25 January 2012

Space Ritual back at The Borderline

Space Ritual concerts are like your best friend's wedding. There is the long anticipation, the familiar faces, the noisy children and embarrassing uncles, a pay your own way bar and good music.

Mix these together for a few hours and the results are unpredictable but will always look like a riot from a distance.

When I last saw Space Ritual in March 2011 I moaned that I had only seen them twice in 2010 but 2011 turned out even worse and I only managed to see them once! This is a friend who need to get married more often.

Not surprisingly this absence meant that I was almost desperate for their brand of space/jazz rock and booked early for their return to The Borderline. Somehow I still managed to forget to buy a present but I'm hopeful that they did not notice.

The first surprise was the set-up on the empty stage. Getting all of Space Ritual, plus their usual guests, on to any stage is problematic so it seemed odd that they would make this even harder by having two full drum kits.The surprise was deepened when the kits were occupied and a stranger occupied the space where I expected to see Sam Ollis, son of Terry who did take his rightful place behind the other kit.

I had much the same feeling as I do at weddings when a distant relative turns up with an unfamiliar partner and you try and remember what his/her marital status is and whether there is some dark mystery that you are not party to that explains the change.

I stood on the customary front-left that put me right in front of Mick Slattery's lead guitar with Chris Purdon's sonics to the left and main-man Nik Turner centre stage to my right. Thomas Crimble's keyboards were on the far right and that meant, that once again, he was invisible to me except for when I made a trip to the bar. And that was a shame as he is sporting a fine head of hair these days that veers towards the mad professor look.

That left Gary Smart on bass to take up the rather narrow holding position between Nik and Terry.

Clearly arranging Space Ritual on the stage is a problematic as getting the seating right at the reception.

The other fans took their preferred positions too and, just like a wedding, there was some jostling for drinks, the best place to take photos and to dance with the chief bridesmaid.

This movement reintroduced friends who had not met since the last bash, or was it another one? Memories are exchanged, gaps filled and plans made.

The changed line-up suggested a heavier sound but that quickly proved not to be the case and we were treated to the usual Space Ritual fusion of jazzy spacey funky rock that makes them sound like nobody else, least of all any of the other bands that build on the Hawkwind legend, including Hawkwind themselves. The song remains the same but it sounds very different.

This free-form and confident style was reflected in the set list. There was one, and I took a photo of it to prove it, but it was hastily written in faint pencil and got abandoned after a few songs anyway.

We had a few surprises along the way, like Urban Guerrilla, which I never really liked that much, and even a Space Ritual version did not do much to excite me. It sounds like a single to me when I prefer long album tracks.

Long album tracks like Orgone Accumulator which they did an absolutely blinding version of. It was easily worth the price of the tickets just for that.

And being Space Ritual the music comes with some dancing from Ms Angel who had some new costumes to play with and also had a chance to play with Chris' electronics.

So cramped was the stage that when I returned from my foray to the bar I found Ms Angel dancing in the space I had vacated!

All too soon it was time for the bride and groom to leave for their new life together and the rest of us were left to wonder when we would be doing it all again. Soon I hope.

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