Sounds – 1 September 1973
Dear ol’ Hawkwind – maybe they should change their name to the Misunderstood. Here comes summer, with a heatwave and bombs exploding all over London, and there’s Hawkwind with their new single out – written and recorded some time ago. “I’m an urban guerrilla, I make bombs in my cellar …” Oh dear. Bob Calvert, who wrote the song, insists it’s a satire, but others are sceptical. The Beeb have predictably banned it, and the bomb squad have already turned over Nik Turner’s flat – and found nothing, of course. Simon King sighed and admitted he’d been expecting a call too – and he doesn’t even like the record. Sitting amid the quad speakers and an alsatian in his London flat to do the interview, Simon talked of many things, from his early days as a struggling hopeful to the music that lies ahead for the Sonic Assassins.
– Before Hawkwind?
I hate thinking about my past really, it was so uneventful. I suppose it was just like anybody else’s – just working in bands, no-one that anybody had ever heard of. It was like banging your head against a wall for five years before anything came up. I started off round Oxford playing in a seven piece soul band which I hated but it was the only thing you could do really, because if you didn’t play that Motown and soul stuff, you didn’t work.
So I just bummed around doing that for a few months until I’d had enough, and then I split to London and it was just a case of getting the music papers and going through them answering all the adverts and going along to numerous boring auditions where there’d be about 2,000 other drummers and a couple of guys standing there with guitars looking really pissed off. They’d give you a chance to do one number and then say ‘great, we’ll let you know’ and of course never did.
It was just down to that – work with a band for a while, split, form another band… that’s how I met Lemmy originally. We got a band together — actually it was a good band. We did a gig out at Uxbndge where we were supposed to be supporting ELP, who didn’t turn up, so the promoter offered us an extra fiver to play another set, which we did ’cause we needed the bread to pay off the van, and we went down really well. We had to go out there and play exactly the same set as we’d already played, didn’t know anything else, and everyone went really mad.
There was a letter in one of the music papers the next week saying ‘who needs ELP when we’ve got great little rock bands like Opal Butterfly’, and we thought great, this is it. Then about a month later we still hadn’t got another gig so we split up. Then I did nothing for about nine months, virtually decided I was never going to do anything, so I was running a little antique business.
Then I met Lemmy again, and he asked me to come along and sit in for Terry with Hawkwind, and I
reckoned I’d do that because at least it was playing again. I just kept on sitting in for Terry and I have been ever since – still waiting for him to come back.
– Did you find all that time particularly depressing?
Well, no, not at the time because it was a real buzz to get gigs at all, some gigs obviously you didn’t want to do but you had to because of the bread, but others were really good. It’s something everybody should have to go through really because that’s your sort of training, working with different people, getting everything sussed. Looking back on it now, it had its bad moments but it was fun. I mean I wouldn’t want to get stuck in the van on the M6 in a snowstorm now, but when it happened then it seemed like good fun.
-Could you have been happy just carrying on in almost unknown bands like that?
I suppose it I’d been getting a living wage I’d have carried on. I’m the sort of person that if I’m getting a regular wage that’s enough to live on I’m quite content. But as it was we weren’t getting any kind of regular money – any time we got money we had to pay it straight out again, and by the time you paid everything off you had two quid each or something. I couldn’t have stuck doing that but if I’d been able to get enough I suppose I could have carried on a bit longer, but for how long I just don’t know – even now I get times when I think I just can’t stick it any more.
It’s like DikMik’s splitting because he just can’t handle all the travelling and shit, just the hassles you get on the road – it all got too much for him. Sometimes I get like that, but then again we’ve just had three week’s holiday and I just didn’t know what to do with myself – after the first week I was totally lost. I was just so bored, I didn’t know what to do. See, I enjoy doing gigs. I really do – Dave and Del enjoy getting things together at home with synthesisers and tape machines and all the rest of it, but for a drummer it’s different.
Being a drummer is very much a live thing, just playing. I did a few sessions for Bob (Calvert) for his album during those three weeks, which I enjoyed, but I really felt lost. I was really looking forward to having a holiday, but when it came round I just didn’t know what to do with myself.
– Did you ever consider doing anything else but being a drummer?
Well when I was at school I never considered doing anything when I left school, until a week before I left when I fixed myself up with a job as a painter and decorator, an apprentice earning about three pounds a week, and I stuck that for about four months. Jacked that in and didn’t do anything for about six months except playing around in bands. Although I wasn’t particularly doing what I wanted to do it was good fun in one way because I was doing a lot of work. But I decided there was no future where I was, which is why I came up to town. Then I spent years doing lots of things and getting nowhere like most groups do.
