March 2018

In Search Of Space

HawkwindHawkwindHawkwindHawkwindText: Gabriel Knowles Images: Hawkwind

Hawkwind are, without doubt, one of the world’s most criminally underrated bands. Their influence extends far and wide into some of the last four decades’ most popular and even cult acts. More criminal is that their effect is usually unacknowledged. Might this have been different if they hadn’t kicked Lemmy out of the band after he was arrested for amphetamine possession on their first North American tour?

“You do wonder, we were touring the States playing all these big venues and then of course Lemmy got busted at the border and it all went downhill after that. It probably was that, but then again he went on to great success.” Not that there are any regrets, Dave Brock, Hawkwind’s sole remaining founding member explains from his cottage in south-west England. Nearing 70, and about to embark on another tour, Brock is stoic about the band’s evolution.

“When you look back, it’s a funny old business being on the road with a band. There’s all these petty arguments, when you stop and get back you realise how trivial it all is.”

While they’re all friends now Lemmy once said he reckons it was the biggest mistake Hawkwind ever made because, “they fired the engine-room”. To be fair to the Motorhead frontman, he did later clarify that Hawkwind’s lack of commercial recognition was probably more due to the band’s early image. “They looked like drug-addled tramps, which is basically what we were half the time anyway. We never had a good organisation to get past that first horrified image. We didn’t make commercial records – the best thing we made was Urban Guerrilla, but that got pulled off the racks because it was when the IRA bombed Harrods. Went down like a concrete parachute, that”.

Among the stories that do the rounds about Hawkwind is that when they first started playing ‘psych’ all of 40 years ago, the sound frequencies and strobe lights they used at their shows made people physically ill. For a band that owned the ‘Space Rock’ descriptor, this urban legend does seem conceivable. But a humble Brock gives a more pragmatic account.

“The reason why is because we were playing lots of universities and they used to drink lots of beer. The worst thing you can do is drink too much beer and have a strobe light flashing, we used to have a couple of really big strobes going and people were always falling over.”

Formed in 1969, when Brock was busking the streets of London, Hawkwind Zoo as they were initially named quickly became known as the people’s band. This was mainly due to their habit of playing free gigs outside bigger festivals in protest against high admission charges, at the Isle Of Wight Festival in 1970 Jimi Hendrix even stepped out to catch them play.

Despite becoming known for ‘space rock’ and settling into a certain rhythm in recent years the early years of Hawkwind were notable for their variety. Starting out in folk and blues vain tinged with electronic dance music they quickly moved on to a sci-fi bent with the infamous genre writer Michael Moorcock becoming close with the band. All the while they developed their trademark of droning, psychedelic riffs that would later become so much their signature that it was a criticism often leveled at them.

“It’s the comfort zone isn’t it,” muses Brock. “It’s a difficult thing if you’re in a band and you’re playing music everybody likes and you go off on a tangent. I remember years ago Miles Davis had a really big hit record in the ’60s and the record company were enthusing about how wonderful it was so they thought it would be great if they gave him a load of money and he’d make the record exactly the same. But the next record he made was totally different and they went bananas over it. This is what music’s about, it’s got to be about change.”

With over 40 years in the business and just as many band members, there aren’t many more qualified to talk about change in music than Brock.

Hawkwind play Sydney’s Manning Bar on Friday March 11, Melbourne’s Billboard on Saturday March 12 and Golden Plains Festival at Meredith on Sunday March 14.

Next story: Crowd Control – Kasia Werstak