|Watchfield 75 (and 76...)
An unidentified flying object had been spotted over Belgravia, posing a considerable threat to civilisation.
Normal security services couldn't be expected to cope, so the head of Earth City pressed the button which
illuminated the "Alert - Stand By" light in the secret underground complex ruled by the mighty lords of peace
and love, collectively known as Hawkwind.
"Blast," one of them cursed. "That's all we needed. What with the publicity shots for the album to be done,
preparations for the tour and Captain Calvert reported missing somewhere over Wales, this is a bit much for
us superhumans to bear."
As Paul Rudolph secured the catch on his protective headgear he talked of the Hawks' plans for the future -
should they grant us one. "We're getting further away from the sci-fi image, more into space itself," he said.
"I mean, its' scope is obviously unlimited."
Paul, a recent addition to the team, hopes he has brought a fresh awareness into their music. "Some of the
members have been in the band for years and there is a danger of the riffs getting boring," he admits. "If we
change the instruments and are more free there is less chance of that happening."
" 'Silver Machine' has haunted the band to a certain extent, I suppose, but I wasn't with them when they had
a hit with it. We still get asked to do it, but it doesn't really belong to the current formation. Even if we did
perform it, it would sound different from how it did at the time."
"We were happier with the results we achieved on our latest album, but it's part of a continually developing
Hawkwind rehearse in a farm north of London, where they tape and edit their individual and collective ideas.
They have also been working on a new stage act which incorporates their latest light show and special
"I'm not too sure of some of the things we'll be using myself, yet. We feel it is important to employ visual
aids to increase the musical appeal: the idea of putting on a show rather [than] purely just presenting the
songs. Bob (Calvert, the voice) has a few ideas, but I can't tell you what they are."
The double amber lights next to the alert sign began to flash.
"I guess we'll get the usual crowds of weirdos at our gigs," Paul mused. "We usually do. It's something to
do with the music and the image. We get the faithful following and a lot of young people who have caught
on to us. We're happy as long as they keep coming along."
The amber lights switched to green, somewhere a siren rang. The Hawkmobile was loaded and ready to
take off. Would they be in time to save the universe again?
|Above: Turner, Powell, Rudolph & Brock - the Watchfield line-up...at Watchfield...
Here are two press articles dating from 1975-76, each of which possesses a particular vice and a notable
virtue typical of Hawkwind articles. The first piece, entitled "Space - the Final Frontier" is brief, none
too well written, and laced with silly sci-fi allusions. But it is entirely about our Chromium Heroes. This
is followed by a much more skilfully penned review of the 1975 Watchfield Free Festival, let down only
by the fact that relatively little of the article is actually about Hawkwind. Hopefully, putting them
together like this will help each piece counteract the shortcomings of the other...
That the Watchfield Free Festival would be no easy picnic was something which I accepted right from that
dreadful moment when I was told that I'd pulled the short straw and would have to cover the opening day
of this nine-day cosmic convention. I was determined, however, that I would prepare myself for just about
everything from bad acid to cavalry charges by the Thames Valley police.
The level of absurdity which characterised the opening of the festival was running high and accelerating still
faster when I hit Swindon, the nearest settlement of any noticeable size to Watchfield. Scoring a copy of
the local paper, my attention was caught by the banner headline which introduced a festival report: "RABIES
ALERT AT FESTIVAL"
Jesus. I knew that hippies had a reputation for being recalcitrant bathers, but to accuse them of being
contaminated with such a vile disease seemed to betray a touch of hysteria. Certainly, I couldn't recall the
last time I saw one actually frothing at the mouth and biting people.
A little investigation revealed that the police manhunt for the suspected rabies victim, Jean Mompiou, had
switched to Watchfield. I resolved to stay clear of any Frenchmen baring their teeth until I learned that
they'd caught up with the rabid fugitive in Brighton (minus rabies).
The paper devoted much of its front page to further descriptions of "tent city," and pictures of festival
organiser Sid Rawle having a parley with the Rev. John Wade, vicar of Watchfield, who'd set up a mobile
church on the site. The page was topped with a "Watchfield '75" logo, curiously superimposed over a
photograph of...James Brown.
The so called "police presence" was light at the actual Watchfield site. Elsewhere, they could be seen
patrolling in groups of three or four, or standing alone behind bushes and hedgerows, seemingly bemused
by the traffic of bedrolls and sleeping bags. There was little evidence to suggest that there might be a repeat
of last year's pitched battle at Windsor.
Less tolerant, though, were the local yokels who met everyone without a [mullet?] [in a volley of cowpats?]
Watchfield itself was remarkably calm. It certainly looked like the predictions of the tabloids were
grotesquely inflated when they described the place as "siege village." Indeed, from their descriptions one
might have expected something like Da Nang or the Alamo. There wasn't, in fact, a sandbag, barbed wire
fence or a machine gun position in sight. Of course, behind the lace curtains of those tiny cottages the local
vigilantes may have been planning a desperate midnight raid on the festival, armed with sawn-off shotguns
and meat cleavers... I think not, as the villagers appeared to be rather more curious than anxious about their
And, even if there were such an attack, the vigilantes would have been greeted by a perplexing lack of
victims to chew up.
