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Dave Brock
Mad scientist: Dave Brock

The Dave Brock Interview

Hawkwind guitarist Dave Brock put aside his latest space expedition to talk to Rahul Shrivastava about his life as a Psychedelic Warlord. Plus, click on the links for an exclusive Hawkwind unplugged session!

Hawkwind Unplugged

Dave Brock doesn’t look much like a space explorer, though his tall frame does require several giant steps, as he strides over towards me. Wearing a long, brown coat, tracksuit bottoms, and a pair of old boots, he leaves his road crew to continue their soundcheck, while the band’s manager, Kris Tait, leads us to a dingy little room at the back of the Tyne Theatre.

The room is bare, except for a small table, two chairs, a dirty ashtray, and a television in the corner. He flicks through the channels in the hope of catching the latest football scores, but as Newcastle collapsed 4-0 to Chelsea earlier in the day, my interest in the game has dwindled for yet another weekend.

Failing to find what he is looking for, he takes a seat at the table. There is a manic glint in his eye, which no doubt has a thousand stories to tell about his life in rock ‘n’ roll.

Now listening back to those old Hawkwind albums like In Search of Space and Space Ritual, it is remarkable how fresh they still sound. Did you have any idea when you recorded those albums that they would stand the test of time?

No! (laughs) When we did that first album, that was our big achievement. To actually record an album is every musician’s dream. Then we did the second one, then the third. Now I think we’ve got about a hunded!

We did a track called You Shouldn’t Do That, which appeared on the In Search of Space album, and one band, whose name I forget, used a part of it for one of their songs. They looped it. It made the Top 5. I got in touch with the record company, and said that surely they must be paying some royalties for that. But as they only used about five seconds of it, we were not entitled to any. Such is life.

"We’re still doing the same thing thirty-five years later. Once you find your niche, as we had with space-rock music, why change?"

Some of that 70s rock music can sound dated though, but if you go back to the late 60s and early 70s, there are some recordings that still sound so fresh. The Beach Boys for example. The production there is so good. Clever stuff.

You started out as a busker on the streets of London. What do you remember about those days? Was it a demanding time?

Busking is really quite hard as you have to deal with a lot of drunks, and expect to be given a hard time. The Winter season is especially difficult. I had a pair of gloves with the tops of the fingers cut off, so I could play the guitar. I used to play at the cinema queues, and during the colder months, I’d be down in the subway. It was a hard old life, but I did it for about six years.

I would sing a lot of blues and jazz numbers, and do a few tracks from a guy called Gus Cannon, who used to play the jug (mimics a jug sound), plus a few sea songs, or sea shanties if you like.

Hawkwind are often said to be the first space rock band. How did that come about? Where did you get the idea from?

Probably in the sixties, when I had another band called The Famous Cure. We toured Holland in 1967, in a big circus tent, and we used to play psychedelic music. I tried to see what kind of weird sounds I could get out of my guitar. I used to use a steel knife instead of a bottle neck for instance, (mimics the sound of an electric guitar being played with a steel knife).

Also, we had an oscillator audio generator which was used for testing radio waves. When you put that through an echo unit, it used to make all these strange sounds, like (mimics sound of an oscillator audio generator being put through an echo unit).

We also used tape loops as well, so we were really experimental. Now, I’ve got three decks, so I copy all my stuff on to disc and then I can play all my synthesizer effects on stage. It’s like doing DJ work really. That’s how far we have advanced now.

What kind of reaction did Hawkwind get when they first broke on to the music scene?

We were pretty much playing psychedelic music, and at that time there was a lot of people taking LSD. There was a big rave culture at the time. We also had a good light show, with a lot of strobes at really dangerous levels, and we utilised a lot of different sound frequencies. Therefore a lot of people would be falling over, or if they were drunk, they used to be sick! That will teach them! (laughs)

It was like an experiment between electronic music and rock, using very simple rhythmic chords. I mean, we’re still doing the same thing thirty-five years later. Once you find your niche, as we had with space-rock music, why change?

The band are famous for their lavish stage shows. How did that come about?

Well, it evolved really. Originally, we used to have a naked dancer on stage with us. A girl called Stacia. Six foot high, with a 42 inch chest. In those days people used to take their clothes off a lot, feel free, and jump around a lot.

Then we had Renee, this other dancer who used to dance with The Jefferson Airplane, and the Quicksilver Messenger Service. Both of them then started wearing exotic costumes. They weren’t strippers, but they did interpretations. Stacia was like Isadore Duncan (Greek dancer, influential in the world of modern dance).

Then we progressed from there, when we recorded Space Ritual. We had poetry recitals, dancers, and lots of electronic music.

