School of Brock

This was in the Feb 2006 issue of Guitar and Bass.  I think I'm an uncredited contributor of some of the
geekier guitar info...in the purple boxes, below...
Hawkwind... the songs... the drugs... the Hoovers...

Left: this photo (c) John Chase 2005 accompanied the
article.  John had already kindly given me permission
to show it on this site.  (Thanks again!)

Hawkwind have been purveyors of space
rock for longer than they can (actually)
remember - even binning Lemmy along
the way.  Julian Piper gets rural with
Dave Brock, their High Priest of sonic
adventure, and hopes some of the magic
dust rubs off on him...

"She probably got it off Nik Turner," Dave Brock
laughs. I'm relaying my hazy memories of driving
through Redruth at some point in the 1970s in a
convertible Morris 1000, with Stacia Hawkwind's
statuesque nude dancer standing up screaming at
perplexed Cornish shoppers; she'd dropped just one
tab too many of a particularly lethal brand of LSD
called Californian Sunshine. Those were the days.  
Thirty years on, the instructions as to how to find the
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Hawklord's lair had been clear and precise: take the turn after the pub, drive on for a mile and a half up a
lane, and then turn down a rough track on the right after a bungalow. In early November, with Hawkwind's
ethereal new album playing on the car stereo and the distant Devon hills wreathed in thick shifting layers of
grey mist, it's all more than a little bit like something out of a Werner Herzog movie.

"The new album lands, and Dave Brock's rockin' in his garden shed."

Take Me To Your Leader has been two years in the making, and far from being the kind of crazed
psychedelic offering that Hawkwind's reputation might suggest, it's a carefully-crafted sonic excursion
which is at times endearingly beautiful, and at others like Moby on amphetamines. Inevitably, the usual
spacey references are never too far away; there's a song about an android, and a tongue-in-cheek rant about
women by Arthur Brown -he of the Crazy World- that will likely have Germaine Greer taking out a fatwah
against him. Just for good measure Arthur also intones a warning about the unlikely use of golf courses as
spaceship landing pads (the holes form useful bases for their antennae, apparently).

Dave's narrow lane has grass down the middle and is dotted with rocky potholes that look like they could
drown a sheep. With the rain lashing down and the high hedges crowding in on all sides, it's very
claustrophobic. To make matters worse the road becomes steadily steeper and narrower, and travellers will
be relieved when they eventually spot a new wooden gate with the name of the farm emblazoned on the
cross bar but not so pleased to see a plastic sign, which reads 'Caution Our Dogs Bite'. But hey, in the
country people always put these kind of things up. It's probably just a ruse.

A few minutes later I'm at the semi-derelict farm that Brock calls home, and sure enough three mean-looking
black and grey lurchers instantly emerge snarling from the vegetation. It isn't exactly a rock star pad; on one
side of the yard stands an ancient blue and white caravan streaked with black fungoid mould, and there isn't
a Ferrari in sight. Eventually Kris the manager appears, and with the slavering hounds kept at bay I pluck up
courage to leave my vehicle.

'Yes, they will bite if you're not careful,' Kris says cheerfully as she leads the way across the yard to the
small studio where Dave Brock is prowling around dressed in a dark blue boiler suit and suede boots. As the
veritable creative hub of a band like Hawkwind I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. Every inch of
available space is crammed with amplifiers and recording equipment, the walls are covered with band
memorabilia and the faint but unmistakeable smell of patchouli is hanging in the air. On one side two
computers are flickering away, but apart from their fluorescent glow and one window, the only light comes
from a bare bulb hanging down from the ceiling; it's not exactly Abbey Road, but it's the kind of pad that's
entirely suitable for a man whom many regard as the High Priest of Space Rock.
thanking us for the money and saying he'd managed to raise enough for the other half!'

Although Brock is modest about the band's past achievements, the reality is that if there's ever been a worthy
cause needing money, Hawkwind have invariably ridden into town like the magnificent seven to gig for free.
Spawned by a pop culture that gave us the Bay City Rollers and the pomp rock of bands like Emerson, Lake
and Palmer, Hawkwind came on like a musical antichrist. Even the advent of punk failed to dent their
success. As icons of a drug-orientated counter-culture, the band carried on where the Rolling Stones left off,
epitomising the kind of alternative lifestyle still the scourge of retired Majors the world over. Along the way,
of course, the band also made no secret of their liking for a bit of ganja.

'Yeah, but we're lucky like Lemmy,' Dave Brock freely admits. 'At least we're all still here and alive! It's like
drinking too much champagne; however good a drink it is, if you have too much of anything it'll make you
ill, but you can do things to a certain level and not to overdo it! It's a message we've always tried to get
across.'

And how times have changed. 'Lemmy's just about to make a speech in Cardiff to the Conservative Party
about the evils of heroin,' the guitarist grins, 'so he's doing the same thing in his own way. If he stops one
person taking heroin then it's done some good, however small. They were very idealistic times back then and
although there were still a lot of drugs around, there was a lot more quality control than there is now. These
days, things like skunk are just downright dangerous; it's not like it used to be, just having a joint and feeling
happy. Skunk does your brain in. Back in the '70s at least all those underground magazines were giving out
information to kids that didn't know about those things.'

A few feet away Brock's trusty EMS synthesiser stands ready for action. Has the plethora of new gizmos on
the market made life easier, or harder?

'Well, I've had that synth since 1971, and I still use it,' he points out. 'It was pretty space-age technology at
the time. It's much easier to produce stuff now, but it's taken me three years to get my head around how to
use my current computer programmes.

