Hawkwind's Bluebird show has been canceled. Consolation: Here's a chat with Dave Brock
If you're a Hawkwind fan, we've got a good news/bad news scenario for you: The good news is we've got a great interview with Dave Brock in which he talks about Lemmy. The bad news is that we did the interview in anticipation of the band's upcoming show at the Bluebird Theater on Thursday, March 20, which like the outfit's previous date at the Gothic Theatre that was scrapped, has been canceled (refunds are available at point of purchase), with no new date confirmed. Eh, well, all is not lost. Continue on to read our interview in its entirety.
Hawkwind has not just been a pioneering band of space rock, but since its inception in the late '60s, the group has been an influence on psychedelic rock and punk, cited as a favorite by members of the Sex Pistols and Jello Biafra. The legendary band established itself as an unforgettable live act early on, and the enduring document of that time -- and of space rock, generally -- is 1973's Space Ritual and the single "Silver Machine."
Toward the end of the '70s, Hawkwind introduced more synthesizers into its sound and became early adopters of a synthesis of psychedelic rock and ambient soundscaping. But its fantastical vision of a future of human exploration of inner and outer space, both bright and dark, has sustained a continuous evolution of the band's music and storytelling.
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Hawkwind last played in Colorado in the mid '90s at the Fox Theatre. We recently had the rare opportunity to speak with sole original member and founder, Dave Brock. The good humored singer and guitarist discussed working with Michael Moorcock, being banned for life from the Glastonbury Festival and how Hawkwind occasionally still plays shows with the band's most famous former member, Lemmy.
Westword: You were touring playing Warrior On the Edge of Time?
Dave Brock: Yeah, that's what we've been doing over here.
You put that album out in 1975, and you worked with science fiction and fantasy writer Michael Moorcock, who also worked with Blue Oyster Cult, on lyrics for that album. How did you come to work with him?
It's because we used to live in Notting Hill Gate, which is part of London. Michael lived there, and we used to, in those days, eat in a café called The Mountain Grill, a very cheap, old workman's caff, and next to it was a big flyover, and underneath there, we used to quite often put free gigs on. We used to play underneath this noisy, dusty old place. Michael used to wander up and down Portobello Road, and he would see us, and he decided he would recite some poetry with us, and that's how we got to know him.
What was it about the Eternal Champion character that inspired you to do a later album with him with Elric as the focus on 1985's The Chronicle of The Black Sword?
I mean it's very similar to British history, actually. It's like old legends. If you really read up on British legends there's lots of dragons and people with magic swords and magic spears. There's a whole history of weird things. It's like Lord of the Rings, really. That's really it. The sword and sorcery and the space influence, and that's what we did.
The show we're doing now is like Elric because they are parallels in story line. [Mr.] Dibbs sings a lot on this tour, Richard [Chadwick], our drummer sings, and Niale [Hone], too. With a little bit of practice, you never know. We might turn into the Beach Boys. You can see it all on YouTube by searching for "The Demented Man" and "Stamford."
For the Chronicle of the Black Sword tour in the '80s you had elaborate stage props. Have you been using that sort of thing on the current tour?
No, for America, it [was going to be] more difficult because we have a lot of people that work for us. Unfortunately, the American tax, for artists coming over to America, is a real struggle. We are not a great, rich band by any means, and over here, we can do it, but in the States, we obviously have to cut down because we can't bring everybody with us. Hopefully we'll have the light show and the storyline will work with the light show. That's life. You never know. As we get older we could become big stars playing big stages and put these epic stage shows on.
One could hope but probably not.
I'd better get a move or else it might be too late.
You also worked with Moorcock on songs for 1977's Quark, Strangeness and Charm. The album title obviously refers to the taxonomy of subatomic particles. But also on that album you have a song called "Damnation Alley" that is a nod to Roger Zelazny and "High Rise," which is also the name of one of J.G. Ballard's best novels. Did you ever get to work with them or approach working with those guys?
No. We used to read a lot of science fiction books. Music is an art form, and it's quite a good way you can read stories and put them to music and put them into a stage show. We get influenced by what we read and we look to the future quite often.
Is there anything you've been reading lately that has been inspiring your newer music?
Actually, there is. It's a short story called "The Machine Stops" by E.M. Forster from 1909. It's a wonderful story, and we thought, "Wow, how could a guy visualize what's happening now then?" It's amazing how these characters can visualize the future. It's a great concept when you think about it -- good minds are thinking about what's going to happen that they will never see in their lifetime. Same with us. So many things we see on film would never happen in our lifetime. Unfortunately, the world is slow. Look at what's going on in the Middle East? A lot of countries are locked into medieval structures still.
If Hawkwind is not the original space rock band, it's certainly one of the earliest of those. In the mid '70s, were you becoming influenced by Krautrock bands in your rhythms?
