jump to navigation

Hawkwind… October 31, 2020

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
trackback

Sometime in the very early 1980s I was having a conversation with the friend of a friend about music. I mentioned that I liked Hawkwind which drew a response along the lines ‘they just sound like Pink Floyd’.

Did they really sound like Pink Floyd? Possibly so on a number of tracks in the early 1980s (most clearly to my mind on the album Levitation where Ginger Baker was on drums). But their approach, energy and so on was quite different to Floyd (a band I’m not overly fond of to be honest).

I’ve long argued, and rockroots too, that the Ladbroke Grove scene of the early 1970s which included Hawkwind, the Pink Fairies and others was a much more radical proposition than many of its contemporaries, so it is good to read this in the Guardian (which SonofStan picked up on too)…news of a new book (the first edition sold out in the blink of an eye, I’m waiting to see when the second arrives)…

This is Hawkwind in all their scuzzy, interstellar glory, the underground’s biggest band promoting their new single – less than a year later, and with a million copies of it sold, they’ll be headlining Wembley. It tends to be forgotten just how big this band of west London renegades were in the 1970s, playing to audiences of thousands wherever they went. They’re misremembered now, and were often misrepresented at the time, but as I discovered when writing a book about them, Hawkwind’s story amounts to an alternative narrative for 70s music culture – very different to the one that’s lazily trotted out by scene historians.

The idea they were hippies was understandable but incorrect:

a quick listen to their legendary 1973 live album Space Ritual should immediately disabuse anybody of that notion, a ferocious torrent of noise and “a black fucking nightmare” (as Lemmy, the man who sang Silver Machine, memorably put it), where Hawkwind channel the paranoid, apocalyptic vibe of the 70s more convincingly than any of their contemporaries.

In part because they had a fascination with the future.

In fact, while prog rock bands such as Emerson, Lake & Palmer thought they were reinventing popular music by aligning it more closely with the classical canon, Hawkwind were genuinely future-facing and completely unbothered by ideas of tradition or authenticity. Michael Moorcock, the firebrand science-fiction author who often appeared with the band, described them as “barbarians with electronics”, unafraid of technology and what it could do. We wouldn’t bat an eyelid these days at a band that featured avowed “non-musicians”, but Hawkwind’s lack of interest in virtuosity irked the music press, who routinely criticised them for “bashing their riffs around for several minutes on end with no appreciable textural variation” (per the NME).

Across a career where they’ve released 33 studio albums, 11 live albums proper (none of which I’ve listened to), and a raft of compilations, around 34 albums of unissued archive materials, live cuts and so on plus sundry others they’ve been great, good, bad and indifferent in varying measures, often on the same album – unfortunately at times within the same song.

But somehow the mixture of guitars, electronica (though we surely didn’t call it that back in the day), punk, heavy rock and so on has remained – well… potent (indeed mentioned them in This Weekend some time back).

Now largely forgotten are their links with motorik and new wave, more well known is their proto-punk aspect (it helped that Lemmy sang and played bass with them prior to starting Motorhead) and clearly there’s the way in which they easily aligned with rave culture, adopting elements of trance to their sound, albeit for a band who reveled in electronica almost from the off that was no great ask. In 1989 Bridget Wishart came onboard as lead vocalist for a couple of years. As to their concerns, well spacerock is an all embracing sort of an area, but with a lyrical focus on science fiction, particularly new wave science fiction of the 1960s and after no surprise that they would tap Ballard amongst others. Or that – as noted here – the Cold War would feature prominently. But then this is a band so wedded to ‘free festivals’ being free that…

Ironically, Hawkwind’s commitment to playing free festivals made it difficult for them to reconcile with the fact that Glastonbury was now a paying one, so while they did appear in later years, they did so unofficially, playing for free in the “travellers’ field” (Clerk, 2004, p. 241). Clearly though, these aspects of their performing career can be set against the backdrop of the Cold War, and serve to highlight the interaction between popular culture and then-current concerns.

There was also an interesting class aspect – this from the Guardian article:

The press also characterised the band’s audience as dyed in the wool hippies “replete with grubby Afghan jackets”, said Melody Maker – but they couldn’t have been more wrong. While there would certainly be plenty of greatcoats at their gigs, Hawkwind’s core fanbase were young working-class men, unimpressed by the pseudo-classicism of prog and bored by rock elders such as the Stones and the Who. They came to experience something they couldn’t get anywhere else.

