|Dave Brock - Master Of His Universe
This interview by Dane Carlson is from Expose back in Summer 1997..."Plus ça change plus c'est la
même chose", eh, my little cabbages?!
Are you in a studio working on anything now?
DB: I am, yeah. Just rehearsing, actually. We have a project in the air at the moment but we're just
rehearsing. We haven't actually played for a while; since Greece, actually.
Is the band the same line up it's been in the past year?
DB: At the moment we have Ron Tree, who is our vocalist. He's also playing bass since Alan Davey has
gone off to form his own band.
So has Alan left Hawkwind?
DB: Yeah, I think so. He wants to get his own band together. We haven't actually done much this year so he
decided he wanted to have a go at doing things himself. So, he's gone off to form his own band and to go on
a tour of Europe...
When Harvey Bainbridge left, you guys kept going as a trio. Did you like the trio or did you think of getting
DB: Well, we thought about getting somebody else but I mean, it's like a challenge. All these things are like
(laughs) big challenges to undertake. Both Alan and I could play keyboards, you see, and having MIDI, my
guitar is a MIDI-guitar so I could play keyboards though my guitar. Also having all our gear link up with
sequencers and so on, we found that we could actually carry on, really, because we could just sequence like
keyboard parts into our music, you know?
It's almost coincidental that when you became a trio that there started to be those mixed bands or ambient
bands like Salt Tank or Astralasia. How did they actually get involved with your stuff?
DB: Well, over the years a lot of the ambient bands regard us as the great icons of (laughs) electronic music.
Recently, I just finished re-mixing a live Hawkwind album that was recorded in Chicago in 1974. It's going to
be put out on EMI records and I just remixed the whole thing and listening to that and listening to the
electronics, a lot of the music that we play is "ambient-ish". Basically we are playing three-chord riffs, which
we used to get slagged off in the press, "Oh Hawkwind is playing their usual boring three-chord riffs with
electronic music over the top of it", you know. Really, what we were doing there is now considered by lots
of these ambient bands as great innovations of (laughs) music.
You were just too far ahead of your time! And the new CD that came out called "Rituals of the Solstice".
Did you have any involvement in that at all or is that simply other groups?
DB: Well, that's other bands. It's nothing to do with us, really. I mean, it's just lots of other ambient bands
doing cover versions. There is one out in America, a double album, or double CD I should say (laughs) as
well, of numerous bands doing cover versions of a lot of our stuff. It's called Hundred Watt Power
(Assassins of Silence/Hundred Watt Stack), I think.
Odd, I've never seen that. To get the stuff that they sample, did they get a tape or did they just take it from
an album to rework it...sometimes it seems like it's not the same...
DB: Sometimes I get approached by different bands saying, "look, is there any chance of us getting a hold of
some tapes, the actual master tapes of the band, so we can listen to the vocals, listen to the electronics, listen
to the guitar" you know. Quite often I do it. I say, "yeah, there you go", I mean, I regard it... it's like a poem,
you know. I mean, everybody has their different ideas of the way things should be. Music has to always be
totally different all the time, moving onwards, really.
And what is the Tibet logo on there? What is that about?
DB: Well, we support Tibet. I mean you know about Tibet, don't you? It's the bloody Chinese, you know.
It's the same old thing. It's just an unfortunate situation where another big country's swallowing up a small
country, destroyed the monasteries over there. I mean, years ago people would just fight on the side of
Tibetans against the Chinese. My girlfriend went to Tibet and got arrested over there because you aren't
allowed to have pictures of the Dalai Lama, basically, and any foreign tourist goes over there and actually has
a picture of the Dalai Lama will be arrested and expelled from the country, believe it or not. I mean it's really
"Big Brother" by the Chinese. We support the Tibetans, we support the Dalai Lama. We support a lot of
different things, actually! (laughs).
