|De Wording van Hawkwind
("The Coming of Hawkwind")
|I'm not sure what this photo has to do with Hawkwind, though it accompanied a press clipping about them.
And the following article, being another piece translated from Dutch to English, is also questionable in places.
To deal with my failings first, the translation is so loose as to virtually amount to creative writing in one or
two places, and I moved a couple of passages to make the text flow better. The original article was a long
rambling affair, with some irrelevances that I've omitted. There were also some misquoted lyrics as a byline
to the piece, and I've not bothered to include these.
Worse, the accuracy of some of the original piece was definitely off. For example, everywhere that I've
typed 'Ladbroke Grove', the original said 'Kensington'!!! So don't go quoting this as proof that Hawkwind
posed naked for a women's magazine, or that the sleevenotes for the first Neu! album weren't actually written
by Dave Brock, because, to be honest, I have my doubts.
I believe this is from the 6/12/72 issue of Dutch music paper "Ear"
Ladbroke Grove has long forgotten the summer and now the autumn leaves lie strewn around. The area is
the domain of the London freaks and is concentrated around the narrow thoroughfare of Portobello Road,
which snakes its way indifferently northwards. Only the housefronts, white as a sheet, still recall the wealth
of the previous century, outlined against the rain-laden grey clouds. The blue shopfront hangings of the
boutiques and other stalls are now the only summer tint. Around the flyover, Ladbroke Grove gapes. Two
of the three phone booths there are out of order, and on the vast expanse of bare earth there has been no
grass for years. Between the concrete walls of the flyover are a few children and the noise of their play
shimmers, as above them the cars thunder to dark destinations. The walls are coated with posters, often the
same designs alongside one another. In a corner, there are the ashes of a fire, and the detritus of the dayâ
€™s market. A woman mutters to herself. She has found a fine left shoe and has already spent hours
seeking the right. Further down sit three old women, calling out in vain "gimme a smoke, dear". If all three
happen to have a cigarette clasped between their lips, they ask instead for a box of matches, or for a whole
pack of cigarettes.
On the square off Portobello Road, scraps of paper lie mouldering in the street...here and there a shop is still
open, usually a cafe. Inside, Dave Brock, guitarist and founder of Hawkwind, has just ordered a hot meal; he
gets a plate on which there is a white hunk of rice. His head disappears behind an edition of The Sun, the
front page with headlines and on the back page a large photograph. All he will say just yet is: I don't know
where the others are, I don't really know where I am... In the corner, solitary figures eat steadily and
silently, morosely. An elderly man walks in and compliments the owner of the cafÃ© on the new chairs; I'm
glad I never saw the old ones. Outside the streets become deserted, a boy with long black hair rounds the
corner to the right, and the children are probably all in bed already.
It is three hours past midday as Dave Brock puts his feet up on a settee belonging to the record company. He
has striking round, almost playful, eyes and loose greasy hair that settles on his left and right shoulders. He
mentions that in this office he recently saw a record by a German band, with sleeve notes under which his
name had been signed: "I don't actually know that band, but it's a fait accompli now." Brock has been playing
guitar for fourteen years and has busked his way around Europe, making his money on street corners and in
doorways. He was even a member of the Dutch top five outfit Famous Cure, and asks if I know Mike
Young, who lives in Haarlem, "a great bloke, who I played with for many years."
The story of Hawkwind is one of street musicians and money troubles, of long winters and sweaty Saturday
afternoons playing benefit gigs. Of drug busts and of space, speed and Silver Machine. And of a slow
ascent to the top. At the end of 1969 Dave Brock moved back to Ladbroke Grove and found in the tall shape
of saxophonist Nik Turner a supporter of his ideas concerning electronic music. The interests of Turner,
who has played sax for twelve years, in, among others, the Dutch group Mobile Freakout, were evolving in
approximately the same way as those of Brock - only he comes from a jazzier background than the more
blues-oriented Brock. With a third drifter, DikMik Davies, joining them, and a drummer, Terry Ollis,
Hawkwind got their start. In the course of 1970 the first LP appeared. Brock's compositions epitomised the
wind-blown and semi-estranged character of Ladbroke Grove and possibly as a result, Hawkwind quickly
grew from an idea to reality. Locally at first, and then in the whole of London, as the most appropriate
folklore that a city with eight million inhabitants can produce. The acoustic guitar work of Brock had that
flattened ring characteristic of the tunnels of the London underground, and the mostly vague lyrics carried no
possibility of escape within them, nor was there as yet any exit to the outside. On the cover it is written that
that Hawkwind started off trying to freak people out, but are now trying to levitate minds without acid.
That summer the group was arrested for the first time, for the circulation of obscene material and for drugs.
And therefore it wasn't only through the addition of a nude dancer -the freaked-out Stacia- that Hawkwind
had built up a rather non-conformist image. The band at first played only free concerts and at alternative
community events. They almost packed it in at one point, but then placed an ad in the Melody Maker
bringing the band to public attention.
