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The Sonic Warlords in Belfast

Quite appropriate when you think about it really seeing as the band have made their first visit across the Irish sea in quite a while on the recent spring tour, here's a report that chronicles their visit to the home of Guinness and St Patrick way back in 1973, and   appeared in the New Musical Express (NME) on March 24th of that year. Written by James Johnson it also carried the sub headline


"YEAH, I'm a bit nervous," said Dave Brock, a slightly uneasy excitement in his eyes. "But I'm sure it's going to be good. I'm sure it is...."

Outside the terminal building at Belfast Airport, the jaws of travelling business men dropped in surprise at the sight of the bedraggled Hawkwind party which had just stumbled off the morning plane from London.

The band, their manager, an agency man and a couple roadies struck a somewhat bizarre sight standing in a little bunch surrounded by luggage and guitar cases as if for protection. The airport porters also seemed especially amused and interested. It's not that often that a rock band passes through Belfast these days.

That night Hawkwind were due to play Queens University deep in the city - an important gig for everyone. It was the first time a major band had played in the area for over a year, and was also a concert that kicked off Hawkwind's first Irish tour.

A local rock fan; "we've had the Sutherland Brothers, Brinsley Schwarz and Ralph McTell over here in the last few months, but the last time that we had a really well known name was Rory Gallagher 15 months ago. The last time we saw any sort of rock spectacle - like a band using slides and a light show must have been three or four years ago with the Floyd."

Belfast, of course, isn't most bands favourite stopping off place. Most of them want to play there as much as a teetotaller would relish a trip to a brewery.

One drummer in a well known band has even been heard to say he's rather quit altogether than play in the city - an extreme reaction but perhaps a fairly common one.

IN FACT by coincidence, Hawkwind had picked a bad day to come. Today was polling day on the border issue, and there seemed a strong likelihood of trouble. Yet the band lightened their unease by treating the whole expedition like a family outing to Blackpool.

After all there were quite a few jokes you can make about bombers and Irishmen and Guinness when you put your mind to it, and they were coming out fast at the airport as the band waited for cars into the city.

Dik Mik has also recently brought a camera, and it didn't leave his side the whole trip as he feverishly snapped anything of minimal interest.

The cars turned out to be rather flash, hired Daimlers. "Has Rod Stewart gone on ahead?" somebody asked, and it was generally agreed that there was hardly the most inconspicuous vehicles in which to drive through Belfast. But then, who could really mistake the Cosmic Assassins for visiting politicians?

In fact, their sharp and very together manager Doug Smith, who handles the horrific task of keeping Hawkwind in one group, has arranged that the cars would take an outside route to the city. Nevertheless, we still appeared to pass some of the worst trouble spots.

It was more than a grim experience. Everywhere shops, houses and bars were blasted into ruins and, while pavement shoppers peered through shuttered windows, a group of soldiers would shuffle on down the street.

The first representative of the British Army to be seen couldn't have been more than 18. He held his rifle waist high, chewed gum furiously and looked as nervous as hell. He was standing outside a polling station which was also a church, and looked horrendously out of place - you know a soldier outside a church.

By the time Hawkwind reached the hotel, the atmosphere was a little more sombre. General feeling was to play the gig and get it over with, Hopefully without to much trouble. It was obvious the whole city was a war zone.

A local of the city: "I can't see that there should be too much trouble tonight. Mostly it'll be a university audience, although tickets have been sold outside. Nobody would come up from any of the really bad areas of town like the Falls because they'd have to cover too much territory."

"I think if the band came from Dublin though, that'd be a different matter. That could really be unsafe."

AFTER LUNCH at the university canteen the band moved over to the hall to check the equipment, test the sound and set the controls for the first cosmic voyage out of Belfast.

About an hour before the start of the concert a queue started to form outside, and you could tell it was a big night for many of those clutching tickets. There was an excitement in the air.

It's obvious Hawkwind have a large following in the city where there's even guys with the bands name emblazoned across the back of their denim jackets.

Finally, to a great roar of approval and gratitude for actually bothering to come, Hawkwind walked on stage and after a few preliminary checks, burst into "Born To Go."

What became obvious almost immediately is how much the whole Hawkwind show has grown and matured over the last six months, with their extra equipment and general improvement in musical expertise.

Quite probably, few in Belfast had ever experienced anything quite like this before as the slides and colours drifted behind the band, the heavy-metal insidious sound grew and grew and the Hawkwind space machine went into orbit.

In many ways the bands space ritual as a spectacle, as an entertainment, is unsurpassed in British rock and can be utterly involving. After various deviations and explorations, the band finally ground into "The Watcher" and ended with an incredible response from the audience.

The only number they didn't play was "Silver Machine", but that came up as the encore with the band crunching in on the chords.

It was an emotional moment. Everybody in the hall was on their feet, hot and sticky and making the whole trip more than worthwhile for the band. Once again it seemed, the mighty sonic warlords, Hawkwind the magnificent, had triumphed again.