If you are a longtime reader of this blog, follow me on Twitter or happen to be married to me (or a neighbor within earshot of my open window), then you know that I am a big Hawkwind fan. I listen to them—LOUD—all the damn time. Morning, noon or night, anytime is the right time for some ear-splitting Hawkwind as far as I am concerned. But to be honest, it’s only really the Lemmy-era Hawkwind that I’m interested in. Don’t get me wrong, I like Robert Calvert just fine, but I’m a bigger fan of his mid-70s solo album Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters (with Lemmy on bass) than of Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music or Quark, Strangeness and Charm. They just aren’t the albums that I pull out when I want to listen to Hawkwind. I want a pulverising spacerock mantra from the band; a sonic bludgeoning, not some angular smartypants New Wave pop.
Last week—after nearly 50 years as a band—Hawkwind signaled yet another change in their signature sound by releasing a double digital single of two of their classics in acoustic “unplugged” versions augmented by the slick pop orchestration of Mike Batt (yes, Mike Batt, he of The Wombles fame, and this). Normally I’d scoff at something like this, but I found it to be a toe-tapping delight. It shouldn’t work but it does. In September the band and Batt will release the 31st Hawkwind studio album, Road to Utopia.
Fan favorites and deep cuts such as “We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago,” “Psychic Power,” “Down Through the Night” and many others (including three songs from the Hawklords album 25 Years On) are re-tooled acoustically on Road to Utopia by the current Hawkwind line-up of Dave Brock, Richard Chadwick, Mr Dibs, Haz Wheaton and Magnus Martin and then embellished by Batt’s symphonic arrangements. Eric Clapton, who has known Dave Brock since the early 60s contributed some guitar to a new version of “The Watcher.” It’s exactly what you’d expect of Eric Clapton, frankly, and the least of what Road To Utopia has to offer and its weakest track.
Hawkwind will be touring with Mike Batt and his orchestra during October and November, including already sold-out dates at the Palladium in London. Not sure if Road to Utopia will join the Lemmy-era albums in my top-tier Hawkwind albums, but I would most definitely like to see this particular show live.
When Gong’s pioneering synthesizer player Tim Blake exited the proggy spacerock group in 1975, he began an influential partnership with French lighting designer Patrice Warrener. The art project/band was called Crystal Machine (named after “The Octave Doctors and the Crystal Machine” a song composed by Blake on Gong’s 1973 Flying Teapot album) and was the first live touring rock show to fully incorporate lasers. Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd might’ve had a laser or two, too, but Crystal Machine was a full-on mirrored disco ball, smoke machine and Laserium-type experience/installation that was mounted in movie theaters and smaller venues for up to a week at a time. Occasionally Blake was assisted on stage by the young Jean-Philippe Rykiel, the blind-since-birth keyboard prodigy son of French knitwear designer Sonia Rykiel. For several years, Crystal Machine traveled around Europe and to Japan and Blake released two albums of what did not really have a name at the time, but would soon come to be called “New Age” and later “ambient” music.
The first of these albums, 1977’s Crystal Machine and was an odds-n-sods collection of two-track demos and live material that Blake had laid to tape over the previous years, although it has a coherent sound. The second, Blake’s New Jerusalem, had little to do with England’s green and pleasant land and continued on with the cosmic outer-space themes of the first album, and indeed of Gong, which to my mind merely indicates how much Blake contributed to Gong’s overall sound. However the lyrical content of Blake’s solo output was lacking, and of a terribly twee hippie variety, referencing the stars, the pyramids, ley-lines, Stonehenge, and other “heavy” themes as if the Incredible String Band had tried to turn themselves into late 70s Hawkwind, the band Blake opted to join himself in 1979. The words are a bit naive and goofy, making me wish he’d opted to stay instrumental.
Some of Blake’s electronic music sounds like early Kraftwerk, other songs call to mind Chris Carter’s “AB/7A” from Throbbing Gristle’s D.O.A. In one respect Blake’s Crystal Machine solo outings remind me of The Legend Lives On… Jah Wobble in “Betrayal” or Jerry Harrison’s (wildly underrated) The Red and the Black album because it becomes, well, crystal clear exactly what Blake’s unusual talents added to Gong’s cosmic sound in the same respect the aforementioned platters did for PiL’s bassist and the Talking Heads keyboardist. If you’ve heard any of these records, they leave little doubt who contributed what to each of those groups without really sounding all that much like them either.
See Tim Blake’s Crystal Machine in action after the jump…
If you’re as much of a pinball nut as I am, you’ll flip over these fantasy back glass illustrations by Charlie Fogel.
Illustrator/cartoonist, Fogel has loads of amazing work on his Plop Culture Prints Facebook page, but these imaginary pinball games are something special. I’ve been hooked since seeing the first one in his series, Jonestown, featuring a grinning Jim Jones holding a silver ball and dishing out Flavor Aid to busty beauties.
Since that first piece, Fogel has created five more fantasy machines depicting, in order of their release, the band Hawkwind, Jodorowsky’s arthouse classic Holy Mountain, notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar, the nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll, and a Stooges Funhouse piece.
