Denizens of space rock, 15 years of hard work, and the band around whom legends spring almost daily, Hawkwind are planning a new strategy for 1984 with a new stage show Earth Ritual, Dave Brock and Huw Lloyd Langton explain the Hawkwind rejuvenation to Tim Oakes.
Any retrospective of the past 15 years unearths a strange confusion, a maze of changes, bewilderingly rapid. Tastes have come and gone, ideas have been tried and failed, tried and succeeded, and over all is the flowing transience that makes the whole thing so damn interesting.
But in one corner of the flow, in a strange little eddy in the musical current, Hawkwind remain just the same as they were 15 years ago. The 'family' of friends, relations, and hangers on still clutch at their coat tails, they still tour with massively overblown stage shows, and they still play Silver Machine. And all this has to be seen in the (red) light of their bank balance. Hawkwind are broke, and have seldom managed to lift themselves out of penury. But, they were the first (and some would say the only) space rock band to break out of thrashing chords around the college circuit, and to take the whole idea of their personal mayhem out into a public that accepted it as just another fashion. Predictions of their imminent failure began almost the day they started, but apart from brief interludes in the flow, they are still as strong as ever.
The nucleus of the band, Dave Brock, Huw Lloyd-Langton, and Nick Turner remain, and, with some surprise, they have recently begun work with erstwhile frontman and strange poet Bob Calvert, and have also reforged their links with sci fi officionado, Michael Moorcock.
We met up with Dave Brock and Huw Lloyd Langton just after the release of their new LP 'Zones' - though they were also in the planning stages of recording a new album to coincide with the tour.
So who are Hawkwind now? The puzzling personnel changes that have chronicled the bands career remain as baffling as ever.
D.B. "Well, we seem to be back to the old nucleus through trial and error, a lot of people have come and gone, but we feel that the basic members that count are still here and that we have one of the best lineups now that we ever have had. The tour in February is going to be very exciting for us - we have Bob back with us, and Mike Moorcock, and even Lemmy has shown an interest. It's going to be under the title of Earth Ritual... and it follows on from the early roadshows that we did, like the Space Ritual one. We have very specific lighting ideas that we'd like to use for Earth Ritual basically to get away from the overhead lighting that we've always had, and to light the stage from below, while above we will have a laser - a sort of earth and sky idea. The lighting is a very important part of the set, and we like to get that sort of staging sorted out before the rest of the planning."
Well known for their extravagant stage sets (the last tour featured the band playing inside a huge spaceship, complete with a bank of video screens on each side) Earth Ritual promises to be one of their most expensive to date, not least in the sound and backline equipment they will be taking as well.
D.B. "We have tried this time to get the sheer weight of gear down, it became ridiculous at one point when there were something like ten or twelve keyboards on my side of the stage, as well as the guitar equipment. I took a Jupiter 8 and a Korg 800DV duophonic, a few analogue sequencers all wired up, and a few extra gadgets like the guitar equipment. Harvey Bainbridge also took some keyboard with him - he had a Moog Source and another Jupiter I think. We were basically a four piece band, and to try and look after all the keyboard equipment at the same time as playing the guitar, and singing became just too much. It can be done of course, but you will spend a lot of money to get there."
H.L.L. "We seemed to spend more time rushing around the stage keeping tracks on everything than actually playing! But, yes, it has been done - Rush for example where Geddy Lee triggers the keyboards from the bass guitar. There were also the problems with space on the stage - with Martin playing the drums, he was so loud and had his monitors up so loud that I only had to walkout of range of mine and all I could hear was these drums pounding away..."
Well known for their synthesiser sounds, they have gone through legions of different keyboards over the years, though the changes have not really been audibly noticeable.
D.B. "I used to have a whole battery of Korg equipment including the Lambda, and I also used to have a beautiful VCS3. Sadly, that one got so damaged on the Sonic Attack tour I vowed never to take it on the road again. I even managed to break the Jupiter 8 at one stage - I really don't think people have an idea of what the equipment goes through on the road, and they really aren't built for it.
