|Leisure Wear Of The Hawklords
This article was retyped from a digital photo of an NME press clipping (16/12/78) - many thanks to Wilfried
Schuesler for sending it to me.
If you think that five hours of buffetless British Rail to Folkestone may perhaps not be the best entrÃ©e to a
two-hour course of Hawklords, you're perfectly correct. Climbing the several-hundred stone steps set in clear
cliff face from seafront to center of nightly activity didn't help, either.
Out-of-season Folkestone has the air of the necropolis: dark, cold, empty, the false promise of seaside follies
and the deserted crazy-golf courses exposed to the elements. I feel like Jack Nicholson in The King Of
Marvin Gardens and wonder, what does Reginald Dixon do in the winter? Head for the Azores or hibernate?
It certainly seems there's pitifully little for "young folk" to do in such places at the best of times: a glance at the
'forthcoming attractions' posters at the Leas Cliff Hall indicates that tourist-orientated entertainment rules even
out of season, OK? Peters and Lee, Tom O'Connor, and...¦what's this? For a magical split-second, I thought
the poster read "The Dead Girl Pipers Band"! No such luck. It's the *Deaf* Girls Pipers Band. Should have
known better, I suppose.
The Leas Cliff Hall's a perfect piece of seaside-show architecture: balustraded balconies, bar big enough to
house maybe a pair of paralysed polecats (at a pinch). There's a distinct lack of violence in the atmosphere,
which, given the diversity of sub-cultures in evidence, is a little surprising. Or maybe not. Inner-city urban
deprivation chic obviously holds little sway in seaside resorts. There are a lot of extremely attractive young
ladies present. "Shine On You Crazy Deutschemark" plays over the P.A...¦.
I'd always thought of Hawkwind as a peculiarly anachronistic mixture of sci-fi and drugs, slapdash and
bombast - a drug-besotted relic of an age many would prefer to forget. But, as vocalist Bob Calvert points
out, "It doesn't take very much for an image to stick, especially if it's an adverse one. You've only got to have
one member of the band busted, it gets the press and then everyone gets branded with that.â€� To say
nothing, one might add, of the dictates of fashion.
However, the reason I'm here follows friends' recommendations as to the musical merits of â€œQuark,
Strangeness and Charm." A cursory listen not only justified further investigation but hinted that their recent
work bore more than a passing relation to certain more, ah, *fashionable* musics.
Just desserts, I felt, were not forthcoming.
Besides which, recent upheavals in the band, accompanied by a change of name, suggested a redefinition of
outlook and intention, a rejuvenation alluded to in the liner-note to "Quark": "This is just a small message to let
you know that 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...¦"
"It was a case of continual battles," explains Calvert, "in order to bring about the necessary changes to keep
the band alive and in touch with the modern world - whatever that is, because it's always changing. It's only a
matter of subjective taste as to what section of the modern world you're in touch with, anyway."
These arguments about musical direction led to Calvert and founder / guitarist Dave Brock emerging as "the
strongest, fittest survivors. A coup was put down, y'know...¦!" So, exeunt names like Powell, Turner,
Rudolph, King and House, and enter, eventually, bassist Harvey Bainbridge and drummer Martin Griffin from
Hawkwind spin-off band The Sonic Assassins, and keyboard-player Steve Swindells from session work and a
stint with (of all people) Pilot.
"Initially, Dave and I formed The Sonic Assassins down in Devon with Martin and Harvey in order to be able
to do the gigs we wanted to do at a moment's notice, instead of getting into arguments with people about
whether they wanted to play a benefit, for example, or play Northern Ireland. It was quite a logical step to
form a band called The Hawklords from The Sonic Assassins - they're both nicknames that have been used to
describe the band in the past, and indeed there are three science-fiction novels about a band called the
Hawklords, which are based on us."
At the time of the split Hawkwind were working on the follow-up to "Quark, Strangeness and Charm", an
album provisionally entitled "PXR5". Apparently a patchy affair, it was felt best to postpone / rethink the
album, and start a new one completely from scratch, with new songs and the new band (plus Simons King
and House on a few tracks). The result was "Hawklords", an album which, despite Calvert's description of it
as "a fairly conventional collection of songs," and despite the most off-putting cover ever to slide around vinyl,
is not without a fair proportion of fine moments. I'll not bore you with potted descriptions of the tracks, save
to say that "25 Years" is the best Roxy Music track that Roxy Music never recorded (which raises questions
of chickens and eggs), and that, in general, it's as engaging a mixture of solidity and sardonic futurism as
you'll encounter nowadays. Not a *great*, but certainly a *good* debut album, and one which serves to pull
the band -and hopefully, their fans- into contention with the late seventies. Transition is the word.
