Hawkwind, strangeness and charm
theaustralian.com.au | Mar 4th 2011
AS he approaches his 70th birthday, Hawkwind's Dave Brock admits he never expected to be still playing in the band he founded in the heady, drug-fuelled environment around London's Notting Hill Gate in 1969.
Nor did he imagine that an underground psychedelic band renowned for weird electronic effects and using fewer chords than Status Quo would end up with a catalogue of more than 50 albums still largely available well into the 21st century.
But the band that has at different times included Motorhead's Lemmy, the crazy voice of Arthur Brown, Cream's Ginger Baker and sci-fi and fantasy author Michael Moorcock in its personnel is still going and is heading back to Australia. The latest line-up is touring on the back of last year's studio album, Blood of the Earth.
Accompanying Brock are bassist Mr Dibs, guitarist Niall Hone and Hawkwind veterans Tim Blake (keyboards) and Richard Chadwick (drums).
The album, which received a lukewarm reaction from critics but was well received by many fans, is the band's 26th studio release. (There also is a slew of live recordings and compilations.)
Never fashionable but always warmly regarded, Hawkwind helped found the "space rock" genre by combining pounding proto-punk, electronically enhanced folk and eerie instrumentals with sci-fi inspired lyrics from Brock, Moorcock and the mercurial Bob Calvert. Simple but catchy riffs - a godsend to garage bands everywhere - would dissolve into what one critic of the day described as "a gargantuan and impenetrable pre-metal hardcore drone" backed by wailing oscillators and driving bass and drums.
The band, which was synonymous with the drug culture of the time and often played charity gigs, endeared itself to fans and critics by staging a free concert in 1970 outside the giant Isle of Wight Festival to protest against the admission fee. It hit its commercial stride in 1972 with the unexpected success of the single Silver Machine, sung by bassist Lemmy, and went on to produce a string of classic albums that still sell steadily.
Money from Silver Machine allowed the band to break new ground in live performance with the theatrical Space Ritual tour, complete with famously naked dancer Stacia. Brock admits times have changed from those heady early days of playing nearly every night and often for free.
"On one of our web pages is a list of all the gigs we did," he says. "I thought, Christ, how could we possibly have done all that? I was travelling around all over the country and would get home at five o'clock in the morning. You'd go to bed and sometime in the afternoon off we'd go off in our old van somewhere else and you only lived day-by-day. Now we're booking dates for autumn and winter and next year. We're off to Australia, of course, and then Japan and Greece and Sweden. You know we do get around a bit. It makes life interesting."
While Hawkwind would go on to inspire numerous other bands, Brock traces his inspiration to a 78rpm recording of Fats Domino's Blueberry Hill. That, and an uncle who played banjo in a small band, motivated the young Brock to take up music. He got his first guitar at 14. "Probably my greatest influence was a guy called Bill Broonzy, who was a wonderful old blues singer who came over to England in 1957-58. That was the guy I tried to model myself on playing blues." Brock formed a trio with Mike King and Luke Francis. They would play jazz and blues in pubs and at Eel Pie Island, famous as an early venue for Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds. They also backed US blues musicians such as Memphis Slim and Champion Jack Dupree.
Brock was busking in London in 1969 when the decision was made to form what was originally known as Hawkwind Zoo. Busking also provided songs such as Hurry on Sundown for the fledgling band. He recalls Notting Hill Gate as a hippie area flush with underground newspapers.
"There were lots of places to play there and it was all very psychedelic," he says, chuckling. "People were taking LSD all over the place. An interesting place to be." Initially, he says, he was still making more money busking than he was with the band because of its tendency to play for free. He also found the subways good places to practice.
"There's one that goes from the Natural History Museum up towards the Albert Hall. It's a big, long subway which connects to the underground railway," he says. "It has fantastic acoustics, it's really long, about 100 yards long, and sometimes in evening there'd be no one down there and I used to go and practice down there."
German experimental bands are often cited as influences for Hawkwind, but Brock says there were also bands from the US, such as Vanilla Fudge and Sopwith Camel doing "weird recordings".
"I had an electric guitar and an echo unit and I used to make tape loops on my old tape machine and I'd do weird things with trains chugging along the platform. It was quite experimental," he says, noting those chugging rhythms made it into early songs.
Hawkwind has not abandoned its space-rock roots and Brock continues to organise a small annual festival called Hawkfest, which last year returned to the Isle of Wight.
Brock is amused that this initially caused some consternation among locals, who were worried they would be invaded by tens of thousands of rock fans and were not aware that the limited entry Hawkfest had become something of a family affair.
"I don't like big festivals, actually. I like pretty small ones with interesting music," he says. "When we run our ones we get a real cross-section . . . You've got rock, jazz, reggae, folk music. It's quite an interesting sort of mixture."
The band also continues to record. It has a double live set on the way and is planning to release another studio album later this year.
Brock believes Blood of the Earth suffered from the death in 2008 of keyboard player Jason Stuart. "Some of it's all right. It was a weird transition because having Jason we had a proper keyboard player and Jason was a wonderful jazz keyboard player.
"Him and me used to sit in the studio playing lots of jazz stuff together. And when he died - he was in the band for five years - we suddenly realised how important he was. It's like a big hole appeared and we missed him a lot."
Brock brought in Tribe of Cro guitarist and bassist Hone, the son of his best friend, to replace Stuart and believes the university professor was still making the transition to the band when the last album was recorded.
"Blood of the Earth was the new album with Niall, so I think the next one that we're doing now will be probably be better because Niall's fitted in," he says.
Hawkwind will be in Australia at the same time as Motorhead, and Brock says there is a chance his band will make an appearance at some Motorhead gigs. "I speak to Lemmy quite often and our paths often cross, so let's hope they cross in Australia," he says.
Hawkwind plays the University of Sydney Union's Manning Bar, March 11; Billboard, Melbourne, March 12; and Golden Plains, Victoria, March 13.
Original Page: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/arts/hawkwind-strangeness-and-charm/story-e6frg8n6-1226015562115
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