Space Rockers Hawkwind are enjoying a bit of a renaissance after close to 50 years as a band. Their last two albums hit the Top 40, and they are about to release a new live album and begin preparations for a spectacular orchestral concert at the London Palladium.
Founder Dave Brock takes a breather from rehearsals to talk to Music Republic Magazine about the band’s exciting plans, his pal Lemmy, Ginger Baker and chopping logs in the mud!
In just under a year’s time, legendary British rock band Hawkwind will blast into London’s iconic Palladium for a very special concert – “In Search Of Utopia, Infinity and Beyond” – celebrating almost five decades, with a world exclusive event. Playing their compositions for the very first time backed by a full orchestra, complete with spectacular light show and very special guests.
It’ll bring back memories for the band’s constant and main creative driving force, Dave Brock. Singer, songwriter, guitarist and synth player. He will be back at the world-famous venue again for the first time since he performed there back in the late 1960s. But this time, he’ll not have issues with the cold or the rain!
Because Dave has never performed INSIDE The Palladium before, but rather; as a busker OUTSIDE, entertaining the queues – where he says he did well cash-wise, as he did when he busked at other London theatre and cinema queues.
So, it is a double first for Dave Brock on Sunday 4th November 2018. The first time he has played his music with an orchestra, and his debut performing ON the Palladium stage and INSIDE the building!
It’s a busy time for Dave, Richard Chadwick (drums & vocals) Mr Dibs (vocals) and Haz Wheaton (bass) in the run up to the grand event. Not only will they be rehearsing as a four-piece, they will also be overseeing the orchestration of the songs for the orchestral musicians and conductor, and then rehearsing with those classical guys to make sure the night is a complete success.
They are also busy promoting a brand new live album, “Hawkwind At The Roundhouse”, which is released on 8th December 2017. A three disc (two CDs + a DVD) set. On Friday, May 26th, 2017, Hawkwind returned to London’s legendary Roundhouse venue in London’s Chalk Farm, for the first time in 40 years.
It was also some 45 years after the band famously performed at the venue (captured for posterity on the “Greasy Truckers Party” album), where they recorded the hit version of “Silver Machine” in 1972. Six months on, this historic 2017 show is captured for posterity within a deluxe, celebratory box set which boasts audio and audio-visual versions of the entire performance. The set-list blends highlights from Hawkwind’s last two acclaimed, Top 40 albums, “The Machine Stops” and “Into The Woods”, with classics from the band’s past.
The show climaxed with guest guitarist Phil ‘Wizzo’ Campbell (Motörhead, The Bastard Sons) joining the band for encore performances of “Brainbox Pollution” and “Silver Machine”. The concert is captured across two CDs, and the event can also be enjoyed via a DVD, which reveals a stunning light show designed by John Moules.
Dave Brock and his wife Kris have lived on a farm in Devon for the last 30 years. I caught up with Dave there, via the modern wonders of the telephone, to gaze into his crystal ball 12 months ahead, to talk about the Palladium show, the new record and all things “Space Rock” and Hawkwind.
“What would you like to know?” Mr Brock asks me, ever so politely, breaking off from rehearsing with his band mates. Let’s talk about the new album first, can we, I reply. How did it go on the day/night of the gig and did it turn out OK?
“I viewed it with trepidation actually. I hadn’t played there for 40 years, so it was quite strange going back there; I hadn’t seen it for quite a few years. It’s all been revamped. Very nice actually. It was good fun. We were on a three-week tour before that. It was a sunny day. It was quite nice seeing Phil there. Phil Campbell from Motorhead. To have him come and guest with us was great.
“The last time we played there was 1977, with Motorhead supporting us. Quite a gap, isn’t it? We recorded ‘Silver Machine’ there in 1972. We did play there quite a few times in the 70s”.
Hawkwind were formed in 1969, by Dave Brock. A year later they performed outside the gates of The Isle of Wight Festival in protest at the ticket prices. Jimi Hendrix, a fan of the band, was in the crowd. Later that year they made their Glastonbury debut.
There have been numerous line-up changes throughout the years, including the addition of Arthur Brown, Tim Blake, Ginger Baker, Rob Heaton (New Model Army) and the late Motorhead front-man Lemmy, whose relatively brief three-year membership unto 1975, spawned “Silver Machine”, which charted in the UK top 40 at number two in 1972, giving the band their highest chart position.
In the early 70’s, the band fast established themselves as the pioneers of a new genre “Space Rock”. They capitalised on a wealth of creative talent, including contributions from the likes of sci-fi author Michael Moorcock, poet and visionary Bob Calvert, designer ‘Barney Bubbles’ and lighting engineer ‘Liquid Len’; creating the world’s first truly multimedia touring roadshow. The barrage of light, sound, dance and theatrics has since become a hallmark of all subsequent Hawkwind shows.
