Starfarer's Hawkwind Page
|The Story Behind The Space Ritual
This piece is from the November 2000 issue of Classic Rock. As you can see, they titled it "Lost In Space" but I already have a page called that...
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|In 1972, in the wake of the unexpected hit 'Silver Machine', Hawkwind set out on the drug-soaked sojourn later recorded for posterity as the double live, 'Space Ritual'. Now Classic Rock takes a trip back in time to tell the story of that album. Zodiac signs: Captain Mick Wall
Dave Brock shakes his head and smiles wanly, like it was just yesterday. "I remember doing the Roundhouse on LSD and I had a really bad trip. I mean, it was fucking horrendous! I thought I'd bitten off my tongue and I had to really pull myself together to try and do [the show]."
He pauses, thoughts entirely elsewhere for a moment. Then he's back. Normal service resumed. "Because once you got over your spiritual thing, you used to try and take it to see if you could freak yourself out. How much you could stand without going mad, you know? I mean, in the end, it was like, fucking hell! Because it did actually freak you out." Ah, yes. But wasn't that the whole point back then? To get stoned and unravel your mind? To, like, well, freak out, man?
"Yes, I suppose it was," he says, stroking his greying whiskers. "Well, we certainly did that..."
Aye, captain, you certainly did. The year was 1972 and Hawkwind, whom Brock, a "professional busker" from Middlesex, had formed three years before, was now reaching the height of its bedevilled powers. 'Silver Machine', a fizzing three-chord wonder they had "worked up into a bit of a show-stopper" had been an unexpected hit for them that summer, reaching No.2, and the band -an ever-fluctuating cast of mystic minstrels and hippy vagabonds- had settled, briefly, into its 'classic' incarnation: Brock (guitar, vocals), Nik Turner (sax, flute, vocals), Lemmy (bass, vocals), DikMik (audio generator), Del Dettmar (synthesizer) and Simon King (drums).
But that was just the 'musicnauts', as they dubbed themselves. Also featured on stage at this time would be no less important figures like Robert Calvert (poet, vocalist, author of the Hawkwind Log), Michael Moorcock (sci-fi author and creator of such Hawkwind characters as Dorian Hawkmoon, Jerry Cornelius and a host of others), and, last but hardly least, Stacia, whose contributions in the vital areas of dancing voluptuously and taking all your clothes off were equally important. "We were this sort of crazy person's ideal of what a band should be," says Turner. Or as Lemmy puts it: "We attracted every fucking headcase going!"
The 'Hawkestra', as it became known, also encompassed several off-stage personalities like Liquid Len (nee Jonathan Smeeton), whose throbbing, hydroponic lights wreathed all Hawkwind's early-70s shows; and Barney Bubbles, the former Frendz artistic director whose lysergically-charged graphics of Weimar eagles, Eastern religious symbols, drug paraphernalia and naked breasts now adorned both their album sleeves and stage shows. "We only lived for the now," says Brock. "It was all good fun, playing at festivals, getting stoned and having a jolly fine old time. There really was no such thing as tomorrow."
Having begun experimenting with LSD in the late 60s, what he wanted, he says, was to "create the aural equivalent of an acid trip. That was the idea behind it all. Sitting at home as you go off into your LSD trip, and thinking, 'if only I could put this to music...'"
Centred around Ladbroke Grove, just north of London's Notting Hill, where a thriving hippy scene existed in the late 60s, their initial brace of albums, 'Hawkwind' in 1970, and 'In Search Of Space' ('71), had sold modestly but had won them a considerable cult following. Playing for free, often accompanied by the Pink Fairies -'PinkWind' gigs becoming a staple of the local Portobello scene- along with their celebrated free shows at the Isle Of Wight festival in 1970, Hawkwind quickly became known, says Nik, as "a people's band. There was us, Quintessence, the Pink Fairies... We did a lot of benefits. The Hell's Angels, the White Panther Party, the Urban Guerrillas, Greenpeace..."
And so things might have continued had the band not had the sheer good luck to record 'Silver Machine', a lengthy. Brock-led, end-of-set jam that originally featured Robert Calvert, who wrote the words, on lead vocals.
