Hawkwind’s Dave Brock has not only spent decades in one of the most inventive and influential rock bands in decades but he is also responsible for a whole genre of music. I was fortunate enough to catch up with the space rock legend to talk about his upcoming “Audience With” show at HRH Prog IX to find out what the audience can expect. Dave didn’t give much away but he did offer an insight into his early days as a musician in Putney, pre-Hawkwind, as well how he approached recording some of his solo albums in the ‘80s.
JE: Well, it’s nice to speak to you today. Thank you for taking the time. so when would you have started busking?
DB: Oh, blimey it was in the early 1960s. 1964 maybe, somewhere around then.
JE: And where were you based at that time?
DB: I was living in Putney then. I lived in Putney in Fulham, that’s how I used to earn a living actually, I was doing cinema queues and the Lyceum when it used to be going, I think I did it when The Pink Floyd were there and the queue went all the way down The Strand – took me two hours to do that one! That was a big, big queue. Made quite a lot of money actually!
JE: Had you already started working with bands back then or was that your first introduction to performing?
DB: No no, that was before actually, when we formed the band I played in folk clubs and blues clubs. And then I formed the band with some mates of mine, The Famous Cure. We went off to Holland, and toured in a circus tent, with The B Band, bands like Cuby and the Blizzards, and Golden Earring the dutch band. This was about 1967, I think, somewhere around there. When we came back to England we played down The Middle Earth actually as The Famous Cure. And then it just split up and I went back to busking again doing the subways and cinema queues again. Then I formed Hawkwind actually. Yeah in 1969. And, uh, I was still busking when we were, you know, doing that as well. And our manager Doug Smith (called me) to go to his office where he gave me a lecture – well I had to either carry on, seriously playing with the band (or busk) – he asked me “what do you want to do with your life”?
JE: At the time that you were busking, were you playing material of your own or was it mainly covers?
DB: When you’re busking, you play happy songs to make the population feel happy, you know, like lots of old jazz numbers like Doctor Jazz – happy songs, you know, that people were familiar with. Yeah, I used to do a few of my own songs of course, you know, a few old blues numbers. That’s how I met up with John Harrison and Huey, you know, I used to play a lot of blues stuff and uh, so I met them, you know, going down the subway, Tottenham Court Road and started talking to us – and John was a bass player and, so I met Huey working in a music shop in Charing Cross Road. Yeah. And yeah, that’s how we all started out really.
JE: Did you ever busk outside of London?
DB: Yeah I went all over Europe actually with a friend of mine, Luke, a harmonica player. we lived in Amsterdam for a while and he used to sort of busk in Amsterdam. Then we did all the South of France and Spain. We used to do all the cafes, outdoor cafes.
I was doing Porto’s every Saturday. I always did Portobello Road in the afternoon and I, with various lovely young girls working for us you know, they used to collect money for us. So it was always, you’ve got a pretty girl working for you, you know, and when I did Marble Arch – you used to get these old alcoholics doing press-ups. Some of these guys who were alcoholics were acrobats, you know, some of them used to do some amazing things! We used to get quite a big crowd, you know, about 30 people in a big circle watching while I’m singing away and they would do all of these handstands (laughs).
JE: That’s incredible. Did anybody ever capture that on camera?
DB: Yeah, I’m sure some people have. The BBC, actually did while they were down Portobello Road at some point. Old footage, black and white, of me busking down Portabello Road. It crops up now and then. Then we did the buskers Tour. With Don Partridge. Yeah. We did a tour in a London bus, where we played The Albert Hall, cause Don had his big hit Rosie, you know, and, his manager, Don Paul was the guy who actually recorded us as Hawkwind Zoo, at EMI studios believe it or not. Don Paul was also a singer in a very famous band. Tom Jones’ manager was in a band – the same band as Don Paul. Can’t think what they’re called now offhand, but they were a singing trio the three of them. And uh, they were quite well known. Had a few hit records and all that and then Don Paul cos of managing Don Partridge. Then we did the buskers tour and he recorded us, you know, doing a couple of blues numbers with session musicians, and there you go, and we formed Hawkwind!
JE: I spent some time last night going back through some of your solo albums. Is that something you’ve done that recently?
DB: Briefly I do because Cherry Red (record label) said to me, Oh look, it’s the 50th anniversary. What about doing a compilation of your solo albums? Which I’d never bothered to listen to (laughs). And I did listen to some, it’s alright, you know, well…. I mean I was recording stuff on quarter-inch tape. With an old drum machine… gosh…how old fashioned that sounds!
JE: The thing is, it doesn’t sound that old fashioned. That was the thing that struck me the most about it all was how it seemed ahead of its time. Agents of Chaos for example.
DB: Well, yeah, the agents of chaos, I did that with Crumb, a guy called Crumb he was a keyboard player actually. I mean, he’s a very good keyboard player. We did that record together. It was in the ‘80s.
I listened to ‘Wired Up (For Sound’) – I think I actually recorded that on an 8 track, I’ve still got the tapes. And funnily enough, we were talking about it only the other day with the band, because that was the thing I said I’m having to do (HRH IX) at Shepherds Bush. And I said, well maybe I can find some of my old 8 track stuff and we can download them onto our Mac computer and update some of this stuff, you know, and the rest of us said would be a good idea cause then I can get them involved to see, I wouldn’t be by myself – so I won’t be by myself on stage!!