They smashed America and retained strong relationships with fellow rock luminaries, including Lemmy, who joined the band again in the mid 80’s to make a guest appearance headlining Reading Festival, and he invited the band to join Motorhead as special guests at Wembley Arena.
Hawkwind have also continued to perform at numerous free concerts, most famously the Stonehenge Festival. They hosted and headlined Hawkfest – their own three-day festival in Devon and launched Hawktoberfest in Manchester. The band support many charities, including Shelter, Animals Asia, Viva, Free Tibet campaign and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
The band’s live performances are known for their assorted guests, who join the party on stage. Over the years, unusual guests who have joined them on stage or in the studio have included; 70s punk songstress Lena Lovich, Channel 5 TV presenter Matthew Wright, Jon Sevnik of The Levellers, Steve Hillage, and Brian Blessed.
The Palladium gig… Have you played there before? “Not played there before. That’s a new experience. Quite an unusual one, isn’t it?
“We are doing it with an orchestra. A lot of Hawkwind numbers are quite orchestral pieces you know, and we thought; the only thing we haven’t actually done is…. it would be really nice to get an orchestra and have them play some of these tracks with us. London Symphony Orchestra, I think. It will be the very first time we have played with an orchestra. It is a lot of work,as all the songs have to be written and orchestrated for the violins, cello, trumpets etc.
“I can’t read music whatsoever, so we have someone doing all of that. We have to rehearse really hard to make sure it is really on the case. But it’ll be really good, with our light show; some of the stuff will be a real spectacular.
“I’ve not been inside to perform there or to see any shows before. When I used to be a busker, I did do a few of the queues outside the Palladium, that was a long time ago. Used to do quite well on my cinema and theatre queues”.
We discuss the fact he is plugging this one-off gig exactly 12 months in advance and how back in the day, you could stick a band in a room, tell some mates and fans, word of mouth would spread and in a few days, you could fill the place and stage a gig. But things are different today, and gigs, tours and festival appearances are promoted way in advance.
“All these places are booked up a year or two in advance. Promoters have to put down the deposits etc. Anything could happen; I mean, who knows what could happen in a year. You can’t really tell. It’s quite a strange one. Tours usually book up nine months or so in advance. Festivals are the same thing”.
Is there any extra pressure because it is such an iconic venue and working with an orchestra for the first time? “Not at the moment, but ask me again a few days before the night!” Dave laughs. “I think it will be alright. It’s a challenge and I think it will be really good and unusual.
“We’ve got a fantastic live show, it’s quite spectacular. On this album we have got coming out, our lighting guy stuck a camera up near him on his lighting rig and switched it on, and you’ve got the whole of the show on a DVD with the music.
“When I watched it on a 40-inch TV screen when the room’s dark, it is really mesmerising. I thought bloody hell! Some of it is quite exciting”. Dave expects to have the Palladium show filmed, and hopes that Sky Arts will pick it up. He has not decided on the final list of guests for that show yet, but says he expects to make announcements maybe two months before the show.
Infamous for the ‘Excess All Areas’ partying back in the day, at 76-years-old, the most strenuous activity he gets up to down in deepest Devon these days, is chopping up logs and taking the dogs for a walk in the muddy fields. So less sex and drugs and rock and roll, and more sacks of logs and muddy strolls then?
He expects to have other shows lined up around the Palladium date without the orchestra, so staying up all night with his VIP mates for an after-show bash is not on the cards. “If you are playing the next day, I can’t really stay up until three and four in the morning. Have to go to bed and get on with it the next day. It does make you run down, so you have to be a bit cautionary. Probably if we have got another gig after the Palladium, I’ll probably go to bed about 1am”.
Is it hard to be the sole original member of the band throughout 49 years, and to carry on the Hawkwind name and tradition? “Not really, it’s fun. We are lucky enough to be able to do something for a living that we really like. You don’t earn huge amounts of money, but you are doing what you want to do. It is artistic as well; we are supposed to be artistes, you know!
“We rehearse a lot; three days a week anyway. The drummer has been in the band 30 years now. This line-up been together 10 years. We have a young bass player, he’s only 24. A very good musician; a very good bass player and he has made Richard and me pull our socks up, sometimes. He’s good at improvisation and he’s been a fan of Hawkwind for years, so we are lucky”.
Dave rules out getting the surviving original members of the band together. Synth pioneer, Michael “DikMik” Davies passed away mid-November 2017 at the age of 73. “No chance. I don’t think so”.
