Oor (Ear)(Dutch) – 17 July 1974
Translated by Starfarer
‘And now I believe in the incomprehensible infinity of untold nothing, in absolute nothing’.
This extract comprises the closing words from the ‘Log’ that London group Hawkwind included with their second LP ‘In Search of Space’. Balancing on the border between wisdom and nonsense, mysticism and deception, reality and suggestion, the band has always had a faithful multitude of supporters. They had their origins in 1968, when good music was ‘underground’ and Hawkwind were known as ‘Group X’. With lyrics that consisted of axioms like the aforementioned, lightshows and long monotonous pieces of music, the effect was best as described as psychedelic. The music was only part
of an entire event and deserved to be judged as such: something that most critics did not get. As a result, the band was on the receiving end of all-too-imaginable criticism. Paying little attention to the concepts behind such performances, most critics emphasized the musical / technical incompetence of the musicians as well as the chaotic character of the event. But that was the charm of the band, and part and parcel of the very special atmosphere of the times. The music served only to induce a kind of hypnosis or religious trance that could often become a pleasant experience. After a Hawkwind gig, you often felt as though you had been brainwashed, without knowing precisely to what extent.
“Sometimes we went down a storm, while feeling ourselves that we had never played so badly”, says Lead Hawk Dave Brock on a hot weekday in his Amsterdam hotel, just hours before the band are due to play a gig in the concert hall. He does not really understand that reaction. “Perhaps the audience enjoy feeling uncomfortable”, he says he, and later adds: “I know for certain that many people come to our concerts keen to get fucked up through experiencing as many different sounds as possible. They want to
know how much they can take, where the border lies. You can go that quite far with that, to the point of madness”. His face splits into a broad grin. The former busker is apparently amused by the thought.
The story goes that Hawkwind were formed in Amsterdam, where a street busker and a former labourer, both originating from the same area of London (Ladbroke Grove) met each other, hit it off and made music together. One played some good guitar, the other could get by reasonably well on an old saxophone. Later the duo expanded into a group, that played ‘mind music’ in the spirit of the times, gigging practically everywhere and gradually acquiring the reputation of being a hippy group, or freak band. The story appears to be slightly too good to be entirely true. “So far as I remember, it wasn’t in Amsterdam”, recalls Dave now, “It was definitely in Holland, but I believe that it was in Rotterdam”.
‘Group X’ became ‘Hawkwind Zoo’ at first, and then just ‘Hawkwind’, which was also the title of the first LP that appeared in 1970. Of the original line-up, only two founders remain: guitarist Brock and saxophonist / flautist Nik Turner.
Former roadie Del Dettmar was promoted to group member to play synthesizer for a couple of years, but having saved a nice sum of money, he recently bought a plot of land in Canada, where he will build a log cabin for himself and his wife. His dream has come true…Hawkwind will go on without him, the band not seeking a replacement. Other band members can serve on synthesizer when necessary, and earlier this year recruited new talent Simon House (mellotron / electric violin), who will hereby take the lionâ’s share of these duties. Perhaps it would be just as well to remind ourselves of the other band members. Apart from the aforementioned Dave, Nik and Simon, we have yet to mention: Simon King (drums), Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister (bass) and the non-music-making Stacia (mime and dance), Jonathan Smeeton and Liquid Len and The Lensmen (lightshow) and Andy Dunkley (DJ). Their involvement makes for a total experience, that has little changed over the years. Objectively, the visuals have been
improved, but despite these minor changes, the show is rather dated. 1969 revisited, one might say…
The group has just returned from a sizable American tour: “An unexpectedly successful tour. Our record sales are nothing over there, but our gigs were mostly sold out. And in 6,000-seat halls sometimes”, says
Dave. “That country is properly fucked up. It is a land of prosperity and abundance on the one hand, and poverty and misery on the other. You come up against some strange birds and almost everybody swallows dope. Or now it’s sleeping pills or something else… I would not be able to live there”.
Strangely enough Dave mentions that he and most of the others far prefer the natural life of the countryside to the tense bustle of the big city. When he is not ‘on the road’ (“Terrible, apart from the playing”) Dave works on his farm, a long way out of London, where he lives with his wife and 2 kids.
