Hawkwind – Home Is Where Your Van Is

Sounds – 6 January 1973

Martin Hayman talks to Hawkwind’s tour manager Graham Reynolds

At last year’s drenched Bickershaw Festival you didn’t find Hawkwind out at Manchester Airport’s Excelsior Hotel: they were kipping in a dark and smoky tent at the side of the stage, and anyone who came to see them was welcome.

Graham is true to the image of the roadie with blue denims from head to foot, faded and battered over the years: long straggly dark hair (no time to nip down to Vidal Sassoon’s every month to keep the locks in good trim): lean craggy face with dark circles under the eyes that tell a story of too many late nights and early mornings, too many hours at the wheel of a van.

Graham, known to his friends, he says, as “One Leg” as a result of an accident at Rockfield Studios when he fell from a second-floor window and twisted his knee, has recently been promoted to tour manager after the death of John “the Bog” Burroughs, who was killed in a car crash a few weeks ago when returning from a gig.

Friends

“It didn’t really get through to me,” he says candidly, “although he was a really close friend of mine. It’s one of the things you risk, and you have to accept it. That’s life on the road.” He cites by way of proof the fact that the JSD Band’s roadies were badly shaken only recently when their van crashed at speed.

He has been Hawkwind’s top roadie for about fourteen months after starting with UFO, with whom he had been friendly. But as is often the case, it was not possible to be friends and work for them. At the same time Hawkwind had the same problem. Their roadies had also been friends, but with the increasing complexities of the work involved they just weren’t together enough to cope.

They needed professionals. It just wasn’t any good when things were just starting to happen for them to have roadies who got stoned out and ran away when the problems built up. So Graham joined with Bruce Welch, who later left to form a band.

Like many roadies, he was a frustrated musician – though not that some fine musicians have got a start as roadies, amongst them Dave Mason with the Spencer Davis Group and Robbie Robertson with Ronnie
Hawkins’s Hawks.

When Bruce left. Graham was able to assemble his “ideal team” with Bob and Steve coming in from UFO. The three of them have been working together since August, and working well.

What were the essential qualities of a roadie? Graham reckons that first and foremost he must have driving energy and dependability. “It’s a shattering job. You have to be together mentally and physically.” Not least amongst their abilities must be driving.

One of Graham’s personal eccentricities is that he insists on driving the truck all the time. Obviously, this means no drink and practically no drugs. His longest-ever stint was thirty-one hours at the wheel, with a gig in the middle: that’s well over what lorry drivers are legally permitted.

But although Hawkwind work their roadies hard, it’s only because they work hard themselves. There are no class distinctions in their set-up. “It’s just like a family. There is no division between roadies and the band, or the dancers or the lightshow. There’s twenty-four of us on the road and that’s quite a hefty number to have charging around.”

Recent additions to the up-front personnel are mime artist Tony Creragh and the beautiful Renee, the blonde sylph from California, who both join Stacia in the dancing line-up. Graham and Bob operate the strobes which outline the dancers, and a short altercation over their roles followed with Bob expressing pleasure that he’s been promoted to the good strobe. Presumably the new roadie will have the clapped-out one.

The lightshow itself is run by its own team, and there are more of them than handle the equipment. As it is, there are two mixers to think about, one of them on-stage for the monitor system and the other in the hall,
operated by Jake, who was initially hired with a PA when all the gear was ripped off. Eventually he joined permanently. The third roadie Steve does onstage mixing, and he is the sound specialist.

As chief roadie Graham is responsible for the gear totally. Any modern electric band depends entirely on its equipment getting to the gig on time, in good condition, and operating as it should. Inevitably things rarely run as smoothly as they could. But Graham has to carry the can when things go wrong.

The worst that could probably happen is losing the gear. And once he did. It was four days before the Bickershaw Festival – an important gig for Hawkwind, who were playing to a very large audience for the first time since their name started to be known. Graham was driving a hired Transit with Hawkwind’s brand-new WEM PA system.

He was visiting a friend in North London, and came out an hour later to find the van had vanished. It had a Krooklok, but the thieves had forced down the window, bent the brake pedals upwards to release the lock,
and hotwired the ignition. The van was recovered only a mile away, but all the gear was gone, transferred to another vehicle. It had all the signs of a professional job. To this day Graham swears that if he ever sees any item of that custom painted PA, he will trace it back to the villains and do them good.

Hawkwind were lucky in this case: Vox gave them a new PA, which at least allowed them to play the gig. It wasn’t a good time for Graham, though: two days later he crashed the van into the back of a milk float, doing £300 worth of damage. “But nobody ever said anything about all that to me,” says Graham. Not many bands wouldn’t sack their roadie after two consecutive disasters.

But now Hawkwind have moved well out of the £125 a night bracket. Graham has his own Mercedes van with burglar alarms everywhere: and now they can afford to pay the £1,000 demanded by insurance companies to secure an unattended van with group gear inside. He says it’s like home, their own van with its cartridge player and their own things around. It’s reliable and well-serviced, which is more than can be said of some of the vans they have had to put up with.

Zombie

On the German tour, for example, their old van broke down before they even got to Dover…they drove from Calais with a torch poking out the side window because the lights packed up: they patched the radiator with chewing gum and filled it from a sewer manhole from a beer bottle at dead of night: they travelled from Amsterdam to Essen to Berlin to Rome in five days with practically no sleep. By the time they got to Rome, Graham was a zombie, not a roadie.

On another occasion, after driving straight back from Switzerland, they had to suffer the arrogance of French Customs officials, who kept them waiting, to check their papers and five minutes before the ferry left, ordered them to unload the van. As the ferry sailed, they were told to load up again. Four hours wait for another ferry. And then there was the riot at the Paris Olympia, when students hurling bottles and demanding free music tried to stop the show.

The roadies, of course, had to keep the show going, and were the centre of a massive punch-up. Then the French riot police, the CRS, arrived and told them, after the show, that they couldn’t unload the gear.

Diplomat

Yes, the roadie has to fix everything. It’s he who takes the major brunt of the dislike that some people manifest for everything that Hawkwind represent. Customs officials, hall managements, police drug squads. On one occasion at Margate’s Dreamland, Simon King was barred from the hall by a bouncer, who promptly floored manager Doug Smith when he tried to sort it out. Then the power was turned off and all the fuses blown in every item of equipment. Imagine trying to replace all those fuses and checking the whole electrical system on stage!

Electrician, motor mechanic, driver, humper, bouncer, diplomat. These are all the things a roadie must be. But when everything goes right, the roadies’ joy is as great as the band’s. They know that their part, though unseen, is integral to the performance.

So next time you go to a gig, spare a thought for the men in denims who mutter “One-two” into the mikes. Don’t boo them if the band is late on: long after you have gone to bed, well-pleased with the show you have seen, they will be driving down some motorway, sweaty and fatigued, aching in every limb to get some sleep before the next day, when they will be up early servicing the equipment and preparing for the next night’s gig.

A Plastic Fragment Hawkwind Press Cutting

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