|Musician's Weekly interview, Sept 82
"At Donnington we did a parody of everything that was there and we got slagged off by the press because
they missed the point. We did a parody of all the Heavy Metal posing and the big star thing and no one
understood one bit."
Why should Dave Brock and his Hawk cohorts utter and enact such a damning blasphemy in front of fifty
thousand people? To attempt to an understanding of his attitude, and here supported by Huw Lloyd Langton,
a little time travel is called for, to Notting Hill in the early seventies, to times of free gigs in aid of cannabis
benefits, police busts, underground newspapers, free love and a multimedia show that created a whirling,
mesmerising mesh of noise and vision.
By 1971 Hawkwind were perhaps more than any other identified with a demonstration of protest either
against the country's drug laws or a puritan view of sex (the band distributed contraceptives from the stage).
At the massive Isle of Wight festival Hawkwind played in an adjacent field as a protest against what they
saw as high admission prices.
Over the years the band have always remained slightly on the outside, never quite developing the professional
and single-minded approach to their careers some of their contemporaries applied. In many ways the band
has always been stuck in a time warp, never losing many fans or gathering hordes of new ones. The band
has acted as a stepping-off point, a watering hole for fans and musicians alike, all keen to absorb some of
the Hawkwind spirit of subversion, chaos and lunacy.
Whether a young Hawkfan sees the band as anything more than another patch for a faded denim jacket is
contentious, but in the eyes of Dave Brock, vocalist and founder member, the times have not been changing.
"I felt at Donnington we were the poor relations there. Over a period of time, man, we've had sixteen hit
albums in the charts. Average bands like Gillan and Saxon, they were always in the forefront of the paper,
blowing their trumpets. But unlike them we still go and play places like Stonehenge, which was fun and
chaos but really good chaos. They paid eleven quid to go to Donnington and each band had plastic bottles
thrown at them. You watch these things come hurtling at you and you have to sidestep it and keep your eye
on them like a boxer."
Huw: "Everyone's gear was set up except ours which had to be slung on, slung off."
Brock: "We still do a lot of free festivals, but the thing is it's never heard of because we don't get press. We
carry on like we've always been but it's just not reported."
Huw: "All you read in the papers is nastiness."
Early 1972 - gigs with the band were notoriously shambolic with Nik Turner the long legged sax player and
wearer of frog masks seemingly in competition to create the most noise with ex-Rocking Vicar Lemmy,
who played his bass with the prominence of a lead guitarist. Dave Brock's guitar ploughed like a chain over
the top of it all. Restraint was not a word that fitted this particular, and perhaps most popular, incarnation
and when coupled with the twin electronics of Del Dettmar and Dik Mik with drummer Simon King
providing a solid base, 'Brainstorm' became the operative word.
If the band lacked discipline it was and is one of their main attractions. The audience is still unaware of what
the present line-up may come up with. Off stage, however, bad luck and bad timing has often hit their
career. In America the group's gear was impounded for supposed tax evasion. Lemmy was arrested for
possession of 'certain substances', and the potential big hit single 'Urban Guerilla' was withdrawn because of
a spate of London bombings in 1973. Perhaps their strength comes through adversity, whatever the reasons
problems still occur.
Huw: "It's amazing, it always turns out that way, not through planning but it always turns out to be a last
Dave: "It was like at Donnington we had all these people dancing on stage posing like rock heroes. It must
have looked chaotic. There's no real explanation why things turn out as they do. It's not that we don't work
hard. A lot of it's to do with the way people see the way we do things. They expect Hawkwind to be
shambolic and if it's not they pretend it is."
Trying to explain away the band's lack of mega-success is an awkward problem particularly when Dave
Brock later says it was deliberate. The massive success of 'Silver Machine' in 1972 gave the band an artistic
and financial platform on which to base and build, yet it brought with it the 'problem' of attracting a new
teeny-bop audience who came along to hear the hit single. The band refused to play it and so cultivated a
deliberate sense of anti-fashion to hang on to their old audience and ideals. This lack of compromise
increased their popularity rather than diminishing it and contributed to the quasi-religious fervour in which
the band were held by their new breed of fans.