Yet Hawkwind were always pre-eminently a big city group. Dave: “Much has changed over the last couple of years. And especially in the cities. The social movement that was around then is just about over. The underground scene has disappeared or been absorbed into society. The whole mentality, the atmosphere of that time (1968-1970) is gone.”
Because of this, have you lost part of your audience?
Dave: “Yes. Although the same factors have worked to bring us a lot of new fans. But the former family feeling has gone. We still play for free in tents, and such, but it’s becoming more difficult. You have to be aware that not everyone who wants to see you can get in. What’s more, most of the halls in which we previously played are now too small. We’ve outgrown them, because now everywhere we play in England we draw thousands. That means that you have to go and play in larger halls. Also that’s become necessary because of the expansion of our equipment. Most stages in clubs are too small.”
How does this sit with the psychedelia? What a silly question. Dave laughs a bit at this, but then becomes serious again: “There was a time when we were experimenting with a cocktail of drugs: hash, acid etc.. Our music had clearly been based on our experiences with that. We don’t do it any more. I
believe that it’s no longer necessary. It is not per se necessary to be stoned or spaced out, when you come to our concerts.”
If you’re not out of it, you get more into the music, I think.
Dave: “Our music is very physical. The rhythms are based on the most inherent physical feelings, on the chemical processes, on the rhythm of the heart.”
Has the music changed much, according to Dave?
“I think so. Especially in the last year. The arrival of Simon House has had a favorable influence on the group. Simon is a good musician. With the mellotron, he has strengthened and changed the sound of the band. It’s become broader, more orchestral. Also, the light show has been changed. It’s not just strobes now. Meanwhile, everybody else has moved forward.”
Recently the group has been in the studio to record a new LP. The recordings have taken more time and greater expense than formerly. “It’s been a tough struggle”, according to Dave, “but the results will show
the difference”. ‘The Next Album’ is the temporary title of the record. Do I perhaps know any more about this? Unfortunately, you will have to wait to hear it for yourself.
Dave has joined most of the other members of the band in appearing on ‘Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters’, a most remarkable piece of work, by Robert Calvert – poet, writer, eccentric, the man behind many of Hawkwind’s lyrics, who has also appeared as narrator/singer on many of the band’s records and gigs. What was this like?
Dave: “Bob is a genius. He has brilliant ideas and fantasies. Only sometimes, he has complete freak-outs. Then there is nothing to be done with him, he is completely impossible and unmanageable. The people with whom he works on his record, Arthur Brown and Viv Stanshall, are some of his closest friends and they resemble him, too.”
“He wrote the story of the ‘Space Ritual’ years ago. One day he heard of us and came backstage after a gig and told us about this science fiction script that he had at home. And it all panned out wonderfully well, we went on to write numbers based on his text. After playing it countless times on stage, we put it out as a live LP.” (The double-album ‘Space Ritual’, BvdK)
“The Captain Lockheed idea was excellent. It could have been better recorded and more strongly produced. As it is now, the separation between the spoken narrative and the musical songs is too great.”
“But Bob is already busy with other things. He has just recorded a single: ‘How’s That’, based on the game of cricket. Furthermore he is working on a concept album about the Mafia. Plenty of ideas – in fact, there’s a surplus. By the time he’s ready to put them down, his mind is already busy again with other things. That is Bob’s problem.”
The ‘Captain Lockheed and the Starfighfers’ LP makes it really clear that there is certainly a place for music in Hawkwind’s palette, when they play in a particular way and avoid the monotonous pattern of deviant sounds for which they have become well-known. If only for variety, some new colour to the sound is now needed. That was also made clear by the recent concert in Amsterdam. For despite a rather disappointing turnout, the band provided a non-stop two hour performance of their better-known
pieces and some ‘new’ ones, that differ only a little from the old numbers. These found acceptance enough from the crowd, and prompted an encore, the anthemic ‘Silver Machine’ (a top-ten success): but in my view the set was dominated by a feeling of boredom, that increased as it went on. New man
Simon House appeared to be a useful acquisition; the sounds that he conjured from the mellotron gave the repertoire a whole new flavour. That factor will make a big difference, and the new LP is sure to be well
-Bert van de Kamp
A Plastic Fragment Hawkwind Press Cutting