With a range of people in their orbit – indeed practically in the band, including Michael Moorcock and Barney Bubbles (whose influence on New Wave and post-punk design only became appreciated in the last decade more widely) and a changing line-up that saw people like Nik Turner, Robert Calvert and others leave and return and leave and return but which somehow managed to keep them invigorated it’s hardly surprising that they had an influence well beyond their supposed comfort zone. Read John Robb’s oral history of British punk and it’s remarkable how often their name crops up.

With their mood of anarchic possibility, Hawkwind gigs were a breeding ground for young punks everywhere, those “dedicated teenagers” coming of age and striking out on their own. John Lydon was a regular presence at their gigs in the early 70s, and was taken under Calvert’s wing at the height of Sex Pistols mania, with the self-proclaimed antichrist attending the singer’s wedding reception. Coming out of the same Ladbroke Grove milieu, Joe Strummer and Mick Jones of the Clash had grown up in Hawkwind’s world, while Brian James and Captain Sensible of the Damned were also fans.

And;

It wasn’t just the noise of Hawkwind that excited and inspired this new generation – though Dave Brock’s distinctive choppy guitar style certainly influenced them – but their attitude as well. Hawkwind showed that you didn’t have to play by the rules of the music industry; you really could do it yourself. As Joy Division and New Order’s Stephen Morris has said: “Punk rock started because in every small town there was somebody who liked Hawkwind.” Rather than just a footnote in the history of punk, Hawkwind are an integral part of its creation story.

There’s an eco-system around them that includes a range of bands like Hawklords, Nik Turner’s various vehicles and so on. Relations between the various camps isn’t necessarily a tribute to peace and love and understanding, though Hawklords and Turner get on well together. Then again across half a century that’s to be expected. But then I doubt back in the early 80s that I ever envisaged a situation in the second decade of the twenty-first century that they and those in that eco-sphere would still be releasing albums…

Comments»

1. sonofstan - October 31, 2020

“the Ladbroke Grove scene of the early 1970s which included Hawkwind, the Pink Fairies and others was a much more radical proposition than many of its contemporaries”

Absolutely.

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - October 31, 2020

Interesting how that history disappeared.

Like

sonofstan - October 31, 2020

Paralleled by the occlusion of the New York counterculture of the 60s – the Fugs, Holy Modal Rounders, etc. – by the west coast maybe?

Like

WorldbyStorm - October 31, 2020

Yeah very true and what survived or prospered tended to be much diluted with its radical elements shorn away.

Like

sonofstan - October 31, 2020

Yes, exactly. The political radicalism gets filtered out and you’re left with whimsy.

Like

2. FergusD - October 31, 2020

Saw them in 71 or 72 in rock place near where I lived in the English West Midlands. Needed to be stoned to appreciate them really.

Like

WorldbyStorm - October 31, 2020

Only saw them once in 2000 in Dublin. Enjoyable.

Like

3. gypsybhoy69 - November 2, 2020

Used to go down to Bantry quite a bit in the late 80’s. We used to hang out with a couple of sisters whose family ran the The Ouvane Falls Inn in Ballylickey just outside Bantry. One night IIRC there was a fundraiser for the local ecology party (was that before the Green Party?). The band playing were Nik Turner’s Fantastic All Stars. I had no idea who he was at the time but it was a great gig.

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - November 2, 2020

Now that I would like to have been at!

Like

alanmyler - November 2, 2020

The brother lives in Ballylickie. You weren’t hanging out with Des Geraghty down there by any chance?

Liked by 1 person

gypsybhoy69 - November 4, 2020

No, I doubt Des and I would have been hanging out in the same places. The pub were the gig was on was run by the Pettits and one of the sisters we hung out with is anti bleach campaigner who is harassed by Gemma O’Doherty on a regular basis. Introduced me to the Smiths.

Liked by 1 person

4. sonofstan - November 2, 2020

I think I saw them, or a version thereof, at the Stonehenge free festival, a few years before the cops had a riot against the hippie hordes – the Battle of the Beanfield -and finally ended it. That was a strange environment, and a bit unsettling – there were quite a few freaks for whom long years of drug use had taken a toll, and it was far from entirely peaceful. We’d come from Glastonbury which was, then, a much smaller and more radical event but also much more organised and safer-feeling. That counterculture which later morphed into the new age traveller thing was pretty intensely separate from the straight world and echoes what we were saying earlier regarding the Ladbroke Grove scene.

Liked by 1 person

sonofstan - November 2, 2020

‘a smaller and more radical event’ than it later became, I meant

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - November 2, 2020

Yeah, it surely wasn’t all peace and love. Not by any means.

Like


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: