|Hawkwind - the Devil's Music
The article is so called because it comes from a strange magazine called "Heavy Metal - The Devil's
Music"...volume 3 to be precise, published in 2006 by Classic Rock and Metal Hammer magazines. This
is doubtless why the author (Malcolm Dome) drones on so boringly about drugs for the first half of the
article: he has to do something to shoehorn a band like Hawkwind into such, er, satanic company as all
the standard metal bands. But the article does get much more interesting towards the end.
Drugs. The bane of civilized society, and one closely associated with rock'n'roll. Not that rock music
invented the whole game - it had been associated with the arts for centuries prior, but by the late 1960s the
open patronage by some of the biggest names of the day had made drugs...well, cool. It was no longer a
hidden agenda. Yet those who feared that it would undermine and destroy the ethics of social morality had a
stand-by. And as the number of bodybags grew, the arguments against legalising the drug culture became
even stronger; marginalise the users, criminalise the dealers, and the mainstream collective was safe. And
then there came Hawkwind.
Somehow, this lot were different. They stood apart. Theirs was a working-class approach to psychedelia.
While many of their contemporaries were either middle class or aspirants to such elevation, this mob weren't
interested. They hung out in the Mountain Grill Cafe in London's Ladbroke Grove as the mythology of the
late 60's began to implode; and stayed distant from so much that seemed to be self-conscious and
self-important. The ethic of Hawkwind was far removed from the fragile, frail spirits who inhabited many
bands of the time - let others experiment with psychotropics in order to expand their minds, souls and
talents. These guys were merely incorporating drugs into a balanced diet and that made them dangerous,
Think about it. The likes of Pink Floyd were suggesting that there was an altogether higher plane to the use
of drugs - it was a way of pushing artistic barriers. In taking this almost elitist approach, such bands were
taking drugs out of the norm and connecting them with extraordinary musical vision; they weren't for the
great unwashed, but the province of those with innate abilities that would be enhanced.
Hawkwind, though. Now here was something a little unusual. They probably took more drugs than most,
but weren't doing it in order to add to the sum of human knowledge. They just bloody enjoyed it! (And
didn't care who knew.) Along with fellow Ladbroke pals The Pink Fairies, they represented a blue-collar,
greasy-spoon approach to the music of the time - one that might have been out of step with the pretensions
and demands of many, but was most assuredly a return to the roots of the genre.
I first met Hawkwind mainman Dave Brock in 1979. By that time, the band had been going for a decade,
and to some they'd had their moment dealing with the sauna of success, and were now drifting. We met at
the offices of the band's then PR agency, Heavy Publicity. "So, what do you want, then? Just name it and
we'll get it," enquired one Mick Wall, now one of the UK's top rock writers, but back then Hawkwind's press
officer. What he meant was a cocktail of drugs that would send anyone's head spinning in a humid haze. All
I wanted was a cup of tea and a jam doughnut! I seem to recall that Brock and then bassist Harvey
Bainbridge were equally at home with a more mundane fare.
Back then Brock struck me as a straightforward soul, one comfortable with the way the band's reputation
had unfurled, and keen to emphasise that he saw this as a long-term project. At no point did either of them
snort, smoke or inject anything untoward. So much for the legend that these guys were so high on drugs
they spent most of their time on first-name terms with the rings of Saturn.
Meeting Brock many times since, you quickly come to appreciate that here is a man who's made drugs part
of his diet. He no longer regards this as a recreation, hobby or indulgence. He's as likely to sit down to a
quiche as ingest several tabs of acid. And that's what makes Hawkwind so dangerous to the norms we
regard as safeguarding society. How can you deal with a band who've taken drugs so much into their lives
that there's an almost conservative normality about them? Brock has actually made drugs part of everyday
life - they don't control him, he controls them. And if word of this ever gets out, then governments will
topple, economies will collapse...so this has to remain between us, OK?
