|Hawkwind survive 1976
This article first appeared in the NME on 25/12/76
Thursday night at the Coventry Theatre, and the latest mutation of Hawkwind is all set to damage the
sensibilities of an 80% capacity crowd of Coventry's youth. At least half of them look like they might
have spent their day at the building on the opposite side of the road from the theatre, a long, two-storeyed
structure draped with a banner which reads:
"The Old Fire Station: Center For The Unemployed." Underneath, in flowing, red lettering is the inscribed
legend. "f you are between 16-19 why not drop in?" Yes indeed, times are hard.
After being guided through the theatre's labyrinthine innards, painted corporation blue and white, I
stumble into the dressing room buried deep beneath the artists' bar.
Upstairs, I'm told, Bob Calvert is giving audience to assorted penmen who've come down on this record
company coach outing. Somehow the rest of the band don't seem to be enthused with the idea of joining
him, preferring instead to stick papers together and get toned up for the evening's performance.
I wander around until I find my seat in the circle. Reefer Madness, the classic '30s drug paranoia movie,
unfolds larger than life on the backstage screen. The band stroll on to a roar from the crowd. The
Hawkbrother's version of "Reefer Madness", opening power cut from the "Astounding Sounds" album,
slams out and the show begins.
Calvert is the first one you notice as he paces and jerks around the boards decked out in a patent-leather
aviator's uniform, like an evil Action Man doll. Stage left stands Blackie, white stetson pulled down over
his face, resplendent in green track suit with white sidestripe and running shoes. One foot perched on the
drum platform, his body hunched over his bass. Later on, when he switches over to black Gibson and
starts powering out some heavy metal you get a glimpse of his justifiable reputation as a good psychedelic
axeman, though not nearly enough for my taste. Right now though, he's content just pushing the pace.
Numbers whizz by and then they're into "Hashishin," named after the young men at the court of
Hassan-i-Sahba who were drugged with weed and then dispatched to kill the sultan's rivals. For this
routine Calvert has now mutated into Dune-laden Lawrence of Arabia gear. The front liners -Blackie,
Brock and Calvert- scream out a hard-edged chant to the Coventry kids while the stage lighting strobes
and pulses, treating the audience to a down-home version of the Star Trek energisation chamber effect.
Now you see me, now you don't. It works well and provides one of the concert's high spots.
On the far right of the stage Simon House sits unobtrusively, his head immersed in a striped mask with
wings, concentrating hard on his organ work, only occasionally emerging to provide some violin backup.
His contributions may be good but from where I was sitting they were lost in the mix, for the most part.
"Sonic Attack", the last remnant from the Space Ritual act of some years before, draws applause from
diehards in the audience. While Calvert leans out over the front of the stage reciting the Mike Moorcock
instruction leaflet for surviving a future war, Dave Brock turns his back so the audience can grock his
white-lab coat painted with fluorescent patterns which shine out under the ultra-violet light. Despite all
the years on the road with the band, he still retains the aggressive stance and rapid strumming technique
of the busker he used to be.
Backing him Simon King, the other oldest member of this lineup, sits on his plinth laying into his kit with
a will. The Hawkwind double drummer incarnation has been and gone, Alan Powell disappearing for new
percussion pastures, but tonight he isn't missed. King hits his skins with good timing and attack and
looks like he means it.
Nik Turner is conspicuous by his absence, but that's another story.
"Back On The Street", the new January single is the last cut before the band leave the stage, wait three
minutes and then return for the obligatory encore. The patrons are going wild, writhing around like a
living room full of bloodworms. It's a good bionic rock number, punk music for the space cadets who
have now graduated from the Academy. It gives as good an idea as any of the new Hawkwind style.
Later, on the company coach, I fish around for comments but no one seems quite sure what to say. You
see, Hawkwind have signed with a new label, Charisma, an outfit distributed by European giant
Phonogram, and this trip is the first glimpse that the Euro execs have had of the band. To be honest
most of them have flaked out, having flown over to England that day. One lady, however, did, confess
to me that she had got somewhat nervous at those points in the stage act when Calvert withdrew two
rapiers from scabbards fastened to his sides and proceeded to plunge them into the wooden floor. Even
more nervous when he unbuttoned his holster and produced a revolver which he waved in the general
direction of the audience.
You know, she confided, that he has a history of mental illness.
Don't we all dear, don't we all.
Back at the Montcalm Hotel behind Marble Arch, in an atmosphere of chocolate-brown padding and soft
lights, it's time to ask the questions I came to ask. Why Nik Turner left the band. Simon King and Dave
Brock were honest enough about it. For reasons both personal and musical it was time for parting of the
ways. Exit Nik Turner.
Blackie had commented some days before when I put the question to him: "One chap spoiling the fun for
the rest of the chaps." That about says it. There's no ill-feeling on their parts at least, only regret and a
trace of sadness. Nik is currently living in Wales and planning a trip to Egypt so they tell me. Meantime
old members of the band keep reappearing. A few weeks back Del Dettmar flew over to renew contact
with the lads and played with them at Hammersmith. He now has a log cabin in the Rocky Mountains
where he entertains the natives with his synthesiser. Mean-time Lemmy is still Motorheading and Stacia
and DikMik and all those many others who were with the Hawks at some time in their long history are
still around...somewhere. So it goes.
It's been a long strange trip, but right now Hawkwind are developing. Many years back the original
line-up played for three days inside a huge pneumatic dome at the Isle of Wight Festival. Hawkwind were
the benefit band. Anyhow, any way, anywhere. No matter how many miles, no matter how many drugs,
Hawkwind would do their best to outwit provincial drug squads and take the stage.
Now, many years later, one hit single and a thousand gigs on they're down to five and still going. While
George Harrison agonises endlessly about his legal problems to the world's press, Hawkwind have been
steadily moving on and have almost finished paying off the numerous debts incurred in the past. They
have new managers and agents, still carry a light show but no dancers, and are generally still hard at
work getting their act together.
Right now their strongest songs are good enough to carry them but many lose their structure and dissolve
into repetitious riffing. Calvert has yet to decide how far to take his theatricals and generally the band,
having stepped out of the space image, have yet to find a comfortable niche. But the general feeling in
the Hawkwind camp is one of optimism. For the first time in many, many months the business
problems are beginning to sort themselves out and light is appearing at the end of the tunnel.
It will be interesting to see what universe they arrive in next.