– I suppose with most groups “making it” it is more a matter of luck than anything else. What is it keeps you going on if you say you wouldn’t have been happy to stay just playing with a small band? Is it the hope that it will happen eventually? Or is it purely the enjoyment of playing in a band?
I suppose to begin with it could be the pop star thing that attracts you to it, then you start working and you’re just doing the gigs and digging it for what it is. But it really can be like continually banging your head against a brick wall – you pick up papers and see the same bands doing the same circuit all the time, just doing 50 quid gigs endlessly – I really don’t think I could do that. I was quite lucky with Hawkwind because you could see that around the time I joined the band, there were more and more people coming to gigs all the time and you could see it was all picking up.
That’s a boost. I’d had about five years of disappointments before I started working with Hawkwind, and I reckon another year of disappointment would just about have done it, I’d have had enough.
– What would you have done?
I really don’t know. I had this little antique business, because my father’s an antique dealer, but I don’t think I could have stuck that either. I really don’t know what I’d have done. I think I probably would have set off and travelled around a bit, and more than likely would have ended up coming back and starting again, but I’d have had to have got away for quite a time.
– Hawkwind did it the other way round from most groups, didn’t they? – they got an audience first, and that gave them a hit single rather than getting a hit single to create an audience.
Yeah, well we’d recorded “Silver Machine” for the Greasy Truckers album at the Roundhouse, and Dave was saying “we’ll release it because it will be a hit”. I could see that he was right – although I didn’t think it would do what it did, I could see it would get into the top 30, between 20 and 30 maybe, because we were doing gigs and the places were packed, and “In Search Of Space” was in and out of the charts like a yo-yo – over a long period of time it was a big-selling album.
But when Opal Butterfly first started, before Lemmy joined the band, there was a bit of that hype really – it was the old story of the manager saying “I’m going to make you boys stars”, and we had a single out and publicity and all that, but it wasn’t a very good record thinking back on it, and it got shitty reviews as I suppose it deserved, and it didn’t happen.
We learnt all about this business the hard way, through getting conned and ripped off in different ways by different people – and that goes for all of us really. That’s one of the things about this band, it doesn’t really trust anybody outside its own members. Everyone’s been through it at one time or another, had the shit thrown at them. The good thing about this band is that it came up the hard way, which I think every successful musician should really.
– Was Hawkwind pretty much set in its ways by the time you joined?
Yeah, I didn’t get a word in for about six months – Dave knew exactly in what direction the band was going to go, and no-one was going to push him off course at all. But now, everything is discussed with everybody, and its what the majority wants that goes. Like Douglas (Smith, manager) wanted us to have Bob Calvert back in the band doing some gigs, and maybe take him to the States with us, but I don’t think the band think it’s a good idea really.
– Why not?
Well, from Bob’s point of view, when he left the band last time he sort of cut himself off and said he was going to do the Captain Lockheed stuff and that’s it, which we thought was good, and also for his health gigging with us isn’t good for him. And as far as the band goes, if he came back now we’d be doing more or less what we’d been doing with the “Space Ritual” and we don’t want to do that – we’re desperately trying to get out of doing that and into something else quickly, because the longer we do this “Space Ritual” the more people are going to expect us to keep on doing it, and we don’t want to get pushed into the rut of doing that.
It’s done now – it was something the band wanted to do, it took them a long time to get together, we did the album of it, and it’s all done now – that’s it. Obviously people expect to hear certain numbers from it and we do certain numbers from it, but we don’t want to get into doing it all the time. I think if we took Bob back it would mean going back to doing things like that again.
– And yet the new single is a song Bob wrote – a year ago was it?
Yeah, he had the idea for that about a year ago. But even though Bob’s not with us I still think he’ll be with us as a writer – he’ll always be with us like that, I think, but I don’t think he’ll be doing live gigs with us anymore. His “Captain Lockheed” project’s very good anyway, very interesting. We did some of the sessions for it with Eno, which was quite an eye-opener really, because after doing a couple of sessions with him you see why he’s not with Roxy Music any more. His ideas – compared with what Roxy are doing, he’s just miles ahead.
– With your new things, are you trying just to get new numbers, or are you thinking about radically changing what Hawkwind is?
No, not so much that, the new numbers we’ve brought in over the last few months have been a change of style from what we’ve been doing before, but I think that’s just a natural progression. I think the new things we’re doing are more carefully thought about, not so much of a rushed thing, hammering straight through everything like Hawkwind tended to do.
It’s still wide open. and things aren’t totally arranged, but the numbers are a lot more together and everybody’s got just a lot better. Dave’s getting into using sythesiser on stage now, not just for his guitar, and there’s a lot of things – I think over the next six months or so you’ll notice a change in the music. I think it’ll definitely be a change for the better.