It is not surprising that science fiction slid into the ethos of Hawkwind. Bob Calvert, one of Ladbroke Groveâ
€™s resident writers, joined the band in 1971, as Brock's lyrics suddenly swerved over to an SF theme,
leaving behind the vague reflections of local difficulties and experiences, that predominated until halfway
through the second LP, where Calvert's influence dawned. Science fiction was and is for him at most a form
of interpretation: on 'In Search Of Space' the haunted, turbulent rhythm makes its entrance, the sound with
which Hawkwind has flown to the heights was finally established. All the numbers are identical in structure:
ascending to the stars, with guitars on speed, panting drums and the screaming sax of Nik Turner. The
power of the record lay in the fact that the effects fit into the rhythm and never descend into self-indulgence,
which was not always the case on the first LP. Meanwhile a second electronics guru joined the group, in the
person of Del Dettmar; and in January of this year the rhythm section were replaced. Drummer Simon King
and Lemmy, the fourth bassist in succession, made their entrance. A European tour was undertaken, and it
appeared that the concert halls were warmer than the street corners. But DikMik went missing on speed in
Amsterdam and says of the preceding period: "Those were the good old days." In their own country,
Hawkwind's popularity has grown, yet bankruptcy loomed this summer, giving Dave Brock the idea of
releasing a single: Silver Machine, about speed and thus sung by Lemmy. No cards and no flowers, a mere
advertisement on page 64 of a music weekly was sufficient to send Silver Machine to the number two spot of
the hit parade. Moreover, 'In Search Of Space' remains halfway up the British LP top thirty a year after its
Dave Brock: "The reason that we cut a single, is that we were being systematically boycotted. They had us
arrested again and the big music papers wrote our obituary. And all the good things that had been written
about us, were replaced by stories that were wrong... Now that we have had this success, they have to treat
us fairly. Our position has become much more favourable, instead of having to nag at the record company,
we are now suddenly welcome and they already asked us to do a second single, but we haven't started on
that. Some time I will ask them what they are going to do with the 50 percent of the single's proceeds that
they have kept. They have nothing to say about that normally, which is ridiculous. That money disappears
to people who had nothing to do with to making the record, while we would be able to do awfully good
things with it."
The real and not to be underestimated popularity that Hawkwind has slowly but surely acquired is well shown
by the 2,000 people that wait in vain outside a sold out Rainbow Theatre. At a joint gig with Frank Zappa at
the Oval, the audience was mostly made up of people who had come to see Hawkwind. A concert of which
Dave Brock says as an aside: "The fans had to pay 18 guilders to get in, and we knew absolutely nothing
about it. I mean, if we were aware of this we would never have played there." Perhaps this pronouncement
confirms the name that Hawkwind have as being a good left-wing band: "We are not so much a political, as a
social band. You get gradually to a dominant position, certainly through the single. Now we can try to begin
to pull others along with us, as a band you are only given a brief moment. We can do some good things with
the underground press for instance, with Frendz etc.. It's like with that guy from the White Panthers. When
he really began to become known across the board he acquired the power to delegate. With something like
that, it's also going to keep us busy."
Brock lives well outside the city and must phone his wife to tell her that he is going to be away for longer
than expected. He has to get the tapes mixed for the coming double album, 'Doremi Fasol Latido'. It is a live
LP, on which there's a rendition of 'Brainstorm', a number that was also touted as a single in England, and
came out on the Greasy Truckers LP. Later, Hawkwind hope to unleash with their long-awaited space-
opera, in which Bob Calvert will play a large part. It will be an impressive total event, with extensive floor-
and light-shows. Eight hours preparation time out of every 24 will be needed. Brock draws a diagram of
how the amplifiers will be set up, in a kind of pyramid-shape.
Just before we leave the office, he peers inquisitively into a fully stocked cupboard of LP's. Artists may take
anything they like. In the elevator, with a pile of albums under one arm he says: "I sell these around the
corner - I have to have some way of getting some money." Out on the street, he doubles his pace and in the
record store, he browses in the Electronic Music bin. Talks about a few of the records. It's only a stoned
trot down Oxford Street to reach the underground to get back to Ladbroke Grove and look at his records.
He has one by the band 'War', who would fit right into the Grove. Once more we emerge to stand on
Notting Hill Gate. Dave walks to a nearby pharmacy to get a small tube of hair shampoo, but all they have is
quite large bottles. Further down he has more success. On Portobello Road, he greets different people and
converses briefly with a girl. A poster of Marc Bolan asks passers-by not to throw rubbish on the street, but
only into the rubbish bins. This reminds me that when the heavily erotic magazine Women Only started up,
and rang up various bands to ask them to pose naked for the center spread, Hawkwind were the first and
only outfit that offered themselves.
