|Lost In Space
This article first appeared in a 1989 issue of Q
"Brixton Academy presents Hawkwind in a Psychedelic All-Dayer" and if you're going to be psychedelic all
day you have to start early. Seth, 28, who has four cans of super-lager in his donkey jacket pockets, an
"eighth" in his boot, his second bottle of Real Devonish cider in his hand and a Â£2.50 tab of LSD in his
bloodstream, is explaining how he came to be the biggest Hawkwind fan in the universe. Ever.
"First time I saw them I was tripping and the music was melting the walls, do you know what I mean? And
I was just skinning up and going up to chicks and saying, D'you want to smoke this with me? It was great
because everyone at a Hawkwind gig is totally out of it." He swigs so violently from his bottle that he
topples over backwards. "I've got 2p," he announces from the ground. "Only need Â£10.48 to get in." It is
midday. Hawkwind will be on stage in a little under 10 hours.
Meanwhile, inside the cavernous venue, the 'Wind, as aficionados or Windheads call them, are
soundchecking. "I'd make yourself comfortable," says a passing roadie. "They normally sound-check for
about three days." Indeed, the urgency with which Hawkwind's "driver" Dave Brock potters between his
guitar and keyboard set-ups is barely discernible. "Shall we try a number?" he mutters to drummer Danny
Thompson. "Not yet," replies Thompson, puffing furiously on a vast cigarette-styled object. Eventually, this,
the fortieth line-up of Hawkwind - "We've always had drummer problems," shrugs Brock- launch into a
characteristically loose "jam" with clanging guitars and wheezing synthesizers well to the fore. Occasionally
Brock steps up to the microphone and shouts atonally about "space", "warlords", "interplanetary
commuting" and the other mildly preposterous low-budget sci-fi notions that have stood between him and a
Booker prize for the last two decades.
This year Hawkwind celebrate 20 years of being staunchly unfashionable and, by way of a reminder, the
band appear today in broad flares, tie-dyed shirts, mutton-chop whiskers and jackets well past their Wear
By date. The Hawkwind hair stylist has obviously been allowed a lie-in this morning as evidenced by the
matted manes of middle-parted thatch that the group sport uniformly 'twixt head and shoulder. Similarly
their music has remained the crocheted tank top of rock. But lest we forget, Hawkwind, with their tireless
benefit-playing, infamously excessive leisure pursuits and unflagging adherence to the commendable, if
slightly smelly, "alternative culture" lifestyle are the last fully operational British "cult" band.
Dave Brock, a blues busker, formed Group X in early 1968. They soon became Hawkwind Zoo and then in
1969 Hawkwind, a revered collection of undesirables who hung out with greasers, bikers and Hell's Angels
in West London's Ladbroke Grove.
"We always got associated with the Angels," complains Brock, "but we weren't just into that. We were into
all sorts of things, things people have never heard of. We used to finance Frendz (an underground
newspaper) and International Times and the White Panther movement. We didn't really mix with the other
bands from round there because there's one side of the music business that's the old boy network and
there's the other side. We're on the other side. I went to a party at Marc Bolan's house in 1967 and got
thrown out. I went with a mate and we both played blues guitar and Marc Bolan was farting around trying
to play the guitar and my mate said, For fuck's sake give me the bloody guitar! And Bolan was horrified that
we were doubting his genius and got us thrown out. We preferred to hang about with people like The Pink
Fairies. Still do really."
By 1970, the name Hawkwind was synonymous with the expression "large amounts of drugs". "We all
used to take LSD," chuckles Brock. "Not constantly but quite a bit. Sometimes we'd take it and take it just
to see how far we could go. We did a gig at The Roundhouse in 1970 and we couldn't go on stage because
we were all out of control. We had to put it off for half an hour before we could even get up on the stage. It
was horrific. We were all hallucinating so much none of us could concentrate for three seconds let alone
play a number. Playing music isn't always the best thing to do when you've taken acid. I remember I looked
out into the audience and they'd all turned into skeletons and when the red lights came on I thought it was
blood all over me. Horrible.
