Having been to every gig that this version of Hawklords have played in York – an almost-to-the-day annual event that started exactly three years ago tonight but, for this year, has moved to The Duchess – I thought I knew what to expect from tonight’s gig. Driving rhythms from Dave Pearce and Tom Ashurst; coruscating soundscapes as Jerry Richards’ guitar and Harvey Bainbridge’s synthesizers combine; a lively, slightly punk-y vocal performance from Ron Tree; a dazzling, almost hypnotic lightshow at the back of the stage that you barely want to take your eye away from in case you miss some slight detail; and a small but dedicated crowd, dotted with familiar faces, dancing the night away in that strange, astronautical way that they do to space rock.
Being honest, all that was present. But it just felt a bit more subdued that the other three gigs, a bit… safer? That’s something that could also be said about R:Evolution, as well. I picked up the band’s latest album after the gig, getting it signed by a still slightly manic looking Tree, who was trying to get around everybody who wanted something signed while, at the same time, tracking down other band members to do the same. Playing it the next day, I was pleasantly surprised. While I’ve enjoyed all their gigs, Hawklords’ recorded output, for me, had been going down in quality, none of the albums reaching the standard of “debut” We Are One and I was actually beginning to think that I was buying the albums out of habit rather than desire. R:Evolution, however, could surpass We Are One as my favourite. Again, it could be described as “safer” than the others, perhaps an attempt to move a bit towards the mainstream (don’t worry, Hawk fans – there’s still a long way to go between it and the the true mainstream) and be a bit more accessible, while still revelling in the Hawklords sound.
So maybe the performance on this tour is meant to be a bit less “out there”. Perhaps a slightly safer performance will, through word of mouth, increase the fan base. Maybe it is all part of a master plan.
Bainbridge started things off by welcoming the audience, his, “Good evening to all of you,” sounding, to me, slightly more resentful of the small number in the venue than when Richards, at the end of the evening, thanked everybody for coming out to see them. The two hour set – no support. I believe the booked support band had to cancel and I know that a replacement, asked at short notice, weren’t able to get a full line-up together – seemed to fly by, even though most of the tracks were from the new album and therefore, as yet, unfamiliar to me. Tree was as expressive during his lyrics and as energetic between as ever and the dancers in the audience started to lose themselves in the music almost from the first chord. There was little on-stage chatter between songs. Even the spoken word sections between Tree and Richards seemed to have been scaled back – not necessarily a bad thing, given that it had always been nigh-on impossible to hear what they were saying – and the tracks seemed to flow into one another with barely a pause.
The instrumental soundscapes were still present, but the light show seemed to have been toned down as well. Gone, for the main part, were strange, Far Eastern images and snatches of science fiction films, the majority now being the repetitive, almost hypnotic random shapes and swirls, with a few appropriate images of monkeys thrown in during Space Monkey and the pink line from the cover of Dream, presumably during a song from that album that I had forgotten. Still interesting, just slightly less so.
The most interesting and impressive part of tonight’s set (and perhaps any Hawklords set) came just into the second half, when Tree, never one to shy away from using a prop, donned a blank mask for the mainly instrumental Shadow Of The Machines. Robot-like and bereft of all expression except through his eyes and hand movements, his actions seemed to indicate a desire to escape, but from what? Control, maybe. With the mask briefly lifted for one section, his actions seemed more free, but his eyes were still haunted. Then the mask was replaced to bring to an end what was a brilliant section both visually and musically.
The rhythm seemed to get more driving, slightly more intense as it moved towards the climax, although the set itself seemed to unexpectedly falter to an end, rather than go out with a bang. As the band left the stage – Tree taking longer than the rest to find his way off – the surprisingly noisy audience shouted for more, generally requesting Psi Power although one person wanted the more up to date We Are One. Back on stage Richards told us that they hadn’t had time to rehearse the seventies track and instead they brought the evening to an end with Urban Guerilla, an even earlier Hawkwind song.
It is unfortunate that Hawklords draw so few people in when they play York, although I have no idea how the numbers compare to other locations on their tours. Their music is, though, more niche than many other bands – you can see that from those familiar faces that have been at each and every gig – and it is to their credit that they continue to turn up and perform here. Once again Richards promised they would be back next year. I hope they are as this gig and the associated album has left me revitalised in my appreciation of the band and I want to see what happens next.