Mike Davies talks to Bob Calvert and Michael Moorcock
Q: Are we not hippies? A: We are not Devo, either
This article was not originally conceived as an apology for Hawkwind (or the Hawklords, as they're now styled). However, David Blake's review of their Hammersmith show, carried in Melody Maker a couple of weeks back, forced a modification of approach, because it seemed to crystallise many of the prejudices and misconceptions that the media have about the band.
Although not a long-standing admirer of their music, especially in the days of the ear-blasting Sci-Fi rock, I have always felt that their concepts and ideals are more than worthy of support, especially since the release of "Quark, Strangeness and Charm" last year. I point this out merely to show that this isn't a devoted fan mouthing off about their total cosmic awareness, but somebody who is infuriated by blind put-downs of a very original and deeply thought-out concept.
Let's examine the two main slagging-off points of the review. First, the tired old cliche of 'faded hippies' was thrown, not only at the band, but also at the audience - which was depicted as a bunch of drug-smashed, drunken unwashed louts. That was compounded by the accusation of ripping off Devo's use of industrial themes and dramatic movements. What the reviewer failed to notice was the fact that the audience went absolutely bananas, and gave the band the kind of reception that hasn't been seen at Hammersmith for many a gig.
When I spoke to Bob Calvert and Dave Brock I was able to raise the points made in the review and take a more objective view. I was also able to talk to author Michael Moorcock who has had a close association with the band since its' inception. The Devo connection is not a totally irrelevant point to make in view of Calvert's involvement with the industrial concepts that loom so large in the present stage set, but even on a basic level that could be discounted by parallels of thought: it is not impossible for two people to have the same ideas independently.
More telling is the fact that Hawkwind have been involved with industrialisation and technology for far longer than Devo have been wearing surgical masks, etc.. Without wishing to answer Blake on his own level, it should still be pointed out that, back in 1973-74 one of Hawkwind's biggest strongholds in America was was the area around Akron, and the band played there six or seven times. Chicken or egg? The "metaphysical factory" theme of the current album, and the stage settings, are merely an extension of the early space celebrations that Hawkwind were involved in during their middle period, a joyful awareness of the machine age glorified in their classic "Silver Machine" single, and which is self-evident in their use of industrial overtones on numbers like "Forge of Vulcan" on the "Quark" album. To ease out a few more comparisons, there is an overtly Germanic tone to the Hawkwind/Hawklords history, moving from an almost Wagnerian approach in the "Space Ritual" to a Metropolis scenario for the current show.
That German connection could also be applied to the cold starkness of Devo, yet it's more than likely that the sources differ. Calvert points out that "a lot of German bands like Neu and Kraftwerk have been influenced by early Hawkwind lyrics. Dave Brock, in fact, wrote the sleeve notes for Neu's first album." It's interesting to see that Buzzcock's Pete Shelley continues a tradition by adding his observations to the recent Can double re-issue. Actually the coldness of the industrial/factory approach owes far more to Bertold Brecht than it does to the Akronites.
Bob Calvert: "I was inspired by Brecht's 'sprechtesang' -speech song- which gives a very Germanic feel to our machine-gun lyrics." Brecht is very much a city writer, and one can hear the influences showing through in the music, just as they acknowledged a debt to Hesse in "Steppenwolf" on the "Amazing Sounds" (sic) album: "A lot of people who live in cities are influenced by what goes on within them, but we're influenced by the cities themselves".
Next, there's the point about the use of movement. Calvert again is bitter about that. "Last year one of the papers, I think it may have been Melody Maker, said that if one got bored with the music 'you can always watch Bob Calvert's inimitable movements'." Now it seems that those same movements are being interpreted with a curious use of hindsight. Certainly there are influences in the use of movement and dance, one of the most important in both Calvert's own movements and the choreography of the dancers being that of the Japanese Noh theatre which Calvert readily admits. "I go to fringe theatre quite a lot, more than to rock concerts. I don't listen to albums, much either; I try to keep my musical influences pure, both consciously and sub-consciously."
The venomous backlash against the whole concept of 'hippiedom' and the ideals it embraced is hard to understand. As Brinsley Schwarz sang, "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace Love and Understanding"? Surely certain ideals are not outmoded, even if the exterior fashions may be. In many ways, the punk explosion owes a lot to the same awareness that prompted the initial hippie movement, and if Sham 69's "If The Kids Are United" isn't a '78 version of "Woodstock", what is it? Nor does the audience composition bear out the image of 30 year-old long-locked drug fiends; a vast proportion of the crowd at the Hawklords' Birmingham gig were in the 14-19 bracket, and they have as much to do with Scott McKenzie and Donovan as do Siouxsie and the Banshees.
