Nik Turner’s Space Ritual has often been described as ‘more like Hawkwind than Hawkwind’- and the accolade is a fair one. Featuring four former Hawkwind members, the group play a mixture of Hawkwind tracks and their own original music – despite founding member Dave Brock taking legal action against Turner to prevent him from performing under the Hawkwind name.
The music is very much what you’ve come to expect of space-rock; plenty of bass and distortion, with some sax and harmonica solos thrown in for good measure, courtesy of Turner. Sadly these got a bit lost in the amorphous sound the band created, and this really didn’t have the fluidity or linearity of – for example – Ozric Tentacles. That sense of the geometric so familiar to the original Hawkwind was somewhat lost in a stage performance which ranged from bizarre to shambolic. The songs are, of course, massively long and throughout I got the sense that the band would have been far more at home playing a festival. As it was, they were on for a good two hours – and still hadn’t had enough.
The lyrics really make or break the atmosphere of these retro-sci-fi pieces, and although Turner’s voice has a great quality for delivering them, the quality of the words is very variable. The short piece on preparation for the sonic assault, for example, was very chilling and really set the moment – whereas songs like ‘Walking Backwards’ featured lyrics which were too obvious, and almost a parody of themselves. In this, as overall, the performance was show to be one that had become unstable since the glory years.
The staging was obviously very varied, with plenty of dry ice, projections, and some light-up alien heads- again, the alien heads were a bit too much, and detracted from the atmosphere. Combine this with Miss Angel Flame, an expressionist dancer who appeared in a new costume every second song, and you have a show which was very visually interesting. Too interesting, perhaps – there was a sense that a lot of her movements were constricted by the space available onstage, and the fact that the performance relied on the visual was very obvious. The costumes, like the staging, were just all over the place- a sign, I think, that over time Space Ritual have lost whatever identity they once had.
Unless you’re already a big fan of Hawkwind or a big space-rocker, this really only has novelty appeal – and even if you are, you’re probably better off sticking with studio stuff. Turner is very game onstage despite being 72 – but the act is very much past its sell-by date, even if Nik himself isn’t. The relatively small audience was testament to the lack of commercial appeal, and ultimately Space Ritual come across onstage as an abortive attempt at Hawkwind’s former glory.By James Harle