Dave Brock stops to look at a fossil in a shop window which contains some truly fine examples. He stoops a
little and goes into the shop. Behind the cash register sits a quite remarkable fossil. The lady in the shop is
not particularly busy and tells Brock a few things about a dark blue stone. He buys nothing and as we leave
the store he says that where he lives in the country, quite a few areas have been dug up as someone had
found one of these fossils there. He himself has a few of them at home, including a beautiful example with a
blue core. The conversation ebbs and flows, and touches again on the German band mentioned earlier, and
after that he goes off to the station to see to mixing the tapes.
Lemmy is the bassist, has no last name, lives nowhere. He needs to get somewhere, and to this end drums
up the group's van and driver. He never takes off his sunglasses, and talks in a way that gives the impression
that he is perpetually startled. At a crossing he stops and buys all the music weeklies. He reads the
(favourable) reviews of last Sunday's gig aloud, and cuts them out. He picks up his girlfriend outside a
boutique, it's her lunch hour. She likes the job, though she couldn't stand it when she actually worked in the
shop. Now she works in the office above. She lives in a nondescript outer London borough. But halfway
through the conversation halts abruptly as we've reached the flat. Two full bottles of milk stand on the
doorstep and as we go in, Lemmy and his girlfriend engage in discussion with each other. She lives here in
this small but pleasant apartment. The view through the window looks out on a wall covered with ivy to a
height of four meters, and Lemmy notes how unruly it's become. The girl puts on a record by the Faces, but
at Lemmy's request it's swapped for 'Forever Changes' by Love. However it doesn't last as far as even
'Alone Again Or' as the stylus becomes clogged with the dust that clings desperately to the record. I ask
Lemmy if he and she live together. He says: "No, but I'm often here." In the kitchen, the girl makes a
sandwich and swallows it in a few bites. They discuss the recent marriage of a girl that they both know.
"The groom is a prick, he spent a lot of money. They'd known each other scarcely a few weeks when they
got engaged, and got married a few months later." Lemmy says he finds this incomprehensible. In the
bedroom, he finds yet more things. In a quite an old schoolbag, there are all sorts of clippings and
magazines. All of them are in Danish.
All about Hawkwind?
"Not all of it, but mostly."
The girlfriend is dropped off back at the boutique and we drive through a shopping street when Lemmy says
suddenly: "Write this down, the next time that Lemmy comes to Amsterdam, there must be more speed!"
In a side-street off Portobello Road, Simon lives and that's where we're headed now. The drummer is always
home, he lives in the basement flat of a perhaps Victorian house. At the top of the stairs are rubbish bins
filled to the brim, and behind the closed white curtains a dog barks. Later I ask Simon why the curtains are
always closed, and he says: "There are always people walking past here, looking inside." Simon's wife opens
the door, Lemmy commands the dog to behave, and we all find a place at the kitchen table. There are guitars
on the kitchen table. The other guitars stay out in the van. "I keep mine here."
Simon drums and Simon watches TV. Throughout the evening, a whole bunch of people drop in. Terry
Ollis, Simon's predecessor, comes round and they open a bottle of wine. Mission Impossible is on, and I
have to prop my eyes open with matchsticks... After Terry leaves Simon says that his participation in
Hawkwind came to an end because of musical differences. A young man with child-molester eyes and a
guitar in his hands appeared: Trevor Burton. He's a neighbor of Simon's, a former member of the Move and
session-guitarist with Traffic and Ginger Baker. Re: Silver Machine, Simon says that Dave Brock expected it
to get into the top ten...that the record reached number two, however, came as a surprise to Brock. Also he
does not see a second single coming, and wants to do the proposed space-opera. We talk about what kinds
of instruments he will use.
The next evening there are recordings for a radio program on the BBC. Already quite early in the afternoon
the stage lies strewn with cables, stands and amplifiers. The action begins round half four and Dave Brock
steps in, throws his Afghan on top of a case, plugs in his guitar and begins. Lemmy jumps up, Simon gets
behind his drums and soon the three of them are rocking out. They pause then, and most of the band
disappear to a cafe, Del Dettmar sits in front of the pinball machine and works his magic for a quarter of an
hour, teasing the spaciest effects from its casing. Together with the very sleepy-eyed DikMik, this wise
gnome occupies the right flank of Hawkwind. The left flank comprises the rhythm-section of Brock, Lemmy
Round half nine the studio doors are opened to me and possibly to a few fans as well. The lights go out and
Hawkwind take off. There is at first just a single silver spotlight, within which Stacia becomes a marionette
and Brock's rhythm lances straight through those present. Nik Turner passes for a Viking, just with his head.
For an hour and a half, London is no longer London, work is no longer work: nothing exists but the dazzling
machine and the deafening hubbub. On Silver Machine, Lemmy goes out front, and that's it. And
irrevocably, the world contracts back to reality again.