Fed-up Hawkwind Return Home for Rest

Sounds – 12 October 1974

“Hawkwind arrested – equipment impounded!”
“Bread and water for the Hawks!”
“Hawkwind thrown in jail!”   

Ah yes, Hawkwind’s somewhat eventful American tour – you could hardly have missed seeing headlines like these in the news pages over the past few weeks; or hearing what seemed to be hour-by-hour bulletins about the band’s welfare on some radio stations.

But if all this did somehow happen to pass you by, the story of Hawkwind’s recent American hassle goes like this.  After a gig in Hammond, Indiana, midway through their third American tour, the band were confronted by agents of the US Internal Revenue Service who demanded $8,000 worth of allegedly unpaid tax, right on the spot.

Hawkwind didn’t happen to have that sort of money at the time, so their equipment was impounded, and the agents threatened to sell it unless they got the money within 18 hours.  Then the band -18 of them, in fact- were arrested.  Well, after a fashion anyway.

To cut a long story short, most of the band, their morale apparently low, have now returned to Britain for two weeks while their legal advisers try to sort the problem out.

Got that?  You have?  Or have you?

Reports like this tend to get a bit garbled, maybe a little sensationalised, once they get over to Britain.  Look back at the three ‘headlines’ at the beginning of this piece.  The first one, about their arrest, etc., is fairly accurate – but the other two are really quite false.  Of course, that’s not to say that the story of Hawkwind’s ill-fated arrest was distorted to such an extreme, but reports of this kind nonetheless tend to differ, as I say.  At the time all the trouble was going on I had the idea, misconceived though it may have been, that the band were in very big trouble.

So, when I met Simon King, (one of) the band’s drummer(s), I expected the worst.  But things, it seemed hadn’t been as bad as I had thought.  Simon was just recovering from a fearsome bout of jet lag, but his morale, while not being at its highest, didn’t impress me as having hit rock bottom.

What about the arrest then, Simon?

“Well, it wasn’t all it was made out to be over here.”

It was blown out of proportion?

“Yeah, right.  But they did take all the gear away.  You see, we’d finished the gig and when we were walking back to the dressing room there were like 15 or 20 police -more than there usually are- sort of accompanying us.  Then we saw these three really straight looking characters, who turned out to be the tax people and a couple of FBI agents who were sort of in charge of the whole thing.

“They served each of us with a bill saying that we owed them $1,055.10 each and they wanted it there and then, right on the spot.  I mean I’m not too sure about this new law the Americans have got, but they’ve brought in something which means they can take 30% of the gross, and then you have to apply for rebates or something, I’m not so sure how it works, but it means they can do this sort of thing.

“All together the total came to about $8,000 and we said: “Well, we haven’t got it with us.”  So they just served us with a couple more forms and then went around with all these stickers that said ‘Impounded.  Property of U.S. Government’ and they stuck them on the equipment.  Everything – drum cases, lids of drums cases, cymbal stands – was impounded, and they wouldn’t allow it to leave the hall.

“So we got them to agree to let us have an armed guard to protect it all.  In the end it was there for two days, and when we went to collect it all they gave us another bill for $200 for the guard.  You can’t win.

“But it’s quite funny now.  It was just like in the movies with all the FBI guys rushing around flashing their badges.  There was a heated argument at one point when Douglas our manager began shouting at this guy who’d had quite enough, he took out his badge and said “I’m a United States Officer, so you shut up!”

“Eventually we went back to the hotel and a couple of them were sitting in the lobby.  They weren’t exactly preventing us from leaving but they were keeping their eye on us.  But the frightening thing about it was that all the police and FBI agents carry guns.  You get the impression that if you do anything and they took it the wrong way – bang!  They wouldn’t think twice about shooting.

“Now I think the money is mostly worked out.  I don’t know if we’ve lost it for good, or whether we’ll get it back.”

Are Hawkwind broke again?

“No!  We’re not, no.  It’s getting a bit much – we keep reading these things about how we’re broke and all that, I mean, you couldn’t call us well off, but people get the impression that we line on the breadline – and that isn’t quite true.  We did all right on the first part of this tour, and we’re going back in two weeks and the album’s going up.  It got a bullet in the American charts, I don’t know what that is, but it’s supposed to be ever so good, so I’m quite chuffed.”

Oh – “Hall of the Mountain Grill”.  In the midst of all the Efrem Zimbalist Jnr. Type gunpoint drama, the Hawk’s current album nearly got forgotten.  It’s Simon’s third album with the band, and the one he’s most happy with.

“The ‘Doremi’ album lacked production.  It sounded as if all the bass was turned off, your amp wasn’t working properly and your stereo was bunged up all at the same time.  I wasn’t really happy with the ‘Space Ritual’ either.  But the new one – I’m quite pleased with it.  I like side one because I think that it’s something we haven’t done before.  Yeah, I’m pleased with half of the new album, and I’m looking forward to the next one.

“I wondered how the new one would be received, because it’s quite different from the others.  A lot of people who bought the previous albums and were into what they were might not have got too much on this one.”

Maybe I’m one of those people – I must admit that I’m not too keen on ‘H.O.T.M.G.’ but I enjoy ‘Doremi’.  All the things that Simon said about ‘Doremi’ are, of course, quite true, but to me it epitomizes Hawkwind’s music.  Bludgeoning, directionless mugginess – that’s what it is, and it’s great.  But that’s my own rather eccentric opinion.  To me the current album seems to be moving away from a sci-fi influence – and I thought this influence was an integral part of Hawkwind’s make-up.  But apparently not.

“I’m into science fiction, sure enough, but I think we’re branching away from all that now.  The new album is just a collection of songs rather than anything that’s got another world meaning to it.”

However, don’t you lose hope completely, fantasy buffs.  There’s the possibility of a future Hawkwind album produced in conjunction with the acclaimed writer Michael Moorcock, who has associated with the band before.  It’s hoped that it will be based around the character Erekosë, the Eternal Champion, but it’s a little uncertain if it will ever reach fruition.

But onto other matters – notably, the addition of another drummer in the Hawkwind line-up.  Hawkwind have always been a pounding, thudding band, but when ex-Vinegar Joe man Alan Powell joined it still came as a bit of a surprise.  Was it just to distribute the work-load?

“Yeah.  Well, partly.  We always play for a couple of hours, and I need some help because I’m getting old…  Seriously, it happened last summer when I broke some ribs playing football just before we were due to go off and tour Scandinavia.  Alan had just quit his band, and I more or less recommended him to take my place, sort of temporarily.  But it so happened that we did play together during the last few gigs of that tour, and it really hurtled along.  We really got off on it, and so did the band.  It’s been really good and I think it’s opened up a lot of new areas.  It was a good move.”

The new-look Hawkwind, with its two drummers and new mellotron player Simon House, have only been seen twice in Britain.  If you remember, they played at the Harrow free festival and Bristol the following day some time in mid-August.  Simon admits that these two gigs were really just warm-ups for the US tour.  But the band plan to tour Britain in December and carry on into the new year.

“It seems ages since we did a proper tour over here.  But you still tend to think: ‘Oh, I can’t do it all again.  I’ve been to that place ands played there so many times and been in that hotel and been on that bit of road and in that transport café so many times…’ Of course, you go through it all.  And in the end, you enjoy it.”

-Geoff Barton

A Plastic Fragment Hawkwind Press Cutting

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