Sounds – 20 March 1976
I’d heard rumours, I’d read various reports to the effect that there had been a change in the ‘Wind, but I’d decided to remain sceptical. After all, in the past, when a new, improved, more cosmic version of the band has gone out on the road, it’s invariably turned out to be exactly the same as before 1970 revisited, ‘Spaced Ritual’ all over again, but under a different title.
However, as it turned out, my misgivings were unfounded right from the outset it was evident that things had un dergone a change, that Hawkwind, inactive for such a long time, had metamorphosed. You could tell, just by glancing at him. Simon King, drummer with the band, looked healthy. The sunken cheeks, the pale visage, the vacant gaze had been replaced, if not by a picture of bronzed ‘n’ fitness, then by a decidedly more aware expression than usual. A rest that dates back to last summer has done him a power of good, it seems his eyes betray enthusiasm, his actions and gestures are now animated to an extreme.
Management and record company changes have resulted in Hawkwind adopting one low profile, these past few months. I suggested that the turning point in the band’s current extra-terrestrial time cycle came about when bass player Lemmy left the band in mid-1975.
“I suppose you’re right,” King concedes. “Lemmy’s leaving was a first step for us, a first step in us actually getting ourselves together. To be quite honest, we really should have got r… no, that sounds cruel, we should have parted company with Lemmy at least six months before we did.
“Despite what Lemmy said the writing had been on the wall for some time. Him and us had already had a number of ups and downs, it was just inevitable that… But no, I don’t want to get into a slanging match with him, he knows the truth, I know the truth and it was a case of us saying to ourselves, get it together now or we’ll blow it, we’ve got something good going for us, let’s hang on to it.
“So we got a new bass player, Paul Rudolph, then went about changing our management and record company. The management thing was tedious there were no legal hassles, it just took a long time. Once we got away, it was down to us to find another management, one that suited us.
“The next thing to do was to get away from United Artists. We didn’t want to put out a new album on UA, going by what they’ve done for us in the past. At the moment, we’re in the process of negotiating a new contract. It’s virtually over now, bar the signing.
“So, at least, we’ve got ourselves, sorted out. We’ve nearly finished an LP, we’ve got a single in the can…”
Undeterred by the band’s antipathy towards them, United Artists are soon to be releasing a compilation album ‘Roadhawks’ and are also reissuing the single ‘Silver Machine’. Although it’s perfunctory, these days, for a record company to get as much mileage out of a band’s product as possible, I wondered if the action could disrupt any carefully laid future plans.
King shrugs, “I think ‘Roadhawks’ will be the sort of album to sell over a period of time. If nothing else, it’ll be a collector’s item for Hawkwind freaks, I suppose. I saw one of the first copies of the LP sleeve the other day, and it didn’t surprise me in the least to find the information printed on it was wrong. I’m not playing on ‘Silver Machine’, according to the cover in fact, it was the first thing I ever did with the band. It really pissed me off. And it was Bob Calvert on vocals, not Lemmy.
“Still, at least it was Dave Brock who compiled the album and not some executive in some office somewhere, who didn’t know the first thing about the band. But let’s forget it. I’m not interested. We have a new LP, and I’m quite pleased with it.”
What sort of direction does it follow?
“Uhhhh well, it’s…”
“Yeah. Well, not different. Firstly, there’s Paul Rudolph instead of Lemmy. Now, Lemmy was a great rock and roller in his time, him and me used to play in the same band, in fact, called Opal Butterfly, but Paul’s a great bass player and a good musician. In Opal Butterfly, we used to do “Summertime Blues’ simply I because Lemmy knew the words, it was that untogether. And sometimes, I must admit, I do miss Lemmy’s unmistakable bass patterns, but…”
Is it still cosmic, the new album?
King laughs, “Some of it. At the moment, I don’t know what we’re going to have on it, for what must be the first time in Hawkwind’s history we’ve got more tracks laid down than we actually need. We recorded it at Roundhouse studios, Gerry Bron’s place, which is amazing. We had a nice engineer, who seemed to understand our mumbling and we produced it ourselves.” He sniggers, “There was a bit of debating within the band as to whether we should get a producer or not. Some wanted one, others didn’t. In the end, we recorded the album without one, presuming that we’d get a technical adviser for the mixing stages.
“But we haven’t. It’ll be OK I think.”
The LP is quite varied. Apparently, while there are tracks that bear the Hawkwind musical trademark, there are others which have much less of a traditional identity. How’s that, Simon?
