“I should mention something,” warned Nik Turner, talking on the phone from his home in Wales during the first of many interviews for this book. “Everybody who’s been in the band, everybody you talk to, will have their own reasons for saying what they say.”
It was a puzzling and intriguing remark, an intimation of dark and dubious goings-on behind the scenes of a show that has been on the road for a remarkable 35 years.
And as the weeks went on, as the past and present members of Hawkwind opened up, one after another, about their experiences in the group, it became clear that Nik Turner was right. Everybody did have their own reasons for saying what they said and, mostly, they weren’t afraid to state them.
The saga of Hawkwind is more fantastic, more dramatic than anything in their trademark science fiction, and sometimes more Spinal Tap than Spinal Tap.
It’s a story littered with casualties and fuelled by conflict, with a long chain of sackings, arguments, threats and fights producing grudges that are borne to this day.
Some of the musicians claim to have been victimised, bullied or manipulated. Some accuse others of financial dishonesty, or musical ineptitude. There have been disputes over women. And there are numerous disagreements about songwriting credits and the rights to old and live material. Several allegations made by one member against another are too serious to publish.
Close observers have despaired at the ill-will and suspicion that has developed over the years, particularly in view of Hawkwind’s reputation as “the people’s band” - anti-materialistic, anti-establishment, campaigners for good causes and champions of the benefit gig and the free festival.
At the heart of the trouble are the vast ideological and personal differences between former friends Dave Brock and Nik Turner, who has been sacked from Hawkwind twice.
But while their long-running feud may dominate parts of the story, a multitude of clashes were at the same time taking place among the other personnel. With such famously fiery characters as Lemmy and Ginger Baker coming in and out of the line-up, the scenes have been unsurprisingly turbulent.
Somehow or other, founder member Dave Brock has soldiered on through the storms, keeping Hawkwind together in a career that has seen them enter into battle with record companies, managers, agents, promoters, police, security forces, immigration authorities, tax officials, local government officers and, occasionally, audiences.
It’s said the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and there have been occasions when this could certainly apply to Hawkwind. Sometimes, hell was the Brixton Academy in London, scene of some of their most memorable catastrophes.
There, in 1989, their benefit concert for Bob Calvert’s widow Jill descended into chaos. And it was there, too, on October 21, 2000, that they staged a massive reunion of past and present members playing together under the banner of Hawkestra.
It was a wonderful gift to the fans, and many of the musicians had equally high expectations of the event. Yet on the night, after weeks of rehearsal, it quickly degenerated into what Dave Brock describes as “a nightmare of weird things, skulduggery and deviousness”, with the equipment failing onstage and various participants falling out bitterly over the organisation and the financial share-out.
What had started out as a great idea ended up in court, to be followed only a matter of months later by another legal showdown, this time between Brock and Turner.
Still, there is much more to Hawkwind than the cut and thrust of their inter-personal relationships. The originators of space rock, they went on to create a pioneering body of work that directly influenced or at least gained enormous respect from ensuing generations of musicians.
In their early days, Hawkwind attracted a following of hippies and bikers, which broadened considerably as time went on. Their disregard for the trappings of “respectable” society, their antipathy towards the powers-that-be and their consequent status as a threat endeared them to the punks, while their political and environmental crusades won the support of any Left-thinking person.
Hard rock and heavy metal fans, meanwhile, responded to the bass-driven energy first introduced by Lemmy and to the extended soloing that accompanies their most celebrated material.
Veterans of Stonehenge and Glastonbury, Hawkwind became figureheads of the free festival scene and folk heroes to the battalions of crusties travelling the land with their friends, families and dogs. That alliance, however, broke down irretrievably in one dreadful day of violence at an outdoor event in Brighton in 1990.
Hawkwind’s early sense of theatre and spectacle was ahead of its time; it set the standard for stage production in the early Seventies. With poetry, fantasy, sci-fi, dancers, costumes, a DJ, electronics, psychedelia and a light show bringing colour and imagination to their repetitive, hypnotic rhythms and riffs, they arrived at a true multi-media experience that pre-dated dance music - and its drug culture - by a good 20 years. They have since been acknowledged by leading remixers, who have queued up to work with them.
A very English eccentricity about the band has resulted in some curious collaborations, most recently with Page Three superstar turned HM singer and reality-show contestant Sam Fox, TV and radio personality Matthew Wright, hiccupping new-wave vocalist Lene Lovich and The God Of Hellfire himself, Arthur Brown.
Hawkwind’s long, vivid and in some parts glorious back catalogue stands as a testament to their continuing adventurousness. Clearly unwilling to dwell in the time warp inhabited by sad old hippies, they have paid attention to the successive trends in music and today insist that any new recruit must know his or her way around a computer program.
In conclusion, it must be said that various former members have paid a high price for their lives in music. Some stopped playing altogether, some picked up the bottle, some crashed out on the wrong sort of drugs, some lost their health, some lost their families, some cracked up completely and, in the worst possible outcome, the gifted young designer Barney Bubbles committed suicide.
“This is Hawkwind. . . Do Not Panic” blared the album title. Certain individuals might have appreciated slightly different advice: This is Hawkwind. . . approach with caution.
Carol Clerk – tMx 30 – 05/07
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