By Dave Thompson
In the beginning, there was Hawkwind.
And, at the end, there will probably still be Hawkwind. Forty years on from the release of the band’s first album, forty-two years on from the series of meetings and friendships from which the band was formed, the longest running space opera in history released a new CD, "Blood of the Earth" – the follow-up, at long last, to 2006’s "Take me To Your Leader" and, according to conservative discographical estimates, it’s their fortieth official new release.
Conservative estimates. Add on compilations released by previous record companies, archive in concert sets which have the band’s seal of approval, fan club and limited releases by the band themselves, and you’ve probably doubled that total. Spare a thought for the remastered reissues that the Atomhenge label has been turning out in recent years. Consider the solo records by members past and present; and then add to that the wealth of quasi-legitimate releases that have been appearing (reappearing, and in some case, re-re-re-reappearing) for the past thirty years. Suddenly, a not-quite-complete Hawkwind collection is approaching two hundred different recordings.
Which is more than most musical genres could amass, let alone a single band. It was once very fashionable to describe Hawkwind as the English Grateful Dead. Fans of both bands would probably rather spill blood than agree with such a lazy assessment. But in terms of sheer recorded bulk, they’re probably the only compatriots each other has.
The difference is – Hawkwind are still going, and still going strong.
Dave Brock, the singer / songwriter / guitarist who has led Hawkwind since the very beginning, never intended to be a musician. “I wanted to be an artist,” he told Goldmine when we spoke in mid-July. “I wanted to be a painter.” He had some talent at it, as well. “I had loads of jobs when I left school. I worked in a factory for a year and I didn’t like that, I worked picking potatoes, back breaking work, and I didn’t like that, either.”
Then he found employment at a cartoon studio, “and I worked there for four years, which was really good fun.” By the end of the 1960s, however, Brock was tired of the nine to five. He quit his job, picked up his guitar, and headed over to France to earn a living as a street musician – a busker, in English parlance. “I was just playing around, cafes and street singing, and I did that for a few years. It was quite varied.”
He certainly never imagined that those few years would end up dominating his life. “I never expected this. When you’re that young, you go from one day to the next, or maybe one week to the next. Even when we first started Hawkwind, and we started getting booked for dates, we only looked one week in advance. Now you’re thinking about things that are going on next year. It’s quite strange…. Time goes a lot quicker as you get older; when you’re young, time always takes a long time, whereas now days go by so quickly.”
It was during his French sojourn that Brock and his guitarist friend Mick Slattery ran into Nik Turner, a jazz loving, sax playing fellow Englishman and fellow hippy, and by the time the pair had returned to England, around 1969, the rudiments of Hawkwind were already gestating in their minds.
"Originally, we just wanted to freak people out," Dave Brock admitted in 1971. "We used to portray different trips and, because of our own experiences, we knew exactly how to get through to people." When they played "Paranoia,” one review claimed, "people either pass out, freak out, or run out screaming."
From the outset, the band’s line-up was fluid – indeed, it is the lack of formality that seems to guide the group’s recruitment policy that has ensured Hawkwind remains so fresh even today.
“It’s quite a big family thing, Hawkwind,” says Brock. “Very family oriented, with the friends and fans, and all the different characters going in and out of the band, and they all give a little bit. Some make little doodles, some create major landscapes, some do great portraits. And that’s the way it has always been. Nobody is bigger than the band. It’s like a soap opera - you get these soap opera stars and they think they’re so big that they can leave the show and go off and do something else. All they end up doing is opening supermarkets.”
Which might seem a very bold statement when you pause to consider some of the players who have passed through the line-up over the years. First album guitarist Huw Lloyd Langton went out one day in 1970 and didn't come back for another eleven years. Drummer Terry Ollis messed his arm up doing acid one day, and was replaced on different occasions by the Pink Fairies’ Twink and the Pretty Things' Viv Prince. Ace guitarist Steve Swindells was a member for a time (you can relive his recollections of those days in the November 27th 2009 issue of Goldmine). So was Dave Anderson, one time bassist with the German band Amon Duul II.
Other prominent past members include poets and authors Robert Calvert and Michael Moorcock. Future Motorhead mainstay Lemmy was Hawkwind’s bassist through the first half of the 1970s; former Cream linchpin Ginger Baker was their drummer in the early 1980s. One time Gong keyboard whiz Tim Blake was on board for a time, and thrilled audiences by introducing highlights from his solo career, the albums Crystal Machine and New Jerusalem, into the live show.
All have passed through the Hawkwind story, and not all of them left under the friendliest of terms – Lemmy was kicked out in 1975 after being busted for drugs, as the band tried to cross the Canadian-American border; Calvert departed after chasing his bandmates down a Parisian street with a samurai sword. But there’s something about Hawkwind that keeps them coming back – Calvert was a regular onstage guest right up until his death in August 1988; Lemmy still gets up to play with them on occasion, and so does Lloyd Langton, although Brock readily acknowledges, “we’re all getting on a bit. But Hawkwind just keeps going.”
