Page last updated at 08:37 GMT, Friday, 14 August 2009 09:37 UK

Hawkwind's 40-year space trip

By Tim Masters
Entertainment reporter, BBC News


Hawkwind celebrate 40 years of rock

It's one of the hottest days of summer, and the sound of space rock is throbbing across the Devon countryside.

In a converted farm building, veteran rockers Hawkwind are rehearsing for a string of summer festival dates and two special gigs to mark the band's 40th anniversary.

Dave Brock - photo by John Chase
Space rock music is our niche. It's repetitive, relentless riffs with oscillators going up and down.
Dave Brock

They are led by "captain of the ship" Dave Brock - the only original member from 1969.

Today he's in a straw hat, flip-flops and striped trousers, happily tinkering with his guitar and the banks of synthesizers around him.

With him in the sweltering studio are keyboardist Tim Blake (who first joined the band in 1979), drummer Richard Chadwick (who joined in 1988), and relative newcomers bassist Mr Dibs and guitarist Niall Hone.

The Hawkwind studio - a former milking shed - is crammed with memorabilia from the band's four decades: old tour posters, gig tickets and ancient audio generators from the pioneering days of space rock.

There's even a train set in the corner.

Astounding sounds

One of the world's longest-running bands, Hawkwind have undergone countless changes of personnel and musical styles.

Along the way there have been astounding stage spectacles - including the Space Ritual shows - legal battles, bust-ups, reunions, and the untimely deaths of several members.

Former members and collaborators include Motorhead's Lemmy, science fiction writer Michael Moorcook, and ex-Cream drummer Ginger Baker.

Hawkwind are to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their debut gig - played at the All Saints Hall in London's Notting Hill - by performing in two all-day events at the end of this month.

But how much does founder member Dave Brock recall of that first gig on 29 August 1969?

Hawkwind in the early 70s: (l-r) Thomas Crimble, Nik Turner, Dik Mik, Huw Lloyd-Langton, Terry Ollis, Dave Brock
In search of space: Early 70s Hawkwind with Dave Brock (on far right)

"I can't really say that I remember that much, except going on stage and the strobe was going, and we played and everybody was out of it," says Brock, who got Hawkwind together while earning a living as a busker in London.

"It was the end of flower power. We were called Group X at the time. The place itself wasn't very big, it was like a village hall with a wooden stage at the end.

"They had a lightshow with big blobs on the walls, people were in there taking drugs and jumping around and enjoying themselves. And that was the regular happening every week at this place.

"All these characters used to play free - and do 'happenings' - it was a free and easy atmosphere round Ladbroke Grove."

London scene

Another band member who was at that first gig is current keyboardist Tim Blake.

Blake was in charge of the sound desk at the All Saints Hall that night in the summer of '69. A band called High Tide were headlining the weekly band night. A week earlier David Bowie had been on the bill.

"I was setting my sound system up," recalls Blake, "when three individuals arrived and said they'd got this group that was forming and they were desperately looking to play somewhere.

"I knew we didn't have a support act for High Tide so I just took the liberty of saying that's a good idea... and of course what happened, happened.

"Stickers saying 'Hawkwind lives' started appearing all over the London Underground - then The Roundhouse gigs [in Chalk Farm] started quite quickly and there became a London scene."

Blake, who was 17 at the time, later went to France and played with psychedelic band Gong. He did not join Hawkwind until the late 70s.

Group X quickly became Hawkwind Zoo and then Hawkwind, though the original line-up of Dave Brock, Nik Turner, Mick Slattery, John Harrison, Dik Mik and Terry Ollis didn't stay unchanged for long.

The rapid turnover of the band's personnel was to continue throughout the next four decades resulting in some 50 different members - including a statuesque dancer called Stacia.

Some ex-members from those early days have gone on to form their own space rock bands - still active today.

Ship's captain

Matthew Wright with Dave Brock
TV presenter Matthew Wright (pictured) is a fan and has performed and recorded with the band
Bassist Lemmy sang on hit single Silver Machine, but was sacked in 1975 and went on to form Motorhead
Bridget Wishart (1989-91) was the band's only female lead vocalist
But former topless model Sam Fox appeared as guest vocalist at Hawkwind's 30th anniversary gig
Sci-fi writer Michael Moorcock has collaborated with the band over several decades
Ex-Cream drummer Ginger Baker played on 1980's Levitation LP
Arthur Brown sang on 2005 album Take Me to Your Leader

"A lot of different members come and go and come back," reflects Dave Brock later as we discuss the history of the band in the garden outside the studio.

"Space rock music is our niche. It's repetitive, relentless riffs with oscillators going up and down. We did a lot of weird stuff, we used to experiment with tape loops, train noises and then play a bit of guitar over the top.

"I think Mike Moorcock summed it up when he said we treated our instruments and music like barbarians."

But what's it been like being the one constant member of the band over such a long period?

"It's incredibly difficult," says Brock. "You're the captain of the ship. In the early days - when you had bad weeks - there was someone else to take over. Bob Calvert [singer/songwriter from the 70s] was always really good.

"But to actually run the band and make sure it's going in the right direction, you do get disliked."

Welcome to the future

Hawkwind 2009 - photo by Melvyn Vincent
Hawkwind 2009: (l-r) Tim Blake, Niall Hone, Dave Brock, Mr Dibs, Richard Chadwick

Meanwhile, the spaceship Hawkwind looks set to continue its voyage, branching out into "Hawkwind Holidays" - where fans get to relax with the band abroad.

Tim Masters gets the lowdown from Hawkwind manager Kris Tait about a line of 'Hawkwind holidays'.

And recording is under way for the as-yet-untitled 25th Hawkwind studio album, due for release in 2010.

Expect the space rock themes to continue: new songs include Prometheus, Wraith and Sentinel.

"It's all still there," says Brock. "Space and politics and love."

"And some peace," adds Tim Blake.

The anniversary events will include some ex-members, but are as much about looking to the future, says Brock.

"It's a forward-thinking thing. We don't want to dwell on the past," he says.

Bassist Mr Dibs observes: "The travellers come and go - they get on the ship, they leave the ship."

But how long will the ship keep on going?

Dibs points at Brock: "It'll go on as long as he can."

"There are times," says Dave Brock, shaking his head and smiling. "There are times..."

At which point Hawkwind return to the studio barn, and a sonic attack of synths once again wafts across planet Earth.

Hawkwind's anniversary shows at the Porchester Hall in Notting Hill, London, are on 28 and 29 August. The band's 40th anniversary tour takes place throughout December.

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