But seriously, Hawkwind have always been connected to drugs yet have never seemed to be victims.
Perhaps it's because there's always been a knowledge that the drugs weren't an end of itself, nor even a
means to an end. No, they were just part of the food chain.
Remarkable. Maybe it's because Hawkwind never permitted themselves to believe all the bullshit about the
opening of mystical inner doorways through acid and mushrooms, and always thought of a drug as
something to be savoured, in the way that others ingest a bar of chocolate. Whatever the reason, nearly 40
years after they started the journey, the band are unique.
Above: spot the roadie!
Inevitably, there's so much more to this story than a
fascination with the way they've dealt with drugs
through the decades. Dave Brock (on vocals / guitar)
has remained the sole constant throughout a
chequered, diverse career. So many have come, gone
and returned over the years that it's almost impossible
to keep up with the revolving door. But in their time,
the likes of Lemmy, science fiction author Michael
Moorcock, eccentric poet Robert Calvert and madcap,
crazed saxophonist Nik Turner have made their mark
on this band - some to better effect than others. Even
celebrated drummer Ginger Baker (he of Cream fame)
has had a bash with this collective. Known as the
godfathers of space rock, Brock himself traces the
beginnings of this sound back to pre-'Wind days.
"Before Hawkwind I had another band called the
Famous Cure and used to play psychedelic music. I
tried to see what kind of weird sounds I could get out
of my guitar. For instance, I would use a steel knife
instead of a bottleneck. Also, we had an oscillator
audio generator, which was normally use for testing
radio waves. When you put that through an echo unit,
it used to make all these strange sounds. We also had
tape loops, so were kinda experimental."
"In the early days of Hawkwind we were pretty much playing psychedelic music, and at that time there were
a lot of people taking LSD. There was a big rave culture. We also had a good light show, with a lot of
strobes at really dangerous levels, and we utilised a lot of different sound frequencies. Therefore a lot of
people would be falling over, or if they were drunk, they used to be sick! It was like an experiment between
electronic music and rock, using very simple rhythmic chords. We're still doing the same thing now. Once
you find your niche, as we have with space rock, why change?"
Two things separated Hawkwind from the others. The first was a light show that swirled, swathed and
swamped, provided by Liquid Len and the Lensmen (Liquid Len being Jonathon Smeeton), being both
innovative and disorienting. It was groundbreaking visuals that provided Hawkwind with a different ritual to
most psychedelically inspired bands of the 70's. This was a psychosis trip for the visual cortex. The other
unique aspect of the band playing live was the presence of naked female dancers, something that gave the
performance a certain carnival sideshow feel - and provided many a red-blooded male in the audience with
hard-ons - whatever drugs they were on! Anyone remember Stacia, the comely wench with the pneumatic
"Stacia, yeah. She was six foot tall, with a 42-inch chest," recalls Brock. "In those days people used to take
their clothes off a lot, feel free and jump around. It was just part of what happened. Then we had Renee,
who used to dance with the Jefferson Airplane, and then Quicksilver Messenger Service. Both of them then
started wearing exotic costumes. They weren't strippers but they did 'interpretations'. Stacia was like
(legendary 20th century dancer) Isadora Duncan."
While Brock might wish to give the whole dancing thing an esoteric spin, it must be said that, for most
people, Stacia in particular was the stuff of wet dreams. Her antics were shocking and some of those
moves would have even amazed contortionists strutting their stuff at live sex shows in Amsterdam. [Oh
come on Malcolm, you really are dumbing this down for the metal masses, aren't you?!]
Musically, Hawkwind have always been in their own corner. They practically invented the whole space rock
game and the influence has been pervasive. Where would the stoner rock brigade be without this influence?
No band owes more to Hawkwind than Monster Magnet. Listen to their early albums - it is a re-alignment of
what Hawkwind had done in the 70's.
