|Back Street Heroes
This article was retyped from a digital photo of a press clipping, from a 1985 UK custom bike
magazine called Back Street Heroes - many thanks to Wilfried Schuesler for sending it to me. (There
may be some inaccuracies due to the small size of the text in the photo.)
If ever a band deserved the title "The Biker's Band", then Hawkwind must come pretty close. Never ones
to conform, they did, and still do, just want the space to do their own thing. They are without exception
the biggest cult band in Britain, or Europe for that matter. How many other groups, cult or otherwise, sit
on a back catalogue of seventeen albums? This doesn't include any compilations and legal bootlegs - these
bring the total to a staggering thirty-three (at the last count). Not good news for would-be collectors, and
don't I know it. Of course, Hawkwind are mostly remembered because of a freak hit single, way back in
1972, which is a shame really. Silver Machine has remained in the ranks of the all-time top ten most
over-played tracks at a rock disco. I think if I hear it once more I'll scream.
The story didn't start in '72, though. In 1969 Dave Brock was a busker in London, with an idea for a
band. Then, getting a record deal was somewhat easier than it is today. On the strength of a ten minute
gig the band acquired a deal with UA Records. At that time the band had no name but one of its
members, Nik Turner, had an unusual nickname. Nik cleared his throat and passed wind a lot, and so the
band was christened, and there's you thinking it had some deep mysterious meaning.
At this point I'd better mention that I don't intend listing every member of the band, as there have been so
many. In fact a count-up comes to thirty and no doubt I missed someone along the way.
'Hawkwind' was released in 1970: a much more acoustic guitar orientated album than later works. The
band had begun to gather a following and get a reputation for their drug consumption. This in turn
attracted the druggies, drop-outs and weirdos. The police took an interest as well. Their next album set
the stage for much of their future work. In Search of Space also gave their music its name - Space Rock:
screeching synthesizers, chopping guitar chords and out-of-this-world lyrics. Three important characters
enter the plot just after the album's release. Bob Calvert, who described himself as wanting to be "a true
space age oral poet"...Bob would recite his poetry at selected gigs, and soon a gig without him wasn't the
same. Stacia met the band on the Isle of Wight at the festival and some time later they met up again and
she asked if she could dance for them. The band accepted. Stacia promptly took all her clothes off,
much to the delight of everyone. She stayed with the band for four years and is now a happily married
housewife. Her act is caught perfectly on the back of In Search Of Space, but only on the original
sleeve. The third member of the group needs no introduction: Lemmy Kilmister joined the group in 1971.
In spite of their own reputation, the band were wary of Lemmy's alleged renown as an uncontrollable
After their unexpected hit with Silver Machine than band enjoyed its most successful period, commercially
speaking, that is. The next album Doremi Fasol Latido was described as a collection of 'space chants,
battle hymns and stellar songs of praise', or so the sleeve reckoned. This album and the hit single gave
rise to what is generally acknowledged as Hawkwind's finest hour - the Space Ritual.
Conceived as a show and album it was a mixture of music, electronics, mime, dance, lighting and stage
effects. The live album it spawned was released in a most elaborate sleeve, as were most of the albums
on UA records. These now command quite high prices. From all accounts, Space Ritual was one of the
events of 1972, and certainly the album is their best so far. The space age poetry of Bob Calvert got a
good airing on the album: it has to be heard to be believed. Another writer had become involved around
then: Michael Moorcock, who over the years has given the group various themes and ideas. His most
startling contribution must be Sonic Attack on the Ritual LP, as read by Bob Calvert. Do not attempt to
rescue friends, relatives, loved ones - you have only a few seconds to escape! Think only of yourself!
It's an imaginary instruction on 'sonic attacks', more of a parody of the nuclear attack advice. Performed
live, it is arresting, even scary.
The band released two more albums on UA - Hall of the Mountain Grill and Warriors On The Edge of
Time; the latter ended an era for Hawkwind. Lemmy was fired while the band were on tour in America -
a drugs bust started it all. He, of course, went on to other things. The band's musical direction started to
change. Lemmy said of it: "'m glad I left, they were beginning to sound like Roxy Music."