– More melodic?
Yeah, in a way – just nicer songs and not so much crash-bang brainstorming.
– Because the rhythm section has always been pretty together – I mean Lemmy almost plays lead sometimes and it’s always tight, but…
Yeah, well Lemmy used to be a guitarist before. A lot of the time I play with Dave – he’ll get into a kind of rhythmic thing and I’ll follow him so you get this kind of percussion and rhythmic guitar thing going, so Lemmy can loon forward a bit because he’s very much a front man and gives off a lot of energy, so he can get out front and play a sort of lead on bass which sometimes is very effective. It tends to be a fashion for people to knock Hawkwind’s musicianship – just a bunch of hippies – but I think if people came along and actually listened they’d find there’s a couple of good musicians in the band. Lemmy especially, and Dave, who’s very clever with his writing.
– But how much do you feel Hawkwind is more than just the band’s music and show? I mean you do a lot of benefits, and keep prices low and all that kind of stuff…
There’s all that thing about Hawkwind, the people’s band: well, I don’t know about that so much. but we do a lot of benefits and stuff because we dig doing gigs – I mean I can’t see us being one of those bands who go off the road for six months. I think we’ll always be a working band, and we’ll always do a lot of benefits. Though it has become a bit difficult for us to do a lot of benefits recently because if the place isn’t very big you get hassles with people not being able to get in, and if it’s big enough to take 1,500 or 2,000 people then obviously you can’t go back to that place for a few months to do your own gig. But yes, I think a big part of Hawkwind is all that stuff – benefits, keeping prices down. When you’re taking a fairly big show on the road, you don’t make a lot of money, most bands don’t in this country. But what we do is try to make it a good show and charge enough so we cover – you’ve got to try and come out with a profit because you can’t go on losing money – but try to keep the prices down to a minimum. A quid’s a fair price to see a band, but it’s not really necessary to charge two and a half quid anywhere. I didn’t object to paying two quid to see Van Morrison because I really dug it, but there’s an awful lot of people I wouldn’t pay two quid to go and see.
– And there’s a lot of people who can’t afford to pay two quid to see anyone – not if they go out often.
Precisely – especially if you’re taking your bird out or something, and by the time you’ve paid to get there and back…there’s not many people who can do that more than once a week. Even once a fortnight. No – if we put prices up we’d definitely put on a bigger production, but I don’t know if that’s necessary – just as long as we don’t lose on it, just keep turning over nicely.
Because the bread side of it is all down to selling records, and the only way that we can see to sell records is to go out and play to people. You get a lot of bands who do a tour and they only go to the big cities – Manchester. Birmingham. Glasgow, all those. We do those places, but we take in other places as well, smaller places that normally bands wouldn’t go. We like to take the music to the people as much as possible.
We’re very much a live band – with the exception of the first album which 1 had nothing to do with, and which I think was the best studio album Hawkwind’s done. I think the “Space Ritual” album is the best one we’ve done, because that was live, that’s Hawkwind, that’s us as we are. We’re much happier playing live than we arc in the recording studio – I’m never really at ease in a studio, not doing Hawkwind things, though I do session work for other people and that’s a buzz.
For future albums what I’d like to do is do one side live, and use the other side to be much more experimental, really use the studio instead of trying to put down versions of what we do live anyway. Just get in there and once you’re there start thinking of using all the things a studio can offer you in the way of electronics.
A lot of bands get into a studio and play, and there’s all that thousands of pounds worth of equipment going to waste – there’s so many things in a studio you can use to make music. One side live would really show what we are, and the other side, using lots of electronics and stuff is also Hawkwind, but in its other context, not halfway between.
– Going back just for a minute to what we were saying about Hawkwind being more than just the music – there’s the benefit side, but there’s also the, er, “political” side, what you’re doing, but also what you’re saying and what you represent. How do you feel about “Urban Guerilla” for instance – it must be strange with bombs going off all over London?
Yeah, been expecting a visit any time from the local bomb squad. It is strange really, because what Bob wrote about nearly a year ago is suddenly happening with all these fire bombs and things – everyday life I suppose, just like the Archers really. I didn’t like the number, and I don’t like it still – I just never got off on the thing as a whole.
I wasn’t really bothered about doing another single – we’d been pulling in more or less the same number of people, and as far as I could see we didn’t really need to do another single for the sake of getting another hit record. Like we were saying before, nearly every band needs a hit record to enable them to do what we want to do, but if you don’t need a hit record like we don’t, then really you’ve got no need to do a single at all – just concentrate on albums, and really I’d rather have done that.
I didn’t like the idea of doing a single, and I didn’t like the song to be quite honest.
A Plastic Fragment Hawkwind Press Cutting