The Prog Interview: Hawkwind’s Dave Brock on Lemmy, LSD and celebrity druids
Nearly 50 years after Hawkwind popped into this dimension, space cadet-in-chief Dave Brock looks back on high times and fallen friends
It takes a certain kind of constitution to lead the same band for five decades, not least when that band happens to be Hawkwind. A nebulous proposition at the best of times, Britain’s premier space rockers have seen nearly 50 members come and go since they were founded in 1969. But there’s only been one constant factor in that lifespan: Dave Brock.
Now aged 74, Brock has skippered the band through a vast sea of cultural change. Hawkwind have forever been in flux, from their time as standard-bearers for the UK underground scene and the free festival movement through to the post-punk era of techno and rave and onto the prog renaissance of recent years. Neither time nor ongoing quarrels with certain ex-members of the band have dampened Brock’s creative zeal. Since the turn of the millennium he’s issued eight albums of Hawkwind-related product, along with a further six under his own name.
The most recent is The Machine Stops, a busy concept LP and live stage show based on EM Forster’s celebrated sci-fi classic of the same name. It’s very much in keeping with the overarching theme of Hawkwind’s work – mankind’s search for utopia amid a dystopian vision of the future – and, in the words of the band, promises “an atmospheric, musical interpretation beginning in tunnels deep beneath the earth, where every need is controlled and catered for by the machine”. The Machine Stops also carries the distinctive hallmarks of the best Hawkwind albums: scintillating rhythms that meander through space and time, hallucinatory effects, unexpected shifts in mood and edifying dollops of weirdness on top.
Brock is on his farm in Devon when Prog calls, getting ready for rehearsals with the band in his home studio, where he’s also been plotting his next solo album. It’s a set-up that means he can record as and when he likes, though he’s keen to point out that he still needs to keep a firm hand on the tiller. “We do spend a lot of time talking, philosophising about changing the world and stuff,” he says. “So you have to have somebody to say: ‘C’mon, let’s start doing this thing’. Otherwise, we could sit here forever.”
Going back to his formative days on the British blues scene and into the birth of Hawkwind, Brock is admittedly a little hazy on some of the finer detail, but that’s entirely understandable. He did, after all, begin his musical education back in 1959, when he played the banjo as a teenager with a bunch of New Orleans-styled jazzers called the Gravnier Street Stompers. By the early 60s he was jamming with friends like Eric Clapton and Keith Relf in blues hotspots Richmond and Twickenham, before forming the Dharma Blues Band. Brock’s travels took him around Europe, including a Dutch tour billed as the Famous Cure, after which he returned to London in 1968 and began busking on the streets. A few co-conspirators and an echo unit later, Hawkwind was airborne.
The recipient of Prog’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013, Dave Brock turns out to be an engaging interviewee, mapping his journey with tales of drugs, gigs, sackings, celebrity druids and lost band members (among them an “embittered and grumpy” Ginger Baker). And while he appears happy to talk about the highs and lows of Hawkwind, the only sign of irritation in his voice arrives when we get to the subject of ex-bandmate Nik Turner, with whom he’s been locked in a fractious dispute for some years now. But more of that later…