|The Saga of Hawkwind, by Carol Clerk
Many thanks to the folks at Omnibus Press and musicsales.co.uk for this sneak preview of the cover and other detail concerning this forthcoming book....which has now (October 2004) been released. My review was writtien from a copy loaned to me by Dave Law of the Hawkwind Museum - cheers Dave!
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|Here's the blurb, first from the inside of the dustjacket:
THE SAGA OF HAWKWIND (H/D) Carol Clerk Ł19.95 September 2004 Omnibus Press
In August 1969, Hawkwind played their first-ever gig, at a hall in Notting Hill. They'd gatecrashed someone else's show, and their set amounted to a fifteen-minute jam. It hardly sounds like the most electrifying debut, but the presence of John Peel, an instant convert, and Douglas Smith, their soon-to-be manager, made for an auspicious start to a career that still shows no signs of battle fatigue.
And there have been plenty of battles. For even as Hawkwind were pioneering space-rock, scaling the heights with such revered albums as In Search Of Space and Space Ritual Alive, and developing their vision across the decades, they were also courting trouble, all the time.
Famously anti-establishment, they fell foul of the police, the Bomb Squad, the immigration authorities and the taxman. They enraged a succession of managers, promoters and agents. They plunged marriages and friendships into chaos as they travelled the world and the galaxy. They argued bitterly and unforgivingly among themselves.
Champions of the free festival ethic, they also saw an outdoor audience take up arms against them on the day the dream died forever.
Past and present members of Hawkwind have talked freely to Carol Clerk about all of this, about the drug culture that surrounded them with sometimes disastrous consequences and about the mental torment afflicting poet-in-residence Bob Calvert and designer Barney Bubbles, who killed himself.
They have, variously, pointed the finger, swung the punch, sought revenge, found God and gone to court.
But for all of their human dramas, they are still, determinedly, here. And lest we forget, they have given us a naked drummer, a topless dancer, a stripping sax player, Lemmy, an occasionally peerless blend of music,
poetry, theatre, costume and lights, and one of the biggest, most varied back-catalogues in British rock history.
All that and Silver Machine.
And this is from the back of the cover:
This is the no-holds-barred story of Hawkwind, the legendary band that came out of London's sixties counterculture. From the early Seventies onwards Hawkwind embraced an honourable tradition of free gigs, benefits and protests. They embraced artistic contributions from writers, poets and dancers. In fact they embraced almost everything except themselves. This is the fascinating chronicle of their troubled 35-year odyssey through the changing fashions of rock while enduring endless fallings-out and innumerable personnel changes.
Motorhead's Lemmy and legendary Cream drummer Ginger Baker were just two of the many casualties as Hawkwind went head-to-head with the forces of the establishment...and one another.
Through the decades Hawkwind went on to explore a unique blend of psychedelia and electronica, keeping abreast of each new musical wave while attracting a loyal body of fans who still turn out to see the band with the epic history of sex, drugs, madness, writs, rage and revenge.
'The Saga Of Hawkwind is a classic rock'n'roll story, brilliantly told.
|24th September 2004: I received a very nice email from the author today. Here's the latest word direct from Carol:
"The latest confirmed publication date is October 13. Unfortunately, Amazon has not updated its details. The month-long delay came about because the manuscript began to grow much longer than originally intended. With a very encouraging publisher telling me, 'Let it run!', I did let it run, and the result is 222,000 words. The book is 550 pages long. Definitely a saga!
I have read and very much enjoyed Ian Abrahams's Sonic Assassins. From the outset, when we each became aware that the other was working on a Hawkwind project, we agreed to co-exist in a friendly and professional manner, and we have done this. We have been working along different lines, so our books can be seen as companion pieces rather than deadly rivals!
Obviously, the biographical chain of events is common to both books, since we are writing about the same band. However, 'The Saga Of Hawkwind' focuses more on the human and emotional side of things. It ventures in great detail into controversial issues such as the court cases over Hawkestra and xhawkwind, and it includes some extraordinarily personal and surprising revelations from various band members. There have been hours and hours of interviews with Dave Brock, Nik Turner and Douglas Smith. Other band members who have given new long interviews are: Dave Anderson, Harvey Bainbridge, Tim Blake, Richard Chadwick, Thomas Crimble, Alan Davey, Del Dettmar, Martin Griffin, Simon House, Lemmy, Huw Lloyd-Langton, Terry Ollis, Jerry Richards, Adrian Shaw, Mick Slattery, Steve Swindells, Danny Thompson and Ron Tree. Kris Tait and Marion Lloyd-Langton have been very illuminating too, with some great stories that maybe the men wouldn't have told!
