. 

After that it is ‘The Awakening’, the first of a series of spoken word pieces from Robert Calvert that joined the show together along with an accompanying light show and dancers (the tour was a real multi media event!). This then leads into the phenomenal ‘Lord Of Light’.

Here as elsewhere on the album you can really pick out Lemmys bass as he helps drive the band along while the electronics of Dik Mik, synthesiser of Del Dettmar and wind instruments of Nik Turner add colour and texture. This is something you experience across the entire album and all the different sets. 

Following this we get more spoken word as Robert Calvert tells us about space in ‘The Black Corridor’ and this themes continues as the piece runs into the majestic ‘Space Is Deep’. 

CD one of the ‘deluxe remaster’ set is rounded off with ‘Electronic No. 1’ an instrumental that does vary over the different shows. 

The live set continues on CD two of the deluxe set with the powerful driving beat of ‘Orgone Accumulator’ (which started side three of the original vinyl – on some of the other CDs it remains on CD one and leads straight on from Electronic No. 1) and then into the aggressive guitar riffs and near shouted vocal of ‘Upside Down’. 

There is a brief break for the spoken word of ’10 Seconds Of Forever’ and as this ends in near apocalyptic fashion it takes us into the ultimate moment of progressive thrash that is ‘Brainstorm’. Here – to quote a Motörhead moment – ‘everything is louder than everything else’. You either love it or you don’t as the band go into sonic overdrive and I love it! As elsewhere on the album Dave Brock guitar solos intertwine with Nik Turners saxophone and flute.

The pace slows and then builds in the throbbing ‘Seven By Seven’ before we arrive at the ultimate Hawkwind spoken word that is ‘Sonic Attack’. Back in the mid seventies anything that included the words ‘orgasm’ and ‘orifice’ would get teenage boys attention (well it did in my school group!), but the real message here is about survival in the face of catastrophic events as Robert Calvert tells us ‘survival means think only of yourself’. 

On that less than cheerful note the band rumble into ‘Time We Left This World Today’, which, depending on which version you are listening to can be anything up to 13 minutes long!

If there was doubt by now that Dave Brock was not a guitar riff master then with the opening of Master Of The Universe’ that should be easily dispelled. One of the bands greatest songs is full of power and excitement.  How drummer Simon King manages to keep going is a mystery, he really was a literal driving force behind the band and here – as on ‘Brainstorm’ – he is pounding away in full flight while the rest of the band lose themselves in the music.  This song still is – after 50 years – mesmerising stuff indeed!

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‘Welcome To The Future’, another spoken word piece, (and scarily perhaps more relevant today) accompanied at the end with a symphonic roar of sound from the band, closes proceedings for the original album, while some of the live sets include the encore ‘You Shouldn’t Do That’.

The 64 page booklet that comes with the set contains a useful essay on the build up to the making of ‘Space Ritual’ including how the line up came into being and some good observations on the album itself. It is a fair point made that listening to the three live sets individually soon shows that the version of Hawkwind touring here was well rehearsed and very focused on delivering a consistent set each night. Being able to hear the different live sets also indicates the original album probably didn’t need many overdubs. All in all a good read. Also within its pages are copies of the original booklet and other related tour material as well as some terrific photographs.

So, finally, we come to the new stereo mix. If, by now, you haven’t quite been convinced to buy this box set, then just let me say that this new mix is fantastic and whilst not worth the price of the box set on its own, certainly seals the deal as far as I’m concerned (and further good news, reading the information it sounds like the separate expanded 2 CD set is this same remix).

Listening through headphones has been a real treat and I can’t wait to hook this new remix up to a decent system and play it loud, because, while you can listen to ‘Space Ritual’ at any volume, playing it loud really is a sonic experience when the band are in full flow and this new stereo mix really does dance in and out across the headphone speakers. It contains a full show with unedited versions of several songs such as ‘Brainstorm’ and the encore of ‘You Shouldn’t Do That’.

‘Space Ritual’ has long been an album I love listening to. I have never tired of it, and over the last couple of weeks this new box set has been constantly played as I discover new sounds and nuances within the music. Can it last another 50 years? It should. As the recent album title from Hawkwind said, ‘The Future Never Waits’ so indulge yourselves and go buy the Space Ritual Box set now.

Deluxe anniversary album details here: https://cherryred.co/Hawkwind

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