Musically, it's difficult to actually bed down what makes Brock and his myriad tribes so important and
subversive. Since their self-titled debut was released in 1970, the band have put out more than 30 records
with varying degree of success. But however mundane some of these have been, there are landmark
moments, ones that have clearly helped to shape the way rock has developed. From the 'Hawkwind' record
in 1970 to 'In Search Of Space', (1971), 'Warrior On The Edge Of Time' (1975), 'Quark, Strangeness And
Charm' (1977), 'Levitation' (1979) [sic], 'Chronicle Of The Black Sword' (1985) and 'Take Me To Your
Leader' (2005), they've always been prepared to take risks, yet within a strictly defined parameter. And with
each succeeding generation, there seems to be a re-discovery of the band. After the initial burst of
commercial success, propelled by the hit single 'Silver Machine' in 1972, the band were adopted by the new
wave later that decade, finding a new audience. In the 1980s, it was through the dance scene that
Hawkwind discovered allies and a fresh twist, while the ravers of the next decade were quick to
acknowledge a like-minded spirit in the band. Now, the resurgence of interest in prog and psychedelia has
also done them a few favours.
"I think we've always moved with the times," insists Brock "While we have our own stamp we've taken
notice of what's going on around us. It's helped to freshen up what we do."
Of course, no Hawkwind story would be complete without a political controversy, and they had one in 1973
with the release of the single 'Urban Guerrilla' Coming at a time when the IRA were bombing London, this
was quickly withdrawn with some seeing Hawkwind as anarchists out to decompose the fabric of what we
call democracy. It was a hysterical reaction to a song that was never written to be an anthem for revolution.
But then, we are talking about a band whom many have found tough to fathom.
Brock himself lives on a working farm in Devon, and has done for years. It's all far removed from the world
where that other, most famous of Hawkwind connections lives. Lemmy was fired in 1975 because of a
drugs bust -how ironic, eh?- but has gone on to become a high profile, articulate celebrity in his own right.
Yet despite public perception, Brock has always insisted the pair are on good terms. "The friendship never
stopped really. When he got sacked from the band, it set him up on his own road. Motorhead have been
huge. He's a superstar. If he hadn't have got sacked, who knows what would have happened? It's funny
how fate works out. He joins us on stage regularly, and if I ever go to Los Angeles, I pop round and see
him in his luxury apartment!"
Motorhead and Hawkwind are the same coin in many ways, except the former are the flip-side of the latter.
And while time has turned Lemmy into a much-loved, almost anodyne figure, whereas Brock...well, he
remains resolutely in the shadows. Immutably individual, he leads an alternative lifestyle that is not that far
removed from his aspirations back in the early 70's. While many from that era were either overwhelmed by
their own excesses or eventually caved in to the demands of normality, he has trodden his own path, which
makes Brock an enigma and a man to be feared. For there is nothing more guaranteed to put those in power
on the back foot than the willful presence of a man who holds firm to his own values. Brock isn't a person
apart from society, but dips in to take what he requires, and moves on.
Hawkwind's value is as a recognition that there is a way of existing within the laws of the modern world
without actually giving up personal freedoms. Is there anything more subversive? That's why every
generation has found a kindred spirit in a band led by someone who's now of pensionable age (Brock will be
65 in August) and they'll carry on doing so.
"Why do people need rock stars? Because they've no faith in religion or politics so they turn to musicians as
people to whom they can look up. But I'm no star. I think the secret of Hawkwind's success over the years
has been in our ability to appeal to everyone. You know, fans come along to our gigs, and we always put
on as much of a show as we can. But they also understand that those onstage are the same as them."
The hippy with the punk ethic, Brock has been an innovator in so many ways. While others had their music
tightly controlling by big labels, he calmly dealt with smaller companies that gave him more control.
The Sex Pistols might have threatened a revolution, but Hawkwind saw the benefits of evolution. They
understood that small steps can sometime be more subversive than big leaps. They are to be feared...and
nobody in authority realises! That is their ultimate triumph.