I’ve got a lot of old synthesizers, really weird old sort of strange sorts of synthesizers – you do weird sounds and all of that, which will probably be quite interesting for fans to see me do.
JE: I really enjoyed revisiting Strange Trips and Pipe Dreams. There’s a lot of bands right now that are using the same sort of sound – similar techniques – it sounds very contemporary.
DB: Oh, well that’s good. Oh well, there we are! I might be in vogue again then!
JE: Well, this is the thing, you’re responsible for an entire genre of music. Modern electronic space rock bands and psychedelic bands use all that technology. You can hear it on Strange Trips and Pipe Dreams. I mean it’s very clear as well. People are using that template that you had right there.
DB: Oh well, that’s good. Hurray! I must be a living legend then (laughs).
JE: People tell me that you are! I also presented you with a living legend award at HRH Prog In Pwhelli a couple of years ago.
DB: Oh that’s right. That’s not the one that Phil (Campbell) dropped on the floor is it? Its got a chunk out of it! I think he must have got a bit tipsy. Well he said he didn’t, but …
JE: Let’s talk a little about an audience with Dave Brock where you’re going to go through some of your solo stuff. Will you perhaps play some Hawkwind tracks there? Is there anything on the anniversary tour that you’ve got on now that you’ve been playing for the first time in a long time that you’re enjoying playing again, and might want to bring to a set?
DB: Um, not really. I mean we try and do some of the new numbers you see? I mean, you know what it’s like, you can’t please everybody. We do a few old numbers. They are the old favourites that people like and, I mean, yeah, I’m doing, you know, like Star Cannibal, a different version than we did, you know, than I did years ago. Is that on the Church of Hawkwind? It was wasn’t it? It’s fresh, fondue main course stew!
It’s quite difficult sometimes cause you know, I mean I’ve been to see a few very famous bands. I’m sitting at the Albert Hall to listen to them and they play a few of their new numbers and you see the audience getting restless and as soon as they go back onto an old favourite – yay! You know, so I mean, I think all bands do this. You know, you want to write new stuff, keeping it fresh for yourself.
Until I actually download some stuff and have a go at this stuff like we were talking about, from way back – I mean we can put it on the Mac computer now and time it, make it, you know, so Richard can play along on drums. I’ll probably get Richard cause Richard is always very witty – he used to do a DJ set on local radio and he used to have this alternative show called Badger, you know, and he used to introduce the records – Richard likes a lot of black metal and he’s a very good drummer so he might come up with a few weird things as well – I’ll have him with us as well.
JE: It’ll be interesting to see what you do, to see if you reinterpret any of those songs or you enjoy playing them back and you think to yourself, actually they stand the test of time as they are.
DB: Yeah. Well that’s what we are we going to find out, I mean some of it, I mean, okay some of the stuff I did, you know, it’s been used for a few famous films actually. The Kennedy Assassination, that I think that was on the first album, which is weird, that was weird doing that. Cause I was doing that on the MS synthesizer. What was the other one? Life Form. I mean they used that for the soundtrack for Any Given Sunday, which is um…
JE: The Al Pacino football film? American football film. Yeah.
DB: Yeah. So I mean some of these tracks, you know, honestly, they must be all right. And the Universal Soldier, I did something for Universal Soldier but I can’t remember which one it was. Weird electronic bits and pieces, do pop up on National Geographic sometimes. You know, I trip watching the thing about going down the Amazon, that’s a familiar piece of music – oh f**king hell that’s one of my solo bits. So yeah, we’ll be coming up with a few bits and pieces!
JE: Yeah. I’m very, very interested to see where you go with this. I’m sure it will be fantastic as well. And I also wonder if, if you’re going to start using newer pieces of technology is, is that something that’s new to you now when you record, even with Hawkwind or for yourself, do you, do you sort of seek out new ways of recording or new forms of technology?
DB: We do. Yeah. I mean lots of synthesizers now have all the analogue sounds on. I used to have a bank of six oscillators going through two more oscillators! I recorded some of that the other day and it was awful – I thought fkn hell! I mean, because some of this stuff…when you put headphones on, it actually does, it affects your equilibrium, you know, laughing about Sonic attack, you know, we were using waveforms to make people fall over – all these sorts of experiments that we used to do in the early seventies. With oscillators and so on.
But yeah, I mean all this stuff was being used, you know, by different governments to see, you know, obviously brainwashing techniques. So using lots of weird sounds like that, I mean it does affect you. It is quite unusual, years and years ago I was living in High Bickington, I actually had to go in the bank and I had spent about two hours on a synthesizer with a pair of headphones on. I went to the bank and the whole of the bank seemed to be moving, like, you know, oh fkn hell what’s happening to me, you know, this is quite weird. I could hear the oscillators going, you know….oooooooohhhh, you know, like brainwashing me!
We’re doing our 50th anniversary which could be really interesting if we actually use our plan of action, which I can’t tell you about yet!
JE: No don’t – I like the surprise!
DB: It could be really interesting. It could be really good fun. So I mean, that’s in August. And of course, you know, there’s a few festivals, obviously doing Hawkwind over the summer. But we’re not allowed to say anything because they like to announce… seems weird… weird old business innit music business!
JE: That’s social media for you now – it’s easy to read something and ruin the surprise. So yeah, it’s nice to see old fashioned surprises still. Thank you so much for talking to me today. I really do appreciate it. Thank you!