I think about the all night raves, or people listening to ambient music in rooms with lights and stuff. Each
generation likes to think that it's invented something. When I see that sort of thing it reminds me of what
went on with the Space Ritual. And find it's amazing how things keep coming back.
DB: It's history repeating itself. Music is a terrible crap business we're involved with here. A lot of the time
you think we're all artists, trying to create things, create words to songs that a lot of young people will be
able to relate to and think, "I'm in agreement with what they're saying." This is what you're trying to put
across a lot of the time....
When I listen to "The Business Trip" CD, I do find it amazing what three people can do. On "Business
Trip", there's no real over-dubbing. It's simply just...
DB: Yeah, everything running. We were doing that live with a MIDI and just rehearsing a lot. You can do all
these things... Here at home, I actually plug in all my stuff and play by myself with a drum machine. I can
write bass lines into a sequencer and the same thing with the keyboards. It's just a matter of practice, what
you are doing is playing with the machines, really. With all this electronic music, you have to treat it as a
barbarian would, you know? I don't read music, I read a few of the manuals and I think, "f***ing hell, this is
so confusing" and I would rather plug in and play the thing, off we go! Yeah, I treat it as a barbarian would.
So, are you surprised that Hawkwind is still around after 27 years?
DB: Yeah, always because, well, I have people say to me, "Your career in the music business" and I have
never regarded what I do as a career, you know? It could end tomorrow or next year. It's a very fickle
business to be in, the music business. Maybe we do a stage show and then that's the end of that stage show
and then we do something different; it's continually changing. By continually changing, it makes things
interesting. I'm doing something that I'm very lucky to be able to do. I do enjoy doing what I'm doing.
Obviously, we've had our ups and downs in life where it has been a pain in the ass sometimes. Overall, I'm
very lucky to be doing something that I really enjoy. The music business, being a very corrupt business, you
got all these financial scenes going on and most musicians always seem to get conned into doing different
things and not get paid for it, you know....
...I guess you're not thinking about the money aspects, or...
DB: It's more the artist. I mean, if you were painting a picture, I mean you'd get this wonderful idea about
what you'd want to do and off you go getting on with it and then someone else comes along and sells what
you do for profit, pockets most of the money and (laughs) it's always the artist or musician who is at the
bottom of the line to get paid! It's a well known fact, unfortunately.
I assume you still enjoy touring and playing before a crowd?
DB: Oh, yeah, yeah...
And is that what your music is all about, playing in front of people?
DB: Yeah, absolutely. It's good fun to do all this. Unfortunately, the last gig we did was in Athens, Greece, in
November. We haven't actually played anywhere since then. Our next few gigs that we are going to do,
being in May and June, so during this period of time we haven't gotten together to record and figure out what
we are going to do for our next project.
And after all these years you've finally got your own label, with EBS? I assume that's something you would
have liked to have had long ago?
DB: Yeah, I mean it's taken a long time to actually get together. What we're doing is getting all the
Hawkwind albums over the years back under our control because obviously a lot of these companies never
paid us any royalties, you know? I am owed thousands and thousands of pounds. I doubt I'll ever get any of
the money back. That's the way it is. Eventually we'll own our own catalog and maybe one day we could just
sell the whole lot to a major company and that's it! I could retire! (laughs) Who knows!
I guess that's pretty good because now you'll have some royalties come in and that might help with all the
DB: Yeah, we are. I mean, Simon House he's in the same state, really. He's signed with EBS, as well. (And
Alan Davey, and Nik Turner...)
Yeah, well it sounds like hopefully they'll see a little bit more of the money that everybody else is getting
their take on...
DB: Perhaps later on this year, we might be doing a tour and Simon might be playing with us, that has been
mentioned. I need to get in touch with Lemmy as well.
Yeah, he mentioned something about that. It sounded rather exciting. Sort of a reforming of the '74 band?
