They’re within our stratosphere now. They’re migrants of the time-stream. They are Space Druids, and their debut album mix-matches inter-galactic riffs with cosmic sounds that take each listener out of the megacity all the way to the stars, on a psycho-sonic exploration set to the beating heart of classic Space Rock. Secure your thought cocoons, this is a dose of awe and mystery that reaches from the inner mind to the outer limits.
Dateline: Summer Solstice. Earth Year 2022CE. The planetary alignment is right, the portals are open, and the Space Druids have assembled to materialise ‘Paradox Paradigm’. ‘I’m currently on a scenic rail-ride passing through picturesque Knaresborough,’ poet Oz Hardwick informs me. ‘Yet I’ve also just released an album as part of an Anglo-Russian Space Rock collective – from Yorkshire to the universe, this is what we’re all about…’ He’s speaking with Yoda-like bardic profundity on behalf of malcontents and Zanti Misfits from a ghost-town that might just be called Morgue.
Ever since having too much to dream last night, I’m not ready to face the light! And ordinarily I don’t ask Space-People such questions. But when Oz telepaths me ‘I wonder if you’d consider having a listen and, if it appeals, rambling about it? I can send you the ninety-two-percent guaranteed bullshit band promo, if you like. Not a pain at all. On the other hand, I’m quite content never to darken your door again with such cosmic retro tosh, should it prove a less than pleasing experience…’
Thus they entrust me with their wonderful album. I investigate it in greedy mouthfuls. And I ramble. There are hard driving rhythmic backdrops with sharp splintered distortions, whirling vortex effects and cybernetic implants. Opening track “Light Speed” pilots the ‘Silver Machine’ quivering and rumbling into a place where senses come loose and stampede, a sax slithers between cracks in space-time, basslines pulse and voices flip from right to left channel. Oz, a nomad of the Trans-Dimensional Highway, a legendary weaver of words, informs me ‘the last time I looked the album was no.1 in their Progressive Rock listing and no.2 for psychedelic/hard rock, meaning it’s sold something like thirty-five copies – but a no.1 album’s a no.1 album as far as I’m concerned.’ Oz conjures illuminations from the language of living stars.
First thing we heard from Space Druids was when their version of “Paranoid” was posted on BandCamp towards the end of 2019, a spacey cover of Black Sabbath, with the familiar riff fizzed into a hazy nebulae of dark matter. Who is it singing on that track? Then there was the ‘Weird Tide’ EP (May 2020), with standout “Space Tour” supported by a supermarionation-type video. But why is the line-up of ‘Weird Tide’ completely different to that of ‘Paradox Paradigm’…? Obviously there are subcurrents at work here that I have yet to decipher….
‘Ah, most of those questions are for initiates only to know’ Oz confides. ‘The Arch Druid is Moscow-based Dean Starling. Dean is Russian – as indeed was the whole band for the ‘Weird Tide’ EP, though he rarely stresses it, and he has remarkably good English. ‘Dean Starling’ is essentially an English translation of his name.’ It seems that Dean returned from that ‘Weird Tide’ venture with sounds panned from the glow of dead stars, mutant riffs and oscillations, plus a bent to a genuine mind metamorphosis. Only to be joined by new initiates who also turned out to be seasoned veterans of the Cosmic Flux. ‘After the EP, Dean – the Master of the Mutation Machine, decided he wanted native English speakers to write the lyrics for the album, the idea being to have different writers involved. We ‘met’ on a Hawkwind Facebook group and, apart from one fairly brief Facetime, it’s all been done via email, messenger, and the like, with file sharing. As it turned out, my lyrics were just what he wanted so I ended up writing all but one, to which I added a few bits. Dean asked me to do the spoken parts and various bits of chatter in the background too.’
‘We started working on the album with the same vocalist/bassist who was on ‘Weird Tide’ but – well, I believe ‘musical differences’ were involved along the line, I guess, which is how Dean came to contact vocalist Danny ‘Chopper’ Faulkner… though I’ve never met him, either. So Danny, whose work we both knew from Pre-Med and Starfield was recruited on vox, he brings the voice of galactic storms in true-tongued future echoes of a Golden Age reborn. There’s a story he once rejected Dave Brock’s offer to become Hawkwind vocalist.’
‘One track needed flute and violin, so I drafted in a couple of mates, Andy Oliver used to be in Astro-Zombie and Suicidal Flowers (a nineties psych band on Delerium Records). He plays Pied Piper to the end of the universe. While beaming in and beaming out, violin-player Nick Thompson’s been pretty damn illustrious, from fresh-faced fiddler with Cajun punks The Butter Mountain Boys, through to The Whisky Priests at present. He fiddles while the skies burn. No idea what the story is with the drummer and saxophonist, though I believe the sax player’s big on the Moscow jazz scene. As far as I know, Danny, Tony and Oleg know each other from that Moscow music scene.’ It’s Oleg Maryakhin who breathes saxophonic fanfares to herald new worlds. While, conscripted to the cause to complete the moebius loop, beat-master Tony Dashkin hammers the percussive pulse of dancing galaxies.