Some of the Hawkwind-related people who also contributed are Tony Crerar, Samantha Fox, Frenchy Gloder (Flicknife), Mike Heath (Barney Bubbles exhibitor), Chris Hewitt, Lin Lorien (friend and leading figure in the free festival scene), Scouse (Wango Riley), Jiana Skinner (mother of Barney Bubbles' son Aten), Margaret Tait (Kris's mum and Dave's representative in court), Twink (Paul Noble - keyboards October 1980) and Matthew Wright.
Quite a few other musical characters have given interviews - from the punk world, Animal (Anti-Nowhere League), JJ Burnel (Stranglers), Penny Rimbaud (Crass) and Rat Scabies (The Damned), and from the dance fraternity, promoter Michael Dog, Push (writer) and Jez Willis (Utah Saints).
With the addition of recollections from fans (including Bernard Pospiech) and some irreverent memories from support band The Babysitters, that just about rounds it out."
Carol's personal credentials include 20 years' service on Melody Maker, most of that time as News Editor; currently working for Uncut and Classic Rock; author or ghost-writer of 11 books, most recently Hughie & Paula: The Tangled Lives Of Hughie Green And Paula Yates (the Beeb is about to buy the option to make a TV film using material from this book). Most importantly, though, Carol is a Hawkwind veteran, having seen them down the years since 1973 when they were touring The Space Ritual!
|And now, finally, here's the review!
Weighing in at almost 550 pages, this latest Hawkwind biography is written by Carol Clerk, a journalist with a lengthy music-related pedigree - see the preceding items on this page for some of Carol’s background. It’s a hardback of course, with the cover as seen above printed on a glossy dustjacket: a handsome package.
Structurally, the book has a foreword, a table of contents and thematically-titled chapters. There’s no index as yet – this is because the tale grew in the telling (see Carol’s comments above about the publisher encouraging her to “let it run”) but subsequent editions will apparently have an index. Right now, the book closes out with a detailed 10-page discography.
There are a number of photographs, many previously unseen, presented on dedicated plate pages, grouped into three visual sections. This works really well, enabling them to be reproduced with greater clarity than had been the case with the recent ‘Hawkwind – Sonic Assassins’ book (oh-oh, the comparisons start here…) although I very much liked seeing the photos in contextually-appropriate settings in Ian Abrahams’ volume.
The narrative follows the chronology of the band’s history, and this is almost the last thing it has in common with Ian’s book. Although ‘The Saga Of Hawkwind’ deserves to be taken on its own merits, it and ‘Hawkwind – Sonic Assassins’ are such different animals that I feel Hawkwind fans will want to buy both, and so a certain amount of comparison between the two will hopefully prove worthwhile.
In ‘The Saga Of Hawkwind’ Carol Clerk has concentrated on the human relationships within the band and the scandalous events surrounding them. It’s probably not overstating the case to say that she has gone for a sensationalist approach, for example describing the occasion when Huw was spiked up with acid at the Isle Of Wight festival in 1970 like this: “An apparently innocent glass of fruit juice on the Isle of Wight sent him literally insane, plunging him into a world of terrifying mental torment from which it seemed there was no escape.” This is *not* to say that there is any falsehood being perpetrated: the preceding quotation is (I am sure) literally true, it’s just expressed in the most colourful and arresting way possible. This is characteristic of the whole work.
Another characteristic of the book is that there is, I think, no bias in it, other than an instinct for the contentious. When detailing a specific event, the author gives voice to all those involved, providing direct quotation from her interviews with band members etc., so as to get across the different ways in which these events have been viewed and interpreted by the protagonists. She does make the point, fairly early on, that there is often some distance between these different recollections. This is probably to be expected given the span of time over which the events related in the book occurred, as much as anything else. The author also makes uses of archival interview material from old press clippings, etc..
