|Hawkwind's Ridiculous Roadshow
LONDON - The rise of Hawkwind is a publicist's nightmare. In fact, it's like a recurring bad dream. The
band are not noted for their musicianship and are the first to joke about it. They gained a substantial
underground following because of their loose, chaotic organization and performances. They certainly never
expected nor sought wide success and still don't attach great importance to it now. A single was released
and, with no publicity, it hit number one in Germany and number two in England. Following up the hit, the
band toured Germany and played to near empty halls. Then last year they headlined their first U. S. tour
(which is begging for disaster) and completely sold out. An accomplishment no other British group has
achieved. On stage a large obese chick named Stacia slowly strips to their music. If Hawkwind are not the
antithesis of a successful rock band then one hasn't been discovered yet.
Hawkwind originally formed in 1969 with Dave Brock (vocals and guitar) and Nik Turner (sax), plus
various other nameless musicians who never stayed for any length of time. The band crystallized around
the end of 1971 when Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister (bass), Simon King (drums) and Del Dettmar on synthesizer
all joined. Around that time Bob Calvert was added on vocals, but has since left.
Originally it was a loose collection of friends, musicians, and buskers jamming together. Gradually they
acquired a reputation of a people's band from the numerous free gigs they played at. In the summer of '72,
together with Man and Brinsley Schwarz, they staged "The Greasy Trucker's Party" benefit to raise money
to fund an alternative school. An album was recorded and the royalties were donated to the charity. Their
reputation and appeal as a loose, casual, and rather untogether conglomeration of musicians only increased
after that benefit. At the same time they released a single, "Silver Machine," which quite unexpectedly
soared into the charts. Hawkwind were immediately recognized (by their record company) as having great
potential. The success of this single enabled them to produce "The Space Ritual", the group's masterpiece
to date and feature on their last British tour, appropriately titled "The Ridiculous Roadshow".
Well then knowing beforehand the saga of Hawkwind I was a bit apprehensive as to what would occur
when I approached Simon King's flat to interview him and Lemmy. The door opened and a massive
Alsatian leaped out and bit off my hand. Thankfully, it was a friendly bitch so I entered and was offered a
cup of tea to calm my nerves.
The flat could be described as a comfortable crash pad, neat and roomy, but slightly disorganized.
Cushions and small floor level sofas pressed against two walls while a stereo, albums, and paperbacks lined
a third wall.
Simon King, the beater of the drums, is a tall, lanky, condescending sort of guy. His tall stature is stretched
even further by his blue platform boots and long, stringy, blond hair. On the other hand, Lemmy, the
bassist, is well proportioned with long, black hair tied in a ponytail. He is attired in a black leather jacket
gaudily adorned with trinkets and patches and liberally lined with studs which continue down either side of
his tight jeans. He busied himself polishing his "medals" and I sipped my tea.
Simon began by explaining that Del (Dettmar) was quitting soon to emigrate to the clear, clean lakes and
green forests of Beautiful British Columbia.
"Del just decided he wanted to live in Canada. He'll play on the American tour with us, but then he'll
Simon House who used to be with Third Ear Band and High Tide is rehearsing with us now. He'll add a
new dimension to the band because he plays violin and mellotron. He's the only musician in the band so he
should inject new blood and enthusiasm after he settles in. Dave (Brock) can then move on to synthesizer
which he wanted to do."
I asked him what his reaction was to their first U. S. mini-tour last November.
"The American kids are similar to the English ones. They didn't know what to expect and couldn't figure it
out because there were no breaks in the music."
Lemmy still polishing interjects, "We play for over two hours or we try to play for over two hours."
Simon continues, "They got off on it though. It was amazing that it sold out too because we haven't had a
hit single there. Our name probably spread by word of mouth and they came along out of curiosity. We are
the first British band to headline their first tour and to sell it out."
