Wednesday, 1 February 2017

The Chronicle of the Black Sword - Tracks & References

The Chronicle of the Black Sword 
Nov/Dec 1985 tour
(Oz Hardwick)

This one is a little different from previous tracks & references in that every song - Needle Gun aside - is a direct reference to Mike Moorcock's Elric saga. When I wrote the original notes here for the first edition appendices of Sonic Assassins, I relied on the greater knowledge of Hawk-fan Alan Linsley, so the commentary that follows on the majority of the songs was with his kind input in compiling. 

The view according to Alan Davey: 

On mixing the sound of Warrior on the Edge of Time and the technology of Church of Hawkwind: “Out of that came the Black Sword tour sound, which was very successful because nobody else was doing that at the time.” 

What they said then:

Reviewing the album for Sounds, Neil Perry declared it “a hammy, mixed-up, mystic onslaught. The tripped out punkerama is toned down, but the manic automaton thud still sends the songs to places other bands fear to tread. The ship is back on course, tuned in, turned on and definitely not burnt out. For all children aged six to 60.”

What they say now:

“I love the variation in this album,” says the website Forgotten Vinyls. “Hawkwind may be going for a space rock concept record that can at times be pretty weird (see the opening of ‘Chaos Army’), however they don’t neglect their roots of simple 80s rock music. An excellent album with complementing intricate artwork, I’ll definitely be exploring more of the band’s back catalogue.”

Tracks and references:

Song of the Swords

‘Your path is chosen, you have no choice.’ Discussing his Fantasy heroes with Colin Greenland in Death is No Obstacle Moorcock commented “The character never has a real choice, they’re always fated by the formula to complete the quest.”

Shade Gate

The supernatural portal through which Elric follows his evil cousin Yyrkoon in search of the twin black swords, Mournblade and Stormbringer.

This is the first of three consecutive tracks inspired by events from the prequel novel Elric of Melnibone.

Sea King

Aka Straasha, Lord of the Water Elementals, whom Elric calls upon for aid when Yyrkoon attempts to have him drowned at sea. Like ‘Song of the Swords’, this song had an additional verse not present on the studio album, but in this case it was reinstated for the tour.

Pulsing Cavern

Having accessed it via the Tunnel Under the Marsh, upon entering the Pulsing Cavern Elric observes ‘a faint pinkish light now came from the walls…The air was warm and thick and salty.’ ‘The whole Elric saga has… very heavy sexual undertones,’ Moorcock points out in his 'The Secret Life of Elric of Melnibone' essay published in Sojan

Elric The Enchanter

Pt1 – The chorus is adapted from the poem ‘Time Ship’, which Moorcock performed with Hawkwind at the Rainbow (18th December,1981).

Pt2 – This later became a mainstay of the Bedouin set list.

Needle Gun

The weapon of choice for another of Moorcock’s characters, Jerry Cornelius; most of Moorcock’s heroes are facets of the Eternal Champion.

Lyrics [uncredited, by request] by Roger Neville-Neil, later to pen 'The War I Survived' and 'Heads' on The Xenon Codex.


Elric’s wife in the later original stories, Zarozinia of Karlaak first appeared in Kings In Darkness (Science Fantasy #54, 1962). Possibly inspired by the steadying influence on Moorcock of Hilary Bailey (they married the following year, though later divorced). 

The penultimate Elric story Sad Giant’s Shield (Science Fantasy #63, 1964) sees Zarozinia abducted by the servants of Chaos and ‘Her lovely body was dreadfully changed so that it now resembled the body of a white worm.’ When Elric arrives to rescue her, Zarozinia impales herself on Stormbringer. 

The Demise

In an interview with Forearm Smash fanzine on the opening night of the Black Sword tour, Brock confirmed that “‘The Demise’ is wrongly titled actually, really it’s called ‘Lords of Chaos’, and the stupid company had written the wrong title.” The correct title was restored for the Live Chronicles album.

Sleep of a 1000 Tears

Surprisingly for an Elric concept album, this is the only track to actually feature a Moorcock credit.

Chaos Army

‘It was with astonishment that they sighted Jagreen Lern’s horde. Every fiend and warrior on Earth seemed to have come to fight under the Theocrat’s standard’.’ from Doomed Lord’s Passing (Science Fantasy #64, 1964).

Horn of Destiny

Another mis-titled track, again corrected on Live Chronicles, as ‘Horn of Fate’.