DB: Well, at the moment we have a lead guitarist, Jerry Richards, we've got Ron Tree playing bass and me
playing the guitar and doing vocals. Maybe we'll have Simon and Lemmy, I don't know about Nik because
we don't really need Nik as we all sing; and the only thing that Nik does is play saxophone out of tune!
I've picked up some of the EMI releases of the old UA stuff that have just came out and Doug had
mentioned that you had been after them awhile to finally move on those. Have you seen the new re-issues?
DB: Yeah, they're all re-packaged...
They look really nice. I mean, they're all in the digipaks with lots of graphics art re-mastered. It's a good
thing for the fans to have; hopefully you're getting some money out of it. It's a better job.
DB: Absolutely. This last album, The Chicago live album recorded in 1974, is the last one, of that United
Artists era and it's never been released before. Everybody is collecting all this stuff. We'll have the final part
to the (laughs) catalog and that's it!
So you just found the tapes somewhere?
DB: No. EMI actually have had them for years and never released them. Somebody over there started
logging all their tapes that they had and they suddenly discovered that there was some tapes in America in a
vault and they were sent over here. The guy who was actually getting them all together for EMI said, "Look,
let's get these out". My next thing after this interview is to phone Paul Cobbold, the engineer, and do a few
edits and get it over and done with! (laughs)
How do you like the show?
DB: Well, it's all right. It's funny listening again to it after all these years. I mean, there's some wonderful,
magic moments but there are also some terribly boring, drawn out jams that go nowhere, you know? But
that's the way the band was. Obviously, with the light show it probably looks a lot better, but listening to it
meandering around you start thinking, "f***ing hell, what's going to happen next?" or "Crikey, so and so is
terribly out of tune". I'll probably do a few edits just to make it a bit more interesting.
When you look back at the early days of Hawkwind, is the concept of Hawkwind, why you formed it, still
going on today?
DB: Oh, yeah. I think so. If you are a true revolutionary, you are forever building up or tearing down. You
could rest on your laurels and have a wonderful time, but forever changing is the way to do it. Hopefully.
Musically, there are lots of things that I find very boring that we've done, you think "Oh f***, why have I
gone and done that?", but that's just the way life is. I do know we are forever doing things different, different
stage shows, we are trying to musically change, obviously by having different people in the band all the time.
So, we are forever getting people's input, which makes it interesting.
When you first formed Hawkwind, what was the reason? The music I hear on the first album sounds
DB: We were a band from the late sixties: flower power and LSD. I'm still for the legalise cannabis campaign
(laughs), we were drug-orientated. You can't hide the fact that we did take LSD. There's a programme on
over here tonight about LSD, drug related situation. Should be quite interesting! (laughs)
How did the very first Isle of Wight happen?
DB: We did quite a few free festivals. As you know, there were lots of bands playing inside the festival and
outside of it. For us, it was the only way...we were a band...let's go play outside. We had an old truck that
had all of our gear which we also would sleep in as well, with a generator for power and off we went! We
used to do that quite regularly. We used to play Stonehenge festivals, which are a regular occurrence, until
they were stopped by the police. We used to play next to the stones. We used to play when the Druids would
be doing their rites and chanting; it was quite an interesting situation. There's a few videos out with us
playing...about 60,000 people, with tents and stuff. The last big free festival was 1984. If it had gone on for
another year, it would have gotten a Royal Charter, which meant that festival could occur legally every year,
but the police knew what was going on and stopped it. There was bad scenes. I received a writ never to go
on the 21st of June within a ten mile radius of Stonehenge! Banned. It's like saying you aren't allowed to go
within a ten mile radius of the White House. So if you have long hair or look a bit shady the police would
arrest them and say, "Go the other way. We don't want you around here." That lasted for four days. It cost
the government over here over ten million pounds. They spent ten million pounds stopping this festival, can
you believe that? If I were in charge of it I would have let them police it and let the festival go on. Anyway,
that's the way life is.
Had you played there regularly up to 1984?