This tour launched "The Space Ritual" upon the unsuspecting Yanks. It's the band's epic cosmic piece
which they are identified with. It's a long, continuous number built around fast charging drums, a heavy
riff and whirring, soaring, buzzing synthesizer effects. An integral part of The Space Ritual is the
synchronized light show consisting of whirling police lights, films and slides, and other assorted
disturbances. The visuals were dreamed up by Jon Smeeton, figuratively known as Liquid Len and The
Lensmen. The Space Ritual, climaxed with Stacia's slow motion strip, is Woody Allen's idea of a home
"The light show is very important to the music because it's alt connected. Who wants to sit and look at us
for two hours? The light show helps cover our mistakes and carries us over to the next number. It's saved
us a few times."
What then was the Ridiculous Roadshow?
"After The Space Ritual Tour in the States, we needed a name for a new tour in England. Dave suggested
off hand the Ridiculous Roadshow because all our tours are so silly and disorganized."
In Chicago their roadies arrived an hour before the concert so the band set up their own equipment much
to everyone else's amazement. In London at two concerts the kids were asked in the ads to wear masks to
the concerts. First prize was a weekend on the road with Hawkwind.
"Second prize," cracks Lemmy, "was two weekends on the road with Hawkwind." There was one kid there
who had a TV set over his head with all sorts of lights and things flashing on and off. I thought he was
going to be electrocuted."
I was curious to know how Stacia joined the band. Simon wasn't too sure himself.
"There are various myths regarding how she joined Hawkwind, but the most common is at one gig we
played at she asked to dance on stage and we said sure. She got up and took off all her clothes. From time
to time she would come along to gigs and ask to dance and we'd give her a few quid. About eighteen
months ago, we asked her to do it full time."
Now that the band was so successful, why the ridicule about the band, their songs, their musicianship?
Lemmy candidly admits, "Those remarks are all just a defence mechanism to protect us from the insanity
so we can treat it as a big joke and have fun. If it stops being fun, then I'll quit - at least this band."
Now that they were achieving greater fame, could they or would they perform at as many charity benefits
as before? Because of their success they are asked to perform at more benefits, but for the same reason
they are prevented from doing so. Their work commitment of touring or recording has increased
tremendously and so any free gigs they do cuts out some of their rest time. People do not understand this
and are beginning to accuse the band of turning away from the people and selling out.
Simon and Lemmy also explained that with the band's organisation of agents and promoters, they could
stage a benefit more easily and earn more money than many of the charities. After the gig the band writes a
cheque for the charity. Surprisingly, this proposal is not acceptable by many organizations.
"They are full of ego trippers who want to give orders, but have no experience or contacts."
Simon concludes, "We also discovered that sometimes the money raised never went to the charity, but
right into some ego tripper's pocket. If we organize the benefit ourselves and write the cheque we know
that the right people receive the money."
We talked about the future ambitions of Hawkwind. Simon thought he would like the band to record an
album of about eight songs unrelated to one another or an album with one live side and one studio. He didn't
want to do another concept album like "Space Ritual" as they were becoming stuck in a rut with it and
were tired of playing it.
He also helped out on many of the tracks on Brian Eno, ex-Roxy Music's, solo album.
"I really enjoyed doing that album. Eno is great to work with and I found I got a lot of ideas and could play
things I didn't know. It's really important to work with other people as you learn so much. I'd like to do
more session work on other people's solo albums."
Hawkwind have firmly set the controls for the heart of the States. The American frontier of vast wealth is
ready, willing, and eager to be picked. If the lucky star of Hawkwind is still shining then, this band should
blast a few people's minds, if not befuddle them. Hawkwind's arrival should create more excitement than
Kohoutek's ever did.
From Canadian rock
mag "Beetle", in May
1974. Left & Right:
artifacts of the era
Roadshow is probably
the ultimate outgrowth of
rock's fetish with having
a good time. A
Hawkwind are currently
on their most
successful North American tour to date. Why is Del Dettmar
moving to British Columbia? Who is Liquid Lemmy? Why are
these lads doing so well if they can't play? The roadies speak out.