The most recent example of this unquenchable spirit was felt a couple of years back, as the band set to work on what they intended to be their next album. The sessions were just getting under way when keyboard player Jason Stewart suffered a fatal brain haemorrhage on September 8, 2008.
The band had little time in which to mourn their loss – their next tour was scheduled to begin just a month later. Stewart was replaced by one of the returning Tim Blake (who had now added a theremin to his musical arsenal), who joins the current line-up of Brock, drummer Richard Chadwick, guitarist Nial Hone and bassist Mr Dibs. But Brock admits, “we really missed Jason, he’d been with us five years.” Material they recorded with him for that projected new album was put to one side; a new Hawkwind album has always represented the current Hawkwind line-up. “So what we did was, we pressed it up as an EP and gave it away to all the people who came to our show at the Porchester Hall last year.” And then started work afresh.
“We did a lot of stuff with Jason; he wrote a lot of nice stuff, a lot of jazzy stuff, and we had to start again. But there’s a few little bits and pieces pf him on the new record that we cut in - every so often, you’ll come across a nice bit of keyboard that I cut into loops and played along with. Then we’d overdub things on top of it, but he features here and there on the new album….”
Brock also speaks fondly of a permanent monument to Stewart’s time in the band, in the form of a gazebo in the garden of “this local pub where we used to hang out. We got a gazebo built for all the people who like to go out and smoke in the pub garden, fans kicked in some of the money for it, and the landlord of the pub put a big brass plaque in, to remember him. It’s called ‘Jay’s Place,’ and it’s a lovely little spot. Because he’s there in spirit.”
"Blood of the Earth" itself is as dramatic an album as any new Hawkwind album should be – and again, reflecting back on their catalog, that’s a mighty task for any new record. It competes, after all, with the three LPs that, more than any, established Hawkwind as the kings of Space Rock in the early 1970s – In Search Of Space (1971), Doremi Faso Latido (1972) and the big daddy of them all, the double live set Space Ritual. It competes, too, with such later-decade favorites as Quark Strangeness and Charm, PXR5 and 25 Years On (recorded by the band’s Hawklords alter-ego).
There’s the band’s early 1980s dalliance with the energies unleashed by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal; the sprawling Chronicles of the Black Sword concept album, their shift into electronica and trance in the early 1990s, their absorption of rave and club… so many styles, so many shifts, but through all of them, it remains recognizably Hawkwind.
Almost all of them, anyway; there has been the occasional misstep over the decades, the odd moment when a new album arrives and you know from the outset that you’re not going to be impressed. And, as with anything remotely resembling a "new" Hawkwind album, "Blood of the Earth" falls between two very sharply defined poles — either it's the band's best album since the mid- to late '90s, or it's one more step away from the purity of their original mission statement.
Believe me, it’s the former. "Blood of the Earth" continues the past few albums' penchant for simply pushing full steam ahead, opening with the distinctly atmospheric "Seahawks," pounding on through the near-punkish "Wraith," and (back to the past for a few moments), completely rewiring both the mid-1970-s live favorite “You Better Believe It,” and "Sweet Obsession," from Dave Brock’s first solo album.
The tribally inclined "Inner Visions" and the near-ambient "Green Machine" offer a distinct axis around which the album revolves, but every corner secretes a new surprise, until you arrive at "Comfy Chair," which actually fits you just like one. Which probably isn't something you'd expect to find on a Hawkwind album, but strangely, it works really well. Still Brock laughs when he’s asked what he thinks about it. “I’ve not listened to it since we finished it. I want to get on to the next thing.”
Right now, the next thing” is a packed date sheet that begins the week after we spoke with a festival in Germany. Back to England for another, and then across to France for a third. The pinnacle of Hawkwind’s summer, however, is the fortieth anniversary of an event that Goldmine has already celebrated this year, the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. There, Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies set up an unofficial festival of their own, at the very gates of the “real thing,” and played to protest the rampant commercialism that was scarring the main event.
“We’re playing on the exact same date that we played for free outside the festival in 1970, and in the exact same place. We got hold of the same field, and we’re putting on our own Hawkwind festival, at exactly the same place and the same time.” They’re choosing their own supporting bill, too, from a mass of new and unsigned bands that sent their own CDs into the Hawkwind office. “A lot of young bands send their CDs in and we listen to them, we choose the best ones and get them to play there. There’s a lot of good young bands around.
The Isle of Wight, of course, is just the latest in a string of events that Hawkwind have played in recent years, celebrating one rock anniversary or another; last year, they marked their own official birthday by returning to the corner of west London where it all began, Notting Hill Gate, for the aforementioned Porchester Hall show.
