Hawkwind: 'It was basically freak-out music'
They created 'space rock', are
probably the most influential British group ever – and prefer picking
raspberries to stardom. Hawkwind explain their 40-year survival
Space cowboys ... Hawkwind. Photograph: Lee Millward
The approach to intergalactic headquarters runs along a narrow lane in Devon,
under the bridge of a railway closed decades ago and through a number of gates
with signs warning that "Our Dogs Bite". There is a carved totem pole in the
garden, and a studio like the Tardis, banked up with electronic equipment and
posters for concerts spanning the four decades since Hawkwind formed. This is
the home world of the band that became a project, the project that became a
tribal gathering, of the tribe that became a great British institution and
probably the most influential group ever in British music, bar the Beatles –
only those under the influence often don't know it. Hawkwind: the band that has
impacted on every "genre", hence the need for a genre all of their own: space
Forty years ago, Hawkwind played their ever first gig, in Notting Hill in
west London. As a local adolescent, it was my first gig, too – and as everyone
knows, the branding iron of a first love leaves a mark like no other. As a
result, I own more Hawkwind music than any other band's; I've seen them play
more than any other band. And tonight and tomorrow, Hawkwind will return to
their old neighbourhood – to Porchester Hall, just up the road from Notting Hill
– to celebrate that anniversary and their own endurance. "I suppose we always
kept that down-to-earthness," says singer-guitarist Dave Brock, "which kept us
sane and kept us in touch with our people. Eating our tea in cafes, kind of
thing, so we never got too big-headed."
At the kernel of Hawkwind is Brock, the band's founder, driving engine and
sole remaining original member. If some 50 musicians have passed through
Hawkwind – some loyal forever, some dead, others leaving acrimoniously – then
"all the more reason for the captain of the ship to keep it afloat", Brock says.
"Because according to the rules, the crew get to bugger off in lifeboats if it
sinks, while the captain stays aboard." He prefers a different analogy: "I love
football, and don't want to compare myself to Arsène Wenger, but it is like
managing a team. And as a team, we are top of our league, even if it's not the
In the mid-60s, like many of his British rock contemporaries, Brock was
hanging around the blues and jazz clubs of west London. But while they
concentrated on getting their Sonny Boy Williamson licks perfect, Brock was at
work with other forces. He worked at a design studio and visited Holland with
his band Famous Cure, and then the embryonic Hawkwind investigated psychedelic
visual effects and electronic experiments in German music. By the time of their
debut gig (billed as Group X) in August 1969, Hawkwind had fused blues, folk,
British symphonic rock and a driving electronic pulse into something of epic
"Well, it was basically freak-out music, wasn't it?" Brock says. "We were
using plenty of LSD, tape loops, repetitive riffs, colours and lights. But I was
still making more money busking. After Don Partridge made that bloody song
called Rosie, everyone wanted a try, and there'd be punch-ups for the cinema
queue pitches in Leicester Square. But at some point Doug Smith [the band's
promoter] had to tell me: 'Dave, either you turn up and play in this group or
you go busking.' So I turned up to play, and that became Hawkwind."
The band became the local fixture in turbulently psychedelic Notting Hill.
They were our local band, carving their own furrow, with politics driving the
music and vice-versa. They became the beacon of the benefit circuit, playing for
the White Panthers, Friends of the Earth, Release and striking coal miners in
1985 – so much so that Brock would tire with band members forever promising his
and everyone else's time: "We had to do something for money, dammit."
Crucially, though, Hawkwind remained the emblematic band of early Glastonbury
and the free festival movement, of the peace convoys and solstice gatherings at
Stonehenge, cut down brutally and bloodily by the police and Thatcher government
at the Battle of the Beanfield in 1985. "I am serious about people's right to
make music and dance where they have made music and danced for centuries," Brock
says. "We are tribal, and want our music to be accessible to all ages. That has
been important to me ever since I saw the West Indian bands in Notting Hill,
grandparents and kids, all together. That is what I understand by a music
"We never supported a cause which encouraged violence," says the effervescent
Kris Tait, who joined Hawkwind in the 1980s as one of the famous dancers that
became integral to the shows, and is now Brock's wife and the band's manager.
"Well, we did sometimes," chides Brock. Every attempt to tour America is still
dogged not only by spent marijuana convictions but by the song Urban Guerrilla:
"Let's not talk about love and flowers/ And things that don't explode/ We've
used up all our magic powers / Trying to do it in the road."
