|The Strange Saga of Hawkwind
This article by Malcolm Dome appeared in a 1982 issue of Kerrang!
The term 'phenomenon' has become, in my
view, one of the most overly-used clichÃ©s
in rock journalism. Anyone, it seems, who's
managed to put out two albums is
automatically dubbed as such. In which case,
Hawkwind, given their 19-album career,
should be hailed by rock scribes as a
But to indulge in such blasÃ© terminology is
to misrepresent the band, before you start.
For, if nothing else, this lot, in the words of
Michael Foot, are 'inveterate peace-mongers'
not given to excess. A career spanning nearly
15 years has left this most fluid of outfits in a
peculiar, not to mention unique, position.
Over the last decade or so, Hawkwind's
original underground music contemporaries
have either disappeared or (in some cases)
ridden to international stardom, thus losing
their roots. Yet this band haven't changed one
jot - both a remarkable tribute to their staunch idealism, and also, perhaps, an equal damnation of
their failure to galvanise wide-ranging rock audience support in the same way as, say, Pink Floyd.
Always capable of hitting the Top 30 albums chart and selling out Odeon-sized venues in the UK,
Hawkwind possess one of the strongest cult followings in the entire history of Brit heavy rock.
Sheer fanaticism is the hallmark of the band's faithful. To them, the Hawkwind experience is an
unremitting religion. Yet, this has proven to be a double-edged sword. For over the years haven't
Hawkwind been guilty of trotting on the spot, adhering to tried-and-trusted formulae which
constantly appeal to the hard-core Hawkfans, but effectively closing out the rest of the rock world?
"I don't mind having such a definite following at all," explains Hawkwind leader / vocalist / guitarist /
keyboardsman (phew!) Dave Brock. "It means that we can maintain close relations with our fans,
something we couldn't do if we were huge. Obviously, there's a lot of money to be made from
being successful. But I think Hawkwind would lose that mystical quality if we took such a path.
Another point is that if you become REALLY big, then you're only gonna be at the top for a couple
of years, right? I don't wanna slag off Motorhead, but that's exactly what's happened to them -
they're on the way down now. No, there's a lotto be said for just ticking over nicely.
"And our following may be tight-knit but it is so diverse as well. One of our US fans, for instance,
is an aerospace university lecturer. He's kept in close touch with me for years now, and has even
sent over some colour slides of the Voyager spacecraft for the band to use."
Brock IS, without doubt, Hawkwind these days. The only remaining member from the early hippy
days in Ladbroke Grove (during the late sixties), he has over the years (more by default than design)
taken command of the band and it's direction.
"Hawkwind is like my wife - it's a 24 hours a day job, and I work VERY HARD on it." The
problem, of course, is that one person at the helm can cause artistic tunnel-vision. And, Brock has
never been truly creative. Rather, it's when he's worked with such talented characters as Bob
Calvert and Mike Moorcock that he's really been at his best - bringing out the best in them, by acting
as a human catalyst. For this reason, I believe Hawkwind's output over the past few albums has
been good but mundane. For Brock hasn't had the temperamental genius of a Calvert or Moorcock
to spark off. And that's why I'm especially heartened to see both men back in the Hawknest.
"When we played a one-off gig at London's Rainbow last Xmas, both guys came and jammed
on-stage. Mind you, off it they were really fighting most of the time, just like the old days," laughs
"We had hoped they'd be on our new LP, 'Choose Your Masques', as well. But time was very tight,
and Mike couldn't make it, whilst Bob had booked himself into a sanitorium!"
So, said album features (aside from Brock) Huw Lloyd-Langton (guitars), Harvey Bainbridge
(bass/keyboards), Martin Griffiths (drums) - and 'assorted noises' from Nik Turner, temporarily
returned to the 'Wind on a sabbatical from Inner City Unit (he will also be appearing on the
upcoming UK tour).
The album has a concept side (based around the search for Utopia), and would have been a complete
two-sided story, but, says Brock, "we never got around to doing the other side!" Thus, in the
tradition of Rush's "Farewell to Kings" / "Hemispheres"saga, we'll have to wait for the conclusion of
this epic until the next album.
A single, at the time of writing slated to be 'Solitary Mind Games', is to be lifted from the LP and
hopefully it will go some way towards expunging the rather embarrassing re-recorded release of
'Silver Machine' recently. To be brutal, I found Hawkwind's whole reason for covering their own
'greatest hit' inexplicable. It was so totally out of character with the band's traditional image of
caring for their fans and avoiding ripping 'em off. To put it out on a pic disc merely compounded
the blatant commercial exploitation angle - something Brock has always fought against.
"It was only done as a tenth anniversary thing and wasn't supposed to come out just as a picture
disc. That was RCA's decision and I didn't like it one bit. The only reason we cut it was as a
special commemorative souvenir, and it did have 15 minutes of music on the flip side, which IS
value for money."
Even allowing for any altruistic motives in the recording of such an anniversary edition, I still don't
understand why 'Silver Machine' was put out as an official single by the band (leaving aside financial
reasoning). Wouldn't it have been better to include this seven-incher as a freebie with the new LP?
No, I'm not trying to labour this point simply to journalistically whip Brock & Co. I'm just
attempting to maintain some semblance of objectivity. You see, as a long-standing admirer of this
band, I'm in great danger of talking about 'em from the fan viewpoint. And most Hawkwind fans
refuse to admit that the band are anything but PERFECT.
To my mind, the concept of the perfect rock band is a non-starter. And when Hawkwind DO make
mistakes, then even their most fanatical of supporters should be prepared to admit it. Let's have no
sweeping under the carpet. And 'Silver Machine' was a disastrous error for their credibility.
Whilst we're on the subject of Hawkfans, there's another serious point to make. In recent years,
their treatment of support bands on HW UK tours has been at best hostile and at worst...well,
they've made England's soccer hooligans seem angelic by comparison!
"Our fans ARE fanatical. But to some extent I can understand their frustrations with our support
acts. The trouble is promoters and booking agents these days sling any old rubbish on, usually
they're musically irrelevant to our audiences. It's only in exceptional cases, as with 'Mamas Boys'
last year, that we get really good bands. In fact, even now, two weeks before our '82 tour starts, I
don't know who'll be on with us. Maybe the answer would be for us not to use any support, but get
together a full 2Â½ hour show, I don't know. But this never happened years ago. In those days,
we had more control over the composition of our bill. Magicians, dancers, and weird groups like the
Albertos all played with us and went down a storm. So, please don't blame our fans entirely."
But, if Hawkwind opening acts have long felt the wrath of the faithful, then those outside of the
'Hawk ghetto' are equally antagonistic to the band - a point dramatically shown up by the reaction of
fans and critics alike to their set at this year's Donington Festival. "I disliked Donington intensely,"
asserts Brock. "It was a terrible day. Kids were really fleeced, being asked to pay Â£11 for the gig,
plus Â£4 for car parking facilities, Â£2 for a programme, and Â£6 for a tee-shirt. Festivals like
Donington exist only to make money - the fans' best interests are ignored."
This polarisation of attitudes has, over the years, made Hawkwind one of the most fascinating of all
rock bands. Any group that can inspire such love / hate amongst rock aficionados must be worth at
least checking out.
"I often wonder if it's all worthwhile. But then something inevitably crops up to keep it going. And,
as long as I can be many-faceted, achieving different things with different people, as I am at present,
then it's worth the effort of carrying on."