A mixed bag of concerts, received by an equally diverse set of 'critics'. Sean Rothman kicks off with Hawkwind at the Hammersmith Odeon, followed by Andy Darlington on Dead Or Alive at The Warehouse, Leeds, Wadi Vision by Robert Barker at Bath University, Thomas Dolby and Fiat Lux by Stephen Darling and lastly Tik And Tok by Leslie Bunder at the Venue (phew!).
Hammersmith Odeon, London
Major chart success might elude them nowadays but Hawkwind still have a large and vocal following as their two packed London dates testify. Hawkwind have always had a flexible line-up and on this tour Nik Turner (vocals and sax) Hue Lloyd Langton and Dave Brock (guitar) were joined by Harvey Bainbridge on bass and synthesizer, Dave Fred on keyboards and Clive Deamnour on drums. SF author Michael Moorcock, a long time Hawkwind associate, and Lemmy from Motorhead were guesting on the Hammersmith gigs.
Hawkwind was one of the first bands to make the synthesizer an integral part of their sound and for the Earth Ritual Preview shows, Harvey had a Jupiter 4 and a Moog source, Dave Brock a Korg Poly 6, and Dead Fred a Hammond, Minimoog and VCS3. The Source was linked to the Poly 6, enabling Harvey to drive it from the Moog. Dave also had an old MS-50 sequencer, again linked to the Poly 6, so that he could concentrate on his guitar.
The Hammersmith Odeon is not renowned for its acoustics and this show has the dubious honour of having the worst sound I've ever experienced. The PA sounded as though it was going through a fuzz box, the band having to cope with chronic distortion and feedback, brought on to a degree by the incredible volume. At one point, I was obliged to leave the auditorium — sorry boys, but I value my ears more than my rock'n'roll credibility. In contrast, the light show was one of the best I've seen for some time, featuring various cosmic backdrops of the Starship Hawkwind and some effective laser and high-intensity projection work.
I spoke to Dave Brock after the show and he admitted that they had 'a lot of problems with the sound' (a diplomat writes). Apparently, the sound engineer responsible broke his wrist just before the tour commenced, making proper adjustment of levels impossible. Despite this, he was never replaced by the PA company under contract. There's probably some truth in this tale but I definitely recall there being three or four people being behind the sound desk. The present line-up of Hawkwind were only playing together for a week before their first gig, and I think this showed in the performance. The band are planning to tour the UK again later this year and hopefully they will be better organised by then.
Dead or Alive
The Warehouse, Leeds
Dead or Alive arrive mobhanded; seven people on stage — only four of them identifiably dead or alive. And Pete Burns, chic transvestite singer, is pretty in punk and sub-Marilyn coiffure matched against some Mulligan clone in beaded dreadlocks. Haven't I been through this movie before? Burns is 16 (going on 26) and savaged. He carries a veritable cruise missile of a rocket in his pocket. He's dragged up in near-H.M. ballistic kisses of camp. He's lost without a compass on the night side of posing. But Pete Burns and burns and burns... Like the poster brags it 'he's every big-time Rodeo prize rolled into one... pair of tight pants'. Or rather, tonight, into one pair of leopard-skin pillbox tights. He blurts the love that dares to blare its name until the mascara runs and runs and runs...
On the one hand there's the Velvet's glove, but on the other there's the fist. His voice is corroded to a rough edge with mucho macho vibrato around the edges, and it rides dislocated Disco touched-up with jumpy electronics. It's down-market Funk for upmarket night clubs sung by a tart with no heart. That's the way — uh huh, uh huh — I like it! Misty Circles has its taped percussion augmented with organic conga's. 'What I want' bounces busy spurting synths around ensemble hook-line chanting. "I know how to let my back-bone slip" he growls, and never have double-entendres been so single-minded. 'I'll do Anything' (the third track from their Epic label 45rpm 10" EP) has girlie back-up and punchy handclaps that smoothly sequence seamlessly into the regulation dance-floor favourites, and yes, it's probably the most fun you can have without actually coming...
But Pete Burns, he's a prick-teaser, he takes you half-way there. And even with a fast-forward button he doesn't go much further than heavy pettin'. I mean, we've ALL been through this movie before, you've only to mince back along time-lines to Bowie's 'man's dress' album cutie or further, to Zappa's grotesque 'Only in it for the Money' sleeve to realise how insular and narcissistic the '80's camping to be clever brigade really are.
For a campus this size the Union hall is a cramped affair resembling a small seedy TV studio more than a concert venue.
A&R men from Phonogram and Arista prowled about waiting for the only band in the west that are reckoned to have a chance of national stardom — Wadi Vision. A seven piece from Bath coming with the handy all purpose label synth-rock didn't excite me much — Bath has a bad reputation for tooth rot thanks to the Korgies and Tears for Fears.
