|How Hawkwind Fell Foul Of The Revenue Men
Chris Charlesworth, exclusively covering Hawkwind's American tour for MM, reports on a major setback
for the sonic assassins
This first appeared in the 28/09/74 issue of Melody Maker. Thanks to Jez Dacombe for scanning it!
Hawkwind, two weeks into a tour of the US, had all their equipment impounded following a concert in
Hammond, Indiana on Saturday evening. The incident occurred after a visit from several IRS (Internal
Revenue Service) agents, who claimed that the group owed some 8,000 dollars in taxes from their current
US tour. "The agents were waiting for the group when they came onstage, and they literally took their
guitars off their backs as they went to the dressing room," manager Doug Smith told me the following day.
"They demanded this money because of our earlier visit to the US during January 1 and September 21.
Actually we lost between 2,000 and 3,000 dollars on that tour."
He said that all the group's equipment, including their light show, was locked inside an office at the Civic
Centre, the theatre where the show took place, and stickers reading "Property of the US government" were
affixed to every item.
"All the equipment is impounded at the venue and it's worth Â£25-30,000, which is a great deal more than
the tax is," added Smith. On Sunday evening the group were not due to play a concert, but a date was set
for Monday night in Toledo, Ohio. At press time Smith hadn't decided whether to appeal against the tax
demand or pay up to get back the equipment. "The way Hawkwind work is on a day-to-day basis, paying
their way as we go along, though we can't afford to miss shows because of states like this."
Hawkwind are just beginning to make a name for themselves in the States. It would be an exaggeration to
call them "big" but they're steadily improving on each successive visit. The evening before the equipment
was impounded I saw the group performing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the town famous for Schlitz beer
(hence the song) which stands at the edge of Lake Michigan close to the Canadian border. "We haven't sold
out the hall tonight, but we've sold more tickets than we did the last time we were here," Smith told me
when I arrived. It turned out that the hall held 6,200 people and about 4,000 tickets had been sold.
"The last time we were here we only did about 2,000, though we're doubling our sale and that's good
enough for us."
The 6,200 seater hall was actually larger than most of the venues Hawkwind are visiting on this tour.
Usually they're around the 3,000 mark, and usually they're filling them - but as many a manager knows,
filling a 3,000 seater hall is only the tip of the iceberg in this country.
Managing Hawkwind, and especially coping with them in America, is an unenviable taks for Smith, In fact,
he's sporting a severely injured right arm, the result of an incident earlier in the tour involving a plate glass
window that came off measurably worse than his arm. The nerve in his arm was severely damaged and he
now agrees that it wa a silly thing to do. He was just making his point at the time.
There are some 21 people involved on the Hawkwind tour which for a group of six musicians, is a sizeable
crew unless you're in the top heavyweight league. Most bands of the stature of Hawkwind employ a crew
of six at the most and the size of the cfrew compares on a sliding scale with the earnings of the band. "It's
very expensive," mutters Smith. "I mean, it's silly really, but what can you do about it? It's one big family,
and there's another 15 of them at home who keep popping up here in the States along the way. We'll just
have to get our own plane soon."
On a purely idealistic basis, Hawkwind draw an English parallel with the Grateful Dead. They are, indeed,
one happy family, a bunch of hippies who never grew up since the late sixties and who somehow manage to
survive intact despite severe pressure from the authorities to whom their lifestyle appears completely alien.
The music, I'm inclined to think, is secondary to this lifestyle. Hawkwind are a modern-day equivalent to
the traveling circus, a closely-knit community whose means of supporting themselves suits them admirably
and entertains a growing following wherever they go.
Taking this line of thought it was a particularly odious act by the IRS to impound their instruments. Would
they confiscate a carpenter's hammer or painter's brush in similar circumstances? However, Hawkwind
seem used to setbacks of this kind. Their progress from the original Notting Hill freebie concert outfit to
their current standing has not been without its trials and traumas.
The current Hawkwind band numbers six official members, the group having taken on a second drummer in
Alan Powell, who used to play with Vinegar Joe and Chicken Shack. Also, on the date I saw them, they had
Al Matthews drumming along for the whole act. He's a black conga player they've befriended along the way
who used to play alongside Richie Havens.
The vast crew, of course, run a huge light show as well as the sound system and Andy Dunkley, Britianâ
€™s alternative DJ, is also along for the ride.
It's kinda odd to hear his Marquee lisp introducing records between sets on the banks of Lake Michigan.
It's also the first time to my knowledge that any group have brought along a disc jockey to play records
before and after their set, accompanied with the usual patter and some cheerleading from the band. "He's
been with us so long now we can't get rid of him," smiles Smith. Dunkley, however, also makes himself
useful by acting as an unpaid roadie.
And what of the music? Well, the set I saw was hardly their best and every member of the band wished Iâ
€™d been there the previous night in Chicago when apparently it was much better. At times as far as I was
concerned it was mere accompaniment to the stupendous light show, which is beamed onto a screen at the
rear and where the attention is firmly focused most of the time. The most impressive part came during â
€œHall Of The Mountain Grill" from the band's new album of the same name, when there was shown a
series of slides depicting a tree gradually disappearing while a city was built around it. Eventually, though,
the tree grows again and its strength knocks aside the concrete until it retains its former glory. Heady,
Hawkwind's music is an eerie cross between the Pink Floyd and the Moody Blues delivered without the
finesse of either of those bands but with far more determination. The relentless rhythm section now
comprising two drummers as well as bassist Lemmy and frequently a chord-strumming Dave Brock,
pounds away at the brain, pummeling a space fiction soundtrack that drones along with the force of a
bulldozer. Occasionally Brock takes lead, but most of the solo work comes from Simon House's keyboard
though his Mellotron chords seem to go on forever. Nik Turner's horn, blown from behind his frog mask,
was frequently drowned out by the rhythm section.
Fortunately, Hawkwind offer two alternatives to actual listening: the lights and Stacia, their buxom ballerina,
who arrives late but still in time to dance in a variety of costumes while the band drones on. The looseness
of it all was brought home to me admirably when, noticing that Stacia hadn't arrived, I queried the point with
Doug Smith. "Dunn o where she is," he said. "She was at the hotel. Sometimes it's Simon, sometimes it's
Lemmy who doesn't show. We always get through somehow, though."
- Chris Charlesworth