So, what drives him to carry on after all these years and all he has done? “It’s not the money. We do a lot of charity stuff.We don’t actually do it for the money. We do our own Hawkeaster festival – next year we are doing it in Morecambe.
“The Alhambra Theatre there is a very old theatre, where Laurence Oliver filmed The Entertainer film. It was going to be pulled down, so everyone tried to stop it. So we said if we do a three day festival down there, we can donate the money and get a lot of publicity to stop it being pulled down.
“We did the same thing at Seaton Town Hall, which was due to be turned into a block of offices. The old folks go down there for their tea dances, opera, ballet; the kids do things there. But the council were going to close it and make it into offices and a block of flats. We earned enough to save the place, and the council have turned it over to a Trust, so it means they have it on a 99-year lease now, and it is run by volunteers. We did a good thing there.
“A lot of places all over the country are run by volunteers and it is quite a difficult time for people. If only the music business, the Arts and the Government could put a bit of money into these places, it would be very helpful, wouldn’t it?”
How does he keep things fresh after almost 50 years, 30 studio albums, 11 live records and 15 compilations? “We constantly change, and we write lots of new stuff. If you put on good shows, that is the whole essence of a tour; that two hours on stage is supposed to be the highlight of the day.
“You want people to go away pleased. That is what we are trying to achieve all the time. It is good fun, but it does wear you down sometimes. But, overall it is good fun. If you can enjoy what you are doing, that’s the essence of life, isn’t it?”
Lemmy and the strawberries…
Motorhead singer and bassist Lemmy Kilmister was sacked by Dave and the band after he was caught with “speed” (Amphetamines) on the US border. He was the band’s bassist and he sang lead vocal on their big hit “Silver Machine”.
Lemmy was infamous for his drugs and booze fuelled mayhem, but Dave’s fondest memory of his old mate is a little less crazy – and involves champagne and strawberries! “Favourite Lemmy memory? Going to see him when they were playing near us. All the time I had kept in touch with Lemmy for many years, so when they were playing in Devon or Bristol or Exeter, we would go and see him. We had champagne and strawberries in the afternoon with him, which was quite fun”. A Spinal Tap moment if ever there was one!
The Sex Pistols included a cover of “Silver Machine” in their set. Dave’s take on that version? “I only heard it once when they were at Crystal Palace, live. Funny – Phil Campbell has just done that song and I sang backing vocals on it, and played a little bit of guitar on it, didn’t I? I forgot all about that. Recorded at Rockfield Studios”.
Cream drummer Ginger Baker played with Hawkwind in the early 1980s for an album and a tour. He has a reputation for being a fiery character. Any good Ginger stories? “Well he was very grumpy, but we used to get on with him alright. Kris (Dave’s wife) did hit him with a pool queue at Rockfield once. His dog and her dog had a fight, and he kicked her dog, so she hit him with a cue!” The ginger in the top right hand pocket!!!!
So, after 41 live and studio albums, and a stack of compilations, which were his favourites? “I would say the first album we ever done (sic). It was always something you wanted to do, make an album. I have not listened to it for years. Once you have recorded these things and worked on them for a year or more, sometimes you don’t listen to them for at least three years. The one we just did at the Roundhouse is quite good, jolly exciting and something to be proud of. Mind you; I probably won’t say that in a few years’ time, but there you go,” Dave laughs.
Away from music, what does he get up to that Hawkwind fans might find out of character for this space rock star? “Clean the house, wash the dishes, take the dogs out for a walk. Go and saw logs when it is freezing cold. Tedious tasks one does when living on a muddy farm in all weathers”.
Dave Brock was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award, at the annual Prog’ music awards in 2013. “It’s quite an honour. They are like medals, I suppose”. Doesn’t it usually mean you are at the end of a career or about to die to be given a Lifetime Achievement Award, Dave? “Well, I hope not”.
At 76, any thoughts of the inevitable day he would have to retire? “I won’t play when I get bad. If you don’t play the guitar for a few weeks, your fingers get soft and stiff. Doing what I do down here, sawing logs and getting cold, the fingers do get stiff. So I have to practice the guitar.
“If I start to get bad and not play very well, that’s probably when I stop. Then again, I might find a young lead guitarist who is really good; because there’s plenty of them about you know, and just carry on singing. As long as I can sing, I’ll do alright.
“As long as it’s fun; I mean, that’s the main thing really. If you get a good band and can rely on them. I can rely on other members of the band, they push the old rhythm along, and while that carries on, it’s jolly fun”.
Time for DB to go back to the barn to rehearse with his band. I’ll see you in a year’s time then, Dave. “Well hopefully so – and I hope you like it”. I am sure I will, as long as he doesn’t drag me up on stage to sing with them. Ever heard what a burning pet shop sounds like?
By Simon Redley