"NickTurner recently took us along to see the Alpha Syntauri and I liked that a lot, but again we could only use it for studio.
"I really am very bad with equipment though, I tend to throw the manual out of the window and start to work on the instrument from my point of view - which is push it and see. But I'm convinced that if you do follow the manual through you will end up sounding like everyone else - by not following it through to the letter you get a whole new perspective on the instrument and how to use - or abuse it!"
The unique sounds that Hawkwind produce on their records is the product of years of experimentation. Originally they started with an extended live set in the studio, which was then cut down and edited to form the basic tracks. Nowadays they take a more scientific view.
D.B. "With Sonic Attack and to a certain extent Choose Your Masques we did the recording back to front. We didn't have a drummer at the time."
H.L.L. "Yes, we used drum machines and the sequencers for them, and the drummer came in afterwards to put the overdubs in."
D.B. "The drum machine was the little Roland TR606 which is great. I use it at home now, just turning up the bass drum and the snare to get a rhythm and then play on and on over it."
One of the main problems that has dogged the band has been their financial plight, the extremes of the stage show, makes even meeting up difficult - the cost of transporting their various loads of equipment across to Dave Brock's farm becomes ridiculous. Instead, they now work on their material at home, and meet up for rehearsals either while recording takes place or just before the tour is about to start.
D.B. "It's all down to portability. I'm there with 'X' tons of gear, and Huw wanders in with his little combo and his guitar..."
In actual fact, things are not quite that simple. Huw explained:
H.L.L. "Basically I use three guitars, a Gibson Les Paul 20th anniversary, a Gibson Howard Roberts Fusion, and the Roland Guitar Synthesiser. The synth is great, and it means that I don't have to take many effects units with me - I can just use a Roland Space Echo and leave it at that. The amps are the Roland Bolt 60 combo which I'm pleased with because I like valve amps, and I like them loud!"
Huw is also working with his own band at the times when Hawkwind are off the road, his single Wind Of Change (released under the name of the Lloyd Langton Group charting, as did a single from Dave Brock as a solo project, called Social Alliance which also appears on the 'Zones' LP. Collectors take note). In fact their vinyl output is a shady area of official releases, 'semi official' releases and straight bootlegs that would make any sort of authoritative discography nonsense.
D.B. "Keeping tracks on what is out got very hard after about 1973. Then the cassettes started coming out, and we hardly seem to do a gig these days without it coming out on 'special edition' tapes a few days later. Some have even got to the pressing stages and look like real albums. It gets jolly distressing! But I can't see how you could ever stop them. Of our own 'real' albums there's also a few strange ones like The Text Of Festival. I did the cover, and we knew it was coming out - but we never heard any of the tracks before it was released. Then these are the compilations... loads of 'em!"
The talk of the various compilations led us to talk about the way that the bands stage show contains those 'obligatory' numbers.
D.B. "We don't really play that many 'old' numbers, simply because they are always changing and we think of them as just another track - timeless sort of thing. I know they run a poll in Hawkfan (the Hawkwind fan club newspaper) to find out what peoples favourite tracks are, and then we take the list for the shows from that! That's what the people want. It would be sad to go and see a band and all they played was either the new album or really obscure things - something we used to do I know, wc got to the point where we would actually refuse to play 'Silver Machine'. That bothered a lot of people, so we just had to go back to playing it - and the others. I suppose all we are trying to do is write new classics!"
Our talk ranged over the long and interesting escapades they have all been through over the years, and the members past and present who made the Hawkwind legend what it is today. Like the Bob Calvert era...
D.B. "Times with Bob were strange - but a lot of fun. He's changed a lot now, put on a lot of weight and he's incredibly out of practice. We found that out the other week when we had a play together. He'll get it right in time, as long as we use him for a few poems or something, just as long as he doesn't get over excited!"
And so, as we enter 1984, it seems that a few more people are going to get over excited over a band that has seen an awful lot of bad luck - but an awful lot of fun as well.
Interview by Tim Oakes
Previous article in this issue:
Next article in this issue:
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!