"To be honest. Bob's vocals were fucking terrible," says Hawkwind's manager from those days, Doug Smith. "It was just this vibey sort of groove, and the audience used to go nuts every time they played it. I thought, we've got something here, we should try and get this out as a single. But Bob's voice was so sort of middle-class English - almost spoken-word - it didn't fit at all."
Doug's solution to the problem came in a uniquely Hawkwind way. With Calvert, who suffered from depressive illnesses all of his life, having been 'sectioned' in hospital for 28 days ("He was completely mad. I think, probably schizoid. But one of the most charming mad people you've ever met"), Doug took the backing track, which had been recorded live at their now legendary Greasy Truckers Party performance, at the Roundhouse, in February 1972, and wiped Calvert's vocal from it, inviting Lemmy to try his luck instead.
"Lemmy just had the best voice for it," says Doug. "It was obvious. Of course, Bob was furious when he found out, but we let him sing the next single, which was '7 By 7', and so that pacified him."
According to Lemmy though, "They'd tried everybody else in the band and there was only me and the drummer left. And I sang it very, very well first time and the others all fucking hated it," he chuckles darkly. "Then it went to No.1 in the NME and they really hated it!"
Whatever their individual feelings about its genesis, the fact remains, 'Silver Machine' transformed the lives of everyone in Hawkwind. In the wake of its massive success, 'Doremi Fasol Latido', the accompanying album released that year, also reached the charts (though, unlike latter-day CDs, it didn't actually include 'Silver Machine'). The Hawkwind bandwagon had begun to roll in earnest.
Doug: "At first, nobody could come to terms with it, that out of the blue they had this enormous hit all round the world. Portugal, Spain, Germany, France, Scandinavia, Japan, Australia, unbelievable! It sold over 500,000 copies in the UK alone." Nik: "To me, it was like, 'Wow! This is fantastic!' It was a turning point, and that became the vehicle which enabled us to mount the Space Ritual."
What was intended to be, in Nik's words, "the most spectacular, cinematic sort of live show we could conceive of," ideas for the Space Ritual, as Calvert titled it, had been percolating around the Hawkwind campfire for over a year. Now, with the money from 'Silver Machine', they set about the task of actually bringing those acid dreams to life.
They added a second drummer, Alan Powell, from Vinegar Joe ("We had like this drum orchestra onstage," says Lemmy. "Bells and chimes and an anvil and all kinds of shit") and encouraged all their satellite components - Moorcock, Smeeton, Bubbles et al - to contribute to the new show. As a result, the Space Ritual, which the band toured around the UK throughout the latter half of 1972 and the beginning of '73, proved to be Hawkwind at its zenith.
A full-blown multimedia event, it wasn't, as some critics suggested, that Hawkwind didn't have a recognisable frontman, it was, more accurately, that they had so many. Beyond the pulsing orbs of light there was Lemmy, the heavy-duty biker; Turner, the tricorn-hatted loon; Stacia, the statuesque beauty; Brock, the vaguely sinister old hippy; and of course Calvert, the Biggles-esque leader of the expedition. Unlike the Floyd, who appeared to cower behind their stage effects, everywhere you looked on a Hawkwind stage you saw someone, or something, strange and interesting.
That is, you did once they switched off the strobes. Lemmy: "Hawkwind were dangerous, man. We used to give people epileptic fits. We used to lock all the doors in the hall and have these strobes pointed out at the crowd. We used to fuck people up good, man."
But if Brock had started the band, Turner was its conscience, and Lemmy had sung the hit, it was Calvert who really piloted the ship on that tour. "Bob was a very big influence," agrees Brock, who admits that "we used to have huge rows all the time. We were both quite strong personalities and sort of wanted to be the boss of the band." The Space Ritual, though, he acknowledges, "was basically Bob's idea. He was the one who seemed to know what it was all about. Well, he was a captain, you see."
With so many 'captains' on the bridge, rifts quickly developed, with various factions facing off against each other. Lemmy recalls contemptuously of there being "a speed camp, which was basically me and DikMik, and a psychedelic camp, which was the rest of 'em." Brock, meanwhile, tells of the rivalry between Moorcock and Calvert.
