Hawkwind's Ridiculous Roadshow

Beetle (Canada) – May 1974

LONDON – The rise of Hawkwind is a publicist’s nightmare. In fact, it’s like a recurring bad dream. The band are not noted for their musicianship and are the first to joke about it. They gained a substantial underground following because of their loose, chaotic organization and performances. They certainly never expected nor sought wide success and still don’t attach great importance to it now. A single was released and, with no publicity, it hit number one in Germany and number two in England. Following up the hit, the band toured Germany and played to near empty halls. Then last year they headlined their first U. S. tour (which is begging for disaster) and completely sold out. An accomplishment no other British group has
achieved. On stage a large obese chick named Stacia slowly strips to their music. If Hawkwind are not the antithesis of a successful rock band then one hasn’t been discovered yet.

Hawkwind originally formed in 1969 with Dave Brock (vocals and guitar) and Nik Turner (sax), plus various other nameless musicians who never stayed for any length of time. The band crystallized around the end of 1971 when Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister (bass), Simon King (drums) and Del Dettmar on synthesizer all joined. Around that time Bob Calvert was added on vocals, but has since left.

Originally it was a loose collection of friends, musicians, and buskers jamming together. Gradually they acquired a reputation of a people’s band from the numerous free gigs they played at. In the summer of ’72,
together with Man and Brinsley Schwarz, they staged “The Greasy Trucker’s Party” benefit to raise money to fund an alternative school. An album was recorded and the royalties were donated to the charity. Their reputation and appeal as a loose, casual, and rather untogether conglomeration of musicians only increased after that benefit. At the same time they released a single, “Silver Machine,” which quite unexpectedly soared into the charts. Hawkwind were immediately recognized (by their record company) as having great potential. The success of this single enabled them to produce “The Space Ritual”, the group’s masterpiece to date and feature on their last British tour, appropriately titled “The Ridiculous Roadshow”.

Well then knowing beforehand the saga of Hawkwind I was a bit apprehensive as to what would occur when I approached Simon King’s flat to interview him and Lemmy. The door opened and a massive Alsatian leaped out and bit off my hand. Thankfully, it was a friendly bitch so I entered and was offered a cup of tea to calm my nerves.

The flat could be described as a comfortable crash pad, neat and roomy, but slightly disorganized. Cushions and small floor level sofas pressed against two walls while a stereo, albums, and paperbacks lined a third wall.

Simon King, the beater of the drums, is a tall, lanky, condescending sort of guy. His tall stature is stretched even further by his blue platform boots and long, stringy, blond hair. On the other hand, Lemmy, the bassist, is well proportioned with long, black hair tied in a ponytail. He is attired in a black leather jacket gaudily adorned with trinkets and patches and liberally lined with studs which continue down either side of his tight jeans. He busied himself polishing his “medals” and I sipped my tea.

Simon began by explaining that Del (Dettmar) was quitting soon to emigrate to the clear, clean lakes and green forests of Beautiful British Columbia.

“Del just decided he wanted to live in Canada. He’ll play on the American tour with us, but then he’ll emigrate.

Simon House who used to be with Third Ear Band and High Tide is rehearsing with us now. He’ll add a new dimension to the band because he plays violin and mellotron. He’s the only musician in the band so he
should inject new blood and enthusiasm after he settles in. Dave (Brock) can then move on to synthesizer which he wanted to do.”

I asked him what his reaction was to their first U. S. mini-tour last November.

“The American kids are similar to the English ones. They didn’t know what to expect and couldn’t figure it out because there were no breaks in the music.”

Lemmy still polishing interjects, “We play for over two hours or we try to play for over two hours.”

Simon continues, “They got off on it though. It was amazing that it sold out too because we haven’t had a hit single there. Our name probably spread by word of mouth and they came along out of curiosity. We are the first British band to headline their first tour and to sell it out.”

This tour launched “The Space Ritual” upon the unsuspecting Yanks. It’s the band’s epic cosmic piece which they are identified with. It’s a long, continuous number built around fast charging drums, a heavy riff and whirring, soaring, buzzing synthesizer effects. An integral part of The Space Ritual is the synchronized light show consisting of whirling police lights, films and slides, and other assorted disturbances. The visuals were dreamed up by Jon Smeeton, figuratively known as Liquid Len and The
Lensmen. The Space Ritual, climaxed with Stacia’s slow motion strip, is Woody Allen’s idea of a home movie.

“The light show is very important to the music because it’s alt connected. Who wants to sit and look at us for two hours? The light show helps cover our mistakes and carries us over to the next number. It’s saved us a few times.”

What then was the Ridiculous Roadshow?      

“After The Space Ritual Tour in the States, we needed a name for a new tour in England. Dave suggested off hand the Ridiculous Roadshow because all our tours are so silly and disorganized.”

In Chicago their roadies arrived an hour before the concert so the band set up their own equipment much to everyone else’s amazement. In London at two concerts the kids were asked in the ads to wear masks to the concerts. First prize was a weekend on the road with Hawkwind.

“Second prize,” cracks Lemmy, “was two weekends on the road with Hawkwind.” There was one kid there who had a TV set over his head with all sorts of lights and things flashing on and off. I thought he was going to be electrocuted.”

I was curious to know how Stacia joined the band. Simon wasn’t too sure himself.

“There are various myths regarding how she joined Hawkwind, but the most common is at one gig we played at she asked to dance on stage and we said sure. She got up and took off all her clothes. From time to time she would come along to gigs and ask to dance and we’d give her a few quid. About eighteen months ago, we asked her to do it full time.”

Now that the band was so successful, why the ridicule about the band, their songs, their musicianship?

Lemmy candidly admits, “Those remarks are all just a defence mechanism to protect us from the insanity so we can treat it as a big joke and have fun. If it stops being fun, then I’ll quit – at least this band.”

Now that they were achieving greater fame, could they or would they perform at as many charity benefits as before? Because of their success they are asked to perform at more benefits, but for the same reason
they are prevented from doing so. Their work commitment of touring or recording has increased tremendously and so any free gigs they do cuts out some of their rest time. People do not understand this and are beginning to accuse the band of turning away from the people and selling out.

Simon and Lemmy also explained that with the band’s organisation of agents and promoters, they could stage a benefit more easily and earn more money than many of the charities. After the gig the band writes a cheque for the charity. Surprisingly, this proposal is not acceptable by many organizations.

“They are full of ego trippers who want to give orders, but have no experience or contacts.”

Simon concludes, “We also discovered that sometimes the money raised never went to the charity, but right into some ego tripper’s pocket. If we organize the benefit ourselves and write the cheque we know that the right people receive the money.”

We talked about the future ambitions of Hawkwind. Simon thought he would like the band to record an album of about eight songs unrelated to one another or an album with one live side and one studio. He didn’t
want to do another concept album like “Space Ritual” as they were becoming stuck in a rut with it and were tired of playing it.

He also helped out on many of the tracks on Brian Eno, ex-Roxy Music’s, solo album.

“I really enjoyed doing that album. Eno is great to work with and I found I got a lot of ideas and could play things I didn’t know. It’s really important to work with other people as you learn so much. I’d like to do more session work on other people’s solo albums.”

Hawkwind have firmly set the controls for the heart of the States. The American frontier of vast wealth is ready, willing, and eager to be picked. If the lucky star of Hawkwind is still shining then, this band should blast a few people’s minds, if not befuddle them. Hawkwind’s arrival should create more excitement than Kohoutek’s ever did.

-Geoff Deane

A Plastic Fragment Hawkwind Press Cutting

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