Dr Rock Goes Intergalactic: An Interview With Hawkwind's Dave Brock
, January 6th, 2011 09:55
Dr Rock talks to Dave Brock of Hawkwind about Lemmy's speed addiction and sex with androids
This week Dr Rock goes in search of all things intergalactic, cosmic, out of this world and downright rockin'. And who better to ask than the world's number one 'space cadet' and self proclaimed captain of the now 40 year old 'SS Hawkwind', Dave Brock? Ship ahoy, long may the search into the unknown continue. All Hail!!!
Hawkwind classics like In Search Of Space and Doremi Fasol Latido still sound really fresh inspiring now, almost 40 years after they came out. Why do you think that is?
Dave Brock: Because of my brilliant guitar playing, of course! [Laughs] No, but seriously, through our style of playing, I would say. It's like listening to the old blues musicians; a lot of them have fantastic styles. Over the years we got put into that niche of space rock music, and we have a good style of playing.
Please tell me about your name. You initially called yourselves Famous Cure and then, for your first gig, you were called Group X. What made you change it to Hawkwind?
DB: Famous Cure was a band I had in 1967. We toured Holland in a psychedelic circus so we were travelling around in caravans. But all that fell apart and I went back to England and then formed Hawkwind. It was initially called Group X because we didn't have a title. We then called it Hawkwind Zoo and then our manager said, 'drop the Zoo bit' and so we were called Hawkwind. That's how that came about.
You've been hailed as the original space rock band. Where did that sound come from?
DB: I suppose prior to getting the band together I would already dabble away with my electric guitar, using tape loops. But years before to all that, Les Paul, the great innovator, was using tape loops, playing duets with himself. He really did some fantastic things and that was in the beginning of the 1950s.
So I guess the sound came from listening to early stuff like that and getting a bit experimental, working on loops. I'd play a harmonica and loop the sounds, using old tape machines. It would progress from there and then we got the band together and we had Dik Mik who played audio generator. And Dell [Dettmar] had an EMS synthesizer and I used to have one as well. And then we went into electronic weirdness with our echo units and there you go, that's where space rock has come from.
How could you afford all that electronic gear?
DB: Audio generators were really cheap, actually. On Tottenham Court Road you used to get all these electronic shops that would sell oscilloscopes and tuning waves. And with an echo unit you just get all the oscillators to go along and there you go.
In terms of lyrics, what inspired you back then?
DB: We used to read quite a lot of science fiction books and watch old sci-fi films; they're great for getting ideas of futuristic cities. You could make some really good stories up through that - space travel, sex with androids, stuff like that. We've done stage shows based on those sorts of things. People like a bit of escapism. We'd all love to go into space really, wouldn't we? I doubt we'll ever see it happening.
You and one of the founding members of Hawkwind, Nik Turner, had a falling out once he started recruiting ex-members of Hawkwind and putting them on the road also under the Hawkwind moniker. What went on there?
DB: We actually did some tours of America - things were going very well and Nik decided he could jump on the bandwagon and formed an American band and called it Hawkwind. Consequently promoters didn't know who was who, so our manager took him to court over it all. Thing is, this probably happens all the time. People come in and out of the band and maybe they work with us for a few years and then they go off and might be driving a lorry or something odd, be a van driver for 15 years and then think, "Fucking hell, I don't want to do this, I'll form a band and call it Hawkwind" [laughs].
Please tell me about Lemmy's stint with the band. How did he get to join?
DB: It was Dik Mik actually. Lemmy was a friend of his and he said he'd discovered this bass player and he's much better than Dave Anderson - we had this guy Dave Anderson playing with us, from Amon Düul. The thing with Lemmy was he was a guitarist... it's quite a strange thing. I'm a guitarist but I can play bass runs on the guitar and Lemmy could do the same thing so when Lemmy'd be playing his bass runs, I'd be playing similar things on the guitar. That's why we used to get on so well together, doing our 'duet' [laughs]. Funnily, I got a text from Lemmy only the other day. We text each other, you know. But yeah, he was actually in the band for four years.
And he famously sung on 'Silver Machine', right?
DB: That's right. Bob Calvert and me wrote 'Silver Machine' and he sung it. None of us could do it actually, it was late at night and we'd all cleared off, Lemmy decided he'd do it and when we came back he'd put his vocal on it, it sounded fine, so that was that.
Why did Lemmy get the sack at the time?
DB: Well, we'd be on tour and Lemmy was into taking speed back then and unfortunately, if you're up for a few days you usually fall asleep for a long time afterwards. So Lemmy was always being late, we'd be leaving the hotel for the next gig and there's no Lemmy downstairs. 'Now where is he? What, still upstairs, in bed, asleep? We're going to miss our flight'. When we were in the States, touring in the 70s, travelling from one city to another by aeroplane, playing in large places... we were living the high life, actually, and Lemmy's habit used to piss everybody off. It becomes mountains out of molehills quite often.