Delving further into the album, “Zygote” is shimmers of guitar buzz and drone, slower and reverent, a ritual incantation, a ‘synaptic flash of eternity’ that comes apart into a jazzy swirl of fractals. Then, like “Our Brand New Bodies” which are vacuum-sealed androids, “Astronomy” is a poem in which ‘we forget we are part of each other’s constellations’, while “Afraid Of Space” is a ground-control to Major Tom tale from Lost in Space to alien First Contact, haunted by the spectre of Yuri Gagarin. Oleg’s honking sax is diced and spliced through a relentless “Mutation Machine”, with a heavy intensity that burns napalm bright. “Stainless Steel Butterfly” surfs the slipstream on solid ribs of bass and twittering synth bleeps and swooshes that chart an Icarus fall into storms on the surface of the sun, asking the rhetorical question ‘will the trip never end?’ Well – no, because you get further kicks on the “Trans-Dimensional Highway” which extends out beyond the terrestrial restrictions of Route 66 through multiverse portals into infinity and beyond, a beautifully absurd concoction on the brittle Einstein Intersection edge of cacophony. The unexpectedly acoustic strum of the title-song tracks lodestone lovers who weave a chronic argonaut pathway through time, yet it leaves its flag on the Moon. To close seas of storm with the luring promise of an endless return.
‘It was all done via diverse digital channels’ adds Oz. ‘I recorded my parts in a little practice studio under the auspices of my mates Mal and Dave from York band The Red Windows. Andy recorded the flute on his home studio, and Nick recorded his violin part in a proper, actual studio during a break from the solo album he’s working on. It sounds a weird way of doing things but, as it happens, so many bands have been recording like this out of necessity over the past couple of years…’
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Astronomy… and the science fiction art that draws from it, conjures hallucinatory visions of head-spinning awe and wonder. Pulp magazines and space comic-books were part of that whole teenage subculture that grew up with early Rock ‘n’ Roll. They were all bastard art-forms parentally disapproved of, looked down on by teachers and by serious academics. Which is all the more reason for snotty kids to love them. Sci-Fi in cahoots with Rock ‘n’ Roll, bubble-gum, sniffing aeroplane glue, and masturbation were essential parts of the rites of puberty. Sheb Wooley neatly combined the fads with his 1958 hit single “The Purple People Eater”, in which a ‘one-eyed, one-horned, flying’ alien arrives on Earth because ‘I wanna get a job in a Rock ‘n’ Roll band.’ Personally, I quite enjoyed “The Martian Hop” by the Ran-Dells from 1963 in which the Martians throw a dance party for ‘all the human race’, with speeded-up vocals and cosmic sound-effects. Naturally, there was “Telstar” by the Tornados which, in the spirit of the first communication satellite – after which it was named, topped charts on both sides of the Atlantic, aided by Joe Meek’s maverick use of an appropriately extra-terrestrial hail of distortion. But that’s not really what we mean by the term Space Rock. I’d opt for Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd with “Astronomy Domine”, which takes an informed trip through the worlds and moons of the solar system, or “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun”. Or the Byrds who run playful UFO games around “Mr Spaceman” all the way to the galactic call-out to “CTA102”. But the tempo really hit critical mass when Michael Moorcock dabbled in the supernatural magic of his Deep Fix band, and Mick Farren was not only journalist and leader of the Deviants, but spun off a series of high-octane Sci-Fi novels too. And Hawkwind, of course, for whom Paul Rudolph of the Deviants (and Pink Floyd) guested, and Moorcock added ‘Black Corridor’ and ‘Sonic Attack’ to their live album. The Space Druid album carries a dedication to Dave, Nik and Lem… who are Dave Brock, Nik Turner and Lemmy Kilmister. I’d tend to add Robert Calvert too, but that’s just me.
Maybe it’s the same for the Space Druids too? ‘Right – I asked Dean those very same questions, so he’ll no doubt pass on his sharp and pithy responses. In the meantime, I’ll waffle on and hope you can find something useful therein. What initially attracted me to Space Rock – by which I mean Hawkwind, on the telly when I was twelve – was the relentless groove and utter craziness. A bunch of freaks and unearthly noises. It was a completely alien world and I wanted to be there. But when I heard the ‘Space Ritual’ (their 1973 live double-album), what really blew me away was Bob Calvert’s spoken passages against the sonic vastness. It wasn’t the poetry we were reading at school! Of course, as time went on, I didn’t get to be the Rock star that ninety-percent of lads in the seventies wanted to be, but I did eventually make a living around poetry. So, it was great not to just write the lyrics for the album, but also to ‘get my Bob on’ on a couple of tracks. And I guess if I had to pick out a favourite, it would be “Our Brand New Bodies”, which maybe has the most clear influence, in its focus on biotech and its use of repetition. But I’m pleased with the whole record and the way that it flows between moods and textures. A real trip from start to finish.’
