“When you start off you only live for the day,” says Dave Brock as he looks back over Hawkwind’s amazing 43 year history “as time goes by you get tours booked up years in advance. We still tour all over the place.”
Originally formed as Hawkwind Zoo in 1969, the band had seemingly unlikely beginnings with founder member and former member of The Famous Cure, Dave Brock playing numerous turns as a busker on the streets of London.
“I used to play in the subways,” recalls Dave, “in London, there’s one lone subway which goes from Kensington to the Albert Hall. It was a really nice place because it echoed a lot.” It was there Dave came into contact with fellow busker Don Partridge, himself on the verge of chart success. Partridge’s manager Don Paul spotted Dave’s potential and promptly signed him up on a busker’s tour of Great Britain. On his return to London, Dave decided to make a change. “Since Don had become famous there were a lot of people wanting to busk everywhere which was a bit of a problem and I thought I’d form a band which is what I did.”
Enlisting the services of bassist John Harrison, guitarist Mick Slattery and drummer Terry Ollis, Dave had the beginnings of a band. “Don (Paul) was quite a bigwig in EMI so he booked us in to EMI’s demo studios and we met up with Nick Turner who played saxophone and Dik Mik who brought an audio generator. We recorded Kiss the Velvet and Hurry on Sundown a couple of songs I used to busk down the subway. I was still busking when all this was going on as well.”
However, Hawkwind Zoo were far from disciplined as the bands new manager Doug Smith discovered at recording sessions. “ I never turned up and various members never turned up,” laughs Dave, “ Douglas said “Look, if you really want to be a success you’ve got to put everything into doing this. Its no good going off busking.” I said ‘Well I earned a lot of money doing that.’ He said ‘Well you’ve got to make a decision!’ So I continued with Hawkwind.”
By 1972, Hawkwind were a popular attraction on the festival circuit and riding high in the charts with their hit Silver Machine. “It was very hectic, we were playing nearly every night” remembers Dave, “I found an old diary of mine a few years ago, I thought ‘how did you manage to do all this?’ we went from one place to another constantly. All the money we got we invested into our light show!”
The Light Show became a mainstay of Hawkwind’s act and has remained in their live shows as have many references to Science-Fiction novels. “A lot of the ideas and storylines for the songs came from the sci-fi books we read some of the stories are fantastic really.”
A further sci-fi accolade saw Hawkwind recently cross paths with Star Trek actor William Shatner. “Who’d have thought that?” exclaims Dave, “I’ve been a Star Trek fan for many years. We got in touch with him and sent over the backing track of Sonic Attack which is a poem, he did the spoken bit for us, its 11 minutes long actually.”
Looking in to the future there is still plenty for Hawkwind fans to look forward to including a short film for the Sci-Fi channel, a tour revisiting the bands 1975 album Warrior On The Edge Of Time and concerts in Canada and Brazil. Not bad for a former London busker!
- A version of this article by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment section, The Guide, during March 2013.