House of Keyboards

Melody Maker – 19 October 1974

Allan Jones meets Hawkwind’s new boy wonder Simon House, master of space, time, keyboards violin – and the silent interview

 It’s very perplexing this, I mean, here’s Simon House, Hawkwind’s new boy wonder Keyboards, Mellotron and violin exponent in a state which could loosely be described as zomboid somnambulance, and here I am with an hours worth of tape to fill and a set of questions that provoke the most monosyllabic response you could hear this side of Van Morrison.

It’s rather like conversation by numbers, One nod for yes, two nods for no. If there is any part of the question that you do not understand, or if you would like me to repeat all or part of the question, please beat your head against the wall three times. If you are still conscious I will repeat the question until you indicate your understanding.

The thing is though, Simon is a potentially interesting subject for an interview. He was after all a member of the ill-fated but interesting High Tide.

Now that’s a subject that seems to stir some life, so all is not lost. Simon do you think we could talk a little about the band before we talk about you exploits with Hawkwind?

“Uuuh . . . Yeah, I don’t remember much . . . Uuuh my memory’s not all it
could be.”

They were an underrated band though?
“I thought so, yeah.”

What were the kind of problems that caused you to finally split?
“Uuuh, basically, it was money. A bit of untogetherness getting gigs and the record company wasn’t too helpful. Plus there were some very strange people in the band.”

“It was . . . Uuuh .a very strange scene. They were all brilliant musicians, but a bit unstable.”

“It was a drag because we made two albums and were making a third when we split. The third could have been the one, y’know.”

“Between the first and the second album there was quite a development.
I think the second album was very good. It was very complex, perhaps a little too complex. I think if we re-formed now, the music wouldn’t be as complex, because we’ve probably got over that”

“It would have to be music with a good feeling, rather than very technical music. People still remember us, even in the States they ask me about High Tide.”

Now that was very good, Consecutive sentences. If we can keep that up, it’ll be fine. But to continue. Having established some of the history with a few well chosen words, perhaps we could move on to the period between the demise of High Tide and the time he joined the celebrated ranks of the Cosmic Warriors. What had he been involved in then?

“Well . .  . I played with the Third Ear Band for most of the time. Uuuh . . . Then I had a year resting from the music business. Then I joined Hawkwind.”

Well, that disposes of that. But it’s rather a strange progression. The musical evolution of High Tide, Third Ear Band and on to the Psychedelic Warlords hardly smacks of logic.

But as Simon explains both High Tide and Hawkwind can be traced back to the same route. They came into existence at about the same time. He’s known the band since then, and he even used to do the occasional gig with them when he was with the Third Ear Band. It was really quite a natural step to join.

“It was about the end of the hippy season.” he recalls a little hazily, referring to his first association with the Lords of Space, “which Hawkwind is still maintaining desperately . . . though it’s no longer a very firm thing.”

That’s hardly a word one would associate with Hawkwind is it?
“What . . . Hippy?”

Ah . . . No. “Firm” Hawkwind have always been synonymous with a kind of fluidity in terms of their development, line-ups even, and their attitudes.

“Yeah it’s very loose. The band though is changing, it changes at its own speed. It’s changed since I joined.”

In what ways exactly? Simply with the addition of yourself to the line-up?

“That and now we’ve got two drummers. And the music’s changed as well. The songs that Dave is writing are different from the ones he used to write. Virtually everyone in the group is writing now.”

Was the change perceptible to people outside the band. After all, critics seem to maintain the same kind of attitude to Hawkwind. There’s something of a standard Hawkwind review which undermines whatever progression has been made on succeeding albums.

“We’re still unmistakably Hawkwind because it’s basically still the same people. The foundation of the sound is the same. But the last album was a bit of a change, I think. Because of the Mellotron I suppose, it’s sounding a bit classical. A lot of people seem to like it. It’s selling very well.”

