Let’s cut to the chase up front. Dave Brock is one of my heroes. Why’s that? He’s been at the helm of the good ship Hawkwind for over forty years. That’s why. Alongside their own phenomenal success, they have influenced generations of musicians across the world. From global rock acts to bed-sitter bands, most will reference Hawkwind as a key player in their musical development. There’s personal history too; as a young sprog, Hawkwind were one of the first bands I ever saw live. They ambled / shambled on stage to play the most stunning psychedelic space rock and I didn’t know what hit me. That one concert turned my head for the next ten years and I still recall it fondly as one of life’s little ‘events’. A genuinely defining moment in my personal musical evolution. So, would I be all calm and collected or blather uncontrollably when I got my first opportunity to chat with him? In what can be a very shallow industry, would Brock actually transpire to be a Hero or a Zero? ….. Here’s how The Blatherer and The Hero got on:
I recalled that first gig to him and that the Hawkwind light show of the time consisted of one single strobe light alternating with total darkness. Dave laughs, not for the first time. “I think it was at Nottingham University during that particular tour– we were pulled off stage by their social secretary; he said that apparently some of the students had been drinking and the light show was affecting them!” It was worth the photosensitivity FFA quipped; “students drinking, what next” he says and laughs that laugh again.
Forty odd years is a long long time; how does Dave explain the Hawkwind longevity FFA enquired; “Endurance! ...and our latest album is called ‘Onward’ he chortled. “I love what I do and its fun. We try and make it all pleasurable… We only play venues that we like now and all that… We’ll carry on as long as we can enjoy it and try and do good shows. …. We are currently revamping everything we’ve been doing with the dancers, light shows, and stuff; seeing what we can do differently…to make it more ‘arty’ and playing a good bit of music. It’s creative and as long as I can I’ll carry on…. I wouldn’t know what else to do really!”
FFA reminded Dave of simpler times during his old busking days in the 60’s; “I enjoyed it at the time of course. I remember once busking the line at a Pink Floyd gig at the Lyceum in the late sixties. It took about ninety minutes to get everyone inside the venue and I’ll never forget that I could hardly carry my guitar case as it was so heavy with old pennies and coins; it was hard going but I made about £20 – it was an unheard of amount from one queue at the time.” He fondly recalls.
Rather like the Gong family of musicians, does the fact the line-up has been fairly fluid over the years with guys like Tim Blake drifting in and out of the band, mean that it was easier to clock up forty years plus, FFA asked; “Maybe….it depends. Tim is a good example, but our drummer Richard (Chadwick) has been with us for 26 years for instance. Then again, Hawkwind toured with the Huw Lloyd Langton Band last year and now (sometime Hawkwind member) Huw is once again back recording stuff with us.”
Are you looking forward to playing at Off The Tracks Spring event, FFA enquired; “We know the venue very well. We played OTT in 2006 I think, and liked it so much we actually held our own Hawkfest at the same Donington Park Farmhouse venue the next year. We even got married there! …. It was very unusual. We got married in the threshing barn…. We had some great bands playing for the guests, including Tom Collier’s jazz band…. It was full of weird characters of course! …. Off The Tracks is a great festival and the permanent fixtures (pub & diner on-site and permanent facilities) are a good thing.”
“It’s next door to Donington Park of course, and I remember Hawkwind played Monsters Of Rock there a few years back; we had to cross the race track in our cars and instead of crossing I threw a right and went round the track. I was eventually flagged down by the stewards! Great fun ..and it was my birthday too!” laughs again.
After 40 years plus years, it’s easy to stop improving and moving forwards, but you’ve still got that hunger for something new, FFA commented; “Apart from the new album and tour, we are also working on putting something out featuring everything from William Shatner to collaborations with some really big name bands and other very special guests …. It may even feature Lemmy with any luck.” He hinted.
FFA comment that Brock has always been the quiet man during Hawkwind live shows, apparently content to let their fantastic AV experience and some larger than life front men take all the attention. “Yep I take a back seat. I’ve never really been out the front jumping around….it’s more like a football team - I see myself as more the midfield general passing the ball and controlling the game from the centre” he laughs. So there you have it – Brock as psychedelic rock’s Ryan Giggs, FFA suggests – he likes that one. “… and of course at my age I can’t really be seen running around now can I” he roars.
So what did he think Hawkwind have contributed over the last forty odd years, FFA boldly ask: Dave Brock is a genuinely modest, self-effacing guy and needs to think about this one; “Funnily enough, quite a lot actually…. Without being conceited we’ve influenced quite a lot of different bands….. Not just musically but in other ways too. Loads of different musicians have come to see us over the years and come backstage to talk. ‘How do you keep going’ they’d ask? It’s that ‘Endurance’ thing again. We’d say that they need to get the right sort of people together and they’ve all got to stick together no matter what – even when it looks that it is all falling apart around them. Years later these guys come back and say ‘when you told us that we kept on going and now look at us!’… It’s quite nice really.”
So would you have changed anything? “More money” laughs again. “More money may have corrupted what the band thought, but what money we did have was spent on our light shows and the rest. We had all our own stuff; all our own effects equipment and trucks and everything… More money would have allowed us to continue and improve those fantastic stage shows….. Who knows, if the new album is a success we may do those really big shows again” he teases “.…. Constant change is the way to do it – it makes life interesting!”
Finally, to the uninitiated, a lot of people simply know the band for Silver Machine. Some rock bands can become somewhat embarrassed about their first commercial hit single and can tend to hide it away. You didn’t play it live for a long time, FFA suggests; “We do play it!” he gently chides. “It’s fun to play. Yes we didn’t play it for a while, but Richard the drummer has a fantastic voice and for years would only do harmony vocals, so we said come on man, sing a song, so he asked to sing Silver Machine, so that’s his big song and task in the band now! Also, we always listen to fan feedback and our fans love it. We try and put at least some of the numbers fans suggest in the set, so we might note the request for you at Off The Tracks!
Dave’s wife Kris pipes up to gently remind us both that Off The Tracks will be first chance people will get to hear elements of the new album live as the festival kick-starts the new tour! What more encouragement do you need!
I left a real live musical Hero and top bloke to get back to his rehearsing, knowing that Off The Tracks once again promises something very special indeed and eternally grateful that Dave Brock “ …. Wouldn’t know what else to do really!”
Read more about Hawkwind and buy tickets for the Onward album tour HERE
Get the low down on Off The Tracks HERE
Article by Barrie Dimond