With a gig coming up in Leeds on the 16th March, it’s a good excuse to look briefly at the career of this iconic band.
In more than forty-five years as a band, Hawkwind have passed through many incarnations and fifty-plus members. With luminaries such as Lemmy, Michael Moorcock and Ginger Baker, they have created their own genre and become sui-genris to the point where it is worth catching any of the spin-offs, be it Hawklords, Space Ritual, Sonic Assassins or another incarnation. Legends build up around this band – strange events at free-festivals, Stonehenge, Stacia the topless dancer, Michael Moorcock’s space odysseys, the second generation of free-festivals, the late-eighties New Age traveller scene, Lemmy being thrown out for his reckless drug use (hard to believe in a band like this), Nik Turner being sacked for blowing freeform sax on top of everyone else (there’s a limit to anarchy, you know….) and intercine battles over who owns Hawkwind.
The answer to ‘who owns it’ is, legally, Dave Brock, following legal battles with erratic sax-man, Nik Turner, who tours with Hawkwind material. The other answer is that you own it – so much has entered into rock folklore that the band have become a constant counter-offer to whatever ephemeral scene is passing through. Now 75, Brock formed the band in 1969 as a busker. The next nearest original member is new-boy, Richard Chadwick, with a mere twenty-seven years membership, drummer since 1988. Other members have been around since 2007/8, a mere flicker of time in the Hawkwind universe, yet longer than the career of many other groups. And it is a universe with its own mythology – the only other band that comes close is Gong, with a parallel world of pixies and flying teapots. Hawkwind have spaceships and orgone accumulators. Whilst there is an element of material audiences will always want to hear (think the classic Space Ritual live album and sole hit single, Silver Machine), the band never stopped – they’ve kept working up new sets and changing with the times through new eras. The common core is a simple space rock, basic churning cosmic boogie but the lyrical flavours and colours shift. It fuses basic rock music with electronics and is about the closest a British band has come to Krautrock. The band currently have electronics, cello, samples alongside the traditional guitar, bass and drums and are more of a concept and legacy than a collection of individuals.
Fitting then, that they are playing Leeds University Refectory. Currently underused, it has seen thousands of bands pass through. The Who recorded Live At Leeds there and everyone from U2 to Muse to The Stranglers to Bob Marley to Led Zep have played, alongside bands we’d prefer to forget (sorry, Idlewild and Funeral For A Friend…). The balcony has been swung from by Bono and Johnny Borrell, sweat has percolated back off the ceiling for Ash and The Clash. Hawkwind’s prog and psychedelic rock has remained a constant through all those bands and eras, defining a particular sort of Englishness, a counter-culture alternative history of different ways of thinking and being. You never quite know what you might see – you know what the sound will be, but the band have used film, actors, mime, dancers, circus performers, to surprise crowds so Leeds is unlikely to disappoint.
Tickets are still available for 16/3/2017 at Leeds University Union