That’s a fact which can’t be disputed. For so long Hawkwind have been regarded as little more than something akin to a psychedelic music hall joke, and now here they are, with Hall Of The Mountain Grill,” In both the English and US album charts. That’s a reasonably impressive state of affairs for a bunch of fazed-out hippies to have reached.

What essentially broke the band in America, Simon?

“I dunno. It was probably because no other group like Hawkwind have played in America. That whole kind of theatrical show, the whole visuals and the dancer with the big tits. And we’re very loud. We haven’t had any hit albums until now, although we’ve been over there three times. And each time it’s getting better. So it must be a word of mouth thing.”

It seems somehow strange that Hawkwind should have captured the imagination of an American audience. As a band they hardly reflect an American influence, and on the surface, at least, it’s difficult to imagine American kids beaming out on Spaceship Ladbroke Grove.

Hawkwind have always seemed a perculirary English phenomenon, encapsulating a typical eccentricity and inspired amateurism.

“I don’t think we’re particularly English, I don’t know why you said that.”
Precedents for Hawkwind would be difficult to determine, but that would seem to be fair starting point.
“English music means to me, a sort of folk music.”

How then, would you describe Hawkwind’s music, in what sort of terms could you define it?
“It’s space music.”

Well, I think we’ll leave that line of questioning and turn to the American audience. Was it comparable to the type of audience the band pull in this country?

“No. The whole scene is different. People over there are much more violent. They’re much more ready to go right over the top. The audiences are bigger as well. We always seem to go down best in heavily industrialised areas. And all the gigs we did in the mid-west were all very good.”

“It’s like the north of England, it’s a very oppressive heavy environment. I suppose Hawkwind are a very dramatic escape, in both visual and audio terms , it’s an escape. On the west coast they’ve got there own scene and they seem happy with that.”

The conversation turns to the recent Hawkwind confrontation with the US Taxation department. It happened very much as it was reported in the press, says Simon. A dozen or so Federal agents, “straight out of Hawaii 5 – 0” moved in and impounded their equipment until the band handed over the money it was claimed they owed the Government.

“Ironically enough, that was one of the best gigs we’d done. I was oblivious to the whole thing anyway, so I thought it was pretty amusing, the worst part of it was that they insisted on taking our own personal instruments off us. They already had £30,000 worth of equipment. Then they insisted on taking my violin, which was the one thing that really annoyed me.”

In all truth Simon seems so completely mellowed out that it would be hard to imagine him being disturbed or provoked by anything. Except the press, that is. There’s an attitude that runs through the whole Hawkwind organisation, which reveals an uncertain animosity, if that’s not too strong a word, towards the press.

It’s a disappointment, really, at the fact that the press has constantly failed to realise how big the band are. It’s possibly justified at the moment, what with the album sales in the States, and the kind of reviews the album has received here.

Perhaps English critics are a little more discerning. Simon thinks they’re just the right side of subnormals. At least that’s the impression one gets from speaking to him.

“There’s all sorts of malicious gossip in the music papers, I hate them.”Does the criticism worry you then?
“It doesn’t worry me.”
You could have fooled me.

It all sounds like a Tony Iommi / Black Sabbath press paranoia routine. But Simon would seem to lack the stamina for a full force tirade in the inimitable manner of Sabbath. The silences grow longer. Simon smiles and the afternoon wears on. He’s got the prospect of a second leg of Hawkwind’s American your to face and a series of British dates to follow.

In America he’s becoming something of a star turn. There seems to be a focus of direction directed towards him, although he would be the last person to admit it. It’s even been suggested that it’s his contribution to the band and the last album that has caused the Americans   to pick up on the band. Although he would be the last person to admit that too.

The silence between questions and the answers grows longer. The afternoon wears on and the sun sinks lower on the horizon. Simon smiles slowly, “I’m sorry, I’m feeling a bit out of it . . .”

Yeah a typical Hawkwind interview.

Allan Jones

A Plastic Fragment Hawkwind Press Cutting

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