Kris Tait breathing fire
Kris knew the curry was a bad idea

Then we did Hawklords, where we had a theme on metropolis going on. We had six dancers working with us then, but it was very expensive and we had to sack three of them half way through the tour. We had a Fritz Lang-type Metropolis set up on stage with all this scaffolding structure. Cost a lot, that one.

In the 80s, we did an Elric theme. He was a character created by sci-fi writer Michael Moorcock. He was an albino warrior who had this sword that used to suck out people’s souls. We condensed five of those books into the story line.

The door opens and the band’s manager, Kris Tait, comes back in to see how we are doing.

Kris here, was one of the dancers back in that production. She played Zarozinia! Then in 1985 we had Tony Crerar, who was a mime artist. He was also doing the Space Ritual in 1973.

In the mid 90s, we did The Alien tour, which was a big costume drama thing. We had four dancers then. Kris was a fire-eater!

We used to work with a theatre company down in Cornwall, and they used to help us out. They did a spectacular job when we played at the Reading Festival, where we had all these burning crosses.

It makes it interesting, rather than just having your regular band members on stage. People come to see a show, so we give them one.

In 1975, Lemmy was fired from Hawkwind after a drugs bust, but in recent years he has joined the band for the odd gig here and there. How did you reconcile your differences?

Funnily enough, the friendship never stopped really. I did a programme on BBC Two recently, and they asked me about this.

When he got sacked from the band, it set him up on his own road. Motorhead were huge. He’s a superstar now. If he hadn’t have got sacked, who knows what would have happened? It’s funny how fate works out.

We played with him at Wembley Arena recently which got a bit chaotic, and we did a big festival in Finland where he joined us on stage. If I ever go to Los Angeles, I pop round and see him in his luxury apartment!

What’s the story behind the new album, Take Me To Your Leader? Is there a concept behind it all?

Yeah, the story is set on a space station, and we’ve got these androids who are being cloned, because people want them for sex objects. They don’t answer you back, and they do all these things for you.

It’s really a piece about what is going on within our planet. The oil, the greed, the money. Protest songs really.

This gig at Newcastle will be the first time we’ve tried it out on the big stage, with that backdrop. By Spring next year, we should have the show really together, and working properly.

Now for some of the dates on the UK tour, you have got TV presenter Matthew Wright on board to do some narration. How did that collaboration start?

Matthew’s a very interesting guy actually. He comes round to my house for dinner and we have many a political discussion. He puts across a lot of really good ideas.

Matthew Wright and Dave Brock
Would you trust these men?

It all started when I did a radio interview down in London and he admitted that he was a big fan! He said that he had seen the band in 1984 when we played a free festival at Stonehenge.

He said he knew loads of the songs, and I said ‘I bet you don’t know Spirit Of The Age’, and he was like ‘Oh yes I do’, and he began to recite it! It all started from there really. He’s even written some poetry for us.

You’ve played Newcastle several times in recent years. What do you make of the city?

I love playing here. Kris’ family live here too, so she loves coming back. The crew all had dinner round her parent’s house last night!

This morning we went to the Baltic, as I had never seen that before. And we went for a wander around town too.

And do you ever get stopped by fans?

Yeah, I was walking just past the pub on the corner here, and a guy came rushing out saying ‘Dave Brock! I’ve come all the way from Glasgow to see you guys tonight!’ Then he brought his wife out, and we all had our picture taken. All our fans are such nice people.

What kind of music do you listen to in your spare time?

I listen to such a wide variety. From classical to a lot of Eastern music. I have a huge jazz record collection. Reggae is another. I think as you get older, you just begin to encompass more styles.

There is so much interesting new music out there, especially in America where one trance band has taken a loop from Sidney Bechet, who was a wonderful soprano sax player. I think it’s a wonderful thing to do, as it turns a lot of people on to these old jazz players from the twenties and thirties who would never have heard of them otherwise.

And this stuff from the Middle East which is being used in a lot of dance and trance records provides a great crossover, that makes it world encompassing.

What advice would you give to a young musician looking to get into the business?

I’d tell them to keep plugging on, because it’s a terribly hard business. There are a lot of really good musicians around who find it very hard.

In the seventies and eighties there were a lot of free festivals where a band could just turn up and play to a few hundred people. Made a change from playing in a pub.

I think all that is gone. It’s quite difficult to be heard now. Don’t give up and practise hard. There you go!

Hawkwind Unplugged!

Back in 2003, Dave Brock and his mates came into the BBC Radio Newcastle studios, and played a two song unplugged session on the Julia Hankin show.

This rare recording is available to listen to by clicking on the link below:

Hawkwind Unplugged

last updated: 31/05/05
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