When we crossed the Canadian border, Lemmy was asleep and they decided to search him. Our manager had said 'make sure you don't have anything on you' and of course he got pulled at the border. We had this gig in Toronto we had to do the next day and it didn't look like Lemmy was going to be allowed into Canada. We had to get Paul Rudolph who used to play in a band called Pink Fairies to fly out and replace Lemmy. So at the time Nik Turner called this band meeting and said, 'Look, I've had enough of Lemmy always being late'. It was like 'majority ruled the day', really. And that was the way it was unfortunately. But look where he is now, he's sort of made it. He's even got his own film now, it's called Lemmy, The Movie and I believe it's on release at this instant. I'm in it too. But I ain't got the faintest clue what I'm doing in it [laughs]. I've not seen it yet.
You just mentioned Dave Anderson from Amon Düul playing with Hawkwind. How much of an influence was the Krautrock scene in general to you?
DB: We really loved Can. They're a wonderful band and we played a few dates with them, and we always used to listen to them. We'd do tours of Germany and there'd always be lot of really interesting bands around then like Neu!.
And what about Kraftwerk, did they influence you at all?
DB: Yeah, I remember they had a song called 'Ruckzuck' - a lovely track that, with flute and synthesizers. I had them all, these albums, and I still have them all here. There was another band called Fifty Foot Hose, they were an American band... another band was called Silver Apples. I think it was in 1966 that I saw them, they had banks of oscillators and the other band Fifty Foot Hose were using audio generators with weird guitar sounds... really interesting.
Were you at all politically motivated in the early days?
DB: Well, we weren't peace-loving hippies, really. We did lots of benefits for various organisations. We're still quite up there. We have to be because of the music and the words of the songs, people read them and sometimes they get ideas like save the world from them. The new album we got is called Blood Of The Earth which is the lava that comes out of the volcano which turns to rock and stone and gets wittered away by the water, you know what I mean. So stuff like that makes people think 'let's try and do something sometime'.
Your song 'Urban Guerrilla' caused a bit of a stir when it came out because of IRA bombings at the time, right?
DB: But if you read the words, it's exactly the same as what's going on now. Nothing really has changed. It's a slow process, change.
Which, in your opinion, has been definitive Hawkwind line-up?
DB: Well, there's been a few because you've got different musicians that are talented doing different things. You could pick and chose. We had Ginger Baker who's one of the world's top drummers playing with us. Huw Lloyd Langton comes and plays with us still; Huw was in the band in the 70s. We still have these characters that occasionally come and jam with us. So I couldn't really say what would be the best one.
Talking about all these legends, I hear you used to busk with Eric Clapton before you'd started Hawkwind?
DB: No, that's not true. I used to busk in the streets of London but Eric didn't do that [laughs]. I think I might have played outside one of his concerts at the Albert Hall.
But yeah, in the early days I used to play blues guitar and Eric didn't have a guitar. We used to sit there and I would show a few chords to him, 'off you go' and then he'd have his guitar, we used to sit there playing together. I've got some photographs from then.
Did you first get your ideas for Hawkwind songs when you were busking?
DB: It was a bit different then because you can't really experiment that much when you're playing cinema queues. In the subway was quite good because of the echo down there - you could do all these bits when no one was around with the echo going.
For the 40th anniversary gig Samantha Fox came on stage and sung with you, which seems like a bit of an odd pairing. How did you get to know her?
DB: We did a charity thing for Shelter. There were four or five different bands. Tom Jones sung with New Model Army and Sam said she'd like to sing with us so yeah, it was great fun. Really great character, she is.
I bet. And I hear that these days you rehearse where you're living, on a farm in Devon. Is that right?
DB: Yeah, it's an old run down farm with lots of dogs. We've been here for many years now. My mum and dad were here. There have been quite a few people living here on and off.
Your stage shows are quite legendary - you used to have naked dancers and mime artists performing with you. Is that still part of the act these days?
db: We have two lovely dancers working with us now and hopefully we still create an entertaining spectacle [laughs].
After 40 years with the band, have you ever had moments were you felt like packing it all in?
DB: Yes, many a time, really.
So what's kept you going over the years?
DB: Well, I never thought I would be doing this now still. Playing in a band, you only think it's going to go on month-by-month and then as you get well known you do tours and suddenly you got a tour booked up for next year. You think 'what's going to happen the year after?' Well, you never know. And different people come and go, it's like a ship with a crew on board and I'm the captain. Bob Calvert and I, we're like the two commanders in charge of the ship.
But yeah, there's ups and downs all the time. After all these years, there's bad and there is good and really I could be dismal but there's lots of wonderful things that have occurred. I tend to look on the happy side of it all. It's not a bad old life. It's been a bit of a struggle making ends meet. We've been in some terrible scrapes of the scenes but overall we enjoy doing what we're doing, it's alright, you know.
Hawkwind's new album Blood Of The Earth is out now on Eastworld Recordings.