Legendary space rockers Hawkwind are braved December’s icy blasts to take their incendiary show on the road across the UK. I caught up with driving force Dave Brock.
December 7th 2010
rushonrock: First of all remind us about the name Hawkwind. Where did it come from?
Dave Brock: It was one of those Japanese proverbs, to be the eagle that flies over the mountain or the hawk that flies over the forest. Better to be the hawk that flies over the forest than the eagle that flies over the mountain! People will have to make their own mind up about what it means!
rushonrock: With new release Blood Of The Earth, what did you want to give your cult followers?
DB: A bit escapism, something that’s a bit interesting and different. When you make an album you try to do the next one a bit different, or else it wouldn’t be artistic I suppose! It’s like painting a picture but you’re doing it with music.
rushonrock: Is that how you see music – that an album is a piece of art in itself?
DB: Yeah, I think so. Years ago, Miles Davis brought out this record called Sketches Of Spain. He made this wonderful record and it sold millions of copies and the record company thought ‘great he’s done it, let’s get another one out real quick’, but the next album he did was totally different and they were really pissed off because they wanted him to do another album which was pretty much the same as the one he’d already done. So consequently, I think if you are an artist and a musician and you’re trying to do different things every night, the same thing goes for doing an album.
rushonrock: Are the jazz influences we’ve heard something you consciously merged into your sound on the odd occasion?
DB: When we had Jason, our keyboard player who unfortunately died a couple of years ago now, he used to live a few miles from me. He used to come up here and we used to play a bit of jazz. Jason was a really good jazz keyboard player. So that’s probably why. Over the years I’ve got a huge collection of jazz records, so little bits creep in. When I do my own things by myself I play a bit of piano, not very much and I have to loop it, but I do go off on tangents and do a little free form jazz.
rushonrock: So it comes about in a ‘jam’ almost?
DB: Yeah, I mean it is quite easy to do, although there are bands that are really good at that stuff. It still is an art form really.
rushonrock: There’s a number of dreamy space interludes like Kapel, Elffin and the bonus track Starshine on the new album. Will there always be room for those spacey slower songs?
DB: Yeah, always, because of interest in weird electronic music aswell. I suppose it’s not everybody’s cup of tea whether they really like things like that, but you’re doing things that you like to do. We’ve got our basic style of playing doing Space Rock music, but we like a bit of poetry here and there, and we’ve got our lovely dancers as well who’ve been working with us for around three years now – more now, four years. They’ve been with us quite a long time and they’re really good dancers. They do a lots of weird stuff aswell, so if it wasn’t interesting, they’d go off and do something else!
rushonrock: That’s something you’ve done for a long time now. Alongside the music, have you always wanted to give that extra visual and more theatrical display?
DB: Yeah. Now, with computer graphics, you know how long it takes to fiddle round on a computer doing pictures, but we’ve got a guy who’s working with us who used to play in a band called Krel. He’s a really good graphic designer and the different songs that we’re doing all have a little storyline, some of them science fiction. So, say, for Damnation Alley he’s actually done the whole of the track into graphics so you can watch the whole story unfold. It’s like watching a film! Stuff like that is quite interesting and for an audience it’s still escapism, and a bit daring. But we want to put on a show that’s a bit different and daring.
rushonrock: And that bonus track was partly written by Jason Stewart if we’re not mistaken. His death, obviously a premature tragedy. How did you and the band deal with that?
DB: We were really upset. It was quite dramatic for us because you don’t expect someone to die at his age. Yeah, we were very upset. In fact everybody was, and we all still miss him. On his birthday we all make a toast, and yeah, we miss him.
rushonrock: With the departure of Alan Davey from the band, how did you meet Mr Dibs and what has he brought to the band?
DB: Dibs worked as a roadie for us for quite a few years when he had his own band Spacehead. Dibs worked with us doing a lot of years roadie-ing, and then he’d come on and do a few poems here and there, and we’d do a lot of festivals on and off with Spacehead supporting us a couple of times on tours. When Alan left, Dibs was Alan’s roadie and he knew all the numbers and could take over. It’s a strange old thing because we have Niall (Hone), who is also a bass player from a band called The Tribe Of Cro. Both of them are completely different in the way they play the bass, where Niall is like Jimi Hendrix on the bass, Dibs is a more solid sort of bass player. It is interesting to get both of them playing bass, which is quite unusual in the band, if they do it properly! It makes quite trippy listening!
rushonrock: Do you think that Hawkwind operating on a collective basis is the reason for it’s consistent continuance?
DB: We’ve always done it, and we’ve always been like that. It is like running a ship and I’m the Captain. You’ve got your crew and the road crew but we’ve all known each other for years. Richard, our drummer, has been with us for 22 years now. A lot of the crew have been with us for about 12 years now. When people join up with us, as it were, they’re quiet first before they realise what’s going on. It’s a big family thing that we’ve got. When we do Hawkfest, my niece works there, the kids work there, my grandaughter works there doing festivals and it’s quite a nice thing to have a big family. In a way that’s what it is, and that’s what the fans like about it – that they’re all part of a big family.
rushonrock: It comes through a lot with Hawkfest, it’s almost like a commune if you like…
DB: The Isle of Wight one that we did this year was fantastic. You make friends with lots of different characters. We’ve got a taxi driver when we go to London, who drives a black cab and he’ll always pick us up and take us where we want to go. We’ve got places we go to, where people will say ‘if you ever come up our way, you’re always welcome for a cup of tea’! And you get on really well with them, have a cup of tea and some cheese on toast! It really is a nice thing to be able to have that. It’s like going to see your auntie and uncle’s, except they’re a couple of fans. And you see their kids grow up aswell, it’s a nice thing.
