Space Rock, Acid Rock, Bizarre Hippy Rock...call them what you will, Hawkwind have been a part of the music scene since...well, since always. Or so it seems. Gigging their way around the country almost constantly, the band have been playing to, delighting, amusing, bewildering and entertaining audiences for over 30 years.
Hawkwind have never been a conventional band. Not over-troubled with commercial success, they have nevertheless been playing and touring in their various guises since 1969.
Their first gig, at the All Saints Hall in Notting Hill, was an impromptu psychedelic jam. So impromptu was it that they actually gate-crashed the gig, announced themselves and took to the stage.
Impressed with what he saw, Doug Smith of "Clearwater Productions" nabbed the band - as yet without even a name to their credit. By November 1969, they'd solved this shortcoming and called themselves Hawkwind Zoo. They'd also recorded a demo tape. The demo tape secured a contract with Liberty Records, the name was shortened to Hawkwind and the great journey began.
The 1970s saw Hawkwind begin to construct their enviable fan base. Playing free gigs at the Isle of Wight festival gained them publicity and fans alike. They hung out and gigged in Notting Hill, which at the time was very much the place to be. They also went with the rock cliché "hard-working band" by gigging almost every day somewhere. Given their very open stance on the use of illegal substances, they attracted a fair bit of attention from the press; the police were likewise interested but the band appears to have managed to stay out of any real trouble.
1970 saw the release of Hawkwind's first album and single but it wasn't until the release of "X- In Search Of Space" in 1971 that the band really began to take off as recording artists. In 1972, they garnered even more interest by playing at The Greasy Truckers Party, which was held at the famous Chalk Farm Roundhouse in London. They also released the single "Silver Machine" which, with minimal airplay, reached number three in the charts. The revenue from this single financed a UK tour that became known as The Space Ritual. A wealth of creative talent, including author Michael Moorcock, contributed to what was to become a truly multimedia show. This barrage of light, sound and experience has since become a hallmark of Hawkwind live shows, making them more an event than a gig.
By 1974, Hawkwind had seemingly cracked the US market and had once more toured the UK, releasing an album a year to back their efforts on the road. However, touring the US and Canada to support the release of "Warrior on the Edge of Time" caused problems. Crossing the border, bassist Lemmy Kilminster was arrested for possession of what customs officials thought was cocaine. He was jailed, Hawkwind were forced to replace him with Canadian Paul Rudolph and went on to complete the tour. As it turned out, the white powder Lemmy had been carrying wasn't cocaine, but Hawkwind sacked him anyway feeling that enough was enough. Lemmy went on to form godfathers of Thrash Metal Motorhead and Hawkwind went back to the UK.
In 1976, Hawkwind signed to Charisma records and Robert Calvert - a gifted, creative and thoroughly eccentric man - became the led vocalist. His influence was quickly felt as the band's style changed. Their live act was enhanced by the manic genius and theatricality of Calvert. Sounding tighter, clearer and more precise, the band released "Astounding Sounds Amazing Music" and toured once more.
1977 saw Hawkwind split up following the end of a US tour. Guitarist Dave Brock reportedly came off stage in California sold his guitar and flew home. As luck would have it Doug Smith was on the same flight and persuaded Brock to reform the band. The Hawklords were born, and lasted until 1979 when the majority of band members left to do other things. Dave Brock and Harvey Bainbridge reverted the band's name to Hawkwind, recruited Simon King, guitarist Huw Lloyd-Langton and synth wizard Tim Blake. The end of the decade saw Hawkwind mount another self-financed tour, with the use of lasers in the live show causing consternation up and down the country. Many local authorities regarded them as potentially dangerous and were concerned at the employment of "death rays" in musical concerts. Hawkwind laughed this off and rode on into the 1980s.
