"People look back now and think of Hawkwind as this sort of hippie peace and love group. But it was never
that," says Lemmy, one of the band's original self-styled 'captains'. "We weren't looking for peaceful, we
were looking for horrid. The spaceship was always broken down with us."
Characterised too often throughout their career as 'the poor man's Pink Floyd', derided for their dearth of
recognisable hits and seeming inability to keep a steady line-up (changing almost album-by-album), history
tends to overlook the contribution Hawkwind made to the story of rock in the early 70's - in particular what
became known retrospectively as the Ladbroke Grove scene. It was a loose conglomeration of groups that
occupied the squats and crash-pads situated in and around London's Notting Hill Gate, with names like
Quintessence, Heron, The Pink Fairies, Big Baby and others even more obscure.
They began as they were apparently meant to go on: by accident. Dave Brock, a busker from Feltham in
Middlesex, was already 27 years old and married with a baby son when, in the autumn of 1968, the original
line-up of Hawkwind first "started to sort of congeal around me".
He would sit at home with a reel-to-reel and his battered old Harmony Stratotone guitar, "drop some acid and
just plonk away with an echo-unit. 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'..."
Joined by early members such as guitarist Mick Slattery ("He was the one who first spiked me with acid")
and drummer Terry Oilis ("a downers freak"), the most significant early member after Dave was 28-year-old
sax and flautist Nik Turner.
"I was responsible, to a large degree, for getting people like [sleeve designer] Barney Bubbles involved in the
band, and [vocalist] Robert Calvert," he says now. "I'd also try and get the band doing as many "^benefits
and things like that as I could."
It was also Nik who helped recruit a 25-year-old miscreant named Michael Davis (aka Dik Mik); one of
several "chemist robbers and speed dealers" who Nik knew from his days "selling psychedelic posters on
Their first manager, Doug Smith, ran Clearwater: a Ladbroke Grove-based company he describes as
"eleventh-hour management. Very chaotic," Doug recalls. "The only other company that was in touch with
the new sort of psychedelic groups was Blackhill, who were managing the Floyd and also later took an
office in Notting Hill."
Portobello Road was the focus, playing for free under the arches and along the green. "We did a lot of
benefits," says Dave. "And we used to give away copies of hippie bible Frendz, whose office was also in the
Grove. We did things with the Hells Angels, White Panther Party, Urban Guerrillas, Greenpeace..."
Often they would be accompanied by the Pink Fairies and' Pink Wind' gigs became a staple of the Saturday
afternoon Portobello market scene.
"They really complemented each other," recalls fellow Ladbroke Grove alumni and member of The Deviants
Mick Farren. "One was an incompetent guitar band and the other was an incompetent psychedelic band, and
together they made this huge fucking noise together, and everyone was just extremely happy that the police
hadn't been called and we'd all been arrested."
When their only live number, a 15-minute improvisational onslaught they dubbed the 'Sunshine Special',
landed them a deal with United Artists (advance: Â£400), they made sure the subsequent album reflected
their music accurately by spiking engineers' drinks with LSD.
"We didn't actually do songs," says Dave. "It was free range music. A bit of avant-garde electronics and, er,
|To Boldly Go...
1971: Hawkwind head In Search Of Space.
It was Robert Calvert who first successfully
conceptualised what Hawkwind were doing,
beginning with the 22-page Hawkwind Log, which
accompanied In Search Of Space - an
impenetrable hippie spiel, full of sci-fi argot and
mushroom mysticism that artist Barney Bubbles
embellished with aptly lysergic images of
Stonehenge, spaceships and stars.
Never ones to underestimate their audience, they
may have been just a greatcoat--nd-plimsolls
crowd to some, but to Bob they were "the
intelligentsia". Speaking in 1976, he said: "We
get letters from lecturers, computer analysts,
insurance people... I went through the greatcoat
and plimsolls stage, and I don't know anyone who
Recorded at Olympic Studios in Barnes and
released in October 1971, ISOS was the first
Hawkwind collection to feature not just stage
favourites like the opening 16-minute jam You
Shouldn't Do That, but also their first cohesive
attempts at actual songs in Master Of The
Universe (with "spacey lyrics" by Nik Turner)
and We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago, one of
Brock's old busking songs baked under the
hydroponic lights of the band in frenzied flow.
"The band's claim that it is specifically aimed at
dope freaks certainly seems to be valid," said
It was the second Hawkwind album, In Search Of
Space, released in 1971, that brought them to the
attention of the outside world.
By now the band had shed Slattery and Ollis and
acquired the captains: noted science fiction author
and fellow Grove resident Michael Moorcock;
Frendz artistic director and future sleeve designer
Barney Bubbles; lighting wizard Jonathan Smeeton
(aka Liquid Len); former Hendrix roadie and speed
freak Lemmy; and, not least, Stacia, the voluptuous
22-year-old space goddess who liked to dance
naked on the stage. "We were this sort of crazy
people's ideal of a band," says Nik. "I certainly
think Michael Moorcock saw us like that."
Dave agrees. "I used to read all his books so for
him to come along and say, 'Is it all right to come
and do some poetry?' It was like, fucking hell,
what an honour!"
But the most significant addition came with the
arrival of a South African-bom poet, writer, mimic,
singer, actor, comedian and serial manic-depressive
named Robert Calvert.
It was Calvert who helped turn Hawkwind's simple
psychedelia into authentic rock theatre; whether in
black-face and top hat, or stripped to the waist and
wielding a broadsword, or dressed simply as
Valentino in leather jodhpurs, he was always more
of an orator than a singer.