"They used to argue and fight all the time, because Bob used to write sci-fi stories as well. They'd always be trying to outdo each other. I mean, they got on wonderfully well, at different points. Then one day I think Bob went off with Mike's wife, or Mike's wife left him and she went with Bob, and there was all this antagonism."
The situation reached boiling point, he laughingly recalls, on stage at the Rainbow. "I was looking across the stage and I could see Bob and Mike having a fight with all these people trying to pull them apart. We had to play the number over again and when Bob came on he'd got a cut hand, very dramatic, waving it at the audience." He imitates Calvert's pompous voice: "Mike Moorcock's not here now! He's gone off! I'm the valiant one now!"
Released in May 1973, in a fabulous gatefold sleeve based around Barney Bubbles' stage designs, the live 'Space Ritual' album invaded the UK Top 10 almost immediately. Recorded at Liverpool Stadium and the Sundown, in Brixton, South London, 'Space Ritual' became, as Dave says, "the one which everybody owned in those days. It was the gatefold sleeve, I think," he adds wryly. "It was a good rolling mat..."
A sprawling double-set that faithfully chronicles the band's climactic 1972-3 shows, featuring by then established Hawkwind showcases like 'Master Of The Universe' and 'Brainstorm' interspersed with suitably cosmic ramblings like Moorcock's 'Sonic Attack' and Calvert's 'Welcome To The Future', 'Space Ritual' was the closest Hawkwind would ever come to truly fulfilling its premise - to evoke the same state of mind as an LSD trip (particularly on the remastered CD of recent times with its bonus tracks).
It caused the Melody Maker to exclaim: 'The band's claim that it is specifically aimed at dope freaks certainly seems to be valid.' And as Brock now admits, "I always used to take LSD to mix an album and we used to actually spike the engineers up, too." Little wonder that "people used to be dead wary of us." Lemmy: "You gotta remember, this was in 1973. It was all going off. I mean, everything is happening!"
It certainly sounds like it on the album. And while the critics continue to this day to claim the band couldn't really play and that their audience was itself too stoned to really appreciate that fact, as keyboardist Simon House, who joined for their next album, 'Warrior On The Edge Of Time', explains: "That wasn't the point. The whole thing was about putting you in a firm state of mind that takes you on a journey. That's the idea of music."
Calvert himself was never one to underestimate the Hawkwind audience, who, he told Sounds, in 1976, he regarded as "the intelligentsia. We get letters from art lecturers, computer analysts, insurance people," he boasted. "Anyway, I went through the greatcoat and plimsolls stage, and I don't know anyone who didn't."
For Nik Turner, though, 'Space Ritual' was no less than "the culmination of all the creative input that all these incredible people had put into the band. It wasn't like these musicians who have written these songs and they're playing them. They were all works of art, really."
An idea Lemmy -though "immensely proud of what we done back then"- is quick to shoo away. "If we had a new out-front soundman, we used to say, 'Look, when Nik starts playing sax...'" He does the slash-across-the-throat gesture.
"Doing the intro to 'Brainstorm', that's the one that stands out. Playing away, playing away, next thing there's tum-tum-toodle-ooh, and Dave Brock's going across stage going, 'Nik! Nik! Vocals, you cunt! Vocals!' That's why the song was 19 minutes long - because Nik never knew where the fuck we were..."
Meanwhile, 'Space Ritual' took Hawkwind on a whole new trip. There were prestigious shows with Frank Zappa at The Oval, headline shows at the Paris Olympia, and American tours where Stevie Wonder and Alice Cooper came to hang out.
But success was a drug, too, they discovered, which could have its own heavy side-effects. Dave: "Money does really change people dramatically. Suddenly there were egos, yes men. Even Nik used to have an entourage," he wheezes with mirth.
When the BBC banned what should have been another 'Silver Machine'-style hit for them that summer - 'Urban Guerilla' - it seemed the writing was on the wall. Bob Calvert left a year later to pursue a solo career (see both his Captain Lockheed & The Starfighters project and his Eno-produced 'Lucky Leif And The Longships' album) and by 1975 Lemmy had been sacked for being "too out of it even for Hawkwind," says Brock, only half- joking.