"But you find your limit. You know Turner's paintings? If you look at them you can see the demons in the
maelstrom and there's amazing things in them. I can see all those things since I took acid. But once you've
unlocked that door there's no need to continually keep taking it."
Unfortunately for the group's young guitarist, Huw Lloyd-Langton, this advice came a little late. "There was
one particularly terrifying gig which was on the Isle Of Wight - we were playing a freebie gig on the fringe
of the actual festival. This bloke gave us this big bottle of apple juice, so we, myself in particular, helped
ourselves to a fair glugging and it turned out to be spiked with God knows how much acid. The next thing I
knew someone put my guitar in my hands and said, We're playing now. We went into this big balloon affair
and you had to pass through an air passage to get into it. I really believed I was descending into hell and
there was this stuff on the equipment to stop the dew getting on the electrics which started mushrooming all
over the place. In those days everyone used to tune to my guitar and I remember trying to tune it and the
note kept wavering, going up and down, it wouldn't keep still. By this point I really believed I was in hell and
I was frightened and freaked out so I just hit a chord and the whole cacophony started which must have
sounded awful to anyone who wasn't completely out of their brain."
Shortly after this experience, Lloyd-Langton had a complete nervous and mental breakdown and nearly
became Hawkwind's first casualty. "The problem was it was all new to me," he explains. "I was taking as
much of the old substances as I could. It came to a head just after Jimi Hendrix died. I was watching
television and there was a pure white flower on top of it and I started flashing between the two and
experienced this dreadful feeling of emptiness, of wilting. Then I realised that my spirit had died. I could feel
the air around me and hear my own breathing but apart from that there was nothing. The drugs had taken
over from the music. I was lost. Shortly after that I had a massive breakdown and felt myself turning to the
big fella upstairs. I ended up just screaming out for God to revive my spirit.
"If I hadn't had that breakdown I could have possibly ended up killing myself probably by getting into
heavier substances. But I got better and I did a stint with Leo Sayer on the road and then I joined
Widowmaker with Luther Grosvenor and worked mainly in America. Then I went through what seemed like
dozens of other bands. Then in 1979,eight years after leaving the Hawkwind, I got a phone call asking if I
fancied rejoining. I hesitated at first because I thought it might not be good for my mental health. While I
was out of the band I became completely repulsed by the space travel idea and all that because I basically
blamed that for what happened to me."
"Baron" Brock, meantime, had become increasingly enamoured with the idea and, in order to give his
cosmic flights of fancy a more authentically futuristic soundtrack, employed a second synth player, Del
Dettmar, to join the group's existing "audio generator" operator Dik Mik. Stacia, an "amazing lady" often
seen dancing partially naked at Hawkwind's concerts, was given a more permanent contract and rapidly
became the focus of many a young space-cadet's rhythmic attentions.
In 1972 Brock accelerated the group's pseudo-mythological "journey" by recruiting the young and manic
future Motorhead mainman Lemmy on bass and Robert Calvert, a theatrical frontman who set about writing
and declaiming Hawkwind's own daft folklore with saxophonist Nik Turner. The restructured band, fuelled
by all manner of pharmaceuticals, began the recording sessions that would become the LP Doremi Fasol
Latido. During these sessions, a remarkably sprightly and un-indulgent tune called Silver Machine was
written. Surprised by its unintentional catchiness, the band released the song as a single. It reached Number
3 in July 1972 and remains Hawkwind's anthem to this day.
They followed up the success of Silver Machine with a Calvert-penned number, Urban Guerilla, which,
taken to be a poor taste comment on the IRA bombings of the time, was withdrawn. Undeterred, the band
spent the money Silver Machine had earned them on a tour - replete with legendary lighting man Liquid
Len's "astral" light and laser show which was both mind-expanding and stomach-churning in equal parts -
and a live LP, the frequently disowned album collection stalwart Space Ritual, recorded mostly at the
Brixton Sun-down cinema (now, by cosmic coincidence, the venue they are playing tonight). The following
year the band recorded what was arguably their last truly ground-breaking album, Hall Of The Mountain
Grill (so-called after a favourite greasy spoon in Ladbroke Grove) then personnel problems set in.