The hall darkens, the audience cheers and moves forward, and the legend "Pan-Transcendental Industries Inc"
flashes up on the backdrop, followed by "25 Years On". Noises are made in the darkness, finally resolving
into "25 Years", and things get brighter.
Calvert, an obsessive dresser-up / actor, (and, if the truth be known, a more accomplished singer than heâ
€™s usually given credit for), is in guerilla chic: beret, bullet-belt diagonal 'cross torso, etc.. Attired thus, the
resemblance to Wolfie Smith from TV sitcom Citizen Smith is astonishing, lending an otherwise absent
humorous edge to the images of austerity and alienation which make up the current stage show. (It occurs to
me later that the eponymous, out-of-synch toy revolutionary of that series has an ironic congruence with the
accepted view of Hawkwind as anachronism - unintentional, no doubt, but nonetheless an interesting
Two hours later, when they leave the stage, two things are apparent: one is that the Hawklords band is an
extremely powerful, professional unit, totally at odds with the old Hawk-image of hangover hippies too
wrecked to tie their bootlaces: the other is that there's a definite conflict of interest between the band and the
fans. The former are concerned with change, new leaves and clean sheets. As Martin Griffin surmises: â
€œIt's a band concerned with *the future* more than anything."
The latter...¦well, it's pretty obvious when the band depart the stage that no-one's gonna leave till theyâ€™ve
heard "Silver Machine", okay? Which places The Hawklords in rather a difficult position. To pander or not to
pander? And while it's okay for an outsider like me to go along with the lust for progress in Steve Swindell's
avowal that he "doesn't care whether a few old hippies get left behind", the peculiar fanaticism of the Hawk-
fan has to be taken into consideration.
"When kids are coming backstage afterwards," points out Griffin, "and telling you not that it's a great gig, but
that it's the *greatest experience of their lives*, you start to get an idea of the responsibility that rests on you."
The end result is an incredibly long -mere semi-converts like myself might say interminable- show which tries
to cover every phase of Hawkwind's career, from "Urban Guerilla" and "Sonic Attack" through "Steppenwolf"
to "Quark, Strangeness and Charm", beside presenting the newer Hawklords material.
Value for money, okay, but the failure (or unwillingness) to make a complete break with the past can only
frustrate their desire to be accepted as a different band. Although, when asked about the differences between
Hawkwind and the Hawklords, Calvert either isn't too sure about the distinctions himself, or attempts to
appease old fans by blurring those distinctions: "If I could be allowed to put it this way, it seems like *now*
the band seems more the same than it used to be two years ago! Now, it's more like Hawkwind in spirit and
feeling. I think there seems to be much stronger communion now between us and the people who come - and
a lot of people have remarked that it *is* remarkable that the band is so sort of Hawkwind-ish, in spite of the
fact that everybody's changed except Dave and me."
This sounds a trifle tautological, but I can see what Calvert means: live, this band is Hawkwind, to all intents
and purposes. A tighter, no-nonsense Hawkwind, but still Hawkwind. Which doesn't fit with either their
recent recorded stuff or their offstage demeanour. Instead of the untogether, out-of-control, drug-addled
louts of Lemmy-legend, the band I met was to a man composed of thoughtful, humorous, earnest but
restrained human beings. A nicer bunch of blokes, etc.. What other band do you know that'd stop the tour
coach to purchase, not booze, but buns? A peculiarly *English* phenomenon you'll agree, and quite in accord
with Calvert's neat, conservative brown suit and brogues - in itself a helluva get-up for a bona-fide sonic
In conversation Calvert combines his onstage eagerness with his offstage reserve and displays a refreshing
articulacy. I ask him whether the mythopoeic aspirations of the old band will be continued in The Hawklords.
"It seems that the impetus for these literary intentions is behind us now...¦there's a much less self-conscious
approach. We're concerned with creating sounds and lyrics that actually feel right, rather than being tailored
to fit a concept...¦"
This seems to be the case, despite the "Hawklords" album's loosely draped factory / industry / automation
concept. I put it to Calvert that whereas Hawkwind always came across like an aural Conan comic, the
Hawklords are concerned more with future reality-possibilities than future fantasies, that they jumped from
Burroughs (Edgar Rice, not fashionable William) to Ballard.
"Right. I think, however, that the fantasy content largely comes from the artwork more than the content of
the songs. 'Silver Machine', for example, isn't a sort of Conan long-haired fantasy thing, it's quite a modern
song. And 'Urban Guerilla' is another. The Moorcock material that's been used, in fact, is things like 'Sonic
Attack' - much more *realistic* SF than fantasy SF."