I feel their lack of massive acceptance, on a world scale, is particularly due to the fact that unlike other rock
bands they do not preen or pose or attempt to sell themselves in that fashion. Their songs are not lurid tales
of sex and violence or of 'men being men', the songs of Hawkwind exist in a different planetary system
altogether. Rooted in sixties psychedelia, yet never adopting mysticism, Hawkwind, like the ageing crew of
the Starship Enterprise, are concerned with matters cosmic.
Their music has little to do with the confines of the metal merchants but that is not to say that everything the
group writes is superior: often it may appear banal and dated. Escapists definitely, but so is science fiction
and as with any minority genre, it fathers a dedicated and long-lasting admiration and one that is always
pulling a few inquisitive souls into its net.
Dave: "I tell you man, it's a revolutionary band 'cos we've been at that point of being ultra-popular loads of
times and you've got to tear it down. Unfortunately it's a real corrupt business, and in America we could
have made it real big at one point. We were doing fifteen-thousand seater places supported by bands who are
really big now, like Status Quo. Every time you get there you tear it down because once you go over that
side we would have suffered. One half of you wants bread, 'cos we're always scrabbling around, but
unfortunately when you get to the point of massive popularity you get all these hangers-on, a huge entourage
who you end up payin' all your money to."
From the early days of the Space Ritual until the present the band have always tried to present 'a total
environment' as the band called it. This combined an ever-changing collage of light supplied by Liquid Len
and the Lensmen and later through a replica of Stonehenge, the Atomhenge. At present Dave and Huw
believe they are the only band using a liquid light show.
Dave: "The last tour, we did have John Perrin who had worked with Liquid Len and whose lightshow is
called Astral Projections. At the moment we're trying something different but if we had enough money we'd
have John doing the liquid thing plus the light show we've got for this tour. It's just too expensive which is a
pity as it'd be spectactular. I think it's crazy that we're about the only band using a liquid light show, it's so
simple. We can create 3-D effects by using the slides like a film and pushing them through the projector
quickly like a normal cine-film and putting them on top of the liquid projection and dry ice. We're probably
one of the most visual groups in the country and we've never been filmed or video'd apart from some B.B.C.
film that's stuck in the archives. It's crazy, it takes so much hassle to get things together."
Chiefly responsible for the aural holocaust, particularly in early times, is Dave Brock who at one time
combined the sledgehammer with the hypnotic in his guitar playing technique. At present the band has been
reduced to Dave Brock (guitar, synth. vocals), Huw Lloyd Langton (guitar), Harvey Bainbridge (bass) and
Martin Griffin (drums). Overall quite a minimal line-up in comparison to some of the earlier combinations,
and the music has changed likewise to become less aggressive and more varied, showing a heavier use of
synthesizers coupled with a more conventional lead guitar sound from Huw.
At present Dave plays an old cheap guitar, a Paduak supplied by Westone along with much of the band's
equipment. He occasionally uses an Ibanez Artist or a Fender. Huw on the other hand uses one of two
Gibsons on stage and could soon be supplementing this with a recently acquired Roland Synth. As for actual
sound, a number of people of late have been of the opinion that Dave's guitar playing has been less
prominent than of old, at times virtually inaudible. I wondered whether it was to give him more scope with
the vocals and synth playing?
Dave: "I don't know, it's not really up to me. A lot of people have said that they cannot hear my guitar and I
admit a couple of tapes I heard of us performing live, I might as well not have played. It's difficult as Huw's
and my guitars sound very similar in tone so obviously when we're both playing rhythm it probably does get
muddled and it SHOULDN'T."
Is it true that you sold some of your best guitars?
Dave: "That was the Dick Knight, this guy Grimshaw used to make guitars, he only made two of them and I
sold it. I've had some wonderful guitars and I've sold them all when I've been really skint. I always tried to
keep two no matter how poor I was but I ended up getting rid of them and regretting it three months later."
