|Blowin' in the Wind
This 1995 article is from issue 4 of Bent, which, despite what the uncharitable among you are
thinking, was an independent music mag published in Maryland, USA
Photographer Sancho Listratta and I enter the cramped dressing room of the Limelight on a Sunday night:
Hawkwind leader Dave Brock sits in front of a vegetarian (broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes) dinner tray -
"It's tough to eat this stuff raw," he explains. As Brock switches chairs, Sancho informs me he's been up for
the last three days and could I please show him how to load the film into his Nikon. Not sure what kind of
drugs Sancho has ingested, I gently push him out of the way, and tell him to load his own fucking camera.
Unlike vegetables, Hawkwind is not good for you. Like a bucket of honey-glaze chicken from KFC, they
can be unhealthy in large doses, but damn tasty occasionally. And who wants to listen to bean sprouts?
Dozens of musicians, artists, a sometimes topless dancer (Stacia), a sci-fi novelist (Michael Moorcock), a
mime and (presumably) countless chemists have drifted into the Hawkwind orbit through the years, shaping
the image of Hawkwind as much -if not more so- than the musicians. The one constant in this amalgam of
anarchy, though, has been guitarist, keyboardist and vocalist Dave Brock.
Scattered around the room the other two Hawkwinders (bassist Alan Davey and drummer Richard
Chadwick) go about the usual pre-show business: rolling cigarettes, talking to record company hacks,
breaking up hash. Occasionally a friend (not really a fan) will drop his head in to say hi. In the corner a
roadie is applying body paint to the appropriately-named Ron Bastard (he's singing the late Bob Calvert's
parts on this tour). A younger guy offers a sugar cube -"It's real clean man," he assures me- which I
decline, but Sancho unwisely pockets it. It's all quite tame really. Considering the age of the band members
it looks no different than a local Kiwanis Club meeting - if the club was staging a production of "Hair".
Except, that is, for ex-Sewer Suckers vocalist Bastard - "I also played bass for 2000DX, but they kicked me
out because I was mentally unhealthy" - whom I overhear asking Sancho if he's got any good drugs.
Confident that Sancho is in good hands, I turn my attention to Brock. Brock shows the wear of four
decades in the music business. His face is deeply lined and pocked (though not as much as ex-bandmate
Lemmy's), as he scowls at the food set before him. It's as if he wants to scream 'This vegetarian tray
mocks me! I've traveled the fucking cosmos and I demand meat!' [unlikely!] But he doesn't, of course.
He's quite polite. And to be fair, Hawkwind had a gig in Virginia the night before. Still, with his Hawkwind
t-shirt, tattoos, muttonchops, purple socks and long stringy hair (thinning slightly on top) he looks like a
biker who got married, settled down and moved to a three-bedroom ranch house in Levittown. The overall
effect, mysteriously, is rock. Dave Brock looks rock.
Lambasted by critics for most of their career in England and pretty much ignored in the U.S., the band has
carried on through numerous personnel changes, stylistic shifts and drug busts. Hawkwind is touring the
U.S. to celebrate its 25th anniversary. No, they won't be inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame,
although the band deserves a nomination based on longevity alone. The U.S. leg of the tour is kind of a
warm-up for the band's summer shows in the U.K., where Hawkwind still has a huge following. "We've
become an institution -though we never intended it- in England," notes drummer Richard Chadwick. "But I
prefer to think of us as a galactic institution," he adds, laughing.
The Hawkwind oeuvre is too convoluted to explore in depth here. Suffice to say that Hawkwind's releases
-like the universe itself- is constantly expanding. The band's back catalog, if lined up end-to-end, could well
reach Venus in the next 10 years, if the Emergency Broadcasting System (Hawkwind's newly-formed label)
has any say in it. Over the years Hawkwind's output has encompassed space rock, drone rock, acid rock,
punk rock, heavy metal, fusion, ambient, acid house, spoken word, solo records, offshoots, side projects,
another Hawkwind, a name change, science fiction novels, comic books, one UK hit single ("Silver
Machine") and more. There's probably a Hawkwind salad dressing out there somewhere. In the U.S. the
band licences its work to Griffin Music, who've been putting the stuff out at a pretty fair clip.
For the most of this decade Hawkwind has been a three-piece, relying on sequencers and midi-keyboards to
fill out the sound. "Using all these keyboards, midi-linked to the guitars, takes a lot of work," says Brock.
"You got to really keep your wits about you. That's why we brought Ron along. Having someone else
handle the vocals takes the pressure off."
