Melody Maker – 10 May 1975
Steve Lake pits his wits against Hawkwind’s Nik Turner and close associate, science fiction author / rock singer Michael Moorcock.
“No no, the name ‘Deep Fix’ doesn’t have anything to do with drugs at all,” Michael Moorcock, Britain’s premier Sci-Fi writer sniggers into his full-face beard. His publicist chuckles too. So do the ladies fulfilling secretarial functions. Hawkwind’s saxist, Nik Turner, reclining on a chaise longue makes a small coughing noise. Even Turner’s Afghan hound Lottie (who looks remarkably like her owner – skinny, pointed features, lots of hair) seems to be smiling.
What ‘Deep Fix’ means to you depends at least partly on your reading (or otherwise) habits. Moorcock, looking like Henry VIII in a lounge suit, is into understatement and modesty today. He says that ‘Deep Fix’ means “big trouble.” Of course, the casual Moorcock reader will know that Deep Fix is an imaginary rock band featured in Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius tetralogy, in which the hero carries on “an intermittent but serious flirtation with rock music.” Not unlike the author, in fact.
To the Moorcock fanatic, of which there are many (fan letters pile high in this Ladbroke Grove flat), Deep Fix is the title of a book by one “James Colvin” published some ten years ago. The book being a collection of short stories; Colvin being one of Moorcock’s pseudonyms (E.P. Bradbury being another).
Deep Fix, the short story, appeared in a collection called The Time Dweller first published by Rupert Hart-Davis Ltd in 1969 and latterly by Mayflower Books in 1971. It’s a story about hallucinatory drugs.
Deep Fix, the group, comprises Moorcock (guitars, mandolins, banjo, vocals), Steve Gilmore (guitars and vocals) and Graham Charnock (guitars and vocals). They have a record available on United Artists called “The New World’s Fair”. The album is the enlargement and amplification of a single “Dodgem Dude” c/w “Starcruiser” that was never released. Which explains pretty much why the album’s storyline is remarkable difficult to follow. The Deep Fix, then, bears a title that operates on a number of levels. Moorcock likes ambiguity. He likes irony too. And anyway, what’s in a name?
Take Hawkwind, for example, the band that Moorcock has gigged with periodically over the last three years. Sounds not unlike Hawkmoon, yes? Dorian Hawkmoon that is, Duke of Koln, the Eternal Champion and a hero of Moorcock’s science fantasy series called The History of The Runestaff, which spans a whole stack of paperbacks.
Now that, you see, is a coincidence. And even though the formation of Hawkwind in Summer ’69 took place concurrently with the publication of the first of the Runestaff books – The Jewel In The Skull. Interesting, though. Definitely one for the etymologists to investigate.
“If there was. any Moorcock influence that early on,” muses Nik Turner, “it was entirely unconscious. Basically we weren’t into playing Space Music at the start. That concept hadn’t been formalised. If anything we were thinking in terms of Inner Space rather than Outer Space.”
But, you ask, what is Michael Moorcock doing appearing with rock bands anyhow? How come his large bulk crops up at odd Hawkwind gigs? Why doesn’t he stick, to writing books? The answers, it seems, lie in the author’s past. Back in the 1960s Moorcock supported himself by playing guitar in clubs and coffee bars. “Skiffle groups first of all, then Woody Guthrie style country / folk blues and finally a kind of John Mayall trip. That was before success came his way: before writing elevated him to the underground status of a new Tolkein. “When I discovered that I could make more money by writing than by playing music, I stopped playing music.”
Moorcock first became aware of Hawkwind’s existence around the time of the band’s first album, released by Liberty in 1970. “I knew Hawkwind via Bob Calvert – we graduated from the same lunatic asylum, which was the Frendz magazine thing. He introduced me to the band after he’d edited a science fiction edition of the magazine. I found the group a lot more impressive than, say, the Pink Floyd, who were making a lot of conscious use of science fiction. With Hawkwind it seemed a lot more natural.”
A free concert on the Green, Portobello Road, in 1972, marked Moorcock’s first appearance with the band. Since then he’s appeared when the ambience has been loose enough, usually at free gigs or benefits. He never, however, considered the prospect of becoming a full-time member of the band. “We wanted to keep it relaxed. Casual and easy. If I felt like doing it and if the band felt like doing it, then we’d do it. Also, I’d seen the effect that doing it full time had had on Bob (Calvert) how he’d got really jittery and nervous…”
Moorcock ponders deeply, his hand disappearing beneath the mammoth beard as he strokes his chin in a classic “thinker” pose. Finally he settles for the practical explanation. “Anyhow, I couldn’t do it like Nik does, going out on the road…simply because I’ve got books to write. There were rumours, I know, but it’s been just a casual…umm…” – he searches for the right word.
“Affair?” says Nik Turner.
“Affair,” says Michael Moorcock. Their eyes meet.
“It was nice while it lasted, though, Nik.” They laugh.