The longevity of the band has I feel been due to the sense of corporate identity a host of musicians, poets
and writers feel for the group. Ginger Baker, Simon House (who left to play with Bowie), Bob Calvert and
Michael Moorcock are a few of those that have worked in different capacities with the band. No one seems
particularly sure which incarnation the band will next take. This approach still remains attractive when
compared to the acute business-like organisations of many present day performers.
Dave: "I think it will go on for quite a while. It's many faceted, people come and people go. I mean, we've
got Nik Turner coming back and doing the tour with us."
Huw: "Nik will have to rehearse his saxophone playing to make sure he plays in tune."
Dave: "I think we need a master switch to turn him off. He can get a bit carried away. I used to throw beer
cans at him on stage, full ones, when he used to go on and on. I used to be doing the vocals and he'd play
blindly through them so one day I threw a can at him and it smacked him in the head. I was really angry."
What about Bob Calvert?
Dave: "He's in a mental home at the moment. He's gone completely nutty for a few months but he'll be all
right soon. You see, he goes nutty, fucks everyone up and then goes into a mental home to escape the
And Michael Moorcock?
Dave: "He's been thrown out of his house in Yorkshire. He's owed loads of money from his own writing and
publishing with the Blue Oyster Cult. Actually it's our old manager (Doug Smith) that's the devious person,
who manages to sign people and not pay money out to them. But I expect he'll turn up on a few dates up
Do you think this 'family' type atmosphere attracts fans?
Dave: "People do still identify with us. We're touchable which is really important. People can still see us in
the cafe around the corner. You know a lot of bands change into their old clothes, appear on stage looking
scruffy, the audience identify with that, but then the band jet off in fast cars and flash clothes."
In a few weeks Hawkwind's new album will be released on R.C.A. and it contains a new updated version of
'Silver Machine.' As a whole the LP mixes riff-dominated rockers and synth excursions, as seen on their
previous album, 'The Church Of Hawkwind.' It shouldn't disappoint any of their followers but before the
tour Dave Brock needs to do some homework.
Dave: "To tell you the truth I haven't listened properly to it since July and I've forgotten how all the numbers
go, completely. I'm not kidding you, I cannot remember. I've got to go home, listen to the original tapes and
work out on the guitar exactly what I was playing."
Do you write as a collective?
Dave: "Not really, we just get ideas and put them down on tape and it becomes obvious which are A-sides
and which are B-sides. It's a weird thing with writing, sometimes you can make it happen if you have to - as
long as you've got ideas, it's like an adrenaline surge. If you can keep it going and have the foresight to look
at the next project it becomes easier. It's like painting a picture and throwing it aside to get the next one. I'm
very impatient anyway."
What solo interests do you have?
"At home I have my own studio with an eight track tape and I record everything down onto it. I have synths
and a drum machine all linked up and when I use the guitar I go for ages. I also have a deal for a solo album
worked out which will involve quite a lot of people but I won't be able to start on it until after the tour."
Still unfashionable, still largely unreported but aided by their loyal support, Hawkwind will no doubt function
for a few years yet. To many people they may appear stuck in a time warp, a by-product of the hazy days
of the late sixties. Certainly it's where the roots of the band are firmly placed but given the equipment, they
can offer on stage the visual and aural equivalent of a Moorcock sword-and-sorcery tale. It may appear
cliched, more so on record, but it is escapist entertainment that does not rely on lust, violence or macho
posing to draw in the punters. They still make mistakes and are no longer deemed subversive but that is not
to say they will not go on trying.
Dave: "Each year we try to do something different and our audience are aware of this. We have to do new
things to make it good entertainment."
Huw: "It'd be dull and boring for us otherwise."
Dave: "We get called dull and boring but I don't think they know anything about it."
|This piece is the journalistic end product of the conversation that was documented in an earlier interview
page that I transcribed from an audio cassette: see Brock / Lloyd Langton, Sept 82
Left: Martin Griffin wasn't interviewed but this
photo of him appeared with the original article. The
one below didn't :-) I never said it made any sense...