Sunday, 20 November 2016
Hawkwind: Sonic Assassins (Extract 1)
Here's the first in a series of extracts from the newly revised and updated version of Hawkwind: Sonic Assassins, which is available as an eBook from 23rd November 2016 and which should be out as a physical print edition in early 2017. This extract is from the chapters following on from the original edition, which ended with the band preparing to release the Take Me To Your Leader album.
I visited the band for interviews for the first edition of this book while work was ongoing for Take Me To Your Leader. The first time I met Dave and Kris, we’d had lunch at a local pub, in lovely warm spring sunshine, conducting the initial interview for the project, largely focused on Dave’s early career. Afterwards, I was thrilled to be invited back to the farm, to see where the band rehearsed and recorded, and to meet Alan Davey and Richard Chadwick. I sat at their kitchen table and Kris talked about a request they’d had for Dave to appear on a radio show with a presenter who’d claimed – and they were sceptical about this – to be a Hawkwind fan of longstanding. Should they take up this one, they wondered? “Well,” I said, “It’s all publicity, isn’t it?” The radio presenter in question was Matthew Wright, now known for his long-running TV series, The Wright Stuff, who has since become a firm friend of the band.
“It was a Saturday morning show on LBC Radio,” Matthew recalls. “The producer was very new to radio and didn’t really know what she was doing, and I’d got a bit frustrated because in radio the producer does a lot of background work for you, so you can just rock up and sound like you know everything off the cuff. They make everything easy; she struggled but she came up with one brilliant idea which was to get Matthew off her back she’d fill the show with people Matthew would like to interview. She’d rather cunningly extracted stories of my life, down the pub after the Saturday sessions, and Hawkwind came up, and Gong, and over the year and a half I did the show Daevid Allen came on, and Dave Brock. Dave Brock was the pinnacle of it all, really. I mean, Hawkwind have had big periods, less big periods, but they are internationally renowned still to this day. To have the main man turn up on your relatively small beer radio show was an honour. The first thing I thought when he came through the door: ‘Fucking hell! It’s Dave Brock.’”
That claim to be a fan of longstanding was totally true. “At school there was one guy who was the least likeliest bloke to get into spacerock; he was the cross-country champion for the school, he ran for Surrey, he was a nice bloke… and he obviously had very advanced musical tastes because he was listening to Warrior on the Edge of Time at, what, ten, eleven. So, I was hearing it then but didn’t quite get the bug, but then picked up the Masters of the Universe compilation on cassette, with it going round and round, and me getting hooked in, without realising what I was getting hooked into. Then eventually I committed myself, shall we say, to a path of internal experimentation and started to get a grip on what Hawkwind were all about, and they started to get a proper grip on me. On my 21st birthday Hawkwind were playing a venue right in the middle of Exeter and a mate of mine who I knew from university smuggled a note back stage, would they read out a dedication to Matthew Wright, it’s his 21st birthday. And, fucking hell, Dave Brock did it! That was the first time I got close to spaceship Hawkwind [laughs]. But here I am on my radio show and it’s the first time I’ve come face-to-face with him. I was just blown away, met Kris, and they were both charming. Sat down and did the interview and Dave is as revealing as Dave can be, knocking back the trickier questions and trying not to sound too bored with the ones he’s answered a million times before. In between we’re playing Hawkwind tracks and talking about albums; I think we had Hall of the Mountain Grill on and I’m singing along to ‘You’d Better Believe It’ and he says, ‘You know it better than I do!’. Went through a few more lyrics and he was, ‘you really do know it better than I do…’. Literally the next line was, ‘do you fancy doing a gig with us?’.”
That gig would be at the London Astoria for the band’s Christmas gig of 2004. For most of the year the band had settled into its early 90s trio configuration, since Simon House had once again departed, as had Arthur Brown, who’d continued to make appearances with the group until the summer of 2003. But a new texture to the sound was starting to be added by the recruitment of Jason Stuart on keyboards, who’d previously played with Captain Rizz and was bringing in a totally new dimension with jazz-led piano sounds that turned things around on a sixpence again and offered another new index of possibilities.
“That was always going to happen,” Alan recalls. “Jason lived in Honiton, where Dave and I did as well, and he was such a nice chap to have around and have a laugh with. As soon as we thought about looking for another keyboard player it all went straight to Jason, really. I knew him a few years before Dave and Kris did, because he used to live in London and I’d go and see a friend there and he was always around. There’s nothing bad to be said about that guy, nothing at all.”
“Jason was in Captain Rizz’s band, years and years ago,” says Dave, “so our paths crossed quite often. We asked him quite a few times if he’d like to come and have a jam with us but he was always too shy, believe it or not! He was an over-the-top character, but quite shy within himself. But we eventually persuaded him to come and play here, and it was wonderful, such a good keyboard player, and a nice character. He had a good style of playing, which suited him well. I used to see him twitching sometimes, when he’d hit the odd bum note… I’d look over and see his eye twitching, ‘Oh, you heard it!’ Jason played at my mum’s funeral, ‘When the Saints go Marching In’, on the organ, in church, jazzed it up a bit!”
What Jason Stuart brought to the band invigorated the captain of the ship, as Matthew Wright, who got to know Jason well, describes: “Jason and Dave really clicked. Dave needs people to write with, he’s generated his best work when he writes with someone, Turner stuff, Calvert stuff, he’s always liked to have a writing partner. I think that with Jason he found someone who was extremely gifted musically, a great improviser on keyboards and if you are a musician’s musician, as Dave is, you want someone who is fantastic on the keyboards. So, they were having a wonderful time writing stuff together, and they had a wonderful, warm, relationship. Jason was one of my favourite people that I ever met, he never took life too seriously, always had a smile on his face, and if you can imagine that life on the road can get very emotional and difficult, touring can be tough and when tensions are at their highest and everyone is wired and paranoid you had this bugged-eyed and balding lunatic, Jason, in front of you, who never took anything very seriously and was a good diffuser of tensions within the band and a fantastic laugh.”