There are some acts that have survived only to prove that drugs really do not work. Hawkwind are perhaps the most enduring of all the drug casualty groups, causing a world shortage of acid since the late 60s, a bewildering output of dozens of official and unofficial albums, and an even more bewildering array of uneven compilation albums on multiple record labels that seems to be growing by the hour. Any Hawkwind album released after the mid 70s should be treat with extreme caution, as it may not be as official as it appears.
The shining diamond in this pile of gems and useless pebbles is Space Ritual, Hawkwind’s first live album. It is the ultimate example of a live album as a band’s definitive release, and its reputation seems to enjoy a slow but steady growth year by year.
Hawkwind weren’t the only band to mix prog rock, heavy metal, stoner rock, space rock, hippy ideologies, and lots and lots of acid, but they were absolutely the very best at it. As a result Space Ritual is an all-out audio assault. From the bubbling up of “Earth Calling”, segueing into the relentless rhythm of “Born to Go”, via the Barney Bubbles visual-overload design for the original vinyl packaging (sadly not present in its full glory on a lot of CD releases), to the frankly bonkers story interwoven between the song lyrics through the booklet, Space Ritual as a whole is loud, messy, simultaneously pretentious, and gloriously dumb, and it stands as monument to making prog rock, that potentially most dull of all genres, sound utterly thrilling, yet one of the most disorientating creative tasks possible.
There is a downside though. Back in the day, much of Hawkwind’s live appeal was that they were an assault on four of the senses, the hearing – massively loud, touch – bass frequencies that could cause unpleasant bowel movements, sight – the no-holds-barred light show (courtesy of the legendary Liquid Len and the Lensmen) and the fact that they employed a tall large breasted dancer called Stacia to dance topless on stage, smell – clouds of marijuana smoke were an occupational hazard if you were a Hawkwind fan. Sadly as good as it is, Space Ritual only gives us the audio experience, though I’m sure if you listen to it loud enough after a dodgy meal, the bowel movements could be achieved, if you turn the room lights on and off at speed, you get a bit of a light show I suppose. The marijuana is of course optional, put if you decide to role a joint while listening to Space Ritual you will be carrying a tradition that dates back to the album’s original release.
Space Ritual is unarguably Hawkwind’s definitive statement, and the only thing it lacks to be all you need to know about the band, is a gloriously chaotic version of “Silver Machine”. Quite why they chose to omit their only big hit is a puzzle, but chances are, none of the members of the band noticed it wasn’t there.