rushonrock: A lot of rock n’ roll bands get on a certain pedestal and rarely connect with fans on a one to one basis…
DB: Well, I can understand it. We’ve been really famous in the past and you’d get loads of fans knocking on your door, following you to see which hotel you’re stopping at. It does piss you off sometimes, but in our world that we’ve got when we’ve got older, we don’t really suffer from that. I know what it’s like when you do your gig and you just want to go to bed. At Hawkfest you can just pop in and see people and muck around with the kids who want you to do a few guitar lessons with them, so I give them a few guitar lessons! Things like that you know? Then they’ll make some pottery and want me to sign their bits of pot. So I say ‘alright, I’ll sign all your pots’! So they made all these pots and I signed them, then I saw them selling them to other families! And they’re all saying; ‘Dave Brock signed this, it might be worth some more’! But things like that are great fun.
rushonrock: How tough has it been, with 40 years at the helm of hawkwind?
DB: It is hard, because what happens when you’re Captain is you get disliked. Different members of the band who leave, and who can’t come back because we’ve got somebody else taking over – they get really pissed off. It’s quite weird. It’s like being in the army, the regiment! The Sergeant Major’s left and he wants to come back but the Corporal has now risen to Sergeant Major and he can’t come back so he’s like: ‘argh! you bunch of c***s’! And that’s what they get like. Over the years now I’m not as bad as I was when I was younger, but things have to be right otherwise they’ll fall apart. We’ve had a lot of various members with drug problems and we’ve had to give them the elbow in the end because they can’t handle playing properly. But it happens to lots of bands.
rushonrock: Do you think that the management of Hawkwind and the organisation was a bit more disorientated in the earlier days?
DB: We had quite a good management company when we first started up, and they were quite organised. As we went off to the States, we were playing in really big venues. My guitar was given to me before I’d gone onstage and nowadays I have to carry my own guitar. It was quite well organised then, and it’s the same now but it’s just got smaller in what we’re doing. We don’t have a giant truck with loads of gear in it, we can get all of our gear in a trailer! We used to have a big lorry with all the PA in and the lights in, but now we’ve sort of scaled it all down.
rushonrock: Do you prefer it being on a smaller basis now?
DB: Yeah, it’s easier to travel around with and it doesn’t cost as much as well!
rushonrock: You know, we’ve had recent protests in France, outraged by the retirement age, but you’re happy to be doing this at 69. Has retirement ever crossed your mind?
DB: Sometimes. It sometimes does because you don’t get much time to go off and do other things. That’s the only problem really, as you get older you stiffen up. And my thumb hurts, or my elbow aches and you do get these aches and pains. But I enjoy doing it, or else I wouldn’t do it. Although I must admit I don’t like sleeping in a bus too much because I’m a light sleeper. Other than that, it’s quite good fun and you meet lots of friends. Like I say, when I come up to Newcastle the in-laws are there and all the kids as well, and Kris (wife) gets her Geordie accent back quite broad!
rushonrock: Is there any idea how long you will go on with Hawkwind?
DB: Until I get fed up with it, I suppose. We get to do a lot of nice things, like next year we’re off to France and we’re off to do a tour of Australia. We’ve got a few of festivals that we’re doing and we’re going to Greece again. It’s quite nice what we do, we don’t earn lots of money but we get by. But we’re constantly trying to fathom out new things. We’re working with Apple Mac computers at the moment, and linking them all up which is quite interesting because a lot of the keyboards we can trigger with the Apple Mac. An interesting door has opened up and we’re exploring that at the moment.
rushonrock: So will that enhance the sound onstage in some different ways?
DB: You’ve got such an access to so many different sounds now, it’s just making sure that they sound right in the context of what we’re doing, otherwise it all becomes a blur. We’ll get it all together and it should be quite interesting. Like I said before, we try to swap things around; sometimes we’ll have two bass players, and then Niall will play bass on some numbers, and Dibs will play computer and do some poetry, because we have our keyboard player Tim Blake running around the stage playing with his one finger and his hand in the air! We’re all getting on a bit, I think Tim’s 58 now, but I’m the oldest boy. They’re all catching me up!
rushonrock: Do you have any regrets and would you have done anything differently in terms of music, financial management and the running of the band?
DB: Probably yeah. There’d be loads of different things you could do, we would’ve set on different courses I think, but maybe I wouldn’t be living here now. These things do affect your life totally. I might not have got married to Kris by going off on a different tangent. We sold millions of records and we had a few hit singles, and if we’d have actually promoted ourselves properly and brought another hit single out, the band would’ve earned a lot of money and we would have been touring round the world. It totally would have changed our lives, who knows? I’m quite happy with this one though, I can’t complain! I’d like to see what it’s like on the other side though!
rushonrock: In a certain respect with the way that things have turned out you can’t really have that many regrets I suppose?
DB: No I don’t think so. Well, you are in charge of your own destiny in a way. Quite often we’d be asked to go off and do a big money gig and we’d be doing a free festival somewhere. And we’d think, ‘ah, fuck it’. We’ve turned down some really nice things because we don’t particularly like what they’re about. I think we’re pretty happy in what we’re doing.
rushonrock: Do you feel you’re a natural leader or has it been something that you’ve ascribed to be with Hawkwind?
DB: I was a busker for quite a few years, playing in the streets of London which is quite difficult when you’ve got to put up with drunks, nuisances and loonies. It was quite a good learning curve for us! I would do it again if I had to, I’d play guitar in the streets if I was really skint and I have been reduced to it! But it was quite a good way to cope with life.