In the final story of the saga, Elric is tasked by the Lords of Law with locating the Horn of Fate. ‘The first blast will wake the Dragons of Imrryr, the second will allow the White Lords entrance to the earthly plane…The third will herald the death of our world!’ – from Doomed Lord’s Passing (Science Fantasy 1964).

From the same sessions:


Appearing as a lively B-side to ‘Needle Gun’, this Davey instrumental is named after ‘Aricoh who was known as the Keeper of the Two Black Swords’ (Elric of Melnibone). 

Also played live:


“I was working at Chappell’s music in Bond Street at the time and wrote the lyrics during my lunch hour! The character reminded me of Huw in some respects, i.e. fiercely loyal to his friends.” (Marion Lloyd-Langton)

Moonglum of Elwher was introduced in the second Elric story While The Gods Laugh (Science Fantasy #49, 1961). In an article published in Sojan, Moorcock described the character as “to some extent a close and valued friend of mine who has been a lot of help in various ways over the last few years.” At the climax of the Elric saga, Moonglum goes the way of most of Moorcock’s characters who get too close to Elric – he is slaughtered by Stormbringer. 

The Dreaming City

Imrryr the Beautiful, the sole city of the Dragon Isle of Melnibone and Elric’s ancestral seat. The inhabitants ‘dream monstrous and magnificent dreams, for it was in their dreams that the nobles of Melnibone found most of their pleasures; they had ever been a moody, inward-looking race and it was for this quality that Imrryr had come to be known as the Dreaming City.’ Elric of Melnibone (Hutchinson 1972).

Studio vs. Live - The Debate

“In a way, the studio album was a bit more of a taster, the live album was after we’d been playing it for a while and so we knew a bit more of what it was all about.” (Dave Brock)

The Chronicle of the Cursed Sleeve

I talked to the album's cover artist, John Coulthart, for an anniversary feature on The Chronicle of the Black Sword for Record Collector in 2015; space considerations prevented quoting his comments in full in that article, so they are presented here in their unedited form:

The Black Sword album for me has always been a combination of pleasure and disappointment. I was very pleased initially to hear that Hawkwind were writing a concept based on the Elric books, a series I'd enjoyed for many years. Cover discussions were a little more detailed than usual since this design was sketched out beforehand then approved by the Dave Brock and co. Prior to this I'd been creating something vague after equally vague requests; communication back then was all done via post and call box since I didn't own a phone. 

This was the first album where I was able to create an integrated front and back cover design. A friend had recently found me a copy of George Bain's Celtic Art: Its Methods of Construction (1951), a study of the creation of Celtic knotwork, and I was keen to use this somehow. Rather than do a cover that looked like a fantasy paperback the idea was to use the knotwork style to create something that was suitably Hawkish whilst also fitting the Elric theme. The front cover has some nods back to earlier Hawkart in the winged sphere - which goes back to Barney Bubbles and his obsession with Ancient Egypt - and the eye-in-a-triangle, a symbol which first appeared on the cover of the Hawklog booklet in the In Search of Space album, and which I scattered throughout many of my Hawkwind designs.

All the lettering on the album was hand-drawn - not very well in places - using letterforms based on examples in the Bain book from the books of Kells and Lindisfarne. I drew the track listing onto the artwork for the back cover, a decision that later proved to be a bad one when the band decided to change the running order of the songs, hence the large purple square that spoils the design. My lack of any direct contact with the record company made problems like this inevitable; I was trying to do graphic design at a distance without having any communication at all with the printers responsible for the sleeve. Before digital design, the creation of an album cover could be a complicated business involving photo-mechanical transfers, knockout areas, overlays, typesetters and more; if you weren't in direct contact with the printer (or somebody who was) then you simply had to hope for the best.

The result of the above led to the disaster with the cover printing, the front of which has an unwarranted blue cast that dulled the impact of the sleeve and, for me, ruined the whole thing. You can see how the cover should have looked by comparing the background colours of front and back; the front was also printed in its true colours on the back page of the 1985 tour programme. It was this, and the messy appearance of the lettering on the back, that pushed me further towards ending my involvement with Hawkwind and doing something of my own over which I'd have complete control. Another artist, Bob Walker, worked on the Black Sword inner sleeve, and he was eager to continue working with the band so I handed the reins to him.

For a fuller feature on this album, including an interview with Dave Brock, alongside a history of Flicknife Records, see the November 2015 issue of Record Collector, available here.

The Chronicle of the Black Sword, and its live counterpart, Live Chronicles, are available as part of the Cherry Red / Atomhenge reissues.

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