Hawkwind's Rocket Goes Astray

Sounds – 24 November 1973

Pete Erskine travels in style to Paris with Hawkwind

The pilot in rumpled blue serge and tarnished braid, is leaning over the port engine cowling emptying the sixth of approximately thirty-pint oil cans into its static innards.

It is a bright crystal clear Sunday morning but an icy wind is gusting across the Gatwick tarmac tugging at the shabby crew of journalists and the maleficent looking Hawkwind drifting across from the departure lounge. When these boys travel, they do it in style.

There are two planes – twin engined twelve seater De Havilland Doves – and the feeling as you climb up the tiny step ladder, bending double through the tiny door, is something like a bit part in a ’40’s bravado and shrapnel bomber Harris film and a flashback to those grainy old movies detailing the pioneers of aviation – ladies in huge hats dipping into picnic baskets full of smoked salmon and champagne and gentlemen in tan leathers and goggles. All very romantic. As the pilot shuts his little coffin shaped door the engines crank away, catch and burble into action. Everyone laughs. the noise and vibration is colossal.

A brisk and expensive cab ride the other end, slewing through the cobbled streets of Paris and we are backstage at the Olympia in surroundings washed in oozing red paint, broken up by a dearth of matt black and a liberal application of art nouveau posters.

Simon King, Hawkwind’s drummer, is leaning against a counter, sipping brandy, wearing a two tone slate grey and black three piece suit telling somebody that he’s pretty sceptical about the forthcoming US tour. “I’ll believe it when it happens,” he says. Earlier, on the plane Dave Brock had been saying that he wasn’t looking forward to it at all. “I prefer to play here,” he said “and in any case, they’ll be expecting the Space Ritual and we’ve been doing it for so long now we want to try something else.” “That’s the thing,” he added, “audiences but mainly promoters – always force you into some kind of category.”

Hawkwind’s set is something I’ve never witnessed before, and it could be my failing, or lack of imagination, but after about a quarter of an hour of what initially seems to be good, pounding rock and roll, nothing much else seems to happen. I mean they keep up the pitch splendidly. There’s no let up or anything.

Stacia skits across the stage in various guises, the lights project a series of rather one-dimensional moonscapes, a few rocketships, an astronaut or two and your optical Milky Way, but intellectually or lyrically there appears to be no tie up whatsoever. Musically it’s purely a question of pitch – which lets face it, is surely the basis of many rock and roll acts.

There comes a certain point where the intrinsic qualities of a particular form of live music are lost to an audiences supposedly inaudible desire for that old debbil riddem; something a young chap can shake his mane and pop his fingers to. Time and time again the band would offer a respite, a lull when only the bass and drums would be ticking over and each time the audience would start beating out the rhythm on the backs of chairs and stamping their Gauloises butts into the concrete floor; we’re all so groovy and tasteful but the distance between Stevie Wonder and Gary Glitter isn’t that great, really. On one level it all comes down to the same thing – an innate desire for a kind of physical gratification.

In any case, Hawkwind are not to be compared to anyone else because their aims and approach is so opposed to the normal get-up-and-show-em-yer-licks rock and roll band, but they do say they want to put on a show and from that point of view I must admit to being disappointed. I really didn’t think the lights were that good – having talked with their lightsman last year, Liquid Len and the Lensmen, I was expecting something a little more graphic, a little less predictable.They did their encores though, and the sell-out house seemed well pleased and especially demonstrative, cheering Nik Turner as he narrated parts of the ritual in French. One could imaging the US doing their pieces for Hawkwind – in fact their Chicago gig is sold out already – as they seem to love nothing more than a bit of open ended fantasy to grind their teeth on. After all, look what happened to Uriah Heep.

A Plastic Fragment Hawkwind Press Cutting

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