Whatever, the prose style in which the author puts the information across is excellent; somewhat breathless on account of the occasionally contentious material, but the book is very hard to put down! Carol has been a rock writer for over twenty years, and it shows (no disrespect to Ian or anyone else intended by this) – one comes away with the feeling that the book is so gripping because the story it tells is fascinating. As you get enveloped in this, you really don’t notice the author’s voice in the narrative, which I think is indicative of very successful writing. She makes it look easy.
But (there’s always a but)…in among the lawsuits, the fights, the arguments, the nudity etc., at some point you raise your eyes from the printed page and think “what about the music?” There are, it is true, occasional and fairly brief descriptions of the band’s sound, e.g. on specific albums. To take the least typical example of Hawkwind’s recorded output, in the chapter entitled ‘Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music, Astonishing Troubles’, the accent is very much on the Astonishing Troubles. Discussion of the album itself covers ground such as “Moving right away from the concept of time and space…it sought a more contemporary approval” and provides characterisations of individual songs such as “high-powered” (Reefer Madness) and containing “tricky drums and convincing instrumental work” (The Aubergine That Ate Rangoon). It’s left to a secondary quotation from NME reviewer Dick Tracey to actually describe the sound of the album as having “lazy, spacey electronics”. Perhaps this is fair enough if we assume that the book is aimed at the existing fanbase, and again Carol has managed to avoid intrusion of her own subjective views into proceedings by relying on an event-based narrative rather than descriptive passages. But I definitely felt that this was something lacking in the book.
There’s something else to point out, and this is that the book has the capacity to be depressing in places. Of course Hawkwind has been the means for many people to (try to) earn a living, and how much is that at odds with the peace-and-love-psychedelic-space-rock imagery that we the fans have bought along with the albums. But especially in the later chapters, the sheer weight of allegation and counter-allegation is amazing. Taking the 21/10/2000 Hawkestra as an example, the book dwells on everything that went wrong: but I was among the 5,000 fans in the audience who sang along with every word and had a whale of a time despite the miserable acoustics. (Which is what I blame for the event being less than perfect, rather than the lack of contractual clarity backstage.) The positive aspects are not entirely overlooked, but they’re definitely overmatched by the recriminations.
As the book draws to a close, the focus is drawn more and more narrowly, from the financial shenanigans of the Hawkestra, to the court case between Nik Turner and Dave Brock, and finally, the last chapter is devoted to Dave Brock, hero or villain. Full marks to Carol for letting everyone have a say here; there seem to be three camps, the pro-Brock, the anti-Brock, and the neutrals, who may have the most realistic outlook on all the issues that the last part of book covers. I doubt that anyone will be ‘converted’ to one view or another, but then, I don’t think there’s any intent to proselytize any particular point of view – just to tell the story. And this has been done brilliantly, given that I found the book unputdownable. Obviously you can’t really read a 550 page book in a single sitting, but I got through it in 24 hours, picking it up and reading it at every opportunity. For anyone interested in Hawkwind (that’d be you, then :-) this is an essential purchase and an ideal contrast with Ian Abrahams’ book. If you can only afford to buy one of them, buy one and petition your local library to stock the other!
|Graham P weighs in with his view:
As you say the focus is very much on the people rather than the music and, while fascinating, it is depressing in places. No question though, we get a more rounded picture of the main protagonists and I certainly learned a few things I didn't know (and, to be honest, some things I never wanted to know) about Mssrs Brock and Turner.
On balance Nik Turner comes out of this slightly better than he did in Ian Abrahams' book, although he does rather overplay the "perhaps I'm naive but..." card. I get the feeling that a bit more communication and consultation between band members could have prevented many of the misunderstandings, even the feud between Brock and Turner. What's really apparent is that neither of them has really changed much over the years and that it is only the court case that has brought their respective viewpoints right out into the open. It's a familiar story in that sense. Hawkwind are ordinary people with human failings: people working together for years and assuming that the others see things the same way - until something happens that makes it very clear that they don't.
I think some band members may end up wishing they hadn't taken the bait offered when Carol Clerk asked questions like: "So and so says this, what do you think of that!?" Others though remained remarkably diplomatic.