There, joined by another psychedelic survivor, Bob Kerr (whose Whoopee Band were among the precursors to the Bonzo Dog Band), Hawkwind almost literally turned the clock back. “It was wonderful. We had a good old psychedelic light show, and the hall is still the same as it was. It’s part of a public baths and they have a swimming pool there as well - when I lived in Notting Hill Gate, I used to go there for my bath… ‘more hot water in #17 please.’ Anyway, this time, I went in the wrong entrance; I came in carrying my amp, and the woman at the ticket office was ‘oh, you’re going in the wrong entrance, my love, this is the baths!’
“It’s a beautiful building. Old wood, fantastic carvings, huge chandeliers, and a balcony round the top of the hall. We had the light show projected across it, so people could sit around and look at the ceiling. We only let 500 people in, and it was like taking a step back in time. It’s a lovely old place.”
And there’ll be more old friendships renewed, and old memories rekindled, when Hawkwind return to North America in March next year. “Hopefully. Right now we’re planning to go to Toronto, and then get a tri-state tour together… New York, Boston, Buffalo, and Cleveland, the three states.”
The tour is still in the early planning phase, but there’s one element of the operation that Brock is already steeling himself in preparation for – obtaining the necessary visas to enter the United States.
“We have to get visas well in advance, and that can take four or five months. We have to queue up outside the US embassy in London at 7 30 in the morning, with all the journalists and sports personalities who waiting for their interviews as well. And then, when you get to the other end, you have to sit and explain all the stupid things you did as a child. I’ve got a drug bust for growing a marijuana plant, and every time, I get taken away for an interview about marijuana… to explain why, forty-five years ago, I was growing marijuana.”
The irony of the situation does not escape him. Like Hawkwind itself, some things just won’t go away!
A VERY SELECTIVE HAWKWIND DISCOGRAPHY
1971 In Search of Space
1972 Doremi Fasol Latido
1973 Space Ritual (live)
1974 Hall of the Mountain Grill
1975 Warrior on the Edge of Time
1976 Roadhawks (compilation)
1976 Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music
1977 Quark, Strangeness and Charm
1977 Masters of the Universe (compilation)
1978 25 Years On - Hawklords
1980 Live Seventy Nine (live)
1980 The Weird Tapes (multiple volumes: live / studio 1966-1983)
1980 Repeat Performance (compilation)
1981 Sonic Attack
1982 Choose Your Masques
1982 Church of Hawkwind
1982 Friends & relatives (three volumes: compilation)
1983 The Text of Festival (live 1970-1971)
1983 Zones (recorded 1980 and 1982)
1984 Bring Me the Head of Yuri Gagarin (live 1973)
1984 Space Ritual Volume 2 (live 1972)
1984 This Is Hawkwind, Do Not Panic (live 1980 and 1984)
1985 Hawkwind Anthology (live / studio 1967-1982)
1985 The Chronicle of the Black Sword
1986 Live Chronicles (live)
1987 Out & Intake (live / studio 1982 and 1986)
1988 The Xenon Codex
1990 Space Bandits
1991 BBC Radio 1 Live in Concert (live 1972)
1991 Palace Springs (live)
1992 California Brainstorm (live 1990)
1992 Electric Tepee
1992 Hawklords Live (live 1978)
1992 The Friday Rock Show Sessions (radio 1985)
1993 It Is the Business of the Future to Be Dangerous
1994 The Business Trip (love)
1995 Alien 4
1995 Undisclosed Files Addendum (live 1984 and 1988)
1995 White Zone - Psychedelic Warriors
1995 25 Years On (box set)
1996 Love in Space (live)
1997 Distant Horizons
1997 The 1999 Party (live 1974)
1999 Choose Your Masques: Collectors Series Volume 2 (archive 1982)
1999 Complete '79: Collectors Series Volume 1 (live 1979)
1999 Glastonbury 90 (live 1990)
1999 Hawkwind 1997 (live)
1999 Epoch Eclipse (box set)
1999 In Your Area (live / studio)
2000 Atomhenge 76 (live 1976)
2001 Yule Ritual (live)
2002 Canterbury Fayre 2001 (live)
2002 Live 1990 (live 1990)
2004 Spaced Out in London (live)
2005 Take Me to Your Leader
2006 Take Me to Your Future (audio / video)
2007 Greasy Truckers Party (live 1972)
2008 Knights of Space (live)
2008 Minneapolis, 4 October 1989 (live 1989)
2008 Spirit of the Age: An Anthology 1976-1984 (box set)
2008 The Dream Goes On (1985-on box set)
2008 Reading University, 19 May 1992 (live 1992)
2009 Live '78 (live 1978)
2010 Live at the BBC 1972 (live / radio 1972)
2010 Blood of the Earth
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