Wadi Vision showed more grit than you'd expect given their trendy reputation and the crappy PA. I'd half expected them to turn on their heels and flounce back to the bar but the lure of proffered contracts must have been stronger. The ubiquitous synth is present of course, programmed by Mike Crossley while his brother Dave does his Dave Gahan bit (and several other impersonations besides) in the vocal department. What puts Wadi Vision ahead on points from the rest of the bleep and clatter brigade is the simple inclusion of trumpet and sax. These bring a wildness and warmth to what is otherwise tight but undistinguished pop of the Simple Minds/Gary Numan mode. They're also fond of dramatic intros, special effects, circus music and the like. It all adds to the atmosphere but does it really make them something special? I think what we have here is a lot of pretty pieces looking for a picture. Don't strain to hear the lyrics, you won't find anything there — surreal love songs that sound good in snatches but then disappear into nonsense. We shouldn't think too badly of Wadi Vision though, for all this is par for the course they so desperately want to play on and with what sound like at least two chart singles in the set, I rather think they shall. Wadi Vision could be a big or just middling but we are certainly going to be hearing a lot more of them even if there's a lot of sharpening up to be done yet.
Thomas Dolby / Fiat Lux
Thomas Dolby's growing reputation as the 'Professor of Pop' survived wholly intact before an enthusiastic Lyceum audience, who were treated to some of the slickest, punchiest pop music around at the moment. In contrast to the 'man versus machine' spectacle of Dolby's early gigs where he looked as though he was in serious danger of being eaten alive by an awesome bank of electronic equipment, tonight's show presented a very different prospect in that the man had actually recruited six musicians to help him out, leaving him free to concentrate on the presentation of his material.
The ubiquitous Fairlight, plus accompanying paraphenalia, was much in evidence throughout the evening and was used by Dolby to create some interesting percussive and vocal samples on such standout numbers as, 'She Blinded Me With Science' and 'One Of Our Submarines Is Missing'. Three other keyboard players were also present, perhaps most notably Lyndon Connah who used a Jupiter 8 and a PPG Wave 2.2, and Dolby himself forsook the Fairlight for a bash at the piano on the Latin-influenced 'I Scare Myself', accompanied by some fine guitar playing from Jesus Merchan.
Video, as always, played an integral part in Dolby's show, in this case being relayed via three huge spectacle-shaped screens, suspended above the stage and showing both familiar promo material and some specially shot footage; a welcome change from the use of Video as a giant magnifying glass for onstage activity, favoured by so many other artists. Dolby seems to have abandoned the techno-wizard image that dogged his early career, in favour of a much more entertaining approach based on the man's naturally humorous showmanship. This is especially apparent when you see Dolby donning his famous cube-head for the manic 'Hyperactive' or wielding a shoulder-slung synth plus wig in guitar-hero parody during 'Commercial Break-up'.
Fiat Lux played an excellent support set, combining strong well-crafted songs with powerful rhythms courtesy of Ian Nelson's Memorymoog and various backing tapes. David P. Crickmore, guitarist, bassist and occasional keyboard player bounced around the stage like a demented pixie, providing a good foil to the moody, soulful vocals of Steve Wright, whose voice really shines through on numbers like "The Moment" and "Feels Like Winter".
Tik and Tok
At The Venue Victoria
Out with the old and in with the new! said a jubilant Tik. After so many years using the robot as their main feature, Tik & Tok have at last abandoned it and have started to explore around other areas of mime, movement and song. Behind them lay a couple of dismembered robots to emphasize their dislike for the now over exposed robotic scene.
I thought that Tik & Tok would be playing live (like I was) but the only thing live, apart from Tik & Tok, were the vocals and even some of them were taped! But you can't condemn Tik & Tok for using backing tapes. The stage was only just big enough for them to do their routines (like a very impressive Samurai warrior mock fight complete with ritual dress and swords) and if there had been drums, guitars and a couple of synths then the stage would have been far too congested for them to put on many of their routines. Having to use backing tapes doesn't mean you can't play your instruments live — it means for Tik & Tok, at least, the chance to explore and work on very visual routines, something which can't be accomplished if you need to play your instruments, at the same time. Believe me Tik and Tok can play their instruments, Tok's got his own 4-track home studio and uses Linn drums, Roland SH-101, Roland Juno 60 and various other synthesizers and guitars in the recording of their songs.
Tik & Tok went through six of their songs from 'Summer in the City' featuring Russell Bell playing saxophone to 'Screen me I'm Yours' which culminated with several girls throwing themselves on stage and Tik falling into the audience, they also performed 'Vile bodies', a song that has to be seen rather than just heard as it comes across better mainly due to the movement and expressions they do. A love song was also sung called 'Everything will change' and a collaboration with Gary Numan 'I know you know' was the last of their six songs.
Before Tik & Tok finally departed they did an encore of two songs one of which was an old 'Shock' song the group they were in entitled 'Angel face' which featured ex-Shocker Barbie on stage with them. After a few 'thank yous' Tik & Tok left the stage and showed that they were no longer just robots but fully fledged entertainers.