Michael Moorcock has been involved with the band since he was dragged along to see a very early gig. He has written for them and has worked with them onstage. His own books have always tended to pre-date the times, especially the Jerry Cornelius sequence, and they deal with technology and the city in the same fashion as Hawkwind. He is firmly convinced of the conitnuing relevance of the band. "One reason why Hawkwind are still going strong these days is because the current scene has caught up with them. One of the reasons I conceived the Cornelius books was to try and make technology ordinary - that's what I liked about watching DikMik and Del Dettmar in the early days. That's why I liked Hawkwind, because they weren't anti-technology, they celebrated it - unlike a lot of science-fiction writers and performers. "When I first saw them they seemed like barbarians who'd got hold of a load of electrical gear; instead of being self-conscious and pseudo-intellectual, they were actually *of* the electronic age. They weren't impressed by their own gear.
"This was at the height of the swinging Sixties, and popular culture was attaining a level of excellence it had only ever hinted at before, it was becoming concerned with real things. It gave the lie to the Richard Hoggett thesis, in Uses and Literacy, that you can't be good *and* popular. "You had a sudden sense of renaissance in genuine popular art, and you could actually make a living at it, and you were working in areas where people weren't looking over your shoulder all the time. "I think that's what's gone wrong with rock'n'roll now; there's far too much attention being paid to it, too much criticism. It explains the whole punk movment, shifting away from areas where standards were being applied, as a reaction. It celebrates the city too, as does Hawkwind. I think nearly all their best stuff has been connected with the city and technology."
Bob Calvert warms to the suggestion that the band are completely of their time, yet is reluctant to see them as prophets. I suggested that in a lot of respects they were a teleprint band. "Yes, it is like that, I think we're probably more influenced by the news than anything else. At one time we were actually talking about having a point in the set where we could perform a spontaneous item directly influenced by a major news event. "In '25 Years', which is about the small man, the average person's plight, there's a point where I read what's in the Daily Mirror on the day we're doing it. That's teleprint music, and what's very interesting is that we often pre-date events. 'Urban Guerilla' was released just before the concerted IRA attacks on London and it's still relevant today. One does wonder about how much psychic influence is at work." "Henry Miller used to think of the artist as an antenna. It's the same with 'Psi-Power' - these things are emerging now as more than just hippie mystic concerns. It's fact, I'm not saying that we're prophets or anything. "I felt that the early band was expressing what was going on, with the whole space programme, and the concern with communication and industry. That's what people living now should be concerned about. It's no good coming on with a show about a revolutionary in the Peruvian mountains.
"In spite of the New Wave, people are still singing about problems with their girlfriends. That's not enough. William Burroughs was right when he said that if man is going to become a space age creature, he has to drop a lot of ties. The punk thing didn't do enough. Literature and other forms of art have abandoned those restricting and limited fields of vision. "I want to do a piece of music that reflects schizophrenic mania, rather like the Velvet Underground's 'Murder Mystery'. Modern writers use their materials in a far more adventurous way than modern musicians do. I think what we're trying to do is a form of modern art, rather than providing a cosmetic effect. We're trying to make music that actually reflects the way we feel about the world." The material in the current set, drawn from early works as well as the present album, and the as-yet-unreleased 'PXR5', shows their concern with the present day rather than the uncertain future; as Moorcock says "the future is such an obscene idea". Listen to '25 Years', 'The Age of the Micro-Man' ("who sees the detail but never the plan") , 'Automation', or the haunting 'The Dead Dreams of the Cold War Kid', all from the current album, or long-established stage numbers like "Robot" and "High Rise" for proof of their commitment.
The success of their concerts clearly indicates that the Hawklords could well survive without another word being written about them - as Kid Strange said "those who know, know" - but perhaps the observations of Calvert and Moorcock have cleared away a few misconceptions and unclouded a few prejudices. The Hawklords aren't a bunch of crazed anachronisms; sure, they have influences, but let's at least recognize those influences for what they are and not place the burden of the media's current pet concept on musicians who've been developing their ideas for several years, and who have probably given more to the New Music than they've taken from it.