Do they read much SF, then? Are they influenced by it? (Viz., things like 'Damnation Alley' from â€œQuark
Strangeness and Charm").
"I don't! I don't like SF that much. Nobody in this band is particularly an SF fanatic. But then, neither is
Michael Moorcock himself. I think if you're a practitioner of that kind of thing, in literature or music, there
are much more interesting sources of inspiration to be found outside the field altogether, in newspapers and
magazines like Scientific American, which is where the 'Quark Strangeness and Charmâ€™ idea came from.
Most SF is trash, actually...¦"
I concur, and after a brief discussion on the closeness of Ballard's apocalyptic fictions to life itself,
conversation changes tack. I refer to the musical similarities between the (recorded) Hawklords and the Roxy
/ Bowie / Eno caucus and ask whether the disparity in fashionability between themselves and chic outfits like
Ultravox (Chic?! -Ed.) annoys them.
"Yes, but you see the difference really is that we grew up with Bowie and Eno. In fact I made an album with
Eno three years ago called "Lucky Leif and the Longships", which was just me and him in the studio,
basically, at a time when he wasn't as well-known as he is now. And when you're working with people in that
close way there's bound to be some cross-over of influence happening. I found, from working with him, that
we had a lot of ideas in common - obviously, or we wouldn't have started the thing off in the first place."
There's also the punk connection.
"Born To Go, if you listen to it now, sounds like a punk band: it could be the Buzzcocks or someone like that.
Indeed, Pete Shelley actually confessed to us that he'd spent a lot of his early youth listening to albums like the
'Space Ritual' and derived quite a lot of his musical direction from it. Which doesn't surprise me, but this is
something which never gets mentioned in the press."
Okay. Sour grapes made sweet. Now, what of the future?
"What we are talking about doing is an album which is musically much more daring, less tied to recognizably
traditional song formats. More experimental-bearing musical ideas, which is what we started doing on
'Quark'. Like 'Spirit Of The Age', which has an enormously long introduction before the song starts and very
Calvert also has another solo project up his sleeve, "a *painful* sort of album" about a teenage schizophrenic
for which he hopes to get together with label-mate (!) / radical psychologist R.D.Laing. "I was diagnosed as a
schizophrenic in my youth, treated as that, but then I was told afterwards that I wasnâ€™t actually a
schizophrenic at all. It might end up as part of the next Hawklords album, actually."
Hmmmm. Aren't the band worried about their more 'experimental-bearing musical ideas' leaving their audience
behind? The general impression I got was that the Hawk-audience was still largely composed of souls for
whom the prospect of Armageddon holds few surprises, and whose idea of ecstasy is a tape-loop of "Silver
"I never really thought about that, actually, I mean, as long as Dave Brock is pounding away on his guitar the
way he does - which he's not going to stop doing...¦he's not going to suddenly switch to playing plangent
electric mandolin, or something like that - I don't think there's much danger of our changing *that* drastically.
It's a long process of distilling a basic urge: it started out as a huge wave of direction, which hasn't broken
yet. I think it could have quite a long way to go. And don't forget, the people in Afghan coats are about 18
years old now, instead of being the old guys who don't go to gigs that much now - they're at home with their
stereos, which they've probably acquired from selling badges and leatherwear. The largest percentage of rock
gig-goers are young kids anyway, 'cos they're the ones who want to get out of the home situation, the
European family cell, into a sort of thermo-nuclear explosion."
Calvert's under no delusions about the reason for the disparity between The Hawklords' recorded work and
their live performance - only he doesn't find it as depressing a phenomenon as I do: "It's due mainly to the
energy-level of the audience, really. They *demand* by their very presence that we present them with
something very exciting. I think the stage-show *should* be exciting rather than just a reproduction of what
you can do in the studio. In a completely dead town it's quite a responsibility to provide an exciting and
colourful two hours. That's why I think rock music is so popular, because itâ€™s the only way -short of
forming terrorist cells or something- than you can actually find a sort of collective excitement without causing
anyone any harm. Like, football has become quite a dangerous sport, but in rockâ€™n'roll the incidents are
very few - occasionally someone might get smashed over the head with a bottle, but it doesn't happen very
often. It's a release of everyday banality, isn't it?"
Sure is, but it's rather sad to see a band who originally sprang up as part of a (quasi-) cultural flowering now
functioning as a release-valve for trapped souls. That's the spirit of the age, I guess.
|"Actually, Bob Calvert's mystic dressing gown is not what this feature's about: what
we have here is an appraisal of the new Hawkwind, sorry, Hawklords, by Andy Gill"