|Rock on the Roll
This article dates from July 1973, publication unknown...¦ Below: Simon King and Lemmy
Two hours before the concert and the faithful are already beginning to mass. You can see them outside the
hall, relaxing on the steps, branded with a kind of nonchalance, soon to be dispensed with as the doors open
and they dash to the stage. A few linger around the Mercedes and Thames vans parked on the forecourt,
peering in windows, hoping, perhaps that somebody will see them and think that they are part of the circus
that has come to town.
The vans are empty, the band's equipment is already inside: a muddle of lights, amplifier cabinets, bits and
bobs of drums, guitar cases, snakes of wire, cluttering up the stage like pieces from a vast electronic jigsaw
puzzle. The band's roadies buzz around the stage, trying to piece it together into a cohesive picture. Pete the
'drum roadie', slides cymbals on to their stands and puts the final adjustments to the bass and snare drums.
Jonathan surveys the stage from his light show controls, perched atop a criss-cross of metal scaffolding half
way down the hall.
The hall is a large modern airy structure and sunshine pours through cathedral like stained glass windows
casting pools of coloured light on the floor. Everybody's too busy to notice. There simply isn't the time to
stand and stare. There never is when you're touring Never enough time to do anything positive and always
too much time to do nothing at all. You work to a schedule, which no time-and-motion man could make
very much tighter. Swansea. Plymouth, Barnstaple, Redruth and Torquay, with only one break between
dates. You get up in the morning, tired and bleary eyed from too little sleep, check out of the hotel, into the
van to be hauled across country and tumbled out at the next town; check into another hotel, then to gig: play
your ass off, back to the hotel, and to begin again at 'Go'.
But, somehow, amidst all the racing against time you still have plenty on your hands. A couple of hours
before the gig, kicking your heels at the hall or in an hotel room. Time in the van, a few hours every day,
staring out of windows, reading books, doing crossword puzzles or sleeping. Never the time to rehearse,
write new material or even quietly pursue your own interests. Always time on your hands and on your mind.
Keeping a rock band on the road is rather like running a vast and complicated machine. The machine is
minded by an assortment of drivers, equipment handlers, and humpers who ensure that everything is well-
oiled and operative. Every twenty-four hours, the machine is wheeled into a concert hall or club where its â
€˜product' -a couple of hours of music and visuals- is dispensed to about 800 people.
It's not, actually, that simple. For the machine is made up of human parts, who get bored, and moody,
hungry, high, bad-tempered and elated. Its minders have the same ups and downs. So the machine takes on
the appearance of a rather chaotic travelling circus, or a band of electronic gypsies, prone to short-
circuiting. No matter what form it takes, its raison d'étre remains the same - to dispense 'product': to keep
audiences alive and happy, and to make money.
"Actually, on a tour like this we just break even. By the time you've paid out for maintaining all the vans and
equipment, paid salaries, bills and everything, there's no real profit shown. That comes off record sales."
Doug Smith leans back in his chair and draws on a cigarette. Smith is Hawkwind's manager, a charming
hustler whose talk of the band can have his eyes flashing pound signs one moment and rolling heavenward
the next. As manager, he is responsible for catching the verbal flak that may fly around on the tour and next
to none of the praise. He is also, of course, the chief machine minder, smoothing out ruffled tempers among
the band, bullying roadies with threats of stopped wages and ensuring that things run smoothly. It's a
difficult task calling for a silver tongue, thick hide and calculating mind: it means being at hotels before
anyone else to arrange rooms according to individual temperaments (put so-and-so with so-and-so and
you're asking for trouble), paying the bill when everybody leaves, smiling at promoters if they lost money
from a gig, playing 'red-coat', bank manager and father confessor to the band.
The payroll Smith is responsible for on a tour such as this is surprisingly large. There are four roadies,
responsible for transporting and setting up equipment, each earning between £25 and £30 over a week; one
lightshow operator and an assistant; a disc jockey / announcer, Andy Dunkley in this case; the band's own
driver; the band itself -Dave Brock, Lemmy, Nik Turner, Del Dettmar and Simon King- and a dancer, Stacia.
The hand pick up a basic salary of £36 a week clear while touring, but percentages from record sales and
publishing royalties boost this figure considerably. Total wages for a five-day tour come to some £500.
Hotel bills top £400. £30 a night for the support act, Swan Revived; £100 covers odd expenses and a further
£120 the 'float' for petrol, spares, drum sticks, guitar strings and odds and ends. That's £1,270 for five days.
The circus travels in four vans. Two for the equipment and public address system; one for Andy Dunkley's
equipment, and a Mercedes bus, fitted out with reclining aircraft seats, for the band.
The reason for the hotel hill being high is because the band stays in quite expensive hotels, from the bland,
plasticised neutrality of the Holiday Inn, Plymouth, where muzak haunts you in the lounge and restaurant and
follows you down the corridors, to the genteel elegance of the Imperial at Barnstaple. Hardly places you'd
expect to find Ladbroke Grove's masters of the galactic waltz, hut they are the only places, as Smith
explains, that ran take sixteen people.
