Zigzag #26 – November 1972
Whenever I go up to London (as rarely as possible), I pop into U.A. Records first, just to have a chat and find out what’s been happening in the metropolis since my last visit, maybe score a couple of albums, and
work out my day’s visits. Well, as often as not, the odd constituent of Hawkwind is ligging around the offices in an endless quest for dope or money or gigs (in that order probably); if it’s not Nik, it’s Del, and if
it’s not Del, it’s manager Douglas, who’s always ready with a friendly hustle.
This Douglas fellow -Smith to be precise- has been crossing my path for over 3 years now. He used to be with Clearwater Productions (who went bankrupt owing Zigzag bread), but split to work on his own several months before they collapsed. Since then, he’s not only sorted his head into a more business-like shape, but he’s steered Hawkwind, who invited him to be their manager, to national success.
Whereas most managers of freak bands at least have some semblance of a straight exterior for bluffing it out with company executives and the like, old Doug never really managed to get that side of it together; he has no mohair suit or cigar or any other earmarks to distinguish him from the members of the band. He often carries a briefcase, but you always get the impression that it’s loaded with drugs rather than contracts, documents and sandwiches (or whatever executive types are supposed to carry around).
In the old Clearwater days, on spying me, he invariably buttonholed me and began to bubble out ideas, but when it came to implementing these plans…¦well, something usually prevented their fruition. I used to get the idea that Clearwater was like a clapped out psychedelic bus trying to compete with London Transport.
And that was the impression that I retained, I fear, and whenever Doug told me that Hawkwind were about to break into the big time, I used to smile to myself and tell him that we’d love to do an article on them just as soon as we could find the time and space.
Anyway, to cut a long (snore snore) story short, I bumped into Doug a few weeks ago; there he was with his glazed eyes and his embroidered Levi shirt (with “enjoy Cocaine” patch prominent) and as he loomed towards me, I wondered what astounding epithet he was going to thrust at me this time.
He grasped my shoulder. “1967’s coming back, man” he said.
“It is?” I replied, wondering what the hell he’d been stuffing his head with this time.
“…¦you’ve only got to see the audience at our concerts…¦” but then his enthusiasm started to get out of hand – he was babbling about a single they were going to release, something called ‘Silver Machine’. He told me, with hushed assurance (in the way that a stockbroker must advise a client to invest in a certain shareholding) that it was certain to get into the top 5.
“He’s out of his head for sure this time” I thought to myself “…¦he’s gone crazy – he’s babbling like a lunatic”. I was sure that his wits had finally turned; the inevitable result of stuffing his head with Cheech & Chong, sundry roots, herbs and synthetics, an overdose of the Fabulous Freak Brothers and various other pernicious evils.
“That’ll be nice” I said, knowing they’d as much chance of making the charts as a bloke with a shovel attacking Oxford Street in search of gold. I mean, even the album ‘X-In Search of Space’, which everyone was sure would be a hit, only hung around the bottom of the chart for a couple of weeks.
Hawkwind was an enigma; heroes to their fans, a joke to the press, an embarrassment to their record company, and poverty to their manager.
But that was a few weeks ago. Now, all of a sudden it seems (though the success of the single only accelerated their growing popularity), Hawkwind are big. Rather than present a mish-mash of an article, I decided to split it into two parts; so firstly, here’s the saner half, a look at Hawkwind from their manager’s viewpoint.
ZZ; Can I start off by asking about this mammoth tour you’re about to embark on?
Doug: Well, it’s in a similar vein to our tour last year, but maybe not quite so flamboyant. We’re promoting it ourselves, keeping the entrance fee below a pound, giving away free programmes and badges, and going to 30 different venues; it’s like a touring theatre really. There’ll be a few innovations in the equipment as well as the music – for instance, we’ve had new speaker cabinets built in the shape of rocket-ship fins, chromium plated and very teutonic looking, and we’re hoping that these, combined with the lighting effects will help to create the environment the band and audience will be able to work together in. The whole point of the space ritual, which is what we call it, is, after all, to bring people together.
ZZ: Is it going to be an economical venture?
Doug: Oh yes. We’ve had to trim a few ideas – like we were originally going to cart around a giant space ship dome – but it should be a success both financially and aesthetically. The idea is that we provide the images, the music and the lights and the audience participates in the creation of the environment by supplying their energy to bring the evening to life.
ZZ: So it’s not just a simple case of having a band on the road – it’s more like an army…
Doug; Right; there’ll be 3 equipment guys taking care of a great Mercedes lorry full of gear, plus another roadie to drive the band around, plus 3 or maybe 4 people on the lights, plus a tour manager, plus Andy Dunkley to take care of the sounds, plus me and maybe a few other odd bods…¦so, as you say, there will be quite a few people involved.