'The album's taken two years to make because we recorded the whole thing originally in the first year, but
then found we'd learnt so much about the computer -including discovered the AdLimiter, which makes
everything so spacious- that we went back over it all again. Now we can even make our own films and put
our soundtrack onto them but I spend so much time on the computer that I never even watch television!

'Live shows with the computers have always been a problem. Those little tiny screens are terrible; I had to
go and buy some glasses to see what I was doing. Eventually I just thought "Fucking hell, I can't cope with
this", and just went back to playing guitar.'

Over the years the band have collaborated with some of the zaniest characters around, and this album is no
exception. But just what prompted '60s legend Arthur Brown to contributed Letter To Robert with its rant
about vacuum cleaners and women?

'Well, it's true, isn't it?' Brock jokes. 'Mind you, I do enough hoovering and vacuuming here! When Arthur
was down here we were talking about Bob Calvert [the Hawk frontman who joined with Lemmy, Eno, Viv
Stanshall, Arthur Brown and others to release the Captain Lockheed protest LP in '74] and his quirky
behaviour and how he'd freak out occasionally. Arthur wrote down his thesis, we put the music on, pressed
"record" and he did it just like that. It was a magic moment.

'Arthur's still a very fit guy. He must be 66 or 67 now, but he does yoga. When we played in London, he
was climbing up the sides of the speaker stands. I was saying "Arthur! Be careful!" Everything was all
wobbling around, but he's able to jump about because he's lithe and fit. If you want to keep yourself going in
this business, it's the only way. I see Lemmy on the television sometimes and his hands are shaking, the cold
sweat's coming...ha ha!'

It's all a long way from Dave Brock's days as a busker and playing blues at Richmond's Eel Pie Island with
Sonny Boy Williamson and Memphis Slim, but now ensconced in his Devon hideaway, he's clearly a happy
man.

'I love the country life, and now it's hard to leave home... I'd rather just go out for a walk,' he chuckles.
'Recently I went to see Lemmy playing in Bristol, but before I went I was wondering whether I really
wanted to go. I knew what it would be like because it's exactly the same when we're playing; there'd only be
time for us to sit down quickly and talk for five minutes. When you tour it's like being on duty from 10
o'clock in the morning until you go to bed at midnight; it's that whole hanging around bit just for two hours
onstage.

'We rehearse a lot, which I think is a good thing because it keeps everybody on their toes, keeps everyone in
touch with each other and there's more camaraderie,' he concludes. 'Tomorrow we're off to Greece; we go
there every year, earn a bit of money, stay on for a few days - we've got some Greek archaeologist friends
over there and we're going to go and see the Oracle at Delphi. Unless you draw a line and stay focused the
whole thing just falls apart; that's why so many people from our era are nutcases...or dead.'
In the transient, often superficial world of music, it's
incredible to realise that Hawkwind have now been out
there for 35 years, and it's clear that Brock still genuinely
believes that there's more to life than Holiday Inns and
geisha girls.

'We were always into using music as a good way of
uniting people who thought in similar ways, and about
changes that should be made in the world,' he begins.
'We felt the best way of doing that was by doing benefit
concerts, to bring attention in the local press to animal
rights and many other things.

'It's good to look back and think that at least we've done
something to help like the benefit at Brixton Academy
where the money raised help save four-and-a-half black
rhinos in Africa. I got a letter back from the warden
                      Vital Statistics

Guitars: Custom-painted '80s Westone Custom
LX fitted with a Roland synth pickup

Amps: In the past, Vox, Hiwatt and H/H:
currently a Roland JC120

Effects: Boss BE-5M multi-FX and/or a Line 6
Pod

Who Rules: Many original blues guitarists,
Django Reinhardt, Velvet Underground, Jimi
Hendrix

Album: Hawkwind's latest LP/DVD Take Me To
Your Leader is out now on Hawk Records
                                                         The Sound Of Space

Over the years Dave Brock has played a bewildering selection of guitars, everything from a Gibson SG
Junior (which, legend has it, he sold onstage to a fan in San Francisco) a Fender Jaguar, an Ibanez Artist, a
Dick Knight custom Les Paul and even a Tony Zermaitis 12-string... but nothing, it seems, can compare to
his two custom-painted Westones. 'We once had a deal with them,' he explains. 'Back in the '80s you'd see
their advertisements in the Melody Maker with myself and Harvey Bainbridge, the bass player. Apparently the
company started because they got hold of this wood that had originally been imported by Gibson that they'd
decided not to use; the guitars only cost about £70 at the time. I've got a synthesiser pickup on one of them.
It's been a really good guitar for 26 years... and I've only had it refretted once. I'd love to play Gibsons, but
they're quite heavy and if you're playing for an hour and a half you don't half notice it. Both the Westones
have been painted; Alan Arthur did one but I can't recall who did the second one.'

Strangely enough for the man who invented space rock, Brock uses a surprisingly simple amp/effects set up.
'I just use my old Roland JC120, put my guitar through a Pod, have all the amp controls turned off and just
control it with the volume,' he explains. 'The Jazz Chorus is poky and easy to shove around, plus it's better
than being deafened by a stack. I've still got the two cabs that I had painted by Barney Bubbles for the Space
Ritual tour, but that stack made me go deaf in my right ear. I still get whistles, like Roger Ruskin Spear who
used to work with the Bonzos. He deafened himself by letting off these huge explosions, and now he gets
audio generators going off in his head all the time!'