DB: Yeah, we used to play there nearly every year. In a lot of ways we used to run it. We used to supply the
stage and the generator and if we were playing, we would draw a few thousand people. We were quite
involved in it, hence the injunctions the police served us! I still have it upstairs. They used to tap our
telephones, get followed, near the time of the festival! It sounds silly, can you believe that?
Why was it such a big issue?
DB: Well, a big influx of young people, the alternative society. The government basically put through
parliament that free festivals are outlawed and any meetings of ten or more people could get you arrested.
That was it! You can have an injunction served at a house party! It was a great opportunity for many young
bands to play in front of large crowds of people, when they usually might play for 40-50 people. It is pretty
similar to the Grateful Dead playing baseball or football stadiums and around the outside of the whole place
you'd get lots of mini-festivals with people selling wares..
Oh yeah, it turns into a little city...
DB: Absolutely. And it's a good thing because a lot of like-minded people meet, people with similar ideology
and there's nothing wrong with that. We'd like to come over there and do the same sort of thing, actually.
It'd be a lot easier; if we did it over here, we'd get arrested! (laughs) In the States, you've got huge parks and
places where you could actually hold a festival. Obviously, if it's cleaned up afterwards and not left in a
f***ing state. There's lots of people to clean sites up. And if it's well organized. They always say, "Oh,
they're going to s**t all over the place and leave lots of rubbish but you know as well as I do that the people
who organize these things always have a sort of entourage of people who tidy up the place afterwards.
Otherwise, you don't get to do those sort of things...
I was wondering it you could tell us what Bob Calvert was like? He seemed very unique.
DB: Bob was a wonderful character. He was quite a genius. He was one of these guys who have lots of
creative ideas. Obviously, good to work with. He was up and down; sometimes he was a bit loony, but you
find anybody with creativity within themselves are a bit loony, unstable, erratic (laughs). He got in a lot of
terrible scrapes, but he was a wonderful guy to work with. It was a sad day when he died.
On the Quark, Strangeness and Charm tour in the United States...
DB: Yeah, he was on a downer then. He was "up" in the UK and in Europe but when we got to America he
went down the other side. He peaked when we were in Paris. We were playing this ice rink in Paris to about
5,000 people and he was really on form, over the top. He used to stride around stage with a sword, very
dramatic and totally over the top, like a Shakespearean actor doing rock... He was totally over the top. He
would work up to this great peak and then we went to tour America and he went down the other side. He
became so down and low. That was the last tour we did together. I mean, I actually gave my guitar away to
Mark S. and walked off the stage and said, "I've had enough of this band!" That's when Simon House went
and joined David Bowie. It was just the end for us.
Through all the years, Hawkwind has had a lot of people in and out of the band. From my point of view, all
the personnel changes means your sound is always evolving, many bands, who maybe didn't have quite so
many line-up changes, and have been around a while have a problem coming up with new stuff.
DB: It's just one of those things. I'm always looking for different people. I've known Ron Tree for quite a
few years. He used to play at all those free festivals in a punk band. He was into acid/thrash sort of music.
When he was down here last week I said to him, "Now listen Ron, just calm down the bass playing"!
(laughs) "Get a bit of finesse in there". I act like a teacher, a bit. You get some young guys in the band and
you have to try and exercise a bit of control. They are like apprentices. To bring out the genius within them.
That's what we are doing at the moment. We've got Richard, he's a very good drummer. Jerry used to play
at the free festivals. I've known Jerry for quite a few years. But who knows? There are other people that I
know who are good musicians who might actually play with us. It's just one of those things. If it clicks..
.we've got festivals in Spain, France, the UK, European tour and an American tour. All these things are going
to happen later on. So I really want to get a good band together, that's going to be different and with unusual
characters in it. So people will be saying, "F***ing hell! Once again, it's different!"
|Above: this little tableau is not the line-up of Ginger Baker's Hawkwind that toured Italy in 1981. It's the
Captain backstage with fans at Genoa on 19th October 1994.