It's a trifle bizarre to see Del Dettmar trotting into a dining room full of conservatively clad holidaymakers,
like some cosmic gnome in his grimy dungarees, face half hidden under a thatch of hair and beard; or
Lemmy, loitering in an armchair surrounded by rather edgy-looking businessmen, here for a conference,
confronted with their worst nightmare in hoodlum denims and shades. Hotel staff react in a uniformly polite
manner raising eyebrows *after* the bill has been paid.
It's difficult to get any sort of privacy on tour except in the sanctuary of your hotel room. Dressing rooms
tend to be as open to the public as the rest of the hall on Hawkwind tours, and even the hotel lounge after the
gig can look more like the scene of a house party. It's impossible to go straight to bed after burning energy
for two hours, and there are always drinks and sandwiches waiting for the band when they return.
Inevitably there are friends dropping by to talk, or hangers-on to keep hanging on. And the last thing you
need is what you often get - in Redruth, the resident bar fly, crashing in on a 'Should we? Shouldn't we?'
discussion and boring everybody, immobilised by exhaustion and good-naturedness, and finally picking up
the menace in Dave Brock s eyes and retreating.
There's very little partying as such. Nobody has the energy for orgies and camp followers seem a little thin
on the ground, anyway. And although hotel incident stories are rife (...¦and then there was the time Andy
gift-wrapped the Frankfurt Hilton by hurling toilet rolls off the top floor...¦) Hawkwind seem to see hotels as
places for sleeping and little else. Staying in a different hotel every night playing a different concert hall, the
contradictory insanity of racing against time one moment and trying to kill it the next all work to a strange
effect on everybody on the tour.
One day runs into the next without you noticing. You become unsure whether Swansea was last night or the
night before, Torquay tomorrow or the night after. It's as if you're trapped in a limbo, with schedules,
journeys, hotel rooms, concerts rushing through your life like images rushing across a cinema screen.
Living in such close proximity with others even for five days presents its own problems and its own
solutions, too. There's no room for brooding or grudges; grievances tend to explode in a fit of temper and
dissolve again almost immediately. You learn to gauge each other's moods, respect each other s silences;
life's a lot easier if you do.
"It's like a big family, really," says Andy Dunkley. "And, like in any other family or group, you evolve your
own ways of behaving, your own life-style. Everything's just very free, very easy." Everybody has their
own ways of coping with the vagaries of touring.
All the band seem to have drifted into the higher echelons of the rock business more by chance than by
design They all, with the possible enigmatic exception of Lemmy seem to have limited aspirations for
superstardom, and treat the tour as an end in itself, rather than a means to one. Dave Brock, with a wife,
child and country cottage to support, seems the only one with any financial motivation, but it would be a
mistake to think that he's only in it for money.
The others just partake -rarely stopping to question why- and get the maximum possible enjoyment from
doing so. All are subject to fits of boredom or disillusionment -as is anybody else- and there are occasions
when you get the impression that the machine is running not because anybody wants it to, but because it's
simply too big and complicated and overpowering for anybody to actually stop it.
It's when the machine starts running you, rather than you running the machine, that it's time to get off. And
though everybody threatens to do just that every now and then, nobody actually does. An hour before the
concert actually begins: the doors are opened and the patient are rewarded with positions pressed up against
the stage. The roadies thread their way through the equipment, plugging in last minute wires, murmuring
down mikes to check the balance on the PA before Swan Revived begins the warm up set. Backstage, the
band arrive in the dressing room to prepare. Doug Smith doles out fivers to the artistes of Swan Revived
and asks whether they've fixed up accommodation for the night. They don't enjoy the privilege of staying in
hotels, and if no crash pad is at hand, they have to sleep in the van. It's a hard apprenticeship, but one which
most bands have to serve.
Nik Turner stands in one corner, oiling his saxophone, while Dave and Lemmy tighten up a few licks on the
tune-up amp A few, mostly younger, members of the audience stand around, conversing quietly among
themselves or talking to members of the band. Just to be presented is enough: to claim momentary
friendship, share a joke, be part of something which they can normally only speculate on from the auditorium
A semi circle of young admirers sits watching Stacia -every young boy's dream- as she applies thick layers
of theatrical make-up to her face.
Sounds of Swan Revived warming up the audience drifts in from the stage: Simon sits on the edge of a table,
staring into mid-space, Lemmy drowns the dregs from a Mateus bottle.
Swan Revived comes off looking pleased with their set, and Andy Dunkley incants his space ritual sermon
over the PA. Then, Hawkwind is on stage. A burst of applause, drowned by a whining howl from Del s
synthesizer. The lights blossom into action, flickering astronauts and space capsules on to a screen behind
the band, Stacia whirls on, mercury in black satin against the strobe, as a steamroller of sound rumbles
across the hall. Heads begin to shake and. Suddenly, the whole thing's worthwhile.