In recent years the home for this concert had been the Shepherds Bush Empire and it was due to be held there again until a structural fault in the roof meant a new venue was required and so I made my first trip to the Coronet in Elephant and Castle. I had walked around that area a few times, for example when going to the Southwark Playhouse, but I had no idea that the Coronet was there.
I went from home via Waterloo and walked the last leg down to the Elephant and Castle. Citymapper suggested that a bus might have been quicker but it was marginal and walking was more reliable and a healthier option too.
I knew that Elephant and Castle was going through significant rebuilding (regeneration as it is always billed these days in the bold assumption that the new will be much better than the old) and the first evidence for this came when I had to navigate the large roundabout that defines the area using temporary paths that crossed through the middle of it.
The venue was easy to find as there was a long queue of people waiting to go in. A much longer queue than I expected. It went a hundred meters or more and crossed the tube station as it did so. Security staff were positioned there to maintain gaps in the queue to allow people in and out of the station and also to prevent people from joining the queue at one of the gaps thinking that was the end of the queue, a mistake I myself also made. I spotted Ralph in the queue, much nearer the front than me, and not realising how long the queue was at that stage I missed that opportunity to join him.
I hit the queue at 7:30pm, that about half an hour after the doors were due to open which is why I was surprised at the length of the queue. The queue moved sedately due to the stringent security checks and by the time that I got in the support band, System 7, who Wikipedia describe as ambient dance. I have bought ambient music (e.g. ENO) and dance music (e.g. Prodigy) but neither is a genre that I am madly keen on and this combination did nothing for me. It was one long piece that had some interesting moments but no direction and no purpose. They were something of a Marmite band with a few people dancing along wildly and most of the aged rockers, like myself, deeply unimpressed.
Luckily we did not have too long to wait until Hawkwind came on. By then I had got myself reasonably close to the front and reasonable close to the centre, both of which I had not expected to do. It was still a struggle to see a.t times as everybody around me seemed to be a foot taller than me, as usual, and there were one or two idiots bouncing around, as usual. I almost retired to the bar towards the end when the idiots were being particularly idiotic but they went to the bar instead and never came back.
This was a spacier Hawkwind than I remembered with Tim Blake's various electronic devices, including his theremin, dominating the sound. This was more Space than Rock, though there was plenty of rock there too.
The spacieness meant elongated songs with long musical wanderings in the middle. Because of this they only played eleven songs all night despite being on the stage for a couple of hours. Most of the songs were familiar (Utopia, Motorway City, Born to Go, Shot Down in the Night, Lord of Light), a few were new (Prometheus, Hail to the Machine) and a few were bonafide classics, i.e. big favourites of mine, (Orgone Accumulator, Hassan I Sahba, Master of the Universe).
Note the absence of Brainstorm, Spirit of the Age and Silver Machine. These were not particularly missed though as the songs chosen were excellent and they clearly could not play all of their "greatest hits" in just two hours.
In one of his few announcements, Dave Brock said that the current line-up was the longest running in the band's history. That seemed surprising but if anybody knows then that would be Dave. That line-up was Dave Brock (guitars), Richard Chadwick (drums), Tim Blake (keyboards), Niall Hone (guitars), Mr Dibs (guitars), and Dead Fred (keyboards). They were joined by Steve Hillage (more guitars) for most of the songs. With four guitars and two keyboards you can guess what it sounded like.
We also had a dancer for a few songs. This cheered the audience up noticeably as young women tend to cheer up middle-aged men but I felt that she added little to the show. I suspect that the band felt that we needed something more to watch than swirling graphics during the long instrumental sections. The obvious comparison was with Ms Angel who enlivens Space Ritual's performances and this comparison grew when this dancer appeared in a glittery outfit with extended batwing sleeves.
This was Hawkwind on good form in front of a large and appreciative audience. Despite the late change of venue the sound quality was excellent, possibly helped by me being a little further back than usual and so getting a better balance from the two sets of speakers.
There were more pleasant surprises after the concert as on the way out I met a few more familiar faces from such concerts, people like Melissa.
As long as Hawkwind feel like touring and continue to deliver shows like this then I am going to continue to see them. It has been a happy tradition of mine for the last thirty nine years and long may it continue.