Wishful thinking time now: if the band let a bona fide manager like Douglas Smith (who comes across as very credible in the book) sort out a new major label deal, including the back catalogue and associated royalties, which means the band isn't living hand-to-mouth all the time, and the ex-members all get their share, who knows, maybe another Hawkestra (celebrating 35 or 40 years of Hawkwind) isn't out of the question before they finally call it a day.
|And I had another, very nice email from the author, in response to my review. I'm not going to quote the entire thing, but the following points are made in response to a couple of things that I had written:
"I agree that the writing tends to be perhaps a bit melodramatic from time to time. This was probably inevitable given the hugely emotional input of some of the interviewees... I had to match them!
You're right, too, that I did find myself drawn to some of the more controversial aspects of the story, to the point of depressing the reader towards the end. Having interviewed some of the main people, I did become aware that their feelings are bitter... and I wanted to get as close to the truth as possible through the 'kaleidoscope of voices'.
...if I was going to go into the albums properly, in detail, I would need at least another 500 pages..."
|9th September 2005: Carol Clerk has been back in touch with some exciting news about a paperback edition of the book which is due to be published in January 2006. Take it away Carol!:
"The Saga Of Hawkwind is being published in paperback in January. It includes a new, updated chapter totalling more than 5,700 words, based on new interviews conducted in August 2005 with Dave, Kris, Alan,
Richard and Jason Stuart - who is now a full-time member of the band. The chapter covers: the Spring 2004 dates; the departure of Keith Kniveton after a dispute with Alan; the Euro gigs 2004; the recruitment of Jason Stuart, and his biographical details; the TMTYL Tour (Part 1) - the two October dates and December shows including the Astoria ('Revelation in WC2'!); the departure of Arthur Brown; the TMTYL tour (Part 2) in May 2005; Euro festivals; all about the TMTYL album; 'The Calvert/Brock Project' which is now complete; plans for a new live Hawkwind album; more classic material being considered for updating; and the future new directions of the band. The paperback is listed in Amazon for January 9 publication."
I, of course, already have the hardback but it looks like I'm going to have to get the paperback too! And judging by this description I'm not going to be the only one...
|January 2006: as promised, Carol Clerk’s book “The Saga Of Hawkwind”, has appeared in a paperback edition, which boasts an extra chapter and an index. The lack of an index was acknowledged as a shortcoming when the book first saw publication in October 2004, but this was unavoidable as the tale grew in the telling: and has now been put right, giving the book an extra dimension as a source of reference material as well as a right rollicking read for those who love a good punch up!
The extra chapter is numbered 33: and is titled “Keys To The Future”. It is not, as you might have expected, the last chapter in the book (that’s still “Dave Brock…God, Satan or just the Captain of the Ship?”, now chapter number 34). But the new addition maintains the tone of the rest of the work, with a detailed analysis of the dispute (what else) between Keith Kniveton and Alan Davey, which has ensured the former’s absence from Hawkwind since his last appearance with them at the 25th October 2003 Exeter gig. The overall tenor of this episode is fairly petty, and the chapter moves on to recount Hawkwind’s live activity in 2004, through the summer festivals they played in the middle months of 2005, up to the early September performances at the Take Me To Your Leader launch party and Off The tracks festival. This narrative takes in the recruitment of Jason Stuart and the recording / mixing of the new album (though the author’s deadline for completion of this new chapter fell before the album had seen full commercial release).
After that the Future referenced in the chapter title gets a look in, with some tantalising hints concerning the Calvert Project, which has yet to see the light of day, and plans for studio recording of material old and new. There’s even mention of an intended Hawkfest for 2006 and some encouraging musings on the less sequencing-reliant direction of the band now that Jason has joined. I hope it all happens as outlined, because it sounds excellent: but one thing we’ve all got used to in following this band is that it rarely all goes according to plan :-/
Is the book worth buying for the extra chapter and index? Well I thought so, though I didn’t pay full price for it – the publisher’s recommended price is Ł10.95 and I bought a copy on Ebay for Ł6.50. This seemed well worth it to me, who am of course completely abnormal when it comes to Hawkwind (but then I’m not the only one: you’ve read this far...)