Well, no. We weren't influenced by the German bands because we were doing that anyway in the '60s. In the '60s, I had a couple of psychedelic rock bands, and we toured in Holland doing psychedelic freak out shows in a big circus tent. We were doing sort of music like that in that setting. Obviously, Hawkwind did similar sort of stuff. We toured with Can, and I wrote the sleeve notes for Neu!'s first album. It's like the origins of dance music doing those riffs and stuff like that. It was the origins of dance and trance. But then it was called "Very boring." Now it's fantastic.
By the time of Quark, Strangeness and Charm, the sound of the band had shifted a bit away from the heavier rock sound you had on earlier albums. But do you feel that started a bit with Warrior On the Edge of Time?
It's a strange old band. You've got to remember there were different musicians within the band, and everybody gives a little bit of influence on what's going on. When Bob [Calvert] and me formed the Hawklords in 1978. Our idea was to do Metropolis -- a show based on the Fritz Lang film. Which had six dancers and a big light show and a big truck with all this scaffolding.
It was really expensive. We had this fantastic idea, and halfway through the tour, we were losing money because the cost of running it was really high. So we had to get rid of three of our dancers and cut the whole thing down. We're versed in theater and doing festivals, and we've had a circus act where there's fire eating and a trapeze and all these sorts of weird stuff we've gone through all these years.
Simon House used to play a Mellotron in the band. Is that something you were able to bring with you on tour?
I think we did. It's like an old Hammond Organ -- quite a heavy machine. It took four blokes to carry the thing. I do believe Simon did bring it. It was white, and it was a heavy thing to carry around. I think we did for a while, but nowadays you just carry a computer.
Did Lemmy play on an album after Warrior On the Edge of Time?
No, that was Lemmy's last album. We were doing the tour in the States then, and we had two drummers, and that's when all that happened when we went to Canada.
Has he ever expressed interest in playing with you again?
Oh, we do. We play quite often. We play odd festivals together if we're in the same place at the same time. I would think Lemmy would come play with us in Los Angeles. He has played with us quite often, but he hasn't been playing so much recently, as you probably know.
So no hard feelings between you two?
No, but we shouldn't have actually toured Lemmy and had a bit of a rest. But that's life. That's the rock and roll business, pushing onwards and falling over the cliff!
On "Assault and Battery," you quote Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Psalm of Life."
Yes, "Lives of great men remind us." How true is that? I used to read a lot of poetry, actually. And I've written a lot of poetry over the years and occasionally do now. It's great to actually read poems. It's a dying art, it seems. Maybe it'll come back.
Who are some of your favorite poets?
Actually a guy called [Francis] Brett Young wrote some fantastic stuff in the '40s. At the moment, I'm reading a bit about the Maya and the Toltecs in Meso America -- which is totally irrelevant to poems.
What is it about that culture that draws you in?
I do read a lot about history and tribal cultures because Britain is a very tribal country still. There's a lots of hill forts and stuff like that. I was talking to a professor who works at Stonehenge three days ago. It's always regarded as the dark ages, but it's not. It's only religion that made it the dark ages. But we're talking two thousand years ago. Anyway I'm not going to keep going on about things like that.
Speaking of Stonehenge and ancient stone monuments in Britain, presumably Hawkwind has played at the Glastonbury Festival.
We actually headlined it. We played at the very beginning, the first one. We headlined there again in 1980, and we played there in 1989 and got banned forever. In 1989, we were very naughty boys, and we played at five o'clock in the morning and got everybody up. Apparently Mike Eavis even lost his license because we were making so much noise. Then we got banned. We were playing in a traveler's field. It wasn't part of the festival. It's pretty well documented, but we haven't really been asked about that since.
I don't like really big festivals. Too big. Too commercial. I like small festivals, family oriented. We run our own. Not far from here is Beautiful Days Festival in a lovely valley run by a band called the Levelers. It's maybe twenty thousand people but it's a really lovely festival.
You haven't played in the U.S. recently -- or at least you don't play here regularly.
No, we don't come there regularly. It's a hard place to get into. It's hard to get into the Land of the Free. Especially applying for a work visa. You have to go for an interview; you have to have your fingerprints taken. You have to queue up at seven in the morning and any metal objects are taken off of you. It's like going through an airport terminal. It's quite difficult to sit and wait for your number to be called out and then have your fingerprints taken, your photograph taken and then they decide if they really want you to come to their wonderful country. So you can understand why there's a great reluctance for anybody to come over there.
Do you feel that you've heard your influence on later psychedelic rock bands?
Yes, quite often. They've done wonderful things. I mean in a way. Just like in the jazz world, it's a nice thing.
The current line-up of the band, what do you think each of them brings to the group now?
It's the longest-standing line-up actually. Richard has been in the band for 25 years. But everybody gives little bits and pieces to what's going on. It's a happy band. Lots of bands have had different line-ups at different times, and that's the way it is. It makes it interesting sometimes. Some people get bored with what we do, and they go on and do something different, but that's life.
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