Melody Maker – 22 February 1975
DAVE BROCK, Hawkwind guitarist and sometimes Sonic assassin, was sitting at the side of the stage at the Odeon, Birmingham. The band had just completed the fourth concert of their currant British tour and Brock looked no more than an exhausted counterfeit of his dramatic space warrior stage persona, and there was a shadow of confusion behind his tired eyes.
The concert had been a n unqualified success, with the audience surrendering unconditionally to the Hawk – Lords mega death assault. Brock, however, seemed curiously unmoved by it all, somehow quite isolated from the general chaos of roadies dismantling the massive amount of equipment which has become so essential to Hawkwind’s road operation. He cast an eye over the debris left by the retreating audience and the skeleton of lights and sound system on stage and shook his head in quiet amazement. “I dunno man . . . it’s getting to be like a war, isn’t it?” That was the only thing he could say before slipping into silence.
There was a genuine concern in Brock’s expression for the way in which Hawkwind has grown over the last few years into a mammoth commercial machine.
The band have had no records as commercially successful as “Silver Machine” in the summer of 1972, but they have continued to grow, forever expanding their audience, and as the present tour testifies they have now confirmed their status as one of the top touring acts in the country.
Brock faces the reality of his situation with reluctance, regarding the pressures which it precipitates as a threat to the precarious balance of the life he is attempting to create for himself and his family. For the simple truth of it is that Brock isn’t the kind of man desperately searching for the material wealth offered by the phenomenal success of Hawkwind. Security and sanity are far more essential.
He’s refused to be drawn into the high tension games of the rock ‘n’ roll circus, and for the last three years he’s been living with his wife, Sylvie and their two children in self – imposed isolation in one of the most desolate rural areas imaginable.
He prefers the anonymity of his life, trading under an alias, as part of a community which knows nothing of his association with rock music.
He has his own Devon farm, ten acres of land which he’s planning to develop when he’s got the time and has fulfilled all his commitments with Hawkwind. He’s careful to point out that this isn’t his country retreat, and one certainly should avoid comparing Brock with members of what was once described as “the mainlining mansion class” of strung out superstars “getting it all together in the country” a couple of comfortable miles outside of London.
Brock’s lifestyle is essentially quite basic, with few concessions to the luxuries enjoyed by many of his contemporaries. Meeting him here in what has become something of a natural environment, one can easily see the source of his dissatisfaction with the commercial combines currently overtaking Hawkwind.
It’s a kind of release, he says, as we trek around the farm, and he talks enthusiastically about his plans for converting one of the barns into a recording studio (he’s had various members of Hawkwind’s road crew down helping out with the wiring of the studio, which is as yet in a rudimentary state, but functioning nevertheless).
He seems to relish the primitive conditions, and having “got out of the city just in time” he’s fully committed to settling here.
He travels into London as infrequently as possible, and each time the distinctions between the city and his life on the farm grow stronger. It’s the same after tours – it’ll take him up to a week to re-adjust and he’s been feeling the strain these last few weeks.
“When I’m in town now, I’m tense, on edge all of the time. And as far as going to gigs, having to travel five hours to meet the rest of the band and then on to wherever we’re playing, it’s getting to be like a job, man. And that’s really bad, when it gets to you like that, because you don’t feel it anymore.”
The other members of Hawkwind, he thinks, find it hard to understand his feelings. Nik Turner, possibly, is the closest to him.. The rest of them don’t have the same kind of experience.
“Nik’s started to suss it now. He knows how I feel. When I’m with the others. Because I’ve been in a completely different world with completely different people. All I do is try my best to avoid it all, you know”.
It’s frustrating, both in terms of his relationship with the band and in terms of of his aspirations of turning away completely from that whole situation and developing his new found life-line with the community which has grown around the farm. The balance is ever more dangerously tipped, and yet, he can’t at this stage discard one from the other.
The same pressure led to Del Dettmar, one of the earlier members of Hawkwind, eventually splitting to Canada. He’s got around thirty acres of land at the side of a lake over there and live in quiet contentment in a log cabin removed from everything.
“And I can see why he had to go. I really can. He had to achieve a balance. There’s so much you can do. He’s directing his energies in the right directions, and there’s nothing you can’t achieve if you put all your energy into it”.