Fogel told Dangerous Minds a bit about the pinball series:
I was lucky enough to grow up with a pinball machine in my house that my dad inherited from the firehouse where he tended bar—I’m just now realizing how the countless hours of staring at it informed the way I draw. I got the idea for these at the Pinball Museum here in Asbury Park, looking at how random and awkward a lot of the subject matter of the old machines are. They’re the basest of advertising art, using totally overt sex, violence, bright lights and loud noises to stand out in a crowded bar or arcade. It’s a perfect vehicle to keep addressing the stuff I’m obsessed with (Jim Jones, for instance) without repeating myself or others work on the subject. It’s also cool because all the machines of that era, from the design down to the electronics, are totally analog—but still manage to overpower your senses without any slick computerized fluff. That really appeals to me as someone who works almost completely in analog methods and materials.
All of these illustrations are 12 inches square, mixed media on Bristol board. Fogel is planning to create six to ten more similar pieces to present in a gallery setting. Until then, you can view his work on his Facebook page or his website plopcultureprints.com.
This week one of my favorite music writers, Stephen Thomas Erlewine, published an article at Cuepoint titled “Paul Plays Synths: When Classic Rockers Embraced the New Wave.” It focuses on the year 1980 as the year new-wave “broke” for 60s and 70s dinosaur rock acts trying to remain relevant. It discusses some fine works by Paul McCartney such as his bizarre and excellent “Temporary Secretary” off of McCartney II and Alice Cooper’s “Clones” from Flush The Fashion, which to this day remains one of my top five Cooper tracks. Robert Palmer, Linda Ronstadt, and Shaun Cassidy are discussed—all artists who turned in fine new-wave tracks.
The article resonated with me because I’ve had countless conversations with other music nerds about this magical time when established acts went all new-wave, many times with fascinating results. Though Erlewine’s piece focuses on 1980, some of the most interesting work in this “genre” came within the three years following. Neil Young’s Trans album is a masterpiece which was brutally panned by critics upon release. Yes and ZZ Top are two more obvious examples of classic rock bands that did the new-wave thing quite well (and to great chart success).
One of the best records in the “old bands who went new wave” cycle actually pre-dated 1980. In 1978, the Hawklords, comprised of Hawkwind and Pilot members, released their only full studio album 25 Years On.
On the Hawklords album, you can hear a lot of the elements that made Hawkwind great, and indeed the argument could be made that the sort of heavy psychedelic rock with grooves and sci-fi synths that Hawkwind pioneered was a sort of blueprint for new-wave anyway. The Hawklords songs are infused with a bit more pop-danceability than the grittier sound of “classic-era” ‘Wind. The vocals at times bring to mind Roxy Music—in fact, some of the arrangements sound as if they may have been informed by the post-Roxy work of Brian Eno.
Following the release of the album the band embarked on a tour featuring a stage show that according to Wikipedia “designed by Barney Bubbles and based on a Metropolis/Mao Tse-tung dystopia theme, featuring a projected film based light show, dancers in drab clothing performing mundane tasks, and spotlight towers creating an oppressive internment camp atmosphere.” Apparently the elaborate stage show was abandoned when it became too much of financial burden.
The 25 Years On LP stands the test of time, and as a Hawkwind fan I actually include it in my top five favorite Hawkwind albums—even if it isn’t a “proper” Hawkwind record. It’s not actually that far of a leap from the earlier work of Hawkwind, but it’s certainly reflective of the post-punk musical landscape. It’s worth noting that there’s a big difference between a song like Hawklords’ “Psi Power” which, in 1978, is working to create a new paradigm; and a song like Alice Cooper’s 1980 “Clones,” which, regardless of it being a great song, seems desperately trying to keep up with the times.
The path to success can often have many false starts. For Ian Fraser Kilmister—the man, the myth, later known simply as Lemmy—his early success was a useful apprenticeship for his later career.
The first real clue as to what he would do with his life came when Lemmy saw the Beatles at the Cavern Club in 1963. They were thrilling, they were fab, and they were doing something Lemmy knew he would be good at too. But how the fuck do you get started? He’d left school, was working in dead end jobs and playing in bars with local bands for kicks. Seeing the Beatles made him focus on his music career.
After a few misfires, Lemmy joined The Rockin’ Vickers as guitarist in 1965. The group was originally called Reverend Black and The Rocking Vicars—known for their upbeat live act and clerical dog collar outfits. The band came to the attention of American record producer—known for his work with The Who and The Kinks—Shel Talmy and a record deal was signed.
A few singles and tours followed. By the time Lemmy joined, the band had shortened their name to the Rockin’ Vickers—as “Vicars” was thought by some to be “blasphemous.” The Vickers were (allegedly) the first band to play behind the Iron Curtain—Yugoslavia in 1965—and with Lemmy on guitar were hailed as “one of the hardest rocking live bands around.” Lemmy played guitar “with his back to the audience ‘windmilling’ power chords (like Pete Townshend)” but the sound, their sound—well their sound on disc—was just like many other beat combos of the day, which can be heard on their singles “It’s Alright” and—a cover of the Ray Davies’ song—“Dandy.”
‘It’s Alright’—The Rockin’ Vickers.
‘Dandy’—The Rockin’ Vickers.
Lemmy moved to Manchester, but covering songs and playing guitar was soon not enough for the nascent rocker. In 1967, he quit the band and moved to London where he shared a flat with Jimi Hendrix’s bass guitarist Noel Redding. Lemmy—still using the name Ian Willis—briefly worked as a roadie for Hendrix before joining tabla player Sam Gopal and his band (aka Sam Gopal’s Dream).
Sam Gopal’s Dream was a psychedelic rock band that had achieved some success on London’s underground scene in 1967. Following a line-up change in 1968, Gopal brought in Lemmy as lead singer, along with Phil Duke and Roger D’Elia—shortening the band’s name to just Sam Gopal.
‘Escalator’—Sam Gopal (written and sung by Lemmy).
Lemmy started writing songs and the band recorded them for the album Escalator. Released in 1969, it showcased Lemmy’s compositions and vocals.
To get an idea of the kind of psychedelic thing Lemmy and co. were into here he is lip syncing (badly) a number called “The Sky Is Burning” with Sam Gopal on a boat for French TV circa 1969.
This fantastic two-page comic appeared in the British underground magazine Frendz in November 1971. At the start this comic credits Michael Moorcock for the “words” and Jim Cawthorn for the “art.” Moorcock is a highly respected sci-fi writer who produced several classic sci-fi novels in the 1960s and 1970s, including The Knight of the Swords, The Hollow Lands, and Gloriana. Cawthorn was a frequent collaborator with Moorcock, both as an artist and as a writer—Cawthorn actually did many of the original covers for Moorcock’s novels.
Frendz was a weird duck, an underground magazine with ties to Oz and International Times—its original name, dating from 1969, was (weirdly) Friends of Rolling Stone, which was then shortened to Friends and later changed to Frendz.
According to John Coulthart, who found these Hawkwind images several years ago, this comic was “done largely as a promotional piece for that year’s new album, In Search of Space, the Sonic Assassins tag was one which stuck, becoming almost a secondary name for the band in later years. The name Void City also recurred later as the name of a track on the Choose Your Masques album.” “Sonic assassins” is a marvelous turn of phrase, isn’t it? Here’s a poorly Xeroxed gig poster from 1977 referring to Dave Brock’s band as “Sonic Assassins.”
The cover for In Search of Space was executed by Barney Bubbles, whom we highlighted a few days ago. Coulthart himself designed several Dave Brock/Hawkwind covers starting in the 1980s.
This “Sonic Assassins” cartoon (a.k.a. “Codename: Hawkwind”) has a wonderful “MAD Magazine on acid” feel, note King Kong in the background of the first panel bowled over by the lameosity of the sounds of Engelbert Humperdinck, Simon and Garfunkel, Donovan etc.
Downloads don’t make it, nor do CDs—yon footery wee things that look more like drinks coasters or beer mats than containers for works of great music. CDs are too brittle—they easily crack—and can often be hell when trying to remove the inner notes without crease or tear. Only vinyl counts. Only vinyl gives the user the double pleasure of quality sound and quality design work to peruse.
When The Beatles started putting thought into the packaging of their albums—hiring artists like Klaus Voorman (Revolver), Peter Blake (Sgt. Pepper’s…) and Richard Hamilton (White Album)—the record sleeve became more than just a contents label. It allowed artists and designers to produce covers that would not only sell the music but become their own artwork. Among the designers who made a career out of record design, my own favorite (and arguably the greatest) was Barney Bubbles.
Born Colin Fulcher in 1942, Bubbles graduated from the Twickenham College of Technology, in London, before learning his craft as a graphic designer working with the likes of Michael Tucker + Associates and the Conran Group, before setting up the art group A1 Good Guyz with like-minded friends David Wills and Roy Burge in 1965. The trio organized various happenings and light shows across London before Bubbles started producing design work for Oz magazine in 1968.
By 1969, Bubbles had set up his own graphic studio Teenburger Designs on Portobello Road, where he began his highly successful design career. Over the next fourteen years, Bubbles produced memorable, eye-catching and popular record designs for Hawkwind, Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, The Damned, Lene Lovich and The Soft Toys. He was so talented and prolific he produced work under various different aliases—from Colin Fulcher to Big Jobs Ltd. But this was to do with modesty about his work rather than any fear over devaluing his brand name, as he explained to The Face magazine in 1981:
“...I don’t really like crediting myself on people’s albums—like you’ve got a Nick Lowe album, it’s NICK LOWE’S album not a Barney Bubbles’ album.”
After a year-long trip to Ireland—(“to recover from the end of a long term personal relationship”), Bubbles was appointed Art Director at Stiff Records by Jake Riviera (aka Andrew Jakeman) in 1977, where he supplied album, single and promotional designs for the label’s roster of artists—this was where he produced the incredible and stunning foldout sleeve for Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces LP—a work that became (quite literally) a text book for succeeding graphic designers to steal from. Working Stiff Records was liberating for Bubbles as he later said in an interview:
“It’s fun working with Jake, we’d just walk around the block—‘cause he was so busy—it would all be done in five minutes. I could actually do what I wanted to do without being told off by record companies that say ‘Fantastic but don’t you think…?’ and then they fuck it up!”
Bubbles said his approach to record design was “to wait, hear the music and meet the guys, and they tell you what they want and its up to you to deliver it.” During this time he also redesigned the N.M.E. logo and eventually branched out into a career as highly successful promo director making videos for The Specials (“Ghost Town,” “The Boiler”), Squeeze (“Is The Love?”), Elvis Costello (“Clubland”) and the Fun Boy Three (“The Lunatics (Have Taken Over the Asylum)”). He also started painting pictures an designing furniture. Just when Bubbles should have been getting the praise, recognition and superstardom his genius as a designer deserved, his career faltered and his designs started being rejected by his once loyal record labels and artists. Bubbles suffered from bi-polar disorder and the rejection devastated him, which led to his tragic suicide in November 1983.
Barney Bubbles was one of those rare artists and graphic designers whose work could make you go out and buy an album or a single—by an act you had never heard of before—just by the quality of his sleeve design. Thankfully, unlike book design, you can judge a record by a Barney Bubbles’ cover.
Stacia as pictured in the iconic ‘Space Ritual’ fold out sleeve designed by Barney Bubbles
You read Dangerous Minds for the articles, right? Sure you do. Well maybe not this time, because today we’re talking about Hawkwind’s mononymous, voluptuously endowed former stage dancer, Stacia. I was checking out a Hawkwind fan site the other day when I came across a couple of interviews with the busty performer, both from 1974. The first one to catch my eye was from Penthouse and was entitled “Long, tall Stacia – the six foot lady with the two-way sex life.” The other, simply titled “Stacia, the girl in the band” came from the August 3rd edition of Record Mirror. Stacia comes off as a total badass in both, as I would imagine that you’d have to be to hang with the likes of Lemmy Kilmister all day long.
If you know anything about Hawkwind’s legendary 70’s live shows, you’re fully aware that they were unique not only because the band was spacing you out so hard. Here’s how the Penthouse article puts it:
What makes Hawkwind concerts rather different from those offered by the current crop of rock bands is the fact that they possess a 42-28-39 asset called Stacia. At the magic moment when the music really starts getting under your skin, Stacia makes her entrance - dancing, miming and generally interpreting the sounds in her own, very unique fashion; usually wearing little but greasepaint. With the above-mentioned statistics and standing six feet tall, Stacia is an impressive lady: as she so rightly says, “If I could get my waist down to 18 I’d have the same shape as Sabrina.”
The article goes on to discuss how Stacia started dancing for Hawkwind in 1971 (she was with them until 1975) and the fact that she received no formal dance training after being kicked out of ballet class for being too tall. Stacia then relays a story about helping out a guy from the audience who was freaking out on acid by simply handing him a ring from stage.
Next, we learn about her relationship with then boyfriend Arthur Kane from New York Dolls, her girlfriend Ingrid, some thoughts about fans and her take on Women’s Lib:
Stacia was 21 last December (“I’m still a kid”), and now lives in Earls Court with two men, two other girls, and two budgerigars. She is happily bisexual, which works out rather conveniently because her boyfriend is Arthur Kane, of the notorious New York Dolls rock band. “I adore getting drunk with him. It doesn’t matter if I never see him again; I’ll always love him. I have his pictures on the budgie cage.” As Kane is bisexual as well, he can have no hang-ups regarding Stacia’s girlfriend, a German lady called Ingrid. As well as this interesting manage, Stacia has countless other admirers. When Hawkwind appeared in Los Angeles, a 36-year-old man vowed that he would follow her to the ends of the earth, though the ladies who admire Stacia tend to be more interested in what she’s really like underneath the greasepaint and exotica. She’s defiantly opposed to Women’s Lib: “I’d rather sit at home and let the men do all the work. They should make enough money to pay for a maid.” On further consideration, that sounds extremely liberated.
Stacia’s Psychedelic sign language for Hawkwind
She also really liked her booze:
In the course of our interview Stacia demolished several glasses of wine and we asked if she took a shot of Dutch Courage before she went on. “Of course, she admitted, “it calms my nerves. I’m not as over-confident as people think. I drink like two fishes, but I don’t seem to get drunk. I can still be relatively together after a couple of hours boozing. I love Tequila: it gives you that terrific warm feeling, doesn’t it?”
In the Record Mirror interview, Stacia again talks about how she met up with Hawkwind and how she feels about people’s perception of her in relation to the band of space heroes:
“Yeah, that psychedelic rock band who made “Silver Machine” and blimey, they had a nude girl moving her hips in time with the music. When we made “Silver Machine” we attracted a Top 20 audience of filthy little boys who came along to stare at me.”
When she first started dancing with Hawkwind though, it didn’t surprise most people according to Stacia:
“I don’t think Hawkwind could surprise anybody. They get into so many weird things.”
She goes on to recount some insane on-tour incidents including a time that she nearly got murdered:
“I was doing a mime of a robot who was given a pill and becomes human for a spell. I was freakin’ out at the time, and I felt this choking sensation round my neck. People thought it was a guy hugging me at first, which was cool, but a roadie saw that he was strangling me and he threw the bloke off the stage.
“He even had a go at me a second time,” recalls Stacia, “and the hall bouncers beat him up and threw him out. I was really shaken, and I wasn’t much good for the rest of the tour.”
Later, she talks about her Catholic upbringing and the fact that she’ll probably be leaving Hawkwind soon to pursue a solo singing career.
Finally, here’s Stacia’s response to a question about whether she feels pressure to maintain her girlish figure:
“Aw, come on man,” she retorts, “remember that song, “Accept Me For What I Am”? well that’s me. I don’t diet or anything and besides I’m too fond of Guinness. Anyway I wouldn’t be able to wear my favorite costumes if I started that caper.”
You can read the entire Record Mirror interview here.
Stacia, Lemmy and others talk about her legendary performances in the clip below from the 2007 BBC documentary about Hawkwind.
A couple of weeks ago Arthur’s Jay Babcock tweeted that he had stumbled upon a fascinating two-page Hawkwind spread while “trolling thru the online International Times archive.” It turns out it wasn’t just any Hawkwind spread, it was a full Hawkwind tarot deck! Here’s a look at the spread, rotated 90 degrees. (If you click on the image, you can see a much larger version.)
This spread appeared in Issue 117 of International Times, or IT, which bears a publication date of November 18, 1971, a date that coincides neatly with the release of Hawkwind’s second album, In Search of Space or X In Search of Space, depending on who you ask, which had come out just a few weeks earlier. Linking to Babcock’s tweet a couple of days later, John Coulthart speculated, “Is this an overlooked Barney Bubbles design?”
Bubbles had designed the cover for In Search of Space, which featured a die-cut interlocking foldout. Coulthart himself designed the covers for the 1980s Hawkwind comps Zones and Out & Intake. According to Paul Gorman’s Reasons to Be Cheerful: The Life and Work of Barney Bubbles, Coulthart once credited Bubbles with inventing “cosmic art nouveau” in his early work for Hawkwind.
For any readers of IT wanting to make a deck of their own, the following instructions are provided: “Paste this page down onto a stiff sheet of cardboard. Wait till it’s dry. Then cut out each card until you have a pack of 21. Shuffle and deal into three rows of seven. Read the image / word combinations thus formed. The Galactic Tarot does not speak of the future or the past, for all galactic time is contained in the present.” Yeah, man, faaaar out….. (Cannabis and quaaludes are not mentioned.) If you’d like help deciphering the text, this page is very helpful.
Here are the cards. The text on the cards is a little bit puzzling. If you forgive a transposed word or two, the cards contain the full text of two Hawkwind songs: “Born to Go” and “Infinity.” (If you order the cards Earth-Atlantis-Pluto-Jupiter-Flying Saucer-Sun-Pyramid-Alien-Horus-Machine, you get the verses and chorus for “Born to Go,” and if you order the cards Winged Hero-Icarus-Mercury-Time Card-Aquarian Age-Galaxy-Mars-Saturn-Venus-Infinity, you get the verse and chorus for “Infinity.”) The truly bizarre thing is that neither of those songs appears on In Search of Space—“Born to Go” first appears on the live album Space Ritual, which was released in 1973, while listeners had to wait eight solid years, until 1979’s PXR5, to hear “Infinity.” (Since not everything works out so neatly, the left-over “Space” card has a line from “Black Corridor.”)
Earth: “We Were Born to Go / We’re Never Turning Back”
Pyramid: “We Were Born to Go / As Far As We Can Find”
Atlantis: “We Were Born to Go / And Leave a Running Track”
Flying Saucer: “We Were Born to Blaze / A New Clear Way Through Space”
Space: “Space Is the Absence of Time and of Matter”
Alien: “We Were Born to Blow / To Blow the Human Mind”
Time Card: “Infinity So Beautiful / Has Turned My Soul to Ice”
Machine: “We’re Hatching Our Dreams”
Sun: “A Way Out of the Maze / That Held the Human Race”
Winged Hero: “I Used to Be of Human Kind / I Had a Life to Lead”
Galaxy: “I Met Her in a Forest Glade / Where Starbeams Grew Like Trees”
Horus: “We’re Breaking Out of Our Shell / We’re Breaking Free”
Icarus: “But Now I’m Frozen in a Dream / My Life Is Lost It Seems”
Aquarian Age: “And Crystallized Eternity / For All My Future Time”
Infinity: “In a Dream / Infinity”
Mars 12a: “I Did Not Take Her for a Witch / She Wasn’t What She Seemed”
Jupiter 12b: “We Were Born to Learn / We Were Born to Grow”
Saturn 12c: “She Led Me to a Palace Gate / With Constellation Towers”
Venus 12d: “She Is the Keeper of My Fate / I Sleep Locked in Her Powers”
Pluto 12e: “We Were Born to Go / And Leave No Star Unturned”
Mercury 12f: “She Turned the Key / Of Endlessness and Locked Me”
In 1981, the idea of something like the Internet and its physical conduit, the personal computer, becoming deeply intertwined with our work and lives, still seemed like something out of a science-fiction novel. Granted, home computers were already in existence back in this time, but only for a small demographic that was mainly consumers with a healthy-sized wallet and a technology-inclined brain to match. There had been a number of sci-fi works, both films and prose that did include plot lines involving a world tied to computers, but none of these could quite touch the futuristic noir/stage musical, The Kid from Silicon Gulch
The Kid from Silicon Gulch starred Robert Calvert, who also pulled in triple duty as both the main writer and co-director. Calvert was best-known for being the band poet and occasional lead singer for the space rock sonic phenom Hawkwind, throughout most of the 1970’s. Calvert, while often considered to be the “mad” one of the band, was also an incredibly forward thinking artist and writer, with all of those attributes shining brightly in Kid.
The musical stars Calvert as Brad Sparks, the sole private dick, not counting his personal computer assistant, ZYTE B128, at the “Non-Stop Computerized Detective Agency” in an unnamed time in the future. It’s an electro-noir universe with appropriately pulp-novel worthy lines and an eerie nod to the future partially turned into our present. Just look at Calvert’s intro from the original script;
“This is my beat. The heat drenched empty sidewalks and all the millions of lonely electronic hotel rooms and cybernetic apartments. No one goes out any more. They all stay in their rooms pressing their buttons, staring at their terminals. I call it The Gulch. Silicon Gulch.”
Sparks’ world soon is rattled by the arrival of one Baroness Spencer, whom Brad refers to as “Countess.” Blonde, gorgeous, pixie-built but with a big-regal swagger, the Countess (Jill Riches) has come to Detective Sparks to help investigate the death of her husband, Hymy. The police are calling it an accident but the Countess feels like it is murder, with the accusation being that the suspect is not “whom” but “what.” The what in question being Hymy’s own “micro-computer.” Given the mention a little bit later on in the play when Sparks’ is interviewing Hymy’s “micro-computer,” the latter states that everything it says is done in a merely imitative manner. In short, there’s a potential hacker running around the Gulch, manipulating machines to execute the criminal biddings of man…. or woman.
The death numbers start to add up as Sparks peels the layers of this case in an onion-like manner, uncovering some clever twists and great songs along the way. As someone who usually gets a little nervous with the phrase “stage musical,” thanks to a theater geek past that entailed seeing all strains of deep cheese of the Oklahoma variety, the music in The Kid from Silicon Gulch is refreshingly modern and flat out good. Some of the songs, especially “Silicon Neurotic Blues,” “Day Called X” and “On the Case” (which was later covered by Calvert’s former bandmate, Hawkwind backbone and founder, Dave Brock, whose guitar work also appeared on some of the music used in the show) sound borderline No Wave. Calvert’s ability to frame his lyrics perfectly with an assortment of melodies, a skill that served him so well both in Hawkwind and in his solo career, is bar none. Sadly, the soundtrack for Kid from Silicon Gulch were never officially recorded, but thanks to both the video recording efforts from Sandy Cameron and James Heyarth, as well as Calvert’s son, Nicholas, who uploaded the taped segments online, we can enjoy this show on YouTube.
The cast, while as minimal as the sets, are great fun. Riches, who also has illustrated a number of book covers, including work for another Hawkwind wordsmith, Michael Moorcock, is appropriately cool and slightly dangerous here as the Countess. (Riches would soon change her name to Jill Calvert, after becoming Robert’s third and last wife.) Peter Pavli is likable as the bumbling Sgt. Karelli. Another cohort of Calvert’s, Pavli also pulled multi-tasking duties here, since he helped create a lot of the music used throughout Kid.
Of course, the real star here is Calvert himself. Physically, with his tall build, strong profile and requisite trench coat and fedora, he could not be a better fit for the hard boiled and hardworking Detective Sparks. While it will shock no one who is familiar with Hawkwind or his solo work that he handles all of the singing duties with sheer deftness, it should be noted that he is equally good with all of the attached stage acting duties. Prior to his transition into the space/punk rock poet “urban guerrilla” laureate, Calvert worked in the theatre, even founding his own street troupe entitled Street Dada Nihilismus in the late 60’s. So his multi-creative backgrounds served him very well here. One has to wonder if the creators of the UK sci-fi television show, Red Dwarf, got to attend any of the performances of The Kid. Sparks’ interaction with the assorted computers, especially his own, is reminiscent of Dwarf’s main computer network, Holly. Given that Red Dwarf started in 1988, a few short years after Kid from Silicon Gulch debuted, it is a possibility. (1988 is also the same year that Calvert passed away from a heart attack.)
Considering how many artistic bowling pins Robert Calvert could efficiently juggle, it’s a crime that he remains but a cult figure. Given how many bloated rock-egos surpassed him on the fame game, as well as the critical write-up level, the time is well nigh for Calvert’s work, both in terms of music, writing and overall performance, to get a proper hero’s welcome-style re-evaluation. The Kid from Silicon Gulch is just the tip of the iceberg of the blazing light that is the genius of Robert Calvert
I could hear this playing in the other side of the house on my wife’s computer. “It isn’t?”
Oh, but IT IS: Mr. Dante Fontana of Mod Cinema has posted this clip of fab German bandleader James Last and his Orchestra performing an indescribably great medley of Hawkwind’s “Silver Machine,” “Children Of The Revolution” by T-Rex and Alice Cooper’s anthem to juvenile delinquency, “Schools’ Out.”
How lucky are we that this clip exists in the world: The James fucking Last Orchestra playing a decidedly UN-IRONIC (but truly incredible) big band version of Hawkwind’s greatest hit in 1973??? I mean, for that alone, sign me up, but throw in T-Rex and Alice Cooper covers in this style, too? That’s a party. A voodoo party.
Dig the fashion-forward stripey shirt and tie combo on some of the band members. That look takes “power clashing” to a whole new level. Makes it into an art form.
There are lots of ways to have fun with Hawkwind albums, but one of the more wholesome is to pretend that the members of the band are real live outer space aliens. Weigh space anchor and hoist the star mizzen? Aye aye, Cap’n Brock! We were born to go! But if you find it hard to fantasize in this vein, there exist three official tie-in products that relate Hawkwind’s adventures in the far reaches of the cosmos.
In 1976, a sci-fi novel called The Time of the Hawklords appeared in the UK and US, crediting Michael Moorcock and Michael Butterworth as co-authors. Aside from Dik Mik, all your favorite members are there: Lemmy (“Count Motorhead”), Stacia (“the Earth Mother”), “Baron” Dave Brock, and Nik Turner (“the Thunder Rider”). Even Moorcock, who had collaborated with Hawkwind since the early 70s, plays a part in the story as “Moorlock the Acid Sorcerer.”
Moorcock immediately disowned the book, according to Carol Clerk’s band biography The Saga of Hawkwind: “While the saga was based on concepts of Moorcock’s, he vehemently denied being involved in the writing and fell out with the publishers.” Nevertheless, his famous name also featured prominently on the cover of the following year’s sequel, Queens of Deliria, which bore the lawyerly credit “by Michael Butterworth based on an idea by Michael Moorcock.”
The back cover of Deliria promised that the third volume of the trilogy, Ledge of Darkness, would be published in 1978. As it happened, Ledge of Darkness was not published until 1994, when it turned up as a graphic novel in Hawkwind’s scarce 25 Years On box set (not to be confused with the 1978 Hawklords album of the same name).
In the decade-plus that has passed since I purchased my copy of The Time of the Hawklords, I have never yet made it past this sentence on page eleven: “Next came Lord Rudolph the Black, most recent champion sworn to the ranks of the Company of the Hawk.” It seems better suited for bibliomancy than reading. Since the jacket copy on the back might be superior to the actual contents of the book, here it is in its entirety:
Rocking on The Edge of Time
From a ruined London on a burnt-out Earth, the Hawkwind group beams out its last, defiant concert. The Children of the Sun, the tattered remnants of the Hippies, gather to listen. But when the music ends, withdrawal symptoms begin—a dreadful, retching illness only the Hawkwind sound can allay.
This new malady may be more than debilitated mankind can withstand. Desperately the rock group begins research: first, with the few electronic instruments miraculously still intact; then with a book whose existence is an even greater miracle—an ancient, magical tome, The Saga of Doremi Fasol Latido, whose prophecies seem to be coming true.
And here’s the sales copy from Queens of Deliria:
Earth had already been devastated by the Death Generator.
Then the Red Queen meddled with the very laws of Time to advance her evil ambitions. She transmogrified the planet into a world stalked by decaying ghouls and policed by satanic Bulls, their amplifiers meting out the punishing music of Elton John.
Only the Hawklords could save the remnants of humanity – only the Hawklords could restore the forces of Good.
Their sole ally Elric the Indecisive; their sole weapon their music; they fought to the death with their awesome enemies, the macabre Queens of Deliria.
ROCK AND ROLL SCI-FI
This is the second volume in the trilogy which began with The Time of the Hawklords.
The final volume Ledge of Darkness will be published in 1978.
Below, the BBC’s excellent Hawkwind documentary. That’s Michael Moorcock seen in the still frame:
When you’re writing on a daily basis about popular—or unpopular—culture, it sure helps if you’ve got a great deal of enthusiasm for the topic at hand. You can’t feel lukewarm because if you don’t care about something, why should you expect your readers to care, right? The whimsical nature of what we cover here at Dangerous Minds does come down to an editorial policy of, well, whimsy on a daily basis. Luckily we’re all enthusiastic people!
Like many of you, I’m on a never-ending quest to find “something new to listen to” or something old that’s “new again” if only because I missed out on it the first time. Right now, the thing I am absolutely off-the-scale enthusiastic about is Hawkwind. I am hoping to share my enthusiasm here with you the reader in the hopes that you’ll get something out of it.
The other day—Monday—I noticed that there was a new-ish (2013) box set of Hawkwind’s Warrior On The Edge Of Time album and that it had been remixed for 5.1 surround by the incomparable Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree. As I have written here in the past, I’m interested in pretty much everything and anything when it comes to classic albums that have been snazzed up by Mr. Wilson—his name is the mark of quality when it comes to 5.1 surround—even stuff that I normally wouldn’t be that interested in (Yes, Jethro Tull, XTC). That’s not the case with Hawkwind. As soon as I saw that his Warrior On The Edge Of Time existed, via an Amazon recommendation, I couldn’t hit the buy button fast enough. “Assault And Battery” on the human anatomy—my human anatomy—in 5.1 surround as remixed by the one and only Steve Wilson? Count me in.
It arrived the next day—Tuesday—and that evening, after inhaling copious amounts of entertainment insurance (the nice little man who sold it to me called it “Lemon Skunk,” I think, and he said that it was the best weed in the shire!) I sat down in the darkness to let the majesty of Hawkwind’s Warrior On The Edge Of Time LOUDLY wash over me.
Now I should mention that I have not listened to this album in a very, very long time. Don’t get me wrong, I know every note of it but I probably haven’t heard Warrior On The Edge Of Time since 1983. My sense memory of listening to the LP I owned as a teenager is still very strong however, so maybe that’s what had me salivating over the prospects of what the extended audio field of a 5.1 remix could do for such a freaky, wild sounding album.
I was not disappointed.
Hawkwind was/is a band that had to either be recorded live in concert or else live in the studio. They’re hardly a jam band, but to lock into that monolithic Stooges meet Neu! groove would have been impossible to achieve otherwise. The way that Wilson has refashioned Warrior On The Edge Of Time gives the listener an amazing sense of what it would have been like to be IN the studio with them (not in the control room, but standing among them in the studio) and then he takes the weirdo electronic “space rock” noises they were known for—and Nik Turner’s sax—and weaves those distinctive sonics in and out of the 5.1 configuration in a manner that is both trippy as hell, and from a creative standpoint, the choices he made are simply thrilling. The vocal treatments JUMP out of the speakers and hover around you in the room like holograms or ghosts.
It’s really impressive stuff. I was stoned, true, but then again I usually am. These motherfuckers were just… far out. Hawkwind were a group who set out to push the boundaries as far as they could go at a time in history when boundary-pushing was all the rage. They to my ears, are the sole British prog rock group of the 1970s who were looking to Amon Düül II, Can, Neu! and other Krautrockers for inspiration. In that regard, a pretty good argument could be made that Hawkwind are also the missing link between prog and post punk via their influence on groups like Public Image Ltd. or the Psychedelic Furs. And of course there’s that whole Motörhead connection…
It’s kind of strange how low of a profile Hawkwind have in the US. I think most people who have never sampled the wares write them off as a “crazy hippie” band or assume that because Lemmy played bass with them during their classic era that this implies the music must somehow be moronic. Maybe it’s the participation of fantasy overlord Michael Moorcock and the spoken word bits that marks Hawkwind as “music for nerdy boys,” I don’t know. The only people who seem to care about the band stateside seem to be Motörhead fans, whereas YOU, yes YOU THERE listening to Faust reading this, you might find that there is much for you to enjoy, too, in the classic Hawkwind albums.
Have a listen to Hawkwind’s Warrior On The Edge Of Time in stereo and try to imagine how sick it would sound coming out of five speakers and a subwoofer.
The promo film for “Silver Machine” that was filmed for Top of The Pops. This would explain why their amazonian gogo dancer Stacia has her clothes on…
Below, Hawkwind do “Urban Guerilla” and here Stacia is more casual in her attire, you might say…
The terrific BBC documentary on Hawkwind over the decades:
Without the influence of mercurial Robert Calvert, whose factitious relationship with the band came to an end in 1979, Hawkwind returned to the more reliable world of Sword & Sorcery for their 1985 album The Chronicle of the Black Sword. Inspired by occasional Hawkwind member and collaborator Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné series of novels, The Chronicle of the Black Sword was an ambitious project that led Hawkwind move into their most Spinal Tap moment when they toured an extended stage show for the album.
A film recording was made of Hawkwind performing The Chronicle of the Black Sword at the Hammersmith Odeon, London, December 1985, which was released as a video. It all looks frightfully dated now, with its mime and dreadful video projection, and is so dark it would appear to have been shot with the lens cap on (which maybe no bad thing) but the quality of Hawkwind’s performance somehow makes it all worth it.
01. Narration (“The Chronicle Of The Black Sword”)/“Song Of The Swords”
02. Narration/“Sea King”
03. Narration (“Dead God’s Homecoming”)/“Master Of The Universe”
04. “Choose Your Masques”/“Fight Sequence”
07. “Lords Of Chaos”/“The Dark Lords”/“Wizards Of Pan Tang”
09. “Elric The Enchanter”
10. “Conjuration Of Magnu/Magnu”
11. Narration (“The Final Fight”)/“Horn Of Destiny”