|Hawkwind 1977 Press, Part 2|
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|Three articles, this time, from 1977 - the year everything changed, including Hawkwind. They were never "just" a bunch of Ladbroke Grove hippies thereafter, and I have the distinct feeling that this was something to do with their ability to remain relevant and vital in the face of the Punk revolution...
The first two pieces here are from unknown publications and dates (though the year is certain). The last piece is an album review from the 25/6/77 issue of the Melody Maker.
Left: Bob Calvert live on stage at Bracknell Sports Centre, 18/12/76
Hawkwind have been through some drastic changes over the last 18 months or so with the departure of such stalwarts as Stacia, Nik Turner, Paul Rudolph and Alan Powell. But, judging from their recent British tour, and the release of their latest album “Quark, Strangeness & Charm”, the band have benefited from
|what was described as “the worst year for us” by Bob Calvert.
Calvert is the quintessential Hawklord, along with Dave Brock, but his current day-to-day appearance bears little relationship to what one might imagine a Master Of The Universe or a Sonic Assassin would look like. “It’s my solicitor’s clerk look which I’m currently trying to cultivate. It’s an appearance which goes against the grain of people’s ideas of what a rock singer should look like. That’s the last thing in the world I look like.”
Bob Calvert’s appearance seems a suitable one for someone who is so obviously well-organised and who is encroaching more and more on the world of literature. Calvert originally showed his tendencies towards the more literally theatrical world with his two solo albums, “Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters” and “Lucky Leif and the Longships” and then continued with his short play about Jimi Hendrix, which was staged about a year ago.
Now he has just completed work on his second play, which deals with Brian Jones, late guitarist with the Rolling Stones, and lone sailor Donald Crowhurst, who died in somewhat mysterious circumstances during the Sunday Times marathon yacht race. “The point I’m trying to make in the play is to show the pressures individuals have to put up with when they’re faced with big organizations like the whole Rolling Stones machine or the Sunday Times. At the end of the play Brian Jones and Donald Crowhurst meet up with each other after they’ve died and they have a kind of underwater conversation. There’s some talk of it being made into a film but I doubt if it will work out. It’s easier to take risks in the theatre – risks like getting a strong reaction from people who do not come across well in the play – perhaps mainly because it’s unlikely that a great many people will see a play, especially if it’s put on in a fringe theatre.”
Calvert is also publishing a book of poems next month, which goes under the title of Centigrade 232. Shades of Ray Bradbury’s parable against book-burning, Fahrenheit 451 (the temperature at which paper burns)? “Yes, you got that quicker than most people. In fact the centigrade equivalent is something like 233.5 and actually 232 is the temperature at which writing paper burns rather than book paper. It’s meant to signify the writer burning his rough drafts.”
“There aren’t any science fiction poems in the book, oddly enough. I’ve written several but they were pruned out when I was finishing the collection. For years I’ve wanted to put out a definitive collection of poems and therefore one had to be extremely ruthless with the final choice. There’s one called Churchill’s Secret Rock Deal – which was actually a headline dealing with one of the younger Churchills, not Winston, working out some deal with Franco over the Rock Of Gibraltar. It was such a beautiful idea it made me think of a poem about Winston setting up a record contract.”
Calvert has also been working on a science-fiction novel, his first foray into this field, which he has half-completed. It sounds like a curious tale dealing with Arabs, First World War pilots and oil-drinking Martian machines.
Despite these various activities Calvert still finds time for Hawkwind, which he considers to be in a fitter state now than it’s ever been. “The album is one of the best we’ve done,” says Calvert, “and we worked extremely hard on it. We’re more positive now than we’ve been for a long time.”
|An original: Jon Smeeton and Hawkwind. Hawkwind are a band that should not exist. In fact, they have ceased to exist several times, each time through a more or less dramatic break-up, and each time they have bounced back, usually with a line-up close to the one they had before breaking-up the last time, to do another tour. Perhaps part of the explanation for this ability to rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes of each dissolution is the fact that, despite their unashamed sixties hippy associations and their slightly chaotic presentation, they sell out each time they tour Britain, and their records, while never riding the charts, always do well enough to provide a regular living. Some of the kudos for this must go to Jonathon Smeeton, their designer and chief technical operator, who creates the effects and sets with which they tour. For it is the show which holds at least part of their appeal to new young fans as well as to former hippies yearning for other days.
Their current theme, Space, draws their varied audience, and this audience wants to see effects. The effects they get may not always be technically amazing, but they are certainly spacey. On their 1976 tour of Britain and America they produced their best and most ambitious visual show yet; all designed by Jon Smeeton and built by a small company, C.J. Frame-Up, which specializes in making fibre-glass constructions for film, television and rock. The main construction consisted of a set of huge trunk-like structures that can only be compared with elephants' legs, linked across the top by another thick trunk, and made entirely of coloured fibre-glass. Inside these trunks, controlled by a lighting board which Jon commissioned to be specially made for compactness coupled with flexibility and plenty of circuits and pre-sets, were many brightly coloured
lights, linked in circuits which could be brought on at required times during the show.
There was a certain amount of difficulty building and fitting the construction during rehearsals at Pinewood Studios, and on the actual tour the top horizontal linking trunk was left out, but the lights worked well, creating dazzling and somewhat psychedelic movements behind the slow mime actions of Bob Calvert as he strutted and posed downstage wearing a costume that could most readily be described as a cross between Operatic Viking and Roger Dean Space-Warrior. (I suspect it was inspired by Marvel Comics.)
