|Rock'n'Roll's Own Space Family Robinson
This article appeared in the 22/9/1990 issue of the NME
As kitsch as a caravan park on Canvey Island. It's difficult, oh OK it's impossible, to broach the
'phenomenon' that is Hawkwind without raising some embarrassed but gleeful sniggering and tittering from
the back rows.
There, see what I mean? Oh dear. Oh dear! Snort! Chuckle! These arch-grebo, dandruffed- up,
Squat-Rockers: these Purple Riders Of The New Dawn: these Warriors At The Edge Of Time have been at it
so loud and for so long now that the world has spun right back round to meet them. As they knew it would.
What goes down comes around, eh lads?
Here on the very cusp of a new Age of Aquarius, how long before some Shaggy Culture time bandit bangs
'Funky Drummer' behind a mix of 'Silver Machine' (their only hit in 20 years: these guys have made a career
out of underachievement) and starts the whole show off all over again.
Let's face it. 'The Hawks' were trance-dancing before Manchester could walk. What price now a vintage
'Space Is Deep T-shirt circa '71? OK, we'll wash it first. Are you lot ready to Space Rock? OK, OK, I only
"It's not a real rave as such," explains Craig, up from Croydon for The Hawks' 12-hour Technicolour Dream
at Brixton Academy. "Everyone looks a bit old really. They're sitting down already."
Old! Old!? Hell, age is nature's way of telling you you're still alive. But the point is taken. I mean, this *is*
a 12 hour acid-addled marathon with 13 bands scheduled to play. But some people are already asleep on the
carpet and it's only 3:30pm. Some haven't even got any further than a couple of yards through the entrance
before they've spliffed-up and passed out. On your feet man, there's a Cosmos to explore!
Over at the HawkFrendz stall a couple of balding guys, one in a lab coat with scribble all over it (Boffin Rock:
very common, this. Popularised by the sadly-demised lead singer Bob Calvert) are attempting to shift
HawkZines and encourage people to sign up for their legalise-the-wacky-backy campaign. Still pumping
away at that one, eh??
"We don't make much money. We're only here to see the band, really."
All the way from Liverpool. Seen any of the show yet?
"Naah. I'm not going in there till Hawkwind come on. It sounds dreadful so far. I can hear it when someone
leaves the door open."
Well at least trade is brisk.
"We're clean out of large Rizlas," he says to a concerned punter.
"Got a fanzine without much print on it, then?" says the bloke.
Leafing through my copy I notice, to my horror, that bands like Gong, Curved Air and Caravan are all playing
major gigs this month. The Grateful Dead are touring here in the autumn. Wishbone Ash are playing in
Essex tonight and Jethro Tull are doing Wembley this very afternoon. If this back-spinning, pot-headed,
flare-trousered conspiracy gets any more out of hand we'll be back on pounds, shillings and pence by
A whole culture has grown around Hawkwind over the years. They are quite rightly proud of their 'People's
Band' tag. Like herpes, Hawkwind is for life. To their credit they never say no to a free festival. They
hump all their own gear around, still live in rented houses after all these years and will play a private party for
free if the (ahem) vibe feels right. Hawkwind have history where most bands have bad career moves or
ill-considered new haircuts.
"We've always been a people's band since we started," explains Dave Brock, the 40-plus Hawkwind
head-honcho and only original member still in the band. "We used to raise money for the alternative society
as it was then, and for the underground papers in the '70s. We did benefits for the White Panthers. Lots of
weird things. We still do a lot of that stuff. Traveller's Aid, school buses, we even bought a brain scanner
for Plymouth Hospital," he laughs. "We saved four and a half rhinos in Zimbabwe last year. Â£4,500 quid
we raised. A bloke sent us a letter saying thanks and any time you're in Africa come and see us and we'll
show you the four and a half rhinos you saved. Which was really nice."
You can't help but like this bloke, Britain's Stateliest Old Hippy. He's such a cutey. He seems surprisingly
unscathed by his 20 years (and 25 albums) on the road with rock'n'roll's own Space Family Robinson.
Haven't the strobes driven you clean through a hoop after all these years, David?
"I think I've got used to 'em. Up on stage you can see what you're doing but it feels like you're not moving.
I mean, you know where you are an' everything. It's probably much worse for the audience. Sometimes it's
a bit much even for me. It's a guaranteed epileptic fit at a certain frequency, especially if you've been
drinking. It can make you feel ill quite easily."
Ever had the urge to experiment with that idea?
"Well, we have done before now. When we used to play in universities. We used to have two huge strobes,
two feet across. Really fatal to be in front of. One gig we did we had people coming in from the bar and
instantly falling over and throwing up all over the place. The guy afterwards said, 'You shouldn't have used
those strobes'. Ha Ha. We used them all the time after that. It's only students, innit. Hur! Hur! Serves 'em
Dave, you little teaser.
Back at the all-dayer the fans seem well prepared for anything Dave might plan to throw at them. In fact
some of them are getting the throwing-up bit out of the way before the band even appear. The cloud of
patchouli oil is beginning to take its toll. Almost everyone seems to be wearing green army drill and
hand-written T-shirts saying things like 'F*** Acid House' or 'Acid Mind F***'. One obvious veteran of the
scene has one saying 'Anadin: Have you got any?' Very strange.