The band had moved to Charisma Records and issued Astounding Sounds and Amazing Music. Just after
the album's release Nik Turner was fired. "His playing had become rather irksome" said Calvert, who was
doing much of the vocals by then. This left Dave Brock as the sole original member. It would be take
pages and pages to detail all the comings and goings, but Nik's departure was an important one. The next
three years saw more line-up changes, more albums and a change of name. Due to legal hassle they
became The Hawklords. The albums were Quark Strangeness and Charm, 25 Years On and PXR5. Ah
yes, then they changed the name back to Hawkwind. As you may have guessed by now, this was no
easy ride. The band had also shaken off its drugs reputation, their audience had changed, and the band
moved with them.
The start of the Eighties saw only Dave Brock surviving from all the earlier outfits. He was joined by an
ex-Hawklord -Harvey Bainbridge- and the guitarist of the first album - Huw Lloyd Langton. Their biggest
problem since then has been filling the drummer's stool. From 1980 to date they've had five (or is it six?)
skin beaters. They also started the decade without a record contract, but Bronze stepped in and released
Live 79 and Levitation. Hawkwind's stay at Bronze lasted eighteen months and at that time the famous
drummer Ginger Baker came and went. Meanwhile, a small independent company called Flicknife started
issuing EP's and a series of albums entitled Friends and Relations, with obscure live tracks and
contributions by ex-members.
Yet another record company loomed on the horizon - RCA signed the band and an LP, Sonic Attack, was
issued. Since their stay at Bronze, the line-up of the group had remained amazingly stable, drummers
apart. They've toured every year to sell-out houses, always bringing a different and imaginative lightshow
with them. Dave finally got a solo LP, of sorts, and in 1982, he used a Mike Moorcock idea and called it
Church of Hawkwind. The band itself recorded Choose Your Masques.
Things became strained at RCA: the doorman refused Dave entry saying he looked like a tramp! Then
they refused to issue a live album, and they wouldn't let Flicknife either. Exit record company number
four, stage left. Since then all of Hawkwind's official output has been on Flicknife. For a time Nik
Turner rejoined and he appeared on the next two LPs, both live; Zones and This Is Hawkwind Do Not
Panic (great title, eh?) Then in the summer of 1985 the world held its breath. Talk spread of the band
being in the studio, then in the autumn a new album emerged, The Chronicle Of The Black Sword was
released, the first 'new' LP in three years. It is much more mainstream than previous stuff, more
accessible than other recent releases. Another spectacular stage show hit the road last November and
went down well. The whole thing got good reviews - the first time in years.
I spoke to Dave Brock in the summer of '85. He seemed to think things were looking up: I asked Dave
about Stonehenge and the festival, the band have played there every year since the early Seventies. Not
surprisingly, he was less than impressed with the official attitude.
"We got followed by the police all the way from home. They know where we live, we got quite worried.
We thought they might pull us up, but they didn't - they just left us. It's enough to give you paranoia."
The band did get to play though, with no PA and the rain threatening to electrocute them. "I'm glad we
played, it was a show of solidarity," Dave commented.
Hawkwind has never been in fashion, perhaps that's why they've lasted, always wanting to do their own
thing and sod you if you don't like it. From the heady days when they got so wasted that the roadies had
to hold them up on stage, to their present stand over Stonehenge, they've never done things in half
measures. The same can be said about the music, never pandering to commerciality.
Are they still relevant? Dave Brock says, by way of reply: "I don't think we ever lost touch. It would be
different if only a few hundred came to the gigs, we'd know then to call it a day."
Being in touch has cost the band dearly - major record companies won't sign them. Another big headache
has been all the bootlegs being released. "They pay copyright and we can't stop them. If I was a fan I
wouldn't buy them, it's really crap stuff." (The recordings, that is, not the music.)
If looking after number one and doing your own thing are the most important things in life then
Hawkwind must be the biker's band. Some of the ex-members may not agree.
"Hawkwind is a domination, Brock over everyone": Bob Calvert
"Everyone who left the band disagreed with Dave": Nik Turner
I'll leave the last word to Dave. "I need five clones of me in the band."