Hawkwind’s legacy in rock and punk music is a remarkable one. The band essentially created space rock, were a trailblazing pre-cursor for punk music in the 70s and through a tumultuous storm of line-up changes, kept a signature sound. But what’s even more impressive is that the journey still continues. Captain of the ship, Dave Brock, remains the only original member, but it’s his constant drive and unerring ambition that keeps the sails proudly flying. Originally joining as a replacement for Alan Davey on bass, Mr Dibs joined the band in 2007 and was followed by Niall Hone a year later, who handles sampling, synths and keyboards whilst interchanging with Dibs on bass duty. Calum Robson caught up with the pair on Hawkwind’s latest ‘Onward’ tour.
For the last four years talented musician Niall Hone has had the pleasure of boarding the Hawkwind ship as a permanent member, and he undoubtedly feels at home. “It’s a big team of people, everyone’s happy, and we all look out for one another,” the multi-instrumentalist says. “It’s a pleasure to be on the road with all these people – everyone is a big happy family.” Even in the setting of this rare backstage occasion in Middlesbrough, the crew – including dancers, lighting technicians, roadies and band manager Kris Tait (Dave Brock’s wife) – gel collectively with a setup that’s evidently mutually beneficial, but with an incredibly relaxed demeanour. It’s much like Hawkwind’s unique stage shows, which compress all corners of the arts to create a performance that extends beyond the ordinary ‘gig’. “It’s theatre and art as well as music,” says Mr Dibs, while he has his lengthy hair extensions adjusted. “Hawkwind have always been open to multimedia right from the beginning, and they take people, without chemicals, on a trip.”
The journey of their musical exploits has led them to latest record ‘Onward’ – the 27th album album since the band’s founding in 1969 that hears them giving a polite nod to the past with the reworking of classics like ‘Deathtrap’, ‘Right To Decide’, ‘Aerospace Age’ and 1984 B-side ‘Green Finned Demon’. But it’s Hawkwind’s loyalty to putting out new material that keeps the palette colourful and the atmosphere fresh. “The natural thing with Dave – and with the band – is that he wants to move it forward; he wants to move it onwards,” Hone says. “He’s constantly pushing boundaries on a music level. He encourages people to play to their strengths and writes with other members and keeps pushing it forward. It’s not playing the same things year in, year out, and it’s not a ‘greatest hits’ too; it’s constantly new, new, new. “It still sounds like Hawkwind and it has its signature sound,” adds Dibs. “I have books of lyrics and now and again I will go back to them and find the missing bit of something I wrote. Then I can take them to the rest of the band. But even when we’re making stuff, Dave [Brock] will come over and spread his Hawk wand on it!”
At the magic age of 70, Brock has loosely mentioned that he will one day hang up his cloak and retire from all his cosmic wizardry. But his bandmates say that right now, he’s as prolific as ever and they can’t see him doing that any time soon or perhaps, ever. “He keeps saying he’ll retire, but personally I can’t see it,” Dibs says. “He’ll carry on. “He just doesn’t stop churning out music,” Hone continues. “Collectively, there’s probably over 20 songs finished and in the bag that are coming out in various different projects.”
With an expanse of material out there already, it’s almost inevitable that any lover of music will come across at least one Hawkwind song of their liking – whether it’s the obvious chart topper ‘Silver Machine’, the controversial ‘Urban Guerilla’ or the beautiful laments of ‘Zarozinia’ and ‘The Demented Man’. Certainly, the majority of their following comes from the fans they’ve carried with them for years. But with more tools to listen to music on the vast sea of communication that is the internet, it’s become easier for a younger generation to access music, and it’s no longer a case of digging through dad’s (or perhaps Grandad’s!) dusty vinyl collection. It reflects with an increasingly eclectic audience at their 2012 shows. “It’s not just older people bringing their kids,” says Dibs. “Because of the internet, people are finding out about the band and are coming down to check it out. “I just think the whole market of the internet (I know it’s done a lot of bad things for the industry in the way people consume music) has given a big resurgence in guitar-based music again,” Hone adds.
Hone doesn’t agree with illegal downloading, but he thinks that if people download a Hawkwind record, they’re much more likely to buy the digital product if they like what they hear from the taster. But that’s not all that Hone can be optimistic about when it comes to new technologies that have revolutionised the music business. “It’s cut out a lot of the malpractice in the record industry, particularly from the 70s,” he says. “I know that a lot of bands in the 70s didn’t get quite the deal that they perhaps should have done. They were fed a lot of stories like ‘you’ll be rich’ and I can see with the dazzle of the stage-lights and all the charming people around you, I can see why you might sign your name on the dotted line. The internet really has removed a lot of the fat-cats who are just getting fatter on the back of someone else’s artistic work. Hawkwind, for a long time, has been very much a cottage industry-led business whereby Dave and Kris have tried to retain so much of the control and the ability to operate in ethical ways, which I think is a really positive thing.”
But for a band like Hawkwind who have innovated by being on the very cusp of musical technology in the past while attempting to retain much of their artistic control, would they ever consider a purely modern form of distribution in going all-out digital? “We as a band believe in having a product out there because we spend so much time and energy in it,” Hone says. “It would be sacrilege, I believe, for any Hawkwind album to come out without any physical form.”