There was no particular point to this construction. It did not represent anything in particular, there was no symbolism intended; it was just an environment to transform the stage from a work space for musicians into a game-arena for rock performers. It was designed to trigger the imagination, not to lead it, and for this very reason I regard it, despite its' technical limitations, as one of the most successful examples of rock design I have seen. It perfectly illustrated the point that rock design must not intrude upon the performers or the audience's perception of them, and it must not distract from their performance. Yet this particular structure still managed to be strong enough to suggest fantasy, the otherworld, strangeness, and all within a scientific context because it was obviously artificial and contained flashing lights. Any action of the performers, set against this structure, would appear relevant, simply because it said nothing beyond being the shape and colour that it was. This is what good rock design can do.
Hawkwind is an example of a band that has tailored itself to the medium-sized venue. Their effects, even their sets, would look too small in the giant venues, and it is doubtful if they have got enough fans to fill them in any case. They have got round the problem of rising costs by hiring most of the equipment, including the lights but not the operating board, and the towers and grids to hang them from, thus leaving their budget free to cover the cost of building one set that will dominate the stage without limiting the actions of the performers. Their stage act requires a certain amount of rehearsal, though not the long hours that Yes must do, and a lot of room is left for improvisation, both in Jon's operation of the lighting and in the stage movements of the performers. Despite the hippy image and the Ladbroke Grove origins, this band is as tight as it needs to be, and its design is among the best...
|Hawks get back in gear (Melody Maker, 25/06/77):
HAWKWIND: "Quark Strangeness And Charm" (Charisma COS 4008). Robert Calvert (vocals percussion), Dave Brock (guitar, synthesizer, vocals), Simon House (keyboards, violin, anvil, vocals), Adrian Shaw (bass, vocals), Simon King (drums, percussion). Recorded at Rockfield Studios, Monmouth. Produced by Hawkwind and engineered by Dave Charles with Dave Brock and Robert Calvert.
The inner sleeve of this album includes a note from Hawkwind to their fans, part of which reads: "This is just a small message to let you know we are back on course. Last year was the worst year for us, finding us in debt and out of touch with the modern world. We have had a few changes: the sacking of Nik Turner, Paul Rudolph and Alan Powell and the arrival of Adrian Shaw, our old friend from 'Magic Muscle' ... So once again, we'll try and get the motors running."
In those words the band have said most of what needs to be said about their recent past history, and their attempts to get back to being a viable band in 1977. The question of whether they have succeeded in rehabilitating themselves successfully with "Quark Strangeness And Charm" remains an open one, however. The best answer at the moment is that they've gone part of the way, but at times Hawkwind are still glaringly archaic and almost parodies of themselves.
But first, the good news. The band have developed a real sense of humour for a start. I've always had a good deal of respect for Robert Calvert and his view of the world ever since he came out with that amazing solo album, "Captain Lockheed And Tht Starflghters." Yet it puzzled me that his presence in Hawkwind seems to have had such a small effect on the band and their stance. But "Quark" finds Calvert in very fine form as a lyricist.
The opening track, "Spirit Of The Age," for example, is extremely amusing. Essentially it's about a guy -who turns out, later, to be a clone- who's a bit disappointed that his girlfriend's father didn't allow her to be placed in suspended animation at the same time as him - typical Hawkwind subject matter.
There's a classic sequence of lines which goes "Your android replica is playing up again / it's no joke / when she comes she moans another's name." No-one but Calvert and Hawkwind could dream up something like that. To be two-timed is one thing, but by an android?
The title track -itself a play on words using newly coined terms for sub-atomic particles and their properties- is also amusing. Calvert sings about Einstein -"nobody ever called him Al"- and Copernicus, whose telescope apparently drove Renaissance ladies crazy.
Aside from this humorous aspect of his lyrics, Calvert has also matured sufficiently to allow himself to write a bitter-sweet song about the underground of the Sixties, which could be read as a find farewell from Hawkwind to the spirit of the age that originally gave birth to them. The final line is: "I believe we have drowned / in the days of the underground."
On a more negative side, Hawkwind's improvement, lyrically, has not been matched instrumentally nor structurally. The only musician of note on "Quark" is Simon House for his consistently impressive violin passages, notably on "Damnation Alley," based on the science-fiction novel by Roger Zelazny, and "Hassan-i-Sahba".
In addition, there is a fascinating synthesizer riff underpinning the instrumental "Forge Of Vulcan", which demonstrates that repetition of a cyclic nature need not be boring - something which Hawkwind tend to forget on much of the rest of the album.
The aforementioned. "Damnation Alley" is the best track on this collection, combining interesting lyrics with strong instrumentation and a good, solid, coherent structure. In contrast, "Spirit Of The Age" takes an abominable length of time to get started and even longer to fade out. Having seen Hawkwind only last week on stage it's obvious that they've yet to grasp the essential difference between an extended riff on record and the same in a live context.
In concert an extended piece can be an engrossing experience, particularly in the case of Hawkwind, with their exceptionally clever and fascinating lightshow, but it wears thin on record. Overall, however, Hawkwind are definitely making a move in the right direction. They're sharper and more direct than they've been for a long time and it only needs them to match their trimmed down personnel with an equally trimmed down approach to song structure and they could be well on the way to a new and refreshing lease of life.