The Barrel Inn, Thornbury, Bristol
October 22 2011
It’s nearly 7pm on a cool autumn evening when your humble reviewer and his companions arrive in Thornbury, a small market town about 12 miles north of Bristol. Despite it being Saturday night there doesn’t appear to be another soul in sight as far as we can ascertain. Dusk it maybe, but it might as well be the Twilight Zone – cue spooky theme music. Having located the venue and indeed a few other people too we head off to another local hostelry for pre-gig refreshments whilst the Hawklords are sound checking. Thankfully, initial misgivings that the first pub we come across might be reminiscent of The Slaughtered Lamb are quickly dispelled as the first pint of Black Rat hits the spot and it becomes apparent that the locals that aren’t unduly concerned by the arrival of a bunch of longhairs. But, it’s soon time to head back to the Barrel Inn if I’m to have a few words with the band before the show. Cider duly quaffed we make our way back down the street, and there now appears to be life in Thornbury after all, even if it only appears to be outsiders heading to the gig!
The Barrel regularly hosts live music, including Black Sabbath and AC/DC tribute acts like Snowblind and Hells Bells. But it’s unlikely that it’s ever hosted what some might argue is ostensibly a Hawkwind tribute band before, especially as the line-up actually consists of seven former members of Hawkwind! As it also includes founder Hawkwind member Nik Turner, as well as two original members of the Hawklords line-up, others would argue just as vociferously that this band has as much right to the Hawkwind legacy as Dave Brock, and boasting a pedigree like this they do have a point. A considerable crowd has now gathered, and various members of the band are also milling around outside amongst the smokers and those filing into the venue. The Barrel is an intimate venue to say the least, and because of its shape it’s not easy to get a direct view of the stage unless you’re right at the front, but that’s not to detract from the general atmosphere of the place. There’s an excited air of anticipation buzzing through the packed crowd – a mixture of old hippies, punks, freaks, locals and the plain curious.
Steve Swindells one of the original Hawklords’ keyboard players explained the circumstances surrounding the choice of venue before the gig: not only did he grow up in Thornbury, he was contacted by an ardent fan of the band who asked them to play at his local pub. It’s also their way of saying thank you to all the people who have supported them over the last three years since getting together initially as a one-off Bob Calvert memorial gig in Herne Bay. Since then the Hawklords have also played a high profile gig at the 229 Club in London – a tribute to Barney Bubbles, the legendary graphic artist and designer of many Hawkwind and Hawklords record covers and stage sets. The success of the 229 gig prompted a UK tour in the spring of 2010, which in turn has now encouraged an even more extensive tour this autumn, including a very successful European leg of which the band completed just before embarking upon the UK dates. When the band finally takes to the stage and launches into an old Bob Calvert Captain Lockheed and The Starfighters number, ‘The Aerospace Age Inferno’ the crowd erupts. These guys don’t just do “old” though and ‘Digital Age’ - a Jerry Richards song from his other outfit Earthlab - maintains the tempo, before the motorik classic ‘You Shouldn’t Do That’ segues back into another recent composition ‘Addicted To You’.
In the first of several changeovers, bassist Alan ‘Boomer’ Davey steps aside for Adrian Shaw who assumes bass duties on the slower ‘(Only) The Dead Dreams Of The Cold War Kid’, replete with lilting flute accompaniment from Nik Turner. Suffering from a throat infection, Tree’s vocals feel the strain a little handling such a melodic song, but elsewhere throughout the set he does a commendable job. Then they’re off with a rush of adrenaline as Thornbury’s prodigal son Steve Swindells takes the spotlight for a rousing ‘Shot Down In The Night’, provoking an enthusiastic sing-a-long from the heaving throng. Continued audience participation is guaranteed with an intense version of ‘Robot’, but if you’re in search of space maaaan, respite comes in the form of the plaintive ‘Children Of The Sun’ – Jerry Richards switches to acoustic guitar and Nik Turner alternates between lead vocals and a haunting flute solo.
Other old favourites are duly despatched, such as ‘Spirit Of The Age’, a barnstorming version of ‘Flying Doctor’, and the marvellously sprawling ‘Steppenwolf’ – always a showcase for Turner’s expansive sax work. You’ve got to hand it to Turner, not only is he really one of life’s good guys, you have to admire his stamina too: now 70 years old he still has the energy of a person less than half his age. It’s also testament to his redoubtable stage presence that songs that he didn’t originally play on now really benefit from his inimitable saxophone playing, particularly ‘Psi Power’. Then all eyes are on Harvey Bainbridge for a “brain chewing” version of ‘Dream Worker’, which is intensified further by the swirling psychedelic light projections. These days looking for all the world like some kind of mad professor or an errant Timelord, Bainbridge was an original Hawklord in 1978 and mainstay of the Hawkwind line-up until 1991.
Already well over an hour into the set, next up is ‘Quark, Strangeness And Charm’, and the stage is now set for one hell of a finale as they roar into the final descent with the inevitable renditions of what are arguably Nik Turner’s finest moments ‘Master Of The Universe’ and ‘Brainstorm’, before finally concluding with an original Hawklords number ’25 Years’. A fantastic end to a truly memorable evening at The Barrel, although admittedly the cider is now starting to take its toll so maybe it’s just as well. I wonder if they’d come and play in my local if I ask nicely?
SHINDIG: Considering this incarnation of Hawklords ostensibly got together as a one off for a Bob Calvert memorial fund-raiser in September 2008 did you expect to still be going three years later?
JERRY RICHARDS: Well, we didn’t have any expectations. We just kinda turned up and did the gig... it was for Jill Calvert, a fund raiser for Jill really because she wasn’t very well. We had a big auction and we all brought stuff... memorabilia that we’d got over the years and flogged it off and made a load of money, and got to see our mates that we hadn’t seen for ages and ages. I hadn’t seen Adrian for.... (cue other members of the band singing 33 years to the tune of Hawklords song ’25 Years’ and general hilarity) ... a long time.
SD: When I saw Hawklords at the Barney Bubbles Memorial Space Ritual Concert in November 2009 the set was drawn largely from that album and a smattering of other Hawkwind favourites. Has the set list changed much at all?
JR: Oh yeah, I put the set list together for this tour and I tried to pick the songs that best represent a 40 year trawl through the history of the band really, but most of it centres around Robert Calvert’s contribution to the band, simply because we like Bob’s lyrics, his lyrics were just so fantastic and conjured up so many amazing evocative images, travelling through space... rockets roaring off into space and all the social fabric of the things he commented about, and a lot of that to me was what the original Hawklords incarnation of was about, it wasn’t just a space rock band, it was talking about social issues and deprivation and the human condition more than just fantasy, sci-fi and stuff...
RT:... lyrics like I can read your mind like a magazine, tear out the telephones rip out the pages of directories, hi-speed lifts, elevators, sabotage...
JR: ... talking about the modern age, modern life is rubbish... and all of that kind of thing, wrapped up in your little metal box and you can