Moorcock continues. “So I decided I’d play the free gigs, because I feel a lot less restricted at those. The atmosphere is a lot looser, the tension isn’t there that occurs at a regular gig. I get anxious if I know people are paying money to see something that I’m contributing to. I give, and I think most people give, a much freer performance at a benefit.”
I ask if Moorcock feels the same value-for-money responsibility when writing books. “It’s different. You’re in complete control of your own material and your material is totally dependent on you. You control yourself, which is a completely different thing to throwing in your lot with six other people, some of whom are at some particular time going to be in a bad mood. The great thing about performing, however, is that it’s a lot more cathartic than writing. I tend to feel very good after a Hawkwind gig…”
Moorcock points to his skull, he’d been nursing a migraine when we arrived. “Like, if I’ve got a headache when I go on stage, I come off without one, which seems fairly good, heh heh…” Somebody says that the process is reversed for the audience. That they get the headache. We all laugh at that.
“Writing,” says Michael, determined to make his point, “is a much slower process. There’s a lot more things to be controlled. If you’re playing guitar with other people the mujsic goes back and forth and works on that level. The organization is a lot looser, particularly if you’re just jamming. You can’t jame with a book, fairly obviously. The organization has to be kept fairly tight the whole time, otherwise it falls apart.”
It might interesting, at this point, to say something about the way Moorcock writes his books, something which, goes a long way to explaining his prolific output – his bibliography lists something like 80 books not written under pseudonyms. Not for Michael Moorcock the crazed, gorge-down-a-mess-of-speed-and-feed-a-roll-of-wallpaper-into-the-typewriter approach of the cult heroes of America’s rock-associated writing, taking off on three-day bursts of inspiration. Michael Moorcock works a nine to five day. “Literally that,” he says firmly. “And I take an hour for lunch every day, and I don’t work weekends.”
Nik Turner makes a displeased face. “You might as well, have an office in the city where you can go to do it,” he says.
But back to the self-styled Hawk-Lords. How have audiences reacted to Moorcock’s on stage appearances? Is the average great-coated fourteen-year-old downer freak familiar with the man’s work?
Nik Turner: “I think our audiences are aware of him, yeah. The great thing about our band is the element of surprise. People never know what to expect from us. No gigs are ever the same, there’s so many variable factors. And when Mike’s appeared the audiences have always been surprised and pleased.”
Moorcock: “A lot of the letters I get have stuff about Hawkwind in them. A lot of the letters the band gets mention me. Particularly mail from the States.” The States, you should understand, is where Moorcock reigns supreme. Earlier his secretary had talked about the devotion of the Stateside fans. All of whom, it seems, are totally committed to Moorcock’s fantasy worlds. “It’s amazing,” she’d said, “they actually believe that Elric exists.”
It seems that Moorcock and Hawkwind have audiences which are to a large extent interchangeable, and not merely because of the limited amount of work they’ve done together. The fact that their concepts occasionally run parallel, even if Moorcock’s are inevitably the more coherently expressed, would seems to encourage a certain amount of overlap. The crux is that both are concerned with flights of fantasy and mixed media, in Hawkwind’s case lights, music, the whole “Space Opera” idea – masks, costumes, stage props; in Moorcock’s, experiment of a more deliberately artsy type – literature with poetry and visuals.
Some of his novels, notably the Jerry Cornelius books, incorporate illustrations by the late Matt Dean… Plus, of course, Moorcock has dabbled in films, working on the screenplay of The Land That Time Forgot and his own The Final Programme…
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing, grafting a science fantasy writer into a science fiction band. Moorcock’s earliest efforts at composing lyrics for Hawkwind and Deep Fix both, were, he figures, too literary.
“Again, writing words for songs is a completely different process to writing stories. Songs force you to be much more economical. And you learn that not every word has to be understood. Or even heard. Because the music is there to emphasise anything that you want to say, you can use it as a prop… Also of course, you can use music for the purpose of irony, which is something I’d like to experiment with a lot more.”
Already he’s making tentative gestures in this direction…”Dude’s Dream (Rolling In-The Ruins)” .on “The New Worlds Fair” combines “jolly” fairground music (that’s Moorcock’s description, it sounds pretty grim to me) with a decidedly macabre lyric.
I wonder aloud whether Moorcock had any reservations about the Deep fix album- being released simultaneously with Hawkwind’s “Warrior On The Edge Of Time”, where he’s featured declaiming the words to “The Wizard Blew His Horn”, “Standing At The Edge” and “Warriors.”
“I think that we tried to get well away from the Hawkwind format with the album, knowing that they’d appear round about the same time, and I think that perhaps we made too determined an effort not to include any heavy stuff. As a result the album is perhaps lacking a little in. funk.”
Moorcock’s vocals, certainly, reveal precious little Woody Guthrie or John Mayall influence. “I thought it sounded like a fairground caller,” offers Turner helpfully.
“I thought it sounded like a trained opera singer,” I say.
Moorcock looks pained. “”That’s the trouble. It sounds too operatic. I can’t help it.”
A Plastic Fragment Hawkwind Press Cutting