Trippin' USA

NME – 13 April 1974

The Hawkwind 1999 Party rolls across the plains of America, dealing cosmic vibes – and more important in the eyes of the Chicago denim set – rock’n’roll.  Mick Farren sends this eyewitness report from the frontier.

As you drive from the airport, the first thing you see is a huge billboard.  It reads; “Richard J. Daley welcomes you to Chicago”.  It’s an ominous start.  Every cop you pass, even though he might be smiling and directing the traffic, makes you wonder: where exactly was he in November 1968?  I’ll tell you: out on the street in his riot gear clubbing freaks, reporters and liberal Democrats.  You sit snug in your yellow cab and try to shut it out of your mind.

The name Richard J.Daley seems to occur everywhere.  He is obviously the uncrowned king of this sprawling city.  It’s even affixed like a personalised signature to the No Smoking sign in the Chicago Auditorium: “Smoking prohibited by law – Richard J.Daley, Mayor.”  The Chicago Auditorium is huge and baroque, and the coffee shop next door has photos of Sammy Davis Jr. and unidentified country singers, the kind that attract capacity audiences of refugees from the South who drifted to Illinois in hope of work in the stockyards, and stayed.

You have to stop and ask yourself what Hawkwind, the dopers from the Grove who played in the dirt at the Isle of Wight and broke in the Metropolitan scuffers to the idea of rock and roll, are doing there.  What are
boys like you doing in a nice place like this?

Even at the sound check you realise they’re making it.  It’s clear that, come what may, they’ve got a foothold in the great American star mill.  There’s a young woman who’d score well in a Honeybunch Kaminsky look-alike contest hanging on the payphone with one finger in her ear.  Her first call is to tell the McDonalds hamburger line where she works that she’s sick. How convincing this is with thousands of watts of sound test in the background is debatable.  Her second call is to book herself onto a flight for Cleveland, so she can stay with the band for just one more day.  Tootsie’s don’t do this for losers.

Standing in the foyer watching the kids crowd in makes one thing perfectly clear: Hawkwind are attracting a capacity crowd.  And the crowd are young.  There’s a lot of blue jeans and combat coats, not an eight-inch
platform or a speck of glitter to be seen.  Pouf rock doesn’t seem to have penetrated as far as Illinois.  High fashion seems to have stuck at the funky “I’m a lumberjack and I’m OK”.

Going to a rock concert in Chicago is no easy business.  You pay your money, but before you get a chance to take your seat, you have to file past an inspection line of thick-set bouncers in yellow nylon anoraks which for some unknown reason bear a Jean Harlow emblem.  You raise your arms and they efficiently frisk you, looking for guns and booze.  Apparently another of Mayor Daley’s regulations is that nobody will consume alcohol at a live performance.  Inside five minutes, the muscle have confiscated at least two cases of beer and several gallons of wine.  One gang of urban cowboys try to beat the rap by carrying their rotgut in leather wineskins under their coats.  They’re sussed and made to pour it into a drinking fountain.  I get uneasy that only a backstage pass stands between my whiskey bottle and a similar fate.

Eventually, the kids have been processed into the hall, all 6,000 of them.  They sit dutifully under the glare of liveried black security men.  It’s a subdued crowd that welcomes opening group Man, who’re tight and
together, pushing that tasteful Welsh boogie.  However, somebody operating the PA has misjudged the size of the hall.  There isn’t quite enough sound for the audience.  They like what they’re getting but they aren’t
quite getting enough.  They want more, and get a little restive.  Towards the end Man begin to crank up a bit and everything’s OK.  They’re brought back for an encore.

Hawkwind reap the benefits of Man ironing out the problems.  Their sound is clean and loud.  The introductory cosmic rap grabs an audience who haven’t seen anything like it since the alien invasion of 1967.  Nik Turner’s green frog suit glows under the green light, and Chicago is fascinated.  Then the drums open up and the light show starts to happen.  A ripple of relief runs across the audience.  The space stuff is fine, but they’ve come here to listen to rock and roll.  And that is very much what the band are learning
to give them.  The intensity of this second U.S. tour has tightened Hawkwind up to an unbelievable extent.  Lemmy, Simon King and Dave Brock have become a rhythm unit who stand up on any level.  They seem to be taking their hypnotic, early Velvet Underground pulse to almost psychotic extremes.

The audience loves every minute of them.  The howling and tweeting is also being done with far more flair and taste.  What used to be random honks from Nik Turner and Del have now begun to form up in definite melody lines.  There is also a greater degree of coherence in the singing.  Lemmy’s long experience of the Liverpool harmony tradition – impressed on him during all those years in the Rockin’ Vicars – has been put to use.  It adds another dimension, and is one more factor that moves the band away from the crushing monotony that tended to grip their more dire British performances.

The relationship between Hawkwind and their American audiences is a strange one.  The kids show up for a variety of reasons, and opinions of what the band are supposed to be doing differ greatly.  One section
seems to think that the ‘Wind are some weird kind of Sha-Na-Na flower power revival parody band.  Others put them in a Blue Oyster Cult / Black Sabbath bag.  And others mutter about Sun Ra and John Cage.  Butnthe great majority just swallow the Quaaludes and hope there’s enough sound to hold them up.