ZZ: So how can you make ends meet?
Doug: Mainly because everybody’s doing it for the buzz rather than the money: the amount it’s cost us is negligible compared with what it would have cost someone like the Who to mount a similar tour. You see, everybody realises that the financial rewards will come in the future, when we’re able to put on concerts all over the world…¦the band’s been struggling and broke long enough to realise that no-one’s going to make a fortune straight away, and they wouldn’t want that anyway. They’re happy enough at the moment, getting Â£30 a week plus bonuses, which is untold riches compared to what they’ve been through. The rest of the income is invested – like we’ve got a really good PA system, a coach, a big Mercedes van and roadies, all of which we can hire out to foreign bands when they come in to tour…¦and the roadies will get a percentage of the profits that brings in. The same with our light show, Liquid Len and the Lensmen – they go out and do gigs on their own…¦it’s like a family organisation really, all pulling together.
ZZ: Let’s talk about ‘Silver Machine’…¦what changes has it wrought?
Doug: Simply this; it’s enabled us to do our trip…¦what we’ve always wanted to do. The audiences have become very much bigger and the average age has dropped, but it’s rather strange because the single didn’t get much airplay or promotion to begin with…¦it just caught on slowly by the odd radio play and word of mouth, and it didn’t really catch on until the television thing…¦but the size of our audiences has just shot up.
ZZ: Did you get any criticism from people who thought that the last remaining bastion of underground rock stoicism had sold out?
Doug: No, not really…¦our earliest fans and audiences still come and see us, but all the time we get new people coming to gigs, being unable to believe it, and then returning with all their friends when we go back again…¦the single did boost our audiences, but they were snowballing very steadily anyway. In a sense, though, we have sold out to a degree – like, we haven’t done any benefits for some time now, whereas we always used to be doing them; the trouble is, of course, that it costs so much to go out and do a gig these days – I mean, they can’t just turn out and do a sub-standard show, they’ve got to maintain the standards and the reputation they’ve been building over the years, or else they might as well go back to what they were in 1969…¦always struggling to make ends meet. On the other hand, we’re trying to get to a position where we can loan people money – like Frendz, for instance – and let them pay it back when they can; we’re still interested in the community, but we’ve got to find an alternative to benefits, which, as I say, just aren’t economical any more.
ZZ: Talking of bread, it’s taken a long, time for the band to become financially stable; was there always financial backing or was it a case of starving until the next gig?
Doug: Well, I suppose it was a case of starving, because they just didn’t have anywhere to borrow money from. When I came back into the picture as their manager, they were skint, the van needed repairing, rent needed paying and soon. It was a case of me having to go out hustling, securing overdrafts and trying to get the band into a position where they could earn steadily and try to pay off their debts – there was never any financial backing as such. But Hawkwind, I feel, are pretty unique in their attitude and approach; for instance, when their gear was all stolen and we had to fork out for some more, they all volunteered to take a drop in wages. In a normal band-manager relationship, a band finding themselves in that situation would expect to be paid regardless…¦they’d feel no shared responsibility for the trip, it’d just be a case of wages as usual and that’s tough on the management because gear is their risk. It’s a mutual respect thing really, and it works because, whereas bands like Mott the Hoople and Roxy Music are probably in debt to the tune of 20 or 30 thousand pounds, Hawkwind are in credit. Obviously they owe a few quid here and there, but their assets are well in excess of their liabilities.
ZZ: Are bands like that in debt to such a degree?
Doug: Well, don’t pin me down to exact cases because I’m not sure of the figures, but a lot of managers work on the principle that if a band has potential and looks like staying together and making a lot of bread in the future, they’ll pay out wages and finance equipment and recording and then recoup their outlay over the years…¦so the band might get to the point when it’s going out every night for 500 quid, but the guys in the band are still on £20 a week. The Who were apparently £60,000 in debt when they were at the stage that Hawkwind is now – but Hawkwind never had any of that kind of backing; it always paid its own way, and if there were no gigs, there was no money – it was as simple as that.
ZZ: The record deal was negotiated over two years ago, when the band was more or less in the gutter and any deal was better than nothing, right? Does it choke you off to know that if you were contractually free now, you could get a much better percentage?
Doug: Well, I shouldn’t really go into too many details here, but when a band breaks through, it has a lot more control whether they’re under contract or not. In our case, United Artists only have 3 members of the band officially signed, and we’re trying to renegotiate the contract at the moment. I say “trying” because I’m not having very much success – not that I’m worried about that because in a few months time the band will be even bigger, and we’ll have a much bigger lever to work at them with. They’ll have to talk sooner or later, and the longer they leave it, the better position we’ll be in. What astounds me is the way that some record companies think that just because a person has long hair and doesn’t wear a suit, that they must be pretty dumb.
