Beat Instrumental – May 1976
‘Ere, Dave, it says ‘ere you’re up for young businessman of the year…
When you set out to interview Hawkwind you don’t expect to end up talking over the finer points of group finance and management. Somehow the psychedelic Hawklords image which they have so revelled in and the way the Press has alternately supported and knocked has always m ade for an incongruous situation when you got down to asking them questions about business, playing etc.. But things have changed for Hawkwind. The band has staggered from financial crisis to financial crisis never quite reaping the rewards of their labour which have often been considerable with a succession of charting albums, well-attended gigs and a hit single with Silver Machine.
But chaos has always been the natural state of affairs in the Hawkwind camp, money has been (on the band’s own admission) wasted and not channelled back into a better show which is what they have always
attempted to present.
So changes have come about including fresh management, a new record label and a superb album being recorded at the very excellent Roundhouse Studios in Chalk Farm, which was where we met the band to discover where things had gone wrong and what was going to be done to put them right.
The question that arose first, of course, was, to use deliberately unpleasant terminology, whether Hawkwind was still a ‘marketable commodity.’ Bob Calvert seemed quite certain that it was.
“Yes, I certainly think that Hawkwind is a marketable commodity. I think we’re at the beginning of a science fiction boom, rather like the spy boom we had a few years ago.”
Calvert’s greatest strength lies in his ability to bring a power in lyrics to the band that sets them apart from many other outfits as he explained.
“Most bands don’t regard the lyric content as being very important. Mostly it’s confined to cliches about sex and love. I heard a remark by Paul McCartney on the radio about Bob Dylan’s songs, saying that the thing he didn’t like about Dylan was that you had to listen to the words! That’s the attitude of a great many musicians – words are the last thing you do, scribbled down on the back of an envelope in the studio.”
But the point of this article is to examine the business side of Hawkwind and there certainly is a change of attitude in the ranks. An interview with them is most often a pleasingly disorganised affair but this time the band (as if unconsciously emphasizing their new-found togetherness) group in the waiting room area of the studio and chip in their ideas – which seem to have been well thought out and totally agreed upon.
On the subject of their own misfortunes (like the incident a few years back when the band’s gear was ripped-off leaving them with no equipment because there had never been any insurance cover arranged) Calvert gives sound advice.
“Keep in touch with your business affairs. You always have to be very much aware of the business side of art. When you’re young it’s easy to imagine that an artist is someone who is untouched by the realities of business and I think it’s important to keep aware of the fact that your brain is still capable of dealing with practical matters – you have to be a man as well as an artist, it’s really so easy to get left by the wayside if you don’t control things.”
Having learned the hard way, current policy has Iead to employing the services of a lawyer to independently handle all the band’s past business dealings with various associates. That’s a course of action they advocate for any band, regardless of what music they’re into, regardless of how well they think they’ve got things covered. Judging by some of the ripped-off bands about whom music business rumours are constantly circulating, that advice could well be too late far many – but not for bands who are on the
Guitarist Dave Brock is slightly less optimistic about the chances of a young band avoiding the dreaded music biz hassles, however.
“It’s a monopoly in this business and if you try to beat that monopoly without being at the top you’ll just fall apart. There’s another thing, though, people say that London is the centre of the music business – that’s rubbish because it’s all over Britain and people should realise that. Everything goes in cycles in the music business and the current recording industry is bound to fall apart soon because it has reached that peak where there’s a lot of money to be made but they’ve just begun to go over the top in the way they work. Now it’s getting down to small companies starting up all over the country. That’s what happened in the States in the 30’s when a hell of a lot of Blues records were being made and released on a regional basis.”
As we’ve said, Brock is not so optimistic about the chances of a young band avoiding all the pitfalls. “You’ve got to be very subtle and cunning with the people in this business, but a lot of the rip-offs are an apprenticeship and unless you begin with quite a lot of money behind you, you’re *going* to be ripped-off at first. What you’ve got to do is be like the hunter and get ripped-off as little as possible by keeping your eyes wide open.”
As we’ve seen, Hawkwind are now about to put the band on a firm financial footing. They’ve changed their management set-up and are currently reported to be signing a new record deal for a *lot* of money. It doesn’t seem as if they’re abandoning their ideals, however, as Calvert points out:
“Frankly, Hawkwind never was intended to be a money-making enterprise, we could all have earned a hell of a lot more money by doing more ‘sensible’ things.”
However, the prospects of a band earning bread are no longer confined to a brief span at the top of the singles charts – Nik Turner is quite convinced, for example that they *can* improve things over the level that has been attained in the past and that Hawkwind’s hand hasn’t been overplayed.
“I’ve noticed that the first few rows at our gigs these days are usually packed with younger kids and that’s a good sign. It’s like Alex Harvey having made it after all this while – a band doesn’t have a finite life these
days which should at least kill that old thing about musicians of ‘Oh well, I’ve had my day, now where can I get a job as an A&R man’!”
So Hawkwind plan to rock on for a while yet and are to re-invest the profits that a tighter organization will bring. There’s a lot to learn from a band that’s been badly run in the past – but only when they’ve finally got themselves together do *they* even realise it. Hawkwind have realised that fact and as a result both the visual and musical sides of their show should improve. It pays to take care of business.
A Plastic Fragment Hawkwind Press Cutting