"It's always been a very free and easy set up," says Brock, "but a lot of stuff happened around then. Dik
Mik left. He's a painter and decorator now, doesn't play anymore. Del Dettmar does, he lives in Canada and
still plays a bit of synthesizer. People get fed up and come and go. Like Simon House (drummer) [sic] went
and joined David Bowie right in the middle of one of our tours! Fucked us up completely. I've got pissed off
with it from time to time, myself, even left! (He recorded a solo album Earthed To The Ground in 1984).
But really I'm doing what I want to do - which is rare. It's a pleasure really and, when that pleasure stops,
so do you... "Stacia's married in Germany now, she's got two kids. She doesn't dance much these days.
Liquid Len's still doing his lights. He did that big George Michael tour last year and he did the lights for
President Reagan's campaign which, you must remember, was like a big rock show anyway. Unfortunately
we can't seem to get rid of Nik Turner. He's a weasel. A very greedy man. He gives this impression of being
a great old guy and everyone thinks he's a real character but he's right unpleasant. Once he's on stage he'll
never get off and he plays his saxophone over everything."
Lemmy was sacked from the group in 1974 after being arrested on tour at the Canadian border for drug
possesion. "He'd been warned," sniffs Brock. "It was Nik Turner who was the chief instigator. He wanted
to boot Lemmy out. When he got pulled we drove on to Toronto and Nik decided to do a coup and get rid
of him. I was the one who had to tell Lemmy. It was a very emotional time."
But not as emotional as the afternoon of August 14th last year when Brock was told that Robert Calvert had
died of a heart attack. Calvert, who'd been in and out of Hawkwind for 10 years, had recently contacted
Brock with a view to a collaboration. "I was shocked," says Brock. "I was sitting in front of my van at a
free festival, eating when I was told. I couldn't finish my dinner."
Brock and Lloyd-Langton claim not to take drugs these days." I've had an occasional toke on a joint," says
Lloyd-Langton. "It just makes me paranoid." Brock's reasons are more practical. "Acid isn't pure any more,"
he says indignantly. "I mean I don't know anyone who makes it now, but there's a lot of rubbish acid
around. In the '60s it was very pure - you got it in liquid crystal form and you knew what it was. It's the
same as hash - what they call "black" dope now is a load of old rubbish all mixed together - I wouldn't
The (barely) living proof of Lloyd-Langton's remorse-filled observation is curled unconscious on the floor
of the Brixton Academy foyer. Seth -for it is he- has, in his quest for early evening oblivion, missed many of
the bands he has come to see at this benefit for Robert Calvert's dependants. Long gone are Nik Turner's
Fantastic All Stars, the Pink Fairies' Psychedelic Revue, Lesbian Dopeheads On Mopeds (the thinly
disguised Gaye Bykers On Acid), Here & Now, Dr And The Medics, Amon Duul and Man. As the lasers
shoot through the thick air into the patchouli-drenched hordes and the familiar pressure cooker synthesizer
sound fills the auditorium, the smart money says he's about to miss Hawkwind too.
On stage, their more cheddar-headed lyrics aside, Hawkwind are surprisingly listenable, contemporary
indeed. "That," Brock says, "is because contemporary groups try to sound like us." In the audience,
headbangers trade air-licks, disheveled Free Festival types "freak out" and despite the cold a girl removes her
shirt and attempts to bounce her heavy bosom in time to the music. Hawkwind, it would seem, are as
popular as ever.
As the good Baron leads his band - and an endless procession of poets, dancers and jugglers through a
well-loved selection from Hawkwind's turbulent history, one wonders what kind of group they'd have been
had they never encountered drugs. "Christ knows," says Brock. "Hate to think. It's a funny business, fate.
You can't say, can you? We're our own category. We're space bandits!"
Hawkwind soundchecking at the Bob Calvert memorial show at the Brixrton Academy on March 5th 1989
Twenty years ago they had normal-to-greasy long hair, wore mind-expanding flares, took
industrial-strength drugs, and delivered grungy psychedelic dirges about "warlords" and "interplanetary
commuting". And today...they're exactly the same. But then they're Hawkwind. And they don't give a stuff.