ZZ: How do you get on with the press? Why I ask is that it seems to me that most of the pop papers treat Hawkwind as just a bunch of gimmick ridden clowns with no sincerity or redeeming musical value.
Doug: Well, to be quite honest, I’m not really bothered. I used to have some sort of reputation as number one pest, always trying to get articles on my bands, but I gave up after a while and concentrated my energies on them building up a reputation based on successful gigs rather than the number of column inches they got in the Melody Maker or whatever. I mean, no one can say that Hawkwind is a hype which has been foisted on audiences by the press…¦whereas I’m sure you could make a list as long as your arm of bands that have. The press will follow along.
ZZ: What about promoters – are they keen to book you, or are they paranoid about attracting an audience of drug fiends?
Doug: We don’t have promoters anymore; we do it all ourselves, directly. We hire the halls and carry all responsibility, and so far we’ve had no trouble in terms of anyone getting hurt or any violence. None of the hall bouncers are allowed near the stage either; if anybody happens to get on the stage the roadies take care of him…¦if the guy gets heavy, they’ll bop him, but usually it’s just a case of gently directing them to the side and returning them to the audience.
ZZ: Hawkwind’s always had this Notting Hill Gate image, yet you and some of the band have moved away now; is this because of constant hassles with the law, or is the area losing its pivotal strength?
Doug: We may have moved, but we haven’t really left the Gate; maybe it’s easier to look at the area objectively from a distance. The law did have a lot to do with the move, yes, because it does tend to make you a little paranoid living there…¦and it’s always been a known fact that Hawkwind and the law just don’t hit it off.
I can’t remember just how many times the band and I have been searched, but it was getting to be a regular habit; mind you, the police always found some excuse for a search – like they considered it highly suspicious if I was going home after one o’clock in the morning. Yes, the law to a certain extent prompted the move, but I wouldn’t say that was the prime factor. As it is, DikMik and Lemmy and Simon still live in the Grove, and Frendz offices will always be a meeting place for the group. In fact, whenever there’s a gig, the band meets up at the Mountain Grill in Portobello Road (recommended by the Hawkwind Good Food Guide, no less) either for lunch or supper before splitting to do the gig.
ZZ: Is the gate still a hotbed of musical activity these days?
Doug: I think so, but it seems as though most of the people have burrowed themselves away…¦you don’t see so much of them, although they’re still there.
ZZ: So does the band treat the threat of being busted as an occupational hazard for a rock group… like a postman has to expect a few dog bites, and a soldier knows he may be shot at?
Doug; Yes. To give you details of exactly what avoiding action they take, however, would just be playing into the hands of the police because they have departments whose job it is to go through the musical and the underground papers for snippets of information like that.
ZZ: Isn’t that just a paranoid rumour – the same as all the underground papers think their phones are being tapped?
Doug: I don’t think so; Nik Turner was quoted (in the NME) as saying “there are always a lot of drugs around the band”…¦so a few days later they got busted at a gig. But we do get the feeling that the police are out to get us…¦not that their searches have been very fruitful recently.
ZZ: As a manager, how much guidance do you offer the band? I mean, do you just take care of the business or do you suggest musical policy and stuff like that?
Doug: It’s difficult to put exactly what I do into a concise nutshell; I keep the business end together and I often comment on the music rather than offer guidance. My attitude is one of steering them away from big business and big industry, but keep them on the road turning over their money without having to become part of a big machine. It seems to work out alright at the moment.
ZZ: Is there any adversity or conflict?
Doug: Inevitably there’s the odd occasion when I think they’re getting above themselves, and similarly they’ve thought that I was getting above myself, but the entire relationship is based on mutual trust; they maintain that if they haven’t got a manager they can trust, then they don’t want a manager at all… I mean, it’s a democratic organisation and if they don’t like the way that something’s being done, they’ll let me know, but we get on like an 8 piece band – it’s 8 of us working together the whole time and for the same ends (even if I do a lot more work than they do).
ZZ: Well, thanks a lot…¦I reckon that just about wraps it up – I’ll go away and distort it now.
Doug: Yeah, I bet you will…¦.you’ll probably make me out to be a two-bit, ten per cent twister
Next issue: the ‘orrible ‘awkwind themselves (slagging off that two-bit, ten per cent twister of a manager of theirs!)
PS – Starfarer obtained a copy of Zigzag #27 (December 1972) and the aforementioned second half of this piece is nowhere to be seen. I guess it never happened…
A Plastic Fragment Hawkwind Press Cutting