The new technology has allowed the band to pare down to the core three-piece unit, but I wonder if the
sequencers and triggers the band relies on (Chadwick wears headphones and drums to a click track live) has
detracted a little from the spaced-out, drug-induced madness of early Hawkwind. "Nah, not really," explains
Brock. "We still go off on spacey tangents, it just that we're relentlessly on time. I find it quite pleasurable,
really, fucking around with my machines."
What do you think about (ex-Hawkwind sax player) Nik Turner's band (which includes several
ex-Hawkwinders) calling themselves Hawkwind? (Turner has since changed the name to Nik Turner's
"Not much, really," says Brock, scowling. "He must be quite low to do something like that."
"He's got a really good band," adds Chadwick. "He just shouldn't call himself Hawkwind, 'cause he isn't.
That said I wish him all the luck in the world."
Despite Brock's disclaimer, his music has evolved. From the space metal of their eighties phase, the new
Hawkwind sounds more musical, incorporating trance, pop and even reggae (!) into the cosmic weirdness.
Chadwick maintains the band is beginning to get back to its roots, noting the additions of Bastard and
ex-Hawkwind violinist and synth player Simon House (who's supposed to join-up in the summer, according
"We've changed over the years, but we're still doing the same kind of thing," Brock says. "It's still heavy
and spacey and things like that, and that's really our niche in the music business: space rock. And there is
quite a large body of space-rock music out there: Can, Cosmic Jokers, Gong. And we've just carried on.
Though obviously, with all the people that played in the band over the years, it's going to sound different."
Brock is right. On-stage, their banks of keyboards hidden behind day-glo screens, Brock and Davey move
deftly from guitars to synths. Hawkwind is still the only space-metal band roaming the galaxy and drummer
Chadwick's comment ("It's not all just synths and sequencers, there's still a lot of drumming to do, y'know")
rings true. Even Bastard -especially Bastard- comes through. Face and body painted, and dressed in some
kind of robot-cum-scarecrow outfit, he jerks his body around and screams, never venturing too far from his
stomp pedal (through which he distorts his vocals). When he dances (or whatever he calls it) he resembles
Iggy Pop with a steel rod up his ass.
Later during the show I stumble across my photographer Sancho, who looks the worse for wear (I'd left
him in the dressing room). He's taken all his drugs. "Why didn't you tell me about this!" he cries, pointing at
the band. On the stage, Hawkwind grinds away as the lights dance around the club. Bastard is writhing on
the floor, pounding his stomp box. "I thought they were fucking hippies!"
He hands me the film (I later found out it was exposed) and lurches off into the night. Yeah right, clean.
The ex-Hawkwind sax player and full-time space weirdo has been touring and releasing his own records for
the last few years. Originally billed as Nik Turner's Hawkwind (and currently called Nik Turner's Space
Ritual after he was threatened with litigation), Turner has been doing his version of Hawkwind tunes (many
of which he wrote or co-wrote) with a revolving line-up that at various times has included ex-Hawkwinders
Del Dettmar and Alan Powell, Helios Creed, Genesis P-Orridge and members of Pressurehed. Reminiscent
of early seventies-era Hawkwind, it's more organic and crazed than Brock's unit, with heavy doses of
mayhem and noise.
Turner spoke to me by phone from his home in Wales as he was rehearsing his new band. I asked him
about his plans for the U.S. tour.
"It's going to be a completely different model from last year's,'' says Turner. "I don't know if we're going to
call it Space Ritual 95 or not, but we will be doing different songs. We've been rehearsing a lot old
Hawkwind songs -most of which I wrote- so I can feel good about singing them. We'll also have
(ex-Hawkwind violinist) Simon House playing with us."
Oh yeah? Dave Brock told me his Hawkwind got Simon House.
"No, we've got him," maintains Turner. Fair enough.
So, what happened with you and Hawkwind?
"Dave and his boys tried to slap an injunction on me," recalls Turner. "I think it's all very childish and silly.
What I'm doing can only benefit them. My feeling is that the spirit of Hawkwind was about turning people
on and having fun. People around the band like Barney Bubbles, Mike Moorcock, and Bob Calvert - those
were the people responsible for creating the band's image as much as anyone."
"I'm on good terms with all the guys who have left," continues Turner. "I was in touch with Lemmy the last
time I was in LA. He wanted to come to the gig, but couldn't make it. I get on well with him."
Weren't you the one who had to fire him after his Canadian drug bust?
"Well he was always involved with drugs, which was a bit of a problem," says Turner. "It was a group
decision -probably the only one we ever made- and I had the job of telling him about it. But I have nothing
but respect for Lemmy, and we're quite friendly. He was just hard to work with."
|The following piece was a sidebar to the above article:
This Way Madness Comes - Nik Turner searches through space