Some 20,000 people had been expected by the organisers. By mid afternoon there were, at the most, 3 or
4,000 camped out on the vast acreage of Watchfield's disused airfield, so generously donated by the
government. The moment I stepped on to the site, I was reminded, with a sickening immediacy, of last
year's Buxton campaign.
There was the same sense of aimless detachment wandering across this bleak, cheerless landscape, which
gave way, after about five hours, to a vague depression. The audience was the same ragged, cold assembly
of wretched, damned souls, waiting patiently here for some music. There was no sign of the 200 bands the
organisers had promised, and Andy Dunkley, the festival's intrepid deejay, had the forlorn task of holding
the gathering's attention with an endless success of records.
The obligatory contingent of bikers -the Gypsy Warlords had turned out in some force- paraded the
perimeters of the crowd. But even their usual menace was eroded by the cold and the more acute threat of
Quite predictably, some of the local population had taken this event as an opportunity to check out the
hippies at close range. They sat there, sipping flasks of tea, quietly ensconsed in their Cortinas, wide-eyed
at the parade of casualties and freaks. One suspects that next week their "We have seen the lions of
Longleat" stickers will have been replaced by "We have seen the hippies at Watchfield" pennants.
Local reporters, immediately recognisable in white trenchcoats and hush puppies, scribbled furiously into
their notebooks. Some chicks exhausted themselves trying to persuade people to buy their "Watchfield '75"
badges. Everyone looked defenceless and bored.
Onstage a crew of roadies was struggling to erect the p.a.. As the equipment grew amongst the skeleton of
the ramshackle stage a murmur of recognition spread amongst latecomers who may have missed any earlier
announcements that Hawkwind would be appearing.
A limited edition of Hawkwind, at least.
Backstage, huddled in a small van, were Dave Brock, Nik Turner, Paul Rudolph and Alan Powell, all tired
after their headlining gig the previous night at Reading, but quite determined to play. Brock was reasonably
bemused by the whole event. He'd heard that Gong and Henry Cow had been rumoured to make an
appearance but had seen no sign of either band. Rudolph just kept on smiling, at the various setbacks which
delayed their eventual performance by something like five hours.
Andy Dunkley, meanwhile, continued to play records, interspersed with announcements which could so
easily have come from National Lampoon's "Lemmings" album. Y'know, things like: "There isn't enough
food to go around...there just isn't enough food...so remember the man next to you is your dinner... If your
buddie's too stoned to off himself, roll him up in his sleeping bag and drag him over to where the tractors
can run over him." And, of course, there were the usual, "Will the Lone Ranger meet Tonto over by the
Release tent. He's found your stash, Ranger..." kind of announcements.
It was all getting too much to handle.
Then Hawkwind went onstage. Nik Turner apologised for their depleted form: "We are without two simple
Simons," he said, explaining the absence of drummer Simon King and keyboard player Simon House. Now,
Hawkwind are a band who have come in for some harsh words from critics -myself included- but one can
only admire their commitment to some vague ideal which motivates them to keep appearing at gigs like this.
Even if one cannot embrace their music with quite the same enthusiasm as their more devoted followers,
one must applaud the spirit of their performance at Watchfield.
Perversely, they played a commendable set, obviously dispensing with their usual lighting effects, with
Brock proving that he can get as psychedelic as any West Coast guitarist when he has the space. It was
hopeless, though, to form any critical opinion. They played, and they revived the crowd who, by this time,
seemed close to extinction. At the first sight of television cameras the idiot dancers -not so many about
these days- were in action along the front of the stage.
Towards the end of Hawkwind's set (they played for close on two hours), the 101'ers arrived, their hired
van plastered with posters which read: "THE DEMENTED, THE THRASHING 101'ers." They were hoping
to play that night in the absence of any other bands. One wondered which would kill more hippies - the
weather, which was on the verge of breaking, or the sight and sound of Joe Strummer and the 101'ers
tearing through their crazed high energy rock and roll routine. ^
They were still trying to find out whether they could play when it started to rain. A merciless and freezing
torrent which forced Hawkwind to a conclusion - and, so I discovered later, cancelled the prospect of any
more live music, apart from some courageous synthesizer player who appeared briefly.
And to wrap it all up, here's a very recent quote from Mr. Jones, who these days is the editor of Uncut:
"...Watchfield Festival in '76. This was a chaotic affair, held on a deserted airfield some miles outside
Swindon. I remember sitting in a tour bus getting high with Hawkwind when this white van came bouncing
across the field, its battered flanks emblazoned with the legend: 'The 101'ers - Rhythm & Blues Orchestra'.
Joe and the band had turned up on the off-chance they could be added to the bill, but I can't actually
remember them playing. In fact, I can't remember ANYONE playing, which is what sometimes happened
when you hung with the Hawklords."
|Space - the final frontier
After sci-fi, Hawkwind are out to conquer space itself
|Above: (L-R) Turner, Calvert, Powell, King, Rudolph, Brock, House. I think this photo is from
Hawkwind's headllining set at the Reading Festival the night before, despite the fact that it accompanied
the Watchfield article below...(look out for some text missing from the original and a fleeting mention of
a future superstar...)