|Masters of the Universe 1995
This article was written by Barry Alfonso and appeared in an unknown American newspaper in 1995. I
only have a clipping and don't know the name of the publication. But this article pretty much nails the
key to Hawkwind's enduring appeal...
They say that deep in Zaire there's a dinosaur that's survived through the millenia into the present day. This
living fossil has been sighted by explorers lumbering about in the swamplands, oblivious to the fact that it
shouldn't even exist. The poor brute refuses to acknowledge its own extinction. Hawkwind is the same
sort of creature. Ridiculed for decades as a hippie era anachronism, this ragtag troupe of British
acid-accented rockers is not about to give up the ghost. Weathering numerous membership changes and
riding out shifts of pop music fashion, the band has never ceased touring and recording since its inception in
1969. Pursuing its own peculiar brand of space rock, Hawkwind has always lived in a universe of its own,
seemingly unaffected by recording industry trends or much else in the Real World.
It's fair to say that more American rock consumers have heard of Hawkwind than have actually listened to
their records. They are a cult band par excellence, sustained by loyal fans in Europe and the U.S. while
rarely receiving wide airplay or mass media exposure. (The band's sole hit single to date has been their
1972 million seller "Silver Machine".) Isolated from the mainstream, they've maintained a purity of vision
that has changed little since the 1960's. This may be due to inspiration, high principles or just plain
stubbornness - whatever the reason, Hawkwind embodies a definite aesthetic.
A useful analogy may be drawn between Hawkwind and another UK group of similar vintage, Pink Floyd.
Both emerged from the London rock underground, wrapped themselves in a sci-fi / psychedelic mantle and
transcended the need for hit singles. But what's more significant are the differences between the two. In
the course of their fabulously successful existence, Pink Floyd turned pompous, slick and cynical, rendering
such 'important' works as The Wall with cold-hearted excellence. Hawkwind remained a bunch of
long-haired chemically adjusted bohemians, misguided at times but keeping their sense of humour and
humanity intact. There's something oddly lovable about these blokes (which is the last thing anyone would
say about Pink Floyd.)
You can mock Hawkwind if you will - and admittedly, there's a lysergic loopiness about them that brings
flashes of Spinal Tap to mind. In the hands of a less eccentric group, their invocations of galactic grandeur
would be painfully pretentious. In contrast to the wide-screen themes of their lyrics, Hawkwind's music
has typically been basic three-chord 4/4 rock with synthesizer effects drizzled on top for flavouring. At
once futuristic and primitive, they've always seemed aware of thier limitations and somehow turned them
Delving into the band's catalogue of 30-plus albums is a daunting task - unless you're a hard core fan, the
sheer volume of output might jam your mental circuits if not approached sparingly. A good place to start
are the early albums In Search Of Space (1971) and Space Ritual Alive (1973), which feature both shorter
pieces and sprawling trance-rock rambles. Or you might want to check out a compilation album, such as
the Hawkwind Collection (1986). This package contains two key singles, the aforementioned "Silver
Machine" and "Urban Guerrilla", a cheerfully repetitive tune about terrorism that invites comparison with
Devo (!) This Is Hawkwind Do Not Panic (1984) is a solid live album, while such 90's releases as Space
Bandits and Electric Tepee capture the band in healthy shape.
Much of the band's seminal 70's material was co-written by the late Robert Calvert, a genuine lunatic who
nevertheless was capable of penning droll, witty lyrics. Stories abound about his craziness - on one
|"Hawkwind goes all out, sharing the stage with fire-eaters, jugglers, dancing girls and
other bombastic bit players"
|"A few people believe that they can gain powers
through some of our songs"
occasion he menaced bystanders in a British hotel
lobby with a Scottish broadsword, challenging all
comers. In his more rational moments he
contributed the words to such astronautical anthems
as "Born To Go" and "Spirit Of The Age". He could
also descend from the stratosphere and dash off
amusing ditties like "Quark Strangeness and Charm"
and "Psi Power", adding a welcome dose of humour
to all that cosmic consciousness.
Other notorious characters have passed through the
band's ranks. Before he founded the punk/metal
hybrid Motorhead, Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister lent his
manic essence to Hawkwind as bassist / vocalist.