Cleveland looks a good deal more promising, despite tensions among the band caused by the pressures of travelling and some instrument that failed to get on the plane at Chicago.  The logistics of moving the entire 1999 party is no simple business.  The entire operation – Hawkwind, Man, Liquid Len and crew, Andy Dunkley plus a 16-track mobile – adds up to nearly 30 people and a huge tonnage of equipment.  The responsibility of keeping this freak’s works outing on the road falls on a redoubtable individual called
Higgins.  Higgy seems to be everywhere at once, and at least an hour before anyone else gets there.  He keeps the circus in motion like John Wayne playing a Marine sergeant.

The kids in Cleveland look pretty much the way they did in Chicago.  There’s the same cold-weather cowboy drag, but they’re more relaxed and happy.  In Cleveland they get to keep their bottles of wine, and by the time Man open the show they’re lying in their seats, happily canopied by a blue haze of dope smoke.  The security is organized by the police department.  In Cleveland they cut out the middlemen.  Our introduction to them is when two walk into the dressing room swinging their Bruce Lee two-piece clubs –
which seem to have taken over from the nightstick among well-dressed law enforcement agents.  They make an introductory speech: they obviously use the same spiel on every band.  “Listen, we ain’t going to cause you guys any trouble.  We’re here to take care of you.  We ain’t about to bust anyone for smoking dope, but if you mess with the hard stuff we’re going to have to take it off you…shoot, we need it ourselves, hee-haw”.  By the end of the night, they’ve put away more beer than the entire band.  They’re loudly drunk, and groping the groupies.  They seem to have an obsession about showing people their guns.  I have a long conversation with one of them about Joseph Stalin.  He’s fascinated by Joseph Stalin.

By the end of the show, the kids are yelling for an encore.  The band are jagged and tired.  There’s a lot of discussion before they finally troop back onto the stage.  To those of us standing around, the encore sounds fine, but the musicians seem tired and dissatisfied.  Back at the Holiday Inn, an Englishman turns up with much-needed supplies.  Rory Gallagher is on TV, and we watch with medium interest while the psycho-chemical balance is restored.

The trip from Cleveland to Detroit only takes half an hour.  Lemmy and I shoot craps and I manage to lose four bucks before we touch down.  The ninety-niners give the pilot a round of applause, but he declines to do an encore.  We disembark.  It is freezing in the motor city – we’ve only been at the Hilton for five minutes when it starts snowing.  At the Detroit Hilton they have a nifty system of isolating all travelling musicians on the 16th floor.  If you happen to get onto one of the others, you are gently shepherded back where you belong.  When we arrive, the maids are still carting out the debris from the night before.  Frampton’s Camel and Maggie Bell had played that night, and it is clear that some kind of party has hit the
hotel.  The odd musician is still wandering the corridors, shaking his head.

The band leave for the auditorium for a rehearsal and sound-check, but I decide to stay at the hotel and catch up with my copy.  The bellhop who brings me my sandwich is a middle-aged black sci-fi freak, who believes there are aliens walking around among us, disguised as human beings. “Just checking us out, you know what I mean.”  I decide to go down to the gig – at the Michigan Palace, only two blocks from the Hilton.

In Detroit, an English accent seems to open every door.  I only have to mumble something unintelligible to the deck seller, and a huge black bouncer armed with a baseball bat is assigned to guide me through the hall
to the backstage.  Inside the Palace is awfully familiar.  It looks almost exactly like London’s Rainbow, and the audience seems a lot more determinedly hip.  Despite the cold, they’re milling about in velvets, platforms, glitter and see-through.  It’s hot, heavy and much more like home.

At the back of the stage, the Detroit Queens are cruising for fun.  They’re an all-girl gang, a motor city version of the GTOs and right now seem primarily interested in Man.  Detroit in general, though, appears overjoyed to see Hawkwind.  The last time they played there, they had trouble filling the hall, and Doug Smith, their manager, papered the town with free tickets.  Tonight there’s no such problem.  The place is packed to its 5,000 or so capacity.  The previous time’s hard work has obviously paid off.  There’s a roar of anticipation when the band go on, and it dies to an expectant hush as Turner glows green and begins the “Lord Of The Universe” introduction.  The band quickly respond to the audience and the music begins to
develop some real rock and roll power underneath all the space noise.  Simon and Lemmy begin solidly to push for a winner.  The Detroit crowd seem to know what’s happening.  They start rocking uncompromisingly – they don’t mind psychedelics as long as they get their rock and roll.  In every piece of cosmic quiet, they cheer and shout.  They’re not prepared to allow the band any let-up.  In the face of this energy, they sail with the wind.  And it’s fine to behold.  It’s the first time I’ve seen Hawkwind push their
hypnotic thing all the way up to raw power.

At the end, as the audience goes mad, they come off dripping sweat.  Lemmy, who hasn’t been pleased with the last two nights, looks happy.  “We’ve finally got rid of whatever was on this band’s back.”

A Plastic Fragment Hawkwind Press Cutting

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s