Veteran rockers (with a classical twist) give their perspectives on RG’s recent journey into sonic frontiers …
Phil Wright begins, “When I was approached to mix FOH for Hawkwind with a symphony orchestra, I knew immediately that it needed two things – Martin Audio MLA’s ability to keep noise pollution off the stage and RG Jones’s unparalleled expertise in supplying large scale classical music productions”.
Meanwhile, in another part of the space-time continuum, Simon Honywill was flying through the cosmos, surrounded by an overwhelming mass of flashing colour; indistinct images blurred by the ever-evolving colour field. Through the smoky cloud he could make out musicians with guitars, synthesisers and a saxophone that sounded nothing like its jazz heritage would have, and then there was the Amazonian dancer, naked but for fluorescent body paint, the strobing lights making her look like a demented robot. And there was the noise – thumping, throbbing, relentless, glorious noise – sweeping oscillators, chunky, distorted wah-wah, melodic, insistent bass that seemed to lead the band through the cosmic melee.
Simon says; “...I wasn’t dreaming; this was real. This was no lysergic illusion, this was not an imaginary journey though spacetime to Sirius Alpha, this was Bournemouth Winter Gardens. This was a Hawkwind gig, probably 1973, and I was undergoing the kind of experience that any confused hippie-teen/protopunk of the early seventies would strive for."
At the time, Hawkwind shows were renowned for their trippy lighting and their dancer, Stacia, was the stuff of adolescent male dreams, if only for the fact that she spent her whole time on stage naked. The original space-rockers formed a huge part of many musical awakenings; their pounding rhythms, sweeping synths and daft, space-philosophy monologues stretching whatever unfortunate sonic reproduction device that was at hand to its absolute limits. Distortion only added to the wigging-out, giving the onslaught a sense of added power.
“Not that many years later” Simon reminisces, “I found myself at RG Jones, starting on my own journey that has taken me to Sirius Alpha and beyond. But at no point did I EVER imagine that RG’s Jones - holders of the Royal Warrant for Sound Services to the Her Majesty the Queen and providers of sound equipment to The Royal Academy of Arts, The Guildhall in the City of London, proponents of subtly (and not so subtly) reinforced orchestral music - would be supporting Hawkwind! I thought Goldfrapp was about as cool as we would ever get. And yet, here we are, supplying for this iconic band’s latest tour, featuring an orchestra of sorts – the Hawkestra, arranged by Mike Batt of the Wombles notoriety (what?) – playing a variety of material from across the decades. The only remaining member I remember is Dave Brock, who’s dogged commitment to the Hawkwind ethic deserves much more recognition than he receives. The ever-intriguing presence of rock icon Lemmy is now long gone, but listening to their material his influence can still be heard; he was responsible for Silver Machine.
Phil smiles knowingly at Simon and continues “.. and whilst our overall rig was small, it was very powerful; with a Digico SD-12 at FOH and at monitors. All the inputs on stage were handled by two SD Racks - one covering the band, and one covering the orchestra. Band mics are all the usual suspects, with the orchestra covered by mainly DPA microphones including 4099s on Strings and 2011s on woodwind and perc. Brass had a more AKG feel with the universal C414 covering horns, trumpets and trombones. MLA-Compact was the PA system chosen for the scale of venues we were covering, with up to 12 a side flown, and a ground package comprising MLA Compact, MLX, DD12 and DD6.
I went for a very cut-down FX package – utilising only an orchestral reverb and a vocal delay, leaving all of the band’s sounds to do their own thing in the soundscape that they create. The overall effect honoured the sound of the band and also the amazing new dynamics brought to bear by the orchestra under the baton of Mike Batt”.
The audience demographic for a Hawkwind show in 2018 is fairly predictable – the band themselves have been around nearly 50 years, but that doesn’t detract from the long-lasting influence of the band’s sound – for comparison, check out Orgone Accumulator and tell me it doesn’t remind you of Oasis! Likewise any grunge band from the last 20 years...
Simon interjects “The inclusion of an orchestra adds a new dimension to the sound for sure, but this can only ever work if the orchestral amplification works, as so often it fails. This takes a level of expertise, which is currently being heard by audiences around the UK on the latest tour of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, featuring a 36 piece string section forming the foundation of the power behind the piece.”
“I’m sensing an intergalactic theme here,” muses Phil. “and I completely agree; the ingredients must be just right to produce the result. Key equipment, key design and key engineers. I must give a shout-out to RG Jones engineer Liam Croft, who joined me on board as stage tech and did a sterling job. Overall it was a brilliant production, receiving rave reviews at all the performances and we’re looking forward to doing more Hawkwind shows in 2019 for the 50th anniversary tour”.
Photography: Liam Croft
“When I was approached to mix FOH for Hawkwind with a symphony orchestra I knew immediately that it needed two things; Martin Audio MLA’s ability to keep noise pollution off the stage and RG Jones’s unparalleled expertise in supplying large scale classical music productions”.