But it was good stuff, man. While it lasted...
|The following was a sidebar / endpiece with the original; article:
Space Ritual: the (Hazy) Facts
Track-listing and writing credits: 'Earth Calling' (Calvert), 'Born To Go' (Brock/Calvert), 'Down Through The Night' (Brock), 'The Awakening' (Calvert), 'Lord Of Light' (Brock), 'The Black Corridor' (Moorcock), 'Space Is Deep' (Brock), 'Electronic No.1' (Dettmar), 'Orgone Accumulator' (Brock/Calvert), 'Upside Down' (Brock), '10 Seconds Of Forever' (Calvert), 'Brainstorm' (Turner), '7 by 7' (Brock), 'Sonic Attack' (Moorcock), 'Time We Left This World Today' (Brock), 'Master Of The Universe' (Brock/Turner), 'Welcome to the Future' (Calvert).
On the remastered CD which EMI released last year, the Greasy Truckers' versions (albeit digitally remastered) of 'Born To Go' and 'Master Of The Universe' have been added. A third track, and the original encore from the Space Ritual' shows, 'You Shouldn't Do That' (previously only available in a remixed form on the 1976 'Roadhawks' compilation album) has also been added.
Several versions of the 'Space Ritual' set were also recorded for Radio 1 and later released as BBC Transcription Discs. But the best known (and best quality) is the 1991 'Hawkwind: Space Rock From London' set on Windsong, which contains a truncated but fascinating alternative version of 'Space Ritual', done for a BBC session on October 14,1972.
Other interesting collections to check out from the same period include the live 1972 'Glastonbury Fayre' album on Revelation, which contains a live version of 'Silver Machine' with Bob Calvert's vocals. And from the same year, the 'Greasy Trucker's Party' album, including live versions of 'Master Of The Universe', and 'Born To Go'. And in 1985 there was the 'Space Ritual II' album on American Phonograph: the same set from different venues.
The clip of the band performing 'Silver Machine' on Top Of The Pops was filmed at Dunstable Queen's Hall, in June 1972. They had been invited to go to the TOTP studio and mime to the record, "but we didn't really want to do that," says Nik.
Following the success of 'Space Ritual', Hawkwind returned to America in March 1974 for a huge tour with Welsh rockers Man, travelling under the banner of The 1999 Party (later released as an album of that title).
"The last anybody heard of Stacia," reveals Doug Smith, "she was married with children and living in Hamburg with her husband Roy Dyke, formerely of Ashton Gardner & Dyke."
After an acrimonious departure in 1977, Nik Turner later appeared, variously, as Nik Turner's Hawkwind and Nik Turner's Space Ritual. "Well, he was hard up, wasn't he?" says Brock.
Brock has recently appeared on 'The Bass Ritual' (on Liquid Records), a dance-oriented album of classic-era Hawkwind tunes. "It's like a collage," says Brock, "featuring up-and-coming DJs like Michael Dog - all these avant-garde remixes. 'Orgone Accumulator' sounds *unbelievable*. Colin Newman of Wire is also involved. His version of 'Master Of The Universe' is gonna be the single."
Hawkwind are set to reform the 'Space Ritual' line-up for their anniversary show at the Brixton Academy on October 21. Classic Rock is sponsoring the show. Tickets are priced: £18.50, and the box office number is: 020 7771 2000.
Bob Calvert died of a heart attack, in 1988 aged 40. Doug: "I was just *staggered*. I thought, god, I'm four years older than him, I better slow down!" It was the same, he says, when he learned of Barney Bubbles' suicide a few years before. "I remember Jake Riviera [of Stiff Records, where Barney went on to work] saying 'You get the sandwiches together, I'll get the booze and we'll have a wake.' And I went, 'Listen, Barney's just fucking put a plastic bag over his head and killed himself, I don't think he wants us to joyfully remember him, do you?'"
Just before his death, Calvert had suggested the possibility of a 'Space Ritual' sequel. "Lemmy came down, too, and we thought we'd do a totally new show called the 'Earth Ritual'," Brock reveals. A bastardised version of which surfaced in the early 90s.
To this day, Lemmy still wears the same silver Iron Cross around his neck now that he did in those heady days of 1972, and the same black jeans, he claims, although that would be a little harder, and more unpleasant, to substantiate.