Everyone seems to have bought a dog with them, especially the folks hanging around outside. It's always the
same model of dog too - a skinny, black cross-breed with a bit of rope for a lead. They're all over Camden
too, I've noticed, these grebo guide dogs. Dragging their acid casualty owners around the Underground
stations, asking for spare change themselves if their owner isn't up to it any more.
"I find we attract all types of people," says Brock. "It's not just alternative long-haired types. We get loads
of bikers and straight-looking people who just wanna get stoned and have a good time. We even get a few
lawyers and doctors and headmasters. I was in court once when the prosecuting attorney said to me, 'I saw
you lot play, about three years ago.' I said, 'Good. Can you let me off then?' Ha Ha. We might be poor but
we've got friends in high places!
"Everyone helps out when they can. There's no 'Us and Them' syndrome with the fans, either. It's more like
a tribal thing y'know. We enjoy what we do and people can relate to us. 'Ere, look, "he says, handing me
some snapshots from a recent festival, "there's our keyboard player dressed up as a cow. Ha Ha Ha Ha."
Another thing Hawkfans can really relate to is painting on things. Anything they can get their hands on.
Trousers, faces, buses...even their pet dogs, if they stay still long enough. I saw one bloke with a
psychedelic wheelchair. Rather groovy, that one.
"I feel like Walter Mitty today!!" I overheard one head say to his pal. "Oh Yeah! Great!! ...who's he, then?"
said his pal, sipping his pint enthusiastically. A new age Gilbert & George, maybe. Another bloke I
approached and asked if he was enjoying the technicolour dream, said thoughtfully: "Yeah, it's like Ground
Level Zero here, isn't it?" I nodded and made a note of it. Why not? It might mean something to someone
By 9:30 the corridors were packed tight with bodies and a curtain of dope smoke hung two inches above the
carpet. There were as many people outside the auditorium as in and no-one seemed bothered about the ten or
so bands who'd been banging away at it for nigh on seven-and- a-half hours. There were about 4,000 people
inside all hunkered down in the throughways. It was an indoor festival.
Like Woodstock with carpets. Many of these stroboscopic dandruff merchants were sound asleep on the
gentle slopes of the Academy auditorium as though they were the gentle slopes of the Glastonbury fields.
The bands on stage had been screaming at them all day about freeing Bobby Seale and boycotting South
African fruit. It was all a bit much. They needed some kip. A lot of the younger kids had packed it in,
couldn't hack it with the long-term acid heads. A couple of 'funky chicks' in Katherine Hamnett flares said
they'd come up from Brighton to see Hawkwind, "I think Dave Brock is really sexy," said one of them. "We
want to dance on the stage."
When Hawkwind plug in, a continually exploding, slow-mo milk drop is projected onto a huge canvas globe
suspended high above our heads. It's like a massive version of those paper lampshades which students buy
in Woolworths to put in their bedsits. The random images are flashed up on the cinemascope screen behind
the band. An ear, a walnut, a flea, a black sun, an apricot. Visual and sonic disorientation seems to be the
basic idea here. With a little "See the world in a grain of sand" theme thrown in for luck. It's OK. It's a bit
of a laugh really, innit.
For all their attempts at arcane, interstellar wisdom, Hawkwind are forever Blake's Seven rather than Blake's
Poetry. And they'd be first to admit it. Strictly low-falutin'; this is astral projection with one foot firmly on
the ground. The metaphorical 'Spaceship Hawkwind' is a Ray Harryhausen, hubcaps and hardboard affair...
A Ready, Steady, PHUT! of a concept. But it's fun, so let's give it a go. Next time he hits the drum
everyone PEDAL LIKE F-!!
With their three-chord garage grunge, their three-way vocal, their kerthumpa-thumpa backbeat and of course
their wibbly-wobbly Space noises... it's going... it's moving... it's up off the ground. Yesss. Bring on the
barefoot dancing girls. Everyone: be a tree! In full effect these boys are quite excellent. No breaks between
songs - Hell! No songs at all. Just a shaky hand on the steering stick and roll with the dynamics. Watch out
for that meteor shower, Captain. DuddaDuddaDuddaDudda. The audience, most of whom are awake by
now, are totally pole-axed throughout the set. Maybe just rocking gently backwards and forwards every so
often. Sort of passive raving, I suppose.
Walnut. Ear. Flea. Apricot. The black is exploding and the milk drops are speeding up. Dave is singing.
They're all singing. At once. They're singing "Atishoo. Atishoo. Atishoo." Well something like that anyway.
Then on come the strobes. The bloke next to me falls over. Hell! Why not? Then Howard (y'know, the
one who dresses up like a cow sometimes) starts fiddling around with the buttons on his old '70s style synth
(the sort that used to blow up when it rained: It's the size of a Ford Fiesta but makes great 'wibbly wobbly'
noises) and lets loose a massive modulating hissing noise like someone heaving a brick the size of... well, a
big brick, anyway... into a tin bath full of iced water. KKRRISSSHHHH. All right!!
It's like getting run over by the London Planetarium. Hawkwind live have more than a little low-fidelity
majesty. This is oblivion on a budget. When you've set the controls for the heart of the sun who needs
some earthbound cynics telling you you'll never scale the pinnacles of chic.
But remember folks, Space Is Deep so take a packed lunch. And getting there is half the fun.
The gig written about in this article took place on 1st
September 1990. The one advertised on the right
was on July 6th 1991 - there were several of these
"12 Hour Technicolour Dream" bashes in those days!