Photo courtesy of Hawkwind
From Ladbroke Grove to the far reaches of the universe, Hawkwind are responsible for some of the most gloriously unhinged rock and roll to be put to tape. Featuring an ever shifting cast of characters aboard the mothership, they pioneered their own idiosyncratic brand of ramshackle space rock, proved a vital influence on both punk and electronic music and have long been die hard supporters of the underground counter culture that spawned them, playing countless grassroots festivals, grimy squats and benefit gigs over the years, often for free. Combining rawkus garage chops, hypnosis inducing chug, bizarre spoken word passages and noisy electronics, they sounded like nothing else in the early Seventies and remain a vital force to this day, still making music for the voyage.
Emerging from the fertile and radical late 60s West London underground counter culture that spawned alternative newspapers like Friends and the International Times alongside chaotic proto-punk outfits such as the Pink Fairies, Hawkwind were formed in 1969 by Dave Brock. Their self titled debut LP was released in 1970 but it was the essential run of albums from 1971-1976 that saw Hawkwind solidify their idiosyncratic sound; driving, incessant repetitive freak music, a wall of glorious noise.
Hallucinatory and chaotic, In Search of Space(1971), Doremi Fasol Latido (1972), Hall of the Mountain Grill and (the band's true masterpiece) Warrior at the Edge of Time (1975) introduced the wild audio hallmarks; Brock’s discordant proto-punk rhythm guitar on overdrive, pounding bottom end courtesy of Lemmy, Nic Turner blasting away on his saxophone, more often than not in full Ancient Egyptian style attire, while Del Detmar and Dik Mik laid on a wall of off-kilter rudimentary electronics over the top.
Sonically, they had far more in common with the untethered invention of German kosmiche outfits such as Can, Amon Duul and Neu! alongside the amped attack of US scuzzers MC5 and Stooges than any UK bands of the era; thematically, meanwhile, the only meaningful comparison is Sun Ra or Funkadelic, such has been Hawkwind’s long standing spiritual obsession with the vast expanse of open space and the mind bending mystery of it all. Since the golden era, the band have been through a truly titanic list of members with Dave Brock the only constant. Indeed, it is perhaps best to look at Hawkwind as an entity in and of itself, a hallucinatory spirit of strangeness and charm.
However, although they have long sustained a large and borderline religiously devoted cult following, this is a band that have never got the true critical dues afforded the likes of Can. After all, they were pumping out weird driving nuggets before the Ramones, experimenting with brain melting electronics before Kraftwerk and actively driving forward a thriving counter culture when they could have sat back. Put simply, if you enjoy Can, Sun Ra, Sonic Youth, Funkadelic, Motorhead, The Ramones, Neu! or indeed any number of outernational delights (and if you don’t we seriously can’t be friends), then there is no earthly reason that you shouldn't enjoy Hawkwind, too.
With that in mind, please allow Noisey—with gracious help from Hawkwind founder, guitarist and all round good pilot of the mothership, Dave Brock—to guide you through a few of the reasons why we should all love Hawkwind.
They are electronic pioneers
While bands like Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and Neu! are (rightly) held up as electronic pioneers, Hawkwind are practically never mentioned in the same breath. They ought to be. The mondo-bizarro electronic pounding of Del Dettmar and Dik Mik combined mind-befuddling white noise, off-key effects, and acid-influenced insanity, all teased out of rudimentary audio generators and synths that were way ahead of the times. Put bluntly, they made a mess of many a mind:
‘’Not a lot of people have ever picked up on it or written about it, but Del and Dick, they never got the acclaim they deserve, they were pioneers,’’ says Brock. ‘‘They were completely revolutionary, doing what they did with electronic music. Dik used to go off down Portobello Road to get hold of this mad rudimentary gear. He’d be setting up echo units, audio generators on a card table, wires everywhere. I think Del eventually got an EMS synthesiser that could do a lot more. But the pair of them were quite revolutionary in their electronic gadgetry and what they were doing at the time. We supplied the rhythm and they supplied the electronics that went over the top and there were not many other bands in the early Seventies who were doing that. The essence of Hawkwind is that combination; the weird psychedelic stuff with the echo units and all the electronics’’ explains Brock.
