The Joke Band That Made It

Melody Maker – 12 August 1972

It was a rather hot and sticky trek across country, and the one thing that kept the stragglers shuffling was the narrowing proximity of the music. Over the next hill, round the next bend the army of the new age had gathered, half a million strong.

The Isle of Wight was being graced with some of the greatest names in rock. Backstage the superstars were standing on each other’s feet, front stage the people were suffering from an overdose of adoration.  And outside the wire fences some minor league band from London had the arrogance to play a free set for people who couldn’t, or wouldn’t or didn’t choose to pay the festival fee.  It was Hawkwind’s first major assault. Word spread about this bizarre travelling circus that played outside the gates or in the street, that blocked up pavements and made noise where by-laws said noise wasn’t meant to be.

It was a joke. Hawkwind – the people’s band. It would never pay the rent, and it would never reach the vast majority of normal, well adjusted people’s people who naturally wanted their entertainment dotted with sequins.   Hawkwind grew. Nothing could stop them. The myth developed. There’s a Hawkwind cult now that is almost as vital to their gigs as the music. No matter which part of the country they play in the audience is basically the same. Every gig is a stage for local fantasies. Bottled up extrovert tendencies explode into fancy dress and painted faces, as if some messiah had given the sign.  It’s a precarious position for a group to be in. Hordes of dedicated teenagers regard them as the revolution personified, and with ” Silver Machine ” slicing through the chart some of them must be ticking off the days to the take over with increasing impatience. So much is implied by Hawkwind that if you think of them as just a rock band you’re deceiving yourself. The regimented peace signs flashed from the audience imply more than that, and so does sax and flute player, Nik Turner’s preference for ambiguous music. You can suggest everything, and say nothing. If you do it carefully you achieve more than you ever would if you laid down dogma .

The success of “Silver Machine” is like a vital chapter out of Animal Farm. It makes Hawkwind an altogether more powerful prospect than they were two years ago as a group for Isle of Wight outsiders. Their expanding reputation and financial assets must have boosted the expectations of their friends and followers. Yet understandably their single hasn’t affected the group in the same way.

In the words of Doug Smith, the group’s visionary manager, they regard it as two fingers in the air to a music business that used to write them off. Nothing more. It doesn’t trigger plans for a coup d’etat because there never were such plans. The group’s more conscientious members – Dave Brock (guitar), Nik Turner (sax) and Del Dettmar (synthesiser) – insist that their objectives and activities will remain much the same as before. They aim at the head. Once people are given the incentive they will undertake their own metamorphoses. This ability to plant their myth into popular imagination has played a large part in their making. Hawkwind is a movement, not just a group. In a quite mundane sense, they have a reputation for having one of the largest retinues in the music business. Far more important is the empathy they achieve with many reaching in the same direction as themselves. Some eminent people are apparently interested in their ideas, among them Sir Patrick Moore.    The fact that they are now hot news has made little impression upon their gigs. At Hastings last week the atmosphere was much as it had been at similar gigs four weeks ago.   Dave Brock managed to break a couple of guitar strings and Lemmy even succeeded in doing the same with a bass string. The result was that they played part of the set out of tune, to the discomforts of Doug Smith. But hang around at the close of one of their gigs and watch the way friends and followers religiously make their pilgrimage on stage and how they sidle past the speakers and the roadies and the rubbish right up to Nik Turner’s side. Turner sits and peers vacantly around the hall, while the little half circle around him shuffle uncomfortably into incredulous conversation.
Probably the only aspect that comes out in their gigs and which bothers the bulk of their audiences is space, but the other subjects are there waiting to be explored. Maybe their teen following comes to hear heavy lift-off music, but its impossible to ignore the imaginative ideas of the group and of Bob Calvert, once a performing member and now purely a writer of their material.   If their preparations work out and the audience plays its part, Hawkwind’s first major bill topping concert – at London’s Rainbow next Sunday – should reveal how far their ambitions to project an environment go.

ANDREW MEANS

A Plastic Fragment Hawkwind Press Cutting

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