by Greg Pollner
These are the first signs of sonic attack:
You will notice small objects, such as ornaments, and fine china oscillating where they sit; You will notice vibrations in your diaphragm and solar plexus; You will hear a distant hissing in your ears; You may feel the need to vomit, and/or will feel dizzy and have difficulty focusing, all of which may, or may not be, accompanied by an ache in your pelvic region and fits of hysterical shouting and laughter.
If you were at the Isle of Wight festival in 1970, it would also mean that you were at a Hawkwind concert, for what would have been one of the freakiest shows one could ever hope to see. Of course the Sixties and early Seventies were known for some pretty freaky shows, so this is quite the claim, but if you’ve ever heard Hawkwind, you might be inclined to agree.
This band, despite being fairly obscure, was one of the most important psychedelic groups that have ever been, and they inspired groups from many different genres ranging from punk to electronica.
For this little “trip”, as you read the story, I would advise putting on their first album, In Search of Space. This album contains some of the songs they would have been playing in the “Wight” gig. At this point, if you partake, maybe spark up some herb: I would advise a nice Sativa.
That done, the opening of the first song on the album, “Shouldn’t Do That”, should take you back to early Seventies: Look, there you are with longer hair; a short dress, if you’re of the female persuasion. If you’re a dude, you look down and… Wtf? Bellbottoms! And, if you were at the Wight gig, you’ve just finished watching Jimi Hendrix play what would be one of his last shows.
Looking around, you cannot imagine the evening getting any wilder. However, as you walk towards a massive inflatable tent, with beams of light and smoke billowing from the entrance, you hear what could only be defined as “space rock”. You drift by a bunch of dazed hippies who are rocking back and forth on their heels outside the tent, others wander around in a nearly catatonic state of hysteria; some are even crying. Something tells you that you will not be the same after this night.
In one interview, Johnny Rotten, of the Sex pistols, speculated that the Pistols would not have existed without Hawkwind.
There on stage is, now, is the freakiest looking group of people you’ve ever seen, going crazy on their instruments. Most of the audience is staring up at the stage and swaying back and forth, others are doing some crazy interpretive dance, and the rest are drinking, smoking and/or eating psychoactive and hallucinogenic substances. At this point, a beautiful, very tall, naked woman, completely painted with blue and white, hands you a beverage, that you strongly suspect is drugged.
Hours pass like minutes, yet the minutes seem to last an eternity. You cannot even tell when one song has ended and another has begun… Maybe it is all just one song? Suddenly you feel someone nudge your ribs with their elbow, you look over and – Holy Smoke – it’s Jimi Hendrix.
Hawkwind wraps the show with a cacophony of wild noise, coupled with an extraordinarily strange light show, which ends the evening in a crescendo of madness.
Also of note, that particular show did run for some eight hours, similar to a modern day Rave. One can’t help but wonder, being a British band, how much unknown influence Hawkwind might have had on the early electronic scene. We do know for sure that they influenced many groups in rock and roll, including Black Flag, Sex Pistols and Al Jourgensen, of Ministry.
In fact, in one interview, Johnny Rotten, of the Sex pistols, speculated that the Pistols would not have existed without Hawkwind.
…He went on to sing Hawkwind’s most well-known song of the band’s collective career, called, “Silver Machine”. He also wrote the song Motorhead, while in Hawkwind, which he later performed with the now famous/infamous band, Motorhead.
It would be impossible to go into detail about the many musicians who were in Hawkwind. Essentially, the band was founded by a man named Dave Brock, a busker in Britain, who was busy honing his skill on the streets. He eventually founded the band, and is still the band leader after all these years.
One artist who sang for them in the late 70s was Robert Calvert, a now famous writer, poet and singer, who helped them create some really unique songs, including one of my personal favorites – “Hassein I Sahba”. Unfortunately, Calvert had bipolar disorder, which, at the time was a largely undiagnosed and difficult to manage. This often caused havoc in the band, and they had to let him go.
The science fiction writer, Michael Moorcock, who is best known for His Fantasy novels – the most famous being Elric of Melnibourne, also contributed to their early fame. He wasn’t much of a musician, but he did a lot of spoken word for Hawkwind at various shows.
The Hawkwind track “The Black Corridor”, includes quotes from Moorcock’s novel of the same name, and he worked with the band on their album, Warrior on the Edge of Time. Moorcock also wrote the lyrics to “Sonic Attack”, a science-fiction satire of the public information broadcast, that was part of Hawkwind’s Space Ritual set. Their album, The Chronicle of the Black Sword, was largely based on Moorcock’s now famous Elric novels. His contributions were removed from the original release of the Live Chronicles album that were recorded on the tour, but have appeared on handful of double CD releases since then.
Another notable artist that worked with Hawkwind – Lemmy, from Motorhead, who, for a few short years, was the bassist and vocalist for the band, before being fired after he was arrested at Canadian Customs for marijuana possession while the band was on tour. Despite his short time with the group, he went on to sing Hawkwind’s most well-known song of the band’s collective career, called, “Silver Machine”. He also wrote the song Motorhead, while in Hawkwind, which he later performed with the now famous/infamous band, Motorhead.
It is tragic that Hawkwind did not get more attention as a group, but in the end I figure that, as good as the music is, Hawkwind is not really a radio friendly group. Plus, the fact is, they were not in it to be huge rock stars, or at least that’s what they often said. As a band, they were far more devoted to political and social causes, ranging from geopolitics to environmentalism, than they were focused on the goal of “making it big”. My guess is, they likely would not have been the same band if they had gotten a massive record deal.
What makes Hawkwind so awesome is that they did what they did out of love for their art form. Though they never had huge success, their history is elaborate and interesting.