In a way, one suspects it’s the challenge of trying to achieve something that’s missing from Hawkwind as Brock sees the band at the moment. They’ve reached some sort of peak with the present tour and have, now, to either change and develop dramatically or they’ll find themselves coasting aimlessly. The energy which motivated their early challenge has been dissipated by success.
Brock draws the parallel between the struggle of maintaining a fair existence on the farm with that of his early pre-Hawkwind days as a musician. He started out, original, as a busker.
“Yeah I did that for years. That’s how I used to live. that was when Don Partridge became famous. Remember him? He’s living in Denmark now. He made a lot of bread at one time and then blew it all and went back to busking”.
“When he became famous he had a lot of people come down thinking they could pick up some easy money busking and it got really hard. There were some really bad violent scenes. There used to be regular places to play, regular queues – and lots of my friends still play them – but you’d find that some other guy had moved in and was trying to take over”.
“I used to play places in Kensington where none of them would go, and the Lyceum and Albert hall when they had rock shows. The Marquee used to be really good”.
There is, actually, a legendary story to the effect that prior to Hawkwind’s first gig at the Marquee, Brock busked for the queue outside and earned more money than the band. Brock denies the story, but there seems an element of truth in it.
“I mean I never actually did that, but I was earning more money busking than I was with the band in the early days. That’s why I almost split from the original band. I was busking regularly up until about 1971, and Douglas (Smith, Hawkwind’s manager) used to tell me that I was getting more money busking than with Hawkwind, and it was much easier. I used to just take me guitar and go down the Portobello Road, you know, earn a few quid.”
It might be useful, at this juncture, to trace the genesis of Hawkwind, because as Brock points out, so few of their audience these days remember the original line-up. (he’s now the only surviving member) and a band he ran called Dr Brocks Prescription.
“It was a blues band really. Pretty ordinary. We formed because I was fed up with busking, and I used to sit at home, bombed out, listening to records and I thought I could do it as well as the people I was listening to. So I tried”.
This band was to develop into the act we know now as Hawkwind
NOTE – The next couple of paragraphs are unreadable but I think it pretty much covers ground we are all to aware of, i.e – the bands initial inception!
Nik Turner, who like Brock embodies so much of the original spirit of Hawkwind, was picked up in Holland. Brock’s band was touring in an entourage which performed in a circus tent (“we were dossing on floors and sleeping in derelict houses”). Cubie And The Blizzards were the top band on that tour, so one can judge the relative obscurity of the band at that time. Brock returned to England after after being busted by the Dutch Police and the band broke up. He met Turner a year or so later.
“We used to play a lot of free gigs around the Gate. And it was really good. But we just can’t do it anymore,” again there’s a genuine note of frustration, “it’s such a hassle. Then we didn’t have as much equipment, we could just get a generator going, a few people and just go and do it”.
“There’s a lot of people trying to do something to change the way things were going. A lot of the ideals we stood for have now been accepted”.
Brock still feels strongly about the community validity of the band and continues (as does Nik Turner) to donate money to various projects. As you grow older, he says, your ideas change. You start thinking more about yourself, there’s a lack of energy to spare, “and it gets to the point where you don’t get the energy back”.
As Brock says “we were completely outside the established order. We were completely detached in every way. We were trying to get something together in the community”.
Hawkwind now, Brock feels, have “come full circle”. He remembers the days they would play the festivals on the wrong side of the wire. Now they’re on the right side.
And it’s that level of acceptance that worries him. He’s concerned of the attitudes of promoters on the current tour who tell the band that they should charge more for tickets, so that everybody can clean up on the band’s popularity.
“But ours is a predominantly working-class audience, and we want to keep tickets as cheap as we possibly can. We want to get close to the audience. It’s not the same scene as the Floyd, say, who’ve got a real middle-class audience who just sit there comfortably. It’s not like that at all”.
He’s at a loss to really explain the really quite staggering level of popularity of Hawkwind. The band has no tangible image, they’ve reached a stage, he feels, where they’re well beyond trying to impose anything on an audience. It’s a process of identification with the band as a whole, rather than with individuals.
“They can relate to us because they’re no different from us and we’re no different from them. And the audience can understand that. I don’t think I’m very different and I get very embarrassed when people come up for an autograph. I find that really peculiar”.
Perhaps one of the most surprising aspects of Hawkwind’s currant audience is that most of them weren’t around when the band originally formed and have little idea of the philosophy which Brock feels is, or was, so essential to the whole concept of Hawkwind.