They were the band in which Lemmy made his name
Although Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister had played in a little known rock'n'roll band called the Rockin’ Vicars in the Sixties (and roadied for Jimi Hendrix) he found an early spiritual home in Hawkwind. As he put it in the BBC4 documentary Hawkwind: Do Not Panic: ‘It was like Star Trek, ‘cept with long hair and drugs. We weren’t fucking Pink Floyd man…we were a fuckin’ black nightmare; we used to lock the doors so people couldn’t get out’.
Playing with the band from 1971-1976 (he eventually got kicked out for an overindulgence in "the wrong drugs"—namely, a shit-ton of speed), in Hawkwind Lemmy solidified his trademark bass style, a frantic rhythmic strum, as Dave Brock recalled, ‘‘Lemmy used to play guitar before he played bass, that’s the thing. It’s just the way he used to play - a proper bass player would play bass runs - but he’d be playing all these big block chords and strumming it like mad. That is why Lemmy plays like that; he came at it from the guitar and just taught himself that style on the job, as it were—you get a style over the years.’’
They inspired strange novels and comics
Over the years, Hawkwind have inspired more than a few bizarre fictional exploits. Underground newspaper Freinds published the famous Codename Hawkwind - The Sonic Assassins comic strip. The plot went something like this: Deep in the earths core lies the "death generator," sending out rays that induce lethargy and despair in humans. The antidote? Why, the sweet music of Hawkwind, of course. Counter cultural sci-fi adventurer Michael Moorcock was a long term collaborator, writing lyrics for the band and going so far as to adapt the comic to a full length novel, 1976’s Time of the Hawklords written alongside Michael Butterworth.
‘’Lyrically, we’ve always been very much into sci-fi and the imaginative places that affords you to go; time travel, sex with androids, all that stuff. That book was quite an odd one though,’’ laughs Brock. ‘’We were the last band on earth, if I recall, and had to protect the world against the ‘bad vibes’ that were being pumped from the ‘death generator’. We had to override it with our ‘good vibes’. It was absurd really, but the fans loved it.’’
There was even a sequel, Queens of Deliria where Hawkwind had to save the world from the music of Elton John (no, really; that was the plot for an actual novel). Moorcock also wrote the infamous "Sonic Attack" public service announcement as heard on "Space Ritual," and as such is responsible for casting thousands of frazzled brains into the outer orbits: "Do not waste time blocking your ears; do not waste time seeking a soundproof shelter; try to get as far away from the sonic source as possible. DO NOT PANIC!"
Dave Brock: Master Busker
‘‘I used to play a lot of these busking songs, down in that long subway between Kensington and the Royal Albert Hall with a guy called John Harrison, another founding member of Hawkwind. I met him through busking down the Tottenham Court Road. He used to come to Putney, where I lived and we used to jam on weird psychedelic music; I’d do all these odd tape loops that would go backwards; that was the start of the Hawkwind sound in a way. I can remember singing "Hurry on Sundown" from the first record in the underpass near the Royal Albert Hall. I used to love playing down there because it had this fantastic echo. I’d think to myself ‘ooh, that sounds nice. Listen to that sustain!"
Robert Calvert was a genius
Spirit guide to Hawkwind over the years, Calvert was a South African-born poet and frequent band collaborator who wrote lyrics, performed live as vocalist on numerous occasions and wrote the infamous ‘space log’ booklet that was included with the In Search of Space LP. A collage of text, photography and poetry, the book was set out as a ‘found’ log of a spaceship, setting out the thoughts and memories of the crew on a final voyage. Including early versions of Calvert standards such as "Ten Seconds of Forever" and "Co-Pilots of Spaceship Earth," the poet soon became a semi permanent fixture in Hawkwind through the 70s—although his erratic behaviour could sometimes cause friction. His lyrical and vocal contributions are heard to fantastic effect on the Quark Strangeness and Charm LP.
Calvert once stabbed Lemmy with a sword onstage at Wembley Arena, as the Motorhead frontman told Kerrang in 1999: ‘…he came onstage off his head on acid wearing a witches hat and carrying a trumpet and sword. After the second song he attacked me with the sword, so I belted him round the head with my bass and he went away and tortured someone else.’’