But among all this, between the gigs among pagan stones and the
bloody-mindedness and the drugs stories, the music sometimes gets forgotten. So
what is space rock? "Actually," Brock concedes, "although it was simple to play,
it has always been as complicated as you want it to be, and musically there is
rather more there than meets the eye." Space rock, apparently, has energy and
"Ultimately, it is optimistic," says Brock, in comparison to, say, Pink
Floyd, whose music is, "Well, a bit doom-laden, isn't it?" Space rock aligned
itself to the writing of – and performances by – the poet Robert Calvert and
novelist Michael Moorcock. "We were all reading science fiction and after the
first moon landing, exploring the idea that everything could change," says
Brock. "We were taking LSD, and the journey outward was also an inner journey, I
Crucial to Hawkwind's endurance has been the group's ability to connect with
successive generations – "The audiences are now younger than ever," says Tait.
Rather than try to keep up with the underground music of the time, Hawkwind have
tended to prefigure it. Punk and grunge listened attentively (John Lydon was a
dedicated fan; Mudhoney have covered Urban Guerrilla). Hawkwind were gurus to
the trance generation, both musically and philosophically – pioneers in both
electronic exploration and the connection between ancient ley lines and
psychotropic technology, so much so that the Orb recorded a tribute called
Orbwind. From 2002, as the raves subsided (just as the free festivals had years
earlier), Hawkwind began their annual Hawkfests, "which was a way," says Brock,
"of carrying on free festivals as a membership occasion, just as you might hold
a gathering of custom car enthusiasts. They are membership occasions, though the
idea is to stay accessible – there's no backstage at a Hawkfest."
The band emerges from the studio to join us. "I'm one of those people who
loved Hawkwind before I knew who they were," says the bassist, Mr Dibs. "I was
into the Buzzcocks and Joy Division, but was given a tape of Hawklords [a
pseudonym Hawkwind adopted briefly for legal reasons in the late 1970s] without
knowing what it was, and thought 'This is me.' So I was a fan, then a roadie for
12 years and now I'm in the band – a dream come true."
"We create a sound which is our own, whatever music it is," says drummer
Richard Chadwick – at 21 years, the band's longest-serving member apart from
Brock. "The model is the Beatles, in as much as whatever they did – be it the
first heavy metal in Helter Skelter or the first world music on a sitar – the
sound was the Beatles. That's our intention: what you hear is Hawkwind and could
only be Hawkwind, whatever we are playing. I came to Hawkwind through the
anarcho-punk scene of the 1980s, so for me the music is the politics and the
politics is the music, which means not becoming a 'star', but playing what could
only be Hawkwind. If you take this sound to the audience in a stadium or at
Glastonbury as it is now, it will inevitably change. So we survive, with a sense
of decency. I've seen Dave [Brock] turn down those opportunities time and time
again – his own show on MTV, this supergroup or that. And that is how this band
has lasted 40 years in the way it has."
"Yes, there have been plenty of chances to become a star," Brock says. "Just
the other day, they wanted me to get together with Lemmy and that bloke from
Jefferson Starship – Paul Kantner – but I thought, 'Oh Christ, please no.' If I
get pushed into that, they'll push me into something else, then something else.
I've seen people do it, doing it the way someone else wants it, away from their
families, away from home. Some people like it – Lemmy's got his place in Los
Angeles with a pool and that, lives on the road and will die on the road. But
I've got raspberries to pick as well as Hawkwind music to work on. I mean, we
can't play the same old stuff the same every time."
Brock smiles, more to himself than to anyone around the table, and tells the
story about how he found Hawkwind's old red lighting-gear van for sale in Auto
Trader. He bought it – and there it is in the farmyard. "Lots of my friends have
got yachts," he says, "but how many yachts does a person need?"
Then Brock explains what he needs. "First, we bought that field, but we were
still visible, and audible. So we bought that meadow there – and Kris and I
raised horses for a while. Now, we have that piece of woodland, and from the top
of it, there's a sea view, right as far as where my parents retired." The idea
is, clearly, that intergalactic headquarters be as close to sealed off as it
possible to be on this crowded island, and thereby as close as possible to – to
what? Space? Or something Hawkwind are still looking for.
At Porchester Hall, London, tonight and tomorrow (returns only: 0871