Again, it’s something he somehow regrets: “It’s a drag really. A couple of years ago we could play at town halls and they would be about half full and people could bring their kids and it used to be excellent”.
“You could move around without being crushed to death and have a really good time. That’s what I really miss. Now there’s always thousands of people, and it just gets too much.”
Although their audience has changed over the last five years, Brock insists that the attitude of the band hasn’t altered that much, even with the introduction of new members like Simon House and Allan Powell.
“We’ve all been involved in the same sort of environment. What has changed is that we’re getting a bit more bread, and we can get some of the things that we’ve always wanted.”
As a personal extension of the concepts which originally motivated Hawkwind it does seem as if Brock has remained closest to that inspiration. His plans to develop some sort of rural community seem far more viable as an alternative lifestyle than, say, Lemmy’s identification with outlaws, like the Hells Angels.
“That’s a complete fantasy trip man. Lemmy lives that fantasy. It’s what he’s like to be, but he can’t”.
Living in the country then has slightly altered his ability to tolerate such fantasies as Lemmy’s?
“Well I dunno about that, but you wouldn’t believe some of the scenes that go on backstage. All the f—— rows, people losing their temper when things go wrong or somebody’s not doing it right”.
“Some nights I’ve unplugged my guitar and marched across the stage to sort Nik out. He keeps playing the saxophone when I’m singing and I’ve told him a thousand times not to do that. And the other night Simon King kept hitting Lemmy on the legs with his drumsticks because Lemmy kept staggering into his cymbals”.
“I had a go at Lemmy the other night because he just couldn’t pull himself together and he threw his bass on the stage because the strings kept coming out of the bridge”.
“I don’t suppose you saw what happened at Hammersmith? Lemmy’s lead kept coming out of the amp, and he carried on playing. He’s so deaf he didn’t even realise. He plays so loud, man”.
“That’s what annoys Simon House, Lemmy plays so loud he can’t hear a thing we’re playing. And we’re all shouting to Lemmy, you know, you f——- lead, man, and he still didn’t understand”.
“Then somebody plugged it in and I told him, ‘you c—‘ I said if you do that again ‘I’ll f——- kill you’. And sure enough he did it again. we were all freaking out about that”.
“Lemmy’s quite a good front man, though. He can put it about a bit. Likes to pose a lot. Simon House is the complete opposite, man. A very quiet boy”.
There’s little doubt that boys play for keeps. But before we get Dave in a situation where he’s got Lemmy coming round with a knife in his belly, we’ll move on to two people who’ve been involved with various Hawkwind projects during the past couple of years, Bob Calvert and Science fantasy author, Michael Moorcock.
“Nik’s really gullible, you know. He knows so many people and they always used to take him for a ride. It’s so easy because he’s not very sussed out. People always used to ask Nik if we’d do a free gig somewhere”.
“Of course he always agree without telling the rest of us. And we’d think ‘what a stupid c—“. Anyway he brought Bob along and we got the Space Ritual together. Bob’s a real genius, man. we put a lot of our ideas together for the Space Ritual. He’s a great guy”.
Moorcock fulfils the same sort of function as Calvert as far as Brock is concerned. He supplies the band with a concept, or series of ideas they can work around.
“Mikes lived around the gate for years, man. And people around there are into many similar things, and eventually their paths cross. The community isn’t so strong anymore. It was great for a while. Then people started to split, getting into different things on their own. It’s changed a lot since then, which is sad”.
Moorcock will be working with Brock on a new Hawkwind concept called “Warriors On The Edge Of time”. It’s based, apparently, on a Moorcock series of novels, The Eternal Champion (Brock wants Arthur Brown for the title role).
Nik Turner is already using some of the poems which form the work in the currant Hawkwind stage show, and the new single “kings Of Speed” might also form part of the concept.
If the plans for the show materialise, it could be, as Brock describes it “a complete fantasy trip on every level”. It could also be Hawkwind’s last stand. The final solution in fact. Brock sees it as Hawkwind’s ultimate trip, a full scale extravaganza where no man has gone before.
“It’ll be the final f—— thing. And it’ll be really spectacular, man. And it’s going to take up so much time and energy that it will finish us”.
And then what would you go, Dave? Move down here, out of it all and open up a one-man recording studio in the barn, having reached that final peak with Hawkwind?
“Too f—— right, man. That would be it. There’d be no hesitation. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, and if we did it, that would be the end”.
A Plastic Fragment Hawkwind Press Cutting