They constantly played for free
In the early Seventies, the burgeoning free festival scene in Britain became a way of life for a number of bands, Hawkwind included. And although they were on a major label and did plenty of regular touring, they probably played a greater number of free festivals and unpaid benefit gigs than paid gigs. Early festivals such as Stone Henge offered temporary autonomous zones, but the scene soon soured as Dave Brock recalled:
‘‘ It was a good way for a young band to ply their trade. We used to get stages together, we supported that whole scene in a big way. One of the first ones was at Stonehenge in 1974. We hired a big articulated truck and went down to Stonehenge for a couple of days, set up the stage and everything. After a few days we had to take the generator back to London because we had a gig and people were like ‘‘Why are you taking that generator away!’ People don’t realise how much money actually goes into the ‘free’ festival scene (adopts wasted hippie voice) ‘but it’s all free, man’. People don’t realise how much the organizational side of things actually costs; we’d put a lot of time, money and effort in because we believed in it.’’
‘‘The scene was very much a community organised thing and was good motivation for a lot of people but it became corrupted eventually; dealers came into the scene with heavy drugs, bad drugs… It was like a rose that flowered and then withered away and died, that’s the way I see it. People saw it as a way of making money. Free festivals only used to have about 100 people; it got bigger and bigger until there were about 60 000 people at the Stonehenge events in the 80s. We played thousands of them, but then the rave scene took over from it in the late eighties, people going into the warehouses and stuff. It was a similar thing with the rave scene because people could just freak out and be themselves and that is the objective, isn’t it? To [shouts] BE YOURSELF [laughs] but in the end the whole thing, unless you keep it wired together, becomes corrupt.’’
They came from Ladbroke Grove when it was the center of Weird London
There was something in the water around West London and in the early 70s, when Hawkwind's stomping ground was a hotbed of crumbling squats, artists and bohemian stragglers as Brock attests:
‘‘It was pretty insane. Michael Moorcock used to live just off Portobello Road; there were fantastic underground papers around. It was an incredibly lively and inspiring place to be. There was a whole load of freaks, we all used to do benefits to keep the underground press going, there was the people behind Freindz and the International Times, we used to smoke a lot of weed together, us and a few other bands used to get together under the ‘Greasy Truckers’ name and do benefits; it was a family thing’’
The following section of documentary shows the Grove in action…
They proved a vital influence on punk
While a lot of people have the misconception that Hawkwind are some kind of prog rock band, they’re nothing of the sort. Early records such as Doremi Fasol Latido included breakneck workouts such as "Brainstorm" and "Brainbox Pollution" that are the equal of the Stooges or Ramones in ferocity. John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) was a huge fan, and used to attend early Hawkwind gigs regularly, also stating in interviews that ‘there would have been no Sex Pistols if it wasn’t for 'Brainstorm."
Dave Brock remembers, "The thing about Hawkwind is that we were always fond of repetitive riffs, really chugging fast stuff and I think that’s why the punks didn’t mind what we did. In a sense it was early dance music. Driving, highly repetitive rhythms—we’ve always had that strong foundation and then put the noisier stuff on top.’’
They had a naked dancer called Stacia who was covered in Day-Glo paint
As anyone who has seen any of the early Seventies gig footage will attest, Stacia was an absolute force of nature. Over six feet tall, covered in day glow paint and doing her own special brand of trance inducing interpretive dance, she reportedly joined the band by accident:
‘‘We were on our way to play in Redruth, down in Cornwall and we had to stop to fill the van up with petrol, in the middle of nowhere. In those days, they had attendants that filled the van and out came Stacia to fill the van up; it was like something from a road movie you know. So she goes ‘Who are you? Where are you lot going?’ we said ‘We’re Hawkwind, we’re playing tonight’ and she asked if she could come. She got on stage and danced that night and ended up joining the band. She used to dance around with no clothes on - but then again our drummer used to drum with no clothes on too, because he used to sweat a lot, he was either naked or in just his underpants. People weren’t so bothered about him though!"
Harry Sword is on Twitter - @HarrySword.