Nik Turner was an even nmore important member -
his spacey saxophone meandering added a touch of
derangement in the right places before he left the
group in 1976. Lately he's been touring the States
with his own unauthorized version of Hawkwind
and releasing solo projects.
At present the official Hawkwind line-up consists of
Dave Brock (vocals, guitar), Alan Davey (bass) and
Richard Chadwick (drums), plus a new recruit,
singer Ron Bastard. Brock is the only remaining
original member and he is the acknowedged guiding
force behind the group. Despite his status as a space
rock icon, he comes across as a rather sensible, down-to-earth fellow in conversation. Reached by phone
at his London home base, Brock attempted to explain Hawkwind's uncanny staying power.
"The funny thing is, the music business is always looking for new sounds, and we've been playing this stuff
for quite a few years," he admits. "I find that trends come along and what we've been playing all of a
sudden becomes in vogue. Here in Britain we get sampled by a lot of acid house bands, and our songs have
been copied and done various ways. And the ambient music groups like The Orb are doing the same sort of
repetitive rhythms that we used to get slagged off for. There's just a few more majestic chords thrown in
here and there."
Despite a quarter-century's worth of experience, Brock still retains a 60's counterculture ethic about
music-making. "We're easy-going sorts of characters," he says of his band. "Most times we don't rehearse
very strictly and play things that go on and on and on." As far as modern musical technology goes, he
claims no great expertise. "I'm a barbarian, as it were, with electronic music. We get to the point where
we can't understand the synthesizer manuals, and we think 'Oh fuck, let's just do what we're doing'. And
that's how we usually get along. If we did learn to play synthesizers like they should be played, then we'd
sound exactly like all the other synthesizer users..."
Brock has noticed that Hawkwind attracts an element searching for esoteric wisdom. Listeners hungry for
cryptic revelations have been leafing through the band's recordings for over twenty years. Certain songs
(among them "Lord of Light" on Space Ritual) have been given a spell-like significance by some devotees.
Brock cautions against reading too much into his songs. "We have quite a few weirdos who catch us and
ask us the meanings of our words and treat us like mystics. There's a few people who believe that they can
gain powers through some of our songs or even use them to exit from this world through star gates - but
I've never seen any of them actually disappear into another universe. There are message we put into the
songs here and there. But I can't tell you what they are - you'll have to search for them."
On stage the band does its best to conjure up an aura of the unearthly, or at least a mood of temporary
dementia. Recent U.S. tours have been stripped-down tightly budgeted affairs, without the elaborate
lightshows and multimedia effects that the band has been known for since their earliest days. In Britain,
though, Hawkwind goes all out, sharing the stage with fire-eaters, jugglers, dancing girls and other
bombastic bit players. (The video Live Legends -Griffin 1994- captures the orchestrated freak-out
atmosphere of their concerts.)
"We have a strange cross-section of people at our shows," Brock says. "We have a science fiction sort of
following, plus New Agers, hippies and bikers. We can actually encompass all these variations - it's like
circles connecting up. We don't change what we play to fit in with anyone. Just because we play a gig
where there are a lot of fanatical bikers doesn't mean we have to do just good ol' boy rock'n'roll music."
Some of the fun has gone out of performing live, he admits. "There used to be a whole festival scene in
Britain with lots of young bands who'd play for free. Unfortunately the government put a bill through
forbidding gatherings of more than 10 people. So times are changing here..."
Beyond music, Brock gets a bit glum in contemplating the next century. "I have a vision for the future and
it's not a very good one - I can see only corruption and greed. You see it creeping in everywhere. Kids are
losing their innocence a lot more - by the time they're 11 or 12, they want to become mini-adults. We write
these songs to help draw attention and bring change, but you can only do so much. I used to have a lot of
problems with the police because of things I'd talk about, like pollution or building unnecessary roads across
forest lands. We can't go swimming in the sea around this country any more because of the huge amount
of waste products being dumped. I only see it getting worse, and it's a shame."
Hawkwind continues to play benefits for various causes - one gig raised money to save four endangered
black rhinoceroses in Zimbabwe. Brock and his bandmates resemble these rare rhinos in some ways -
ungainly and lumbering at times, their music nevertheless has a primal vitality and a pungent charm. Space
cadets from a more idealistic era, they deserve to be preserved. Hawkwind remains a species unto itself.