Dean adds that ‘my father bought me Hawkwind’s ‘Doremi Fasol Latido’ (their 1972 third studio album), after I’d brought Metallica’s CD home from school to show me ‘what normal heavy music is like’. “Brainstorm” was the first track I heard and maybe it’s still the ultimate one, because it has such a perfect riff. Black Sabbath is also my life-long favourite, so, believe me, I know what a good riff is! And there’s also that guitar solo at 7:55… like nothing else.’
‘I’ve been thinking’ muses Oz, ‘which is sometimes a Good Thing, sometimes not, about the way that Hawkwind connected with me, and the lyrics were a very important part of it. I liked Rock music but the hard-livin’ wild machismo didn’t really have anything to do with me at all. By way of contrast, Hawkwind’s lyrics, in using the palette of SF, signalled themselves as metaphor, so when they were heading off into space and alternate futures, it was in a strange way the first music I’d heard that really spoke to my experience of life. In looking through that particular lens, I saw myself and my world very clearly delineated. As an aside, when the much-vaunted voice of disaffected working-class youth turned up with its bondage trousers and safety pins in 1976/77, though I liked some of the music, it was another step away from meaningfully articulating my own provincial working-class experience. Consequently, I was very conscious of the resonances of the SF imagery I draw upon for the Space Druids album – which now, of course, has that additional level of hauntological retro-futurism. So, while it’s all a good blanga-blanga-whoosh! groove that you can just go with, thanks to Dean’s musical vision and the excellent musicians he has on board – for anyone of a similar nerdy disposition to myself, there are these very deliberately invoked, and precisely arranged, techno-mythical elements of SF amongst which the listener can lose and/or find themselves.’
Let’s talk specifics, what does Dean consider the album’s positive aspects? ‘I think that Space Rock is one of the most promising yet unexplored genres. It combines mighty riffs and it’s essentially psychedelic – the two best things that Rock has to offer, and it also has progressive and free-jazz elements – that’s also a most inspiring and consistent musical phenomena… so, ‘Paradox Paradigm’ is pushing Space Rock a little bit forward, but also making it unmistakably Hawkwind-ish. The sax work is absolutely marvellous, and I also put a lot of work into the interaction between guitar, bass, solo and effects, so it’s sometimes a four-part jam, which is super cool if it works — and I hope it will work for you!’
A cosmic mind-meld of retro-futurism, the album is a natural go-to for all lovers of classic Space Rock. Space Druids are steeped in heavy psychedelia, seventies underground rock, free festival culture, speculative SF, and all that cosmic razzmatazz. It distils all this good stuff into an immersive trip to alternate surrealities that are both powerful and poetic, shimmering with impossibilities.
Check out your brand new bodies – you won’t be coming home.
BY ANDREW DARLINGTON
13 October 2019 – ‘Paranoid’ (3:38) Black Sabbath cover
7 May 2020 – ‘WEIRD TIDE’ five-track EP with:
- ‘Humans’ (6:17)
- ‘Weird Tide’ (5:03)
- ‘Space Tour’ (5:11)
- ‘The Cup’ (4:29)
- ‘Loved’ (5:08)
21 June 2022 – ‘PARADOX PARADIGM’ nine-track album with:
- ‘Light Speed’ (4:53)
- ‘Zygote’ (5:16)
- ‘Astronomy’ (1:07)
- ‘Afraid Of Space’ (3:47)
- ‘Mutation Machine’ (5:11)
- ‘Stainless Steel Butterfly’ (5:49)
- ‘Our Brand New Bodies’ (1:54)
- ‘Trans-Dimensional Highway’ (5:01)
- ‘Paradox Paradigm’ (4:31)
Dedicated to Dave, Nik and Lem
Music composed, arranged, recorded and mixed by Dean Starling
(except ‘Afraid of Space’ written by Dean Starling and Judge Sabbath)
Lyrics written and read by Oz Hardwick
(except ‘Afraid of Space’ written by Dean Starling and Oz Hardwick)
Dean Starling — guitars, bass, keyboards, fx
Danny Faulkner — vocals, vocal arrangements
Oz Hardwick — voice and enchantments
Oleg Maryakhin — saxophone
Tony Dashkin — drums
Nick Thompson — violin
Andy Oliver — flute