As Calvert explained at the time: "It all works up to
a nice piece of spontaneous theatre. It's great to be
able to improvise something like that at the drop of
a hat. Rock is a very theatrical thing, what with body language, gesture, movement, mime and the like."
Or as Lemmy puts it now: "Hawkwind were dangerous, man. We used to give people epileptic fits. We used
to lock all the doors in the hall. And we used to have the strobes pointed out at the crowd. Five strobes from
the stage all slow, wocka-wocka-wocka. We used to fuck people up good, man.
"In the summer of 1972 they even had a hit single with Silver Machine, recorded live at the Roundhouse, at
the Greasy Truckers Party, in February. "It just reverberated everywhere and we had a hit in virtually every
country in the world," says Doug, "only you didn't realise it until 25 years later."
It was at this point that Hawkwind - had they not been Hawkwind - might have become as globally
successful as Pink Floyd, Yes or Genesis. They certainly had the show, as evinced on their still superlative
1973 live double album, Space Ritual.
"We could have been as big the Floyd," insists Dave Brock. "But it's whether you've got a torpedo
mechanism to bring it all down, and you think, fuck that, you know? Once you do that, you're on the other
side. And Hawkwind was always on the other side of everything..."
Calvert left in 74, nominally to pursue a solo career, but, in reality, says Doug, "because Bob was fairly off
the rails by this point. He'd ring up in a complete state, telling me he's Christ and pinned to a wall. I'd have to
spend hours talking him down."
Without Bob, the band recorded two of their most focused and direct albums yet, 1974's Hall Of The
Mountain Grill (after the cafe of the same name in Ladbroke Grove) and 75's Warrior On The Edge Of
Time. For Doug, this was "the magic band. They were the key to it all. And as soon as you took one of
those elements away -which turned out to be Lemmy- you lost it all."
In May 1975, en route to a Toronto show, Lemmy was busted on the Canadian border for possession of
cocaine. He's always claimed that the bust "was an excuse to get rid of me."
|Take Me To Your Future
What Dave Brock and Nik Turner are up to now -
albeit separately, natch.
Dave: "We still play some of that stuff from the
early Ladbroke Grove days live. But we do them
in the way we want to do them. Funnily enough,
we just recorded Sonic Attack with William
Shatner. And it's quite good, quite weird. We
sent the backing track over to him and he did it
for an album he's got coming out with Space
Oddity, Silver Machine, all sort of space stuff.
It's horrible, you know, bloody awful. But the
Sonic Attack we've just done with him is totally
different, absolutely brilliant! He gets a bit
excited at one point, like "Do not panic!" [NB
Sonic Attack didn't make the finished album,
Seeking Major Tom, but Silver Machine did.]
"Meanwhile, we're literally about to start
rehearsing and doing some other weird things.
As soon as I get off the phone!"
Nik: "One of my newest projects is a band called
Nik Turner's Outriders of Apocalypse featuring
the Horns of Quetzalcoatl. Quetzalcoatl was the
plumed serpent. He was the major god in South
America for the last 10,000 years, and I'm
putting music together based on Mayan
mythology. I play sax and flute. Then there are
two bass players, two females, one playing French
horn and trumpet, the other playing trombone,
plus a clarinet player, a drummer and two or
three singers, and two or three dancers, and a
really psychedelic lightshow.
I'm also still involved in touring with the
Hawklords and I'm also still playing with the
Space Ritual, and with Inner City Unit, and
another new band called 'Nik Turner's Project 9."
According to Lemmy, "the band was split into the
speed camp and the psychedelic camp. Me and Dik
Mik were the untouchables because we liked
speed." Speed, Dave concurs, was regarded as
"poor show... Irksome, as Bob used to call it."
Lemmy says that the only reason the band even put
up the money for his bail was because "they
couldn't get [Pink Fairies bassist] Paul Rudolph over
quick enough to do the show. So I did the show
and at 4.30 in the morning I was fired."
Whatever their reasons, firing Lemmy became the
high tide mark in Hawkwind's career, the moment
their luck began to run out.
Their 1976 album, Astounding Sounds, Amazing
Music saw the return of Bob to the band but was a
lacklustre, directionless affair. When Dave then had
Nik fired from the band (in retaliation, he claims, for
Nik's own furtive attempts to oust the guitarist), the
writing was on the wall.
The influence Hawkwind had on groups everywhere
who wish to make music 'outside the box' continues
to this day. A fact both Brock and Turner
acknowledge with some bafflement
"I never really saw us as part of the progressive
rock scene," says Dave. "I was always coming
more from psychedelia. Looking back now, though,
I see that what we had in common was trying to
take people on journeys with sounds."
"Progressive rock is such a difficult thing to
pigeonhole," says Nik, "but there were definitely
aspects of what we did back then that veered into
progressive rock, for sure. And vice-versa."
"Sometimes it was good and sometimes it was bad,"
Brock chuckles. "I used to go and see Arthur
|"West London, late 60's. Hawkwind are at the
centre of a cultural revolution where politics and
pot meets prog..." it says here. This article, itself
just a mishmash of previously published snippets, is
from Prog, November 2011
Above, the cardboard outer sleeve. Right, inside...
Brown and it was the same thing. But you'd always go back to see what was going on because it was
always dicey. I always found that interesting in lots of bands, the ones that were daring."