The view according to Richard Chadwick:
“It was our first attempt at recording in the studios where we were rehearsing. It was a bit harsh sounding, I thought.”
What they said then:
“Hawkwind’s undying commitment to dreamy keyboards and driving guitar sounds almost fashionable again,” wrote Robert Sandall in Q magazine of a record he felt was “beguilingly confident of its own cosmic mission.”
What they say now:
Electric Tepee’s reputation survives. “The highlight of Hawkwind’s 1990s albums,” considered a reviewer on the Internet resource Wikipedia. “Typical Hawkwind riffs, electronic swirls and bleeps, with rather prosaic drumming by Chadwick.” On the MSN.Entertainment site, Gary Hill was happy to note that “this disc will certainly perceived as an inconsistent one, but the shining moments more than make up for that problem.”
Tracks and references:
Lysergic acid diethylamide 25, a hallucinogenic drug first synthesised in 1938 by a Swiss chemist looking for a migraine cure, used by the US military as a truth serum and championed in the 1960s by noted figures such as Aldous Huxley and Timothy Leary.
An allusion to ‘red shift’, a movement in the spectral lines of a stellar spectrum towards the infrared end of the visible region relative to the wavelength of these lines in the terrestrial spectrum.
Death of War
The co-writing credit for ‘Rowntree’ refers to Mark Rowntree, a serial killer imprisoned for life in June 1976 after a week in which he murdered four people in an attempt to imitate his ‘hero’, the notorious ‘Black Panther’, Denis Neilson. Rowntree had sent a number of his poems to Brock, who used this particular one.
The Secret Agent
Thought to be a tribute to Robert Calvert, having a similar tongue-in-cheek style to Calvert’s lyrics and using imagery that he had previously visited (in, for instance, Only the Dead Dreams of the Cold War Kid).
‘My old worn trilby hat,’ as worn by Sean Connery in the early James Bond films. Mention is also made of those other standards of the spy genre: cyanide pills, dark shades (worn ‘every day of the year’) and raincoats.
Joseph Conrad’s classic 1907 novel The Secret Agent was later filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1936 as Sabotage. Confusingly Hitchcock’s previous movie was also called The Secret Agent (also 1936), based on Campbell Dixon’s adaptation of Somerset Maughan’s Ashenden.
Mick Wall, interviewing Dave Brock at his Devon farm for Mojo (Sept 1999), noted that “Spade in hand he diligently prods at the weeds in his garden throughout our interview.”
A rather disgusting 1970s sugar confection that fizzed once it was placed in your mouth. God only knows what was in it.
The Snake Dance was a ritual practised annually, during August, by priests of the Hopi tribe of Arizona to encourage the spirits to bring down the rains.
“It’s a bit rude, really – that’s why you’ve got that Arabic ‘belly-dancer’ feel to it.” (Alan Davey)
Mask of the Morning
The lyrics are the same as those for ‘Mirror of Illusion’.
Rites of the Netherworld
The album’s Wikipedia entry suggests that this is based on Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring, a ballet and orchestral piece written in 1913.
“It came from all the times we said ‘don’t understand’ whilst trying to learn midi.” (AD)
Sadness Runs Deep
The lyrics were taken from a poem by Kris Tait. “Kris writes these poems, and I’ll think ‘that sounds good!’ And I’ll utilise them.” (Dave Brock)
Right to Decide
“Quite political, I suppose” comments Brock, introducing this on the live Business Trip album. It was even more political in its early draft, when an additional verse made mention of Albert Dryden, an enraged County Durham householder who shot dead a local council planning officer as a result of a long running planning application dispute. Television cameras captured the action live.
Going to Hawaii
Richard Chadwick: “‘Going to Hawaii’ was the three of us jamming together and we recorded it. It was just a magic moment.” (Interview with Scott Heller)
What this author says:
I’ve often thought that Electric Tepee is, in some ways, the reason Hawkwind are still around today. On the one hand, it’s a return to a wall of sound, really authentic Hawkwind vibe. On the other, famously, it’s a landmark in their getting to grips with new recording technology whilst retreating into Dave Brock’s fabulous Aladdin’s Cave of a recording studio. Certainly, Electric Tepee represents continuity coupled with experimentation; a key element of the album’s success then, can be laid at the door of Brock’s appetite for adaptability and being prepared always to push the boundaries whilst staying true to a central core of musical values. There are not many musicians of whom that can be said, particularly with such a long career behind them.
Looking back, when I’ve written about this album it’s been with love and enthusiasm. The core-trio of Brock, Alan Davey and Richard Chadwick, the most abbreviated Hawkwind line-up, actually come across sounding like one of the fullest. When I talked to Richard a few months back, partly for a Record Collector feature, he credited this with the band having to become more ‘polyphonic’; I relate that little bit because, non-musician that I am, it took me some time to understand what that meant, but in essence it seems that it means each member had to generate more musical notes.
Electric Tepee is arguably the best Hawkwind album post their time in the 1970s on Charisma Records, but that’s not to claim it’s without its faults. It is rather a Curate’s Egg; the band took the opportunity to present an album that maximised the available space on the then still fairly new CD format and used the advantages of recording ‘at home’, without the pressure of expensive studio hours, to explore what the Hawkwind sound in the last decade of the 20th Century should be. Inevitably that ends up creating a situation where there’s a really great, tight, normal length studio album wrapped up into effectively a double album length and so you do have to sift the wheat from the chaff.
But what highlights this album has to offer. Davey’s densely configured ‘LSD’ (sound absolutely majestic on this release), The Brock/Davey classic ‘Right To Decide’, itself surely the most authentic Hawkwind song in many a year and one that had all the hallmarks of being a commercially accessible single that in the right circumstances and with a just a tad of luck could have propelled them back into mainstream visibility. The almost Calvertesque ‘The Secret Agent’, that glorious spy genre send-up, and Davey’s trademark synthesiser wash, ‘Blue Shift’ (which my son recently included in a compilation disc of space music for a school project). And then the simply wonderful and loose studio jam, ‘Going to Hawaii’, a delightful distillation of that intuitive ability to play together that characterised the era of the Dave Brock Trio. There’s so much to love about this album, even though you do have to trawl a little through some of the slight misfires (‘Snake Dance’ was, for instance, so much better both with the extended line-up on the Bedrock TV appearance and as a totally stripped down drum and bass piece during their 1991 dates).