The start of the decade found the band without a record deal and many of the band members getting part time jobs to keep the wolf from the door. Undaunted, they used recordings of their last tour to secure a deal with Bronze Records and produced "Levitation". The album and tour were well received and the legendary Ginger Baker joined the Hawks on drums. The tour expanded, growing daily to include more dates and this took a toll. By 1981, several members had left and the band was a three piece. Desperately in need of a drummer (and another record company) Hawkwind persuaded Martin Griffin to drum and Active Records to support them. Active Records were part of RCA, and it was tension with this company that lead to a split in 1983 and Hawkwind's decision to release future albums through smaller, independent labels.
The 1980s saw the release of some of Hawkwind’s more accessible albums. "Chronicle of The Black Sword", and the stage show that accompanied it, were based on the Elric novels of Michael Moorcock. The release "Live Chronicles" brought that show to the record buying public's attention and is possibility one of Hawkwind's best releases, although due to a dispute with Michael Moorcock the album lacked poems he had written for the show. Hawkwind took this amazing show to the 1987 World Science Fiction convention and stunned a decidedly mixed audience with lights, dancers, music and imagery.
Hawkwind's other habit - a free gig at Stonehenge at the summer solstice - was finally put paid to in 1985. Habitually, the band would turn up and play for several hours - on one occasion they were on stage for 5 hours - but in '85 the actions of the Police ended this tradition. Over 500 arrests were made as Police raided a convoy on the way to the Henge. The free festival was cancelled and there has not been one since.
Hawkwind continue to gig and continue to release (and re-release) music. To date, they have completed over 2000 gigs worldwide and released over 70 albums in one form or another. They show no signs of stopping either; band members come and go (Dave Brock is the only original band member to remain in service into the 21st century), the style of music they put out alters as the influence of band members is felt...but Hawkwind continue their 32-year journey.
Seeing the band is probably best described as "mind expanding". Proponents of psychedelic music, or acid rock, since their formative days, Hawkwind believe in matching images to the music they make. This takes the form of a light show, back projected images, dancers, fire-eaters, performers, smoke, strobes...you name it. The intention appears to be to create an immersive experience for the audience, to drag them into the things happening on stage. Usually, the audience knows what to expect and happily meets the band more than half way; newcomers to the live band can expect to see, hear and feel the performance in a way that will leave them either disoriented and slightly lost or begging for more.
THEMES AND MUSIC
First and foremost, Hawkwind love to experiment and challenge. Often dismissed as a "hippy" band, Hawkwind's output has ranged from the distinctly psychedelic to electronic music incorporating samples. In the late 70's, the band turned out some distinctly edgy music reflecting the rise of Punk. Chameleons, then, the band is most at home having fun with what they do. Hawkwind would also like us to think for ourselves. They often return to themes of personal freedom, exploration of the mind (inner space) or space and time. They have connections with Science Fiction and Fantasy literature, films and other media. They have a formidable history of playing anywhere at any time and this has lead to their back catalogue being eclectic to say the least. They are a band with something to say on a huge variety of topics.
If you are interested in dipping into the band, the following albums will give you a good idea of how they have progressed through the decades. Any one of them might hold something to grab your attention.
- In Search Of Space
- Doremi Fasol Latido
- Warrior On The Edge Of Time
- Chronicle of The Black Sword
- Live Chronicles
- The Xenon Codex
- Electric Tepee
- Alien 4
- In Your Area
Any of the above, plus a number of compilation albums, will be available at record stores.
The more advanced Hawkfan should certainly own "Space Ritual" and "Quark, Strangeness And Charm" which features the demented genius of Bob Calvert.
Hawkwind fans are an odd lot. They range from those who have been into the band since the early days to those who have stumbled over them having heard "Silver Machine" in a recent advertising campaign. They are, for the most part, relaxed and happy folks to be with. Like the band, the fans are perhaps best described as "Mind Expanding".
The band maintain a website called "Mission Control". It is regularly updated and very informative on all aspects of the band. Failing that, go look at the upcoming events at your local music venue or university - they gig everywhere and will get to you eventually.