“It’s difficult to explain. The band’s playing well on it. There are several laidback pieces, but as I say there are bits of it that are Hawkwind without a doubt bzz! Zip, zip, zip! Bang, bang, bang! you know what I mean. But it’s not all spacey, you know. It’s got an almost 1930’s identity, sort of like 1930’s science fiction writers looking into the future and trying to imagine what the 1970’s would be like, do you know what I mean? The LP sleeve says it all. It’s like the cover of a pulp sci-fi comic, but instead of saying ‘Amazing Stories’ or ‘Astounding Tales’ it says ‘Amazing Music’ and ‘Astounding Sounds’.
“This is all mostly Bob Calvert’s idea, him and Dave Brock have written most of the material. There’s one track called ‘Steppenwolf’ which is sort of Herman Hesse meets ‘I Was A Teenage Werewolf’, another called ‘Reefer Madness’,” he chuckles.
“In fact, I’m the only one who hasn’t written anything for this LP. Simon House, Paul, Alan Powell, Nik Turner, they’ve all contributed something, I don’t know what we’ll end up using. We won’t let everyone have one track on the album just for the sake of the publishing money, which I think certain members of the band would be into doing. I think it’s better to contribute to something good rather than create something substandard for money’s sake. Substandard? That’s probably why I haven’t written anything for it.”
How’s Bob Calvert, your most recent addition, fitting into the band?
“Great. He adds a lot of energy and he brings out the best in Dave Brock, which can’t be bad. Bob has these crazy ideas, Dave listens to them and comes up with the music, it’s…”
Talk of the devil. At this precise moment, Bob Calvert walks into the room, having completed a previous interview. He glares at me slightly, probably remembering that I gave his last solo album ‘Lucky Leif And The Longships’ a less than enthusiastic review. Later, I knock his pouch on to the floor, spilling tobacco and Rizlas over the carpet. Not my lucky day, but at least Calvert adds an intellectual slant to the conversation.
At one time, some months ago, Hawkwind were reported to be actively involved in a stage presentation of Dan Dare, the Eagle comic character. Will the project ever reach fruition?
Says Calvert, “I wrote a whole script for the thing. Very long, it had Digby being captured on Venus and being replaced by Harold Wilson, all zany things like that. Everyone was behind it, it was just a matter of tying everything up, legally. Unfortunately, someone else stepped in with an offer for the Dan Dare rights, bought them up, and left me high and dry. It’s a pity, it’s frustrating, but I just didn’t move quick enough. I believe Dan Dare is still going to be made into a movie, maybe a play, but now not by us, by someone else…”
Last time I spoke to Calvert, he wasn’t really planning to rejoin Hawkwind. Apparently, the failure of the Dan Dare project acted as a catalyst for him to become re-immersed in rock and roll.
“When I thought about it, I realised that I missed collaborating with Dave Brock. In the past, the most successful things either of us have done is when we’re worked together. Eventually, I joined the band just after Stacia left, when things were lacking visually. I lost contact with the scene for a while, especially during my ‘Lucky Leif’ stage, but now I feel very stimulated. I think I’m going to become England’s answer to Iggy Pop, I really do, a raw power type Iggy…”
Are you thoroughly committed to the band, now?
“I’m thoroughly getting off on it. It’s ‘Captain Lockheed’ all over again, it’s great, it’s like the re-awakening of a good spirit. Over the last two years I lost touch. At one stage, I almost turned into a character I never thought I’d be I was blasι, I was sitting around, watching TV, not taking life at all seriously.
“At one time, when I lived in Notting Hill, I saw the police beating the hell out of a spade outside my house. I really got actively involved with the situation, almost to the extent of appearing in court and defending the guy. But more recently I became very bourgeois. I see it now as a mistake to have ever left Hawkwind. When I split from the band originally, I had plans to get into the theatre. But I had no money, there was only me, there was no other source of energy. But now, I’ve been saved from the clutches of bourgeois limbo by Hawkwind, and I thank them for it.”
I bring up the subject of the projected LP and its sleeve.
“It’s based on visions of the future which could have been brought up in the 1930’s,” he relates. “In those days, the conceptions of the future were so, uhh, naive. They were just like extrapolations of items they already had you know, huge airships travelling the skies, like in Moorcock’s ‘Warlord Of The Air’, that sort of thing.”
It’s strange, I remark, that sci-fi writers of those days didn’t reckon technology advancing at the rate it has. For example, most predictions for mankind’s reaching the Moon stayed solidly in the 1980’s, whereas, in fact, we made it in the mid-60’s.
“It was so farcical, the moonshot,” Calvert reflects, “so military minded. When I was a kid I was really into rocketry, sci-fi, I really thought that the moon landing would be a momentous occasion, there would be dancing in the streets, people would be leaping about, kissing each other…but it wasn’t like that at all. At the time it all happened, it did have a great effect on me, but I can’t help but feel”
“I sat up all night, waiting for them to land on the moon,” interrupts Simon King. “But I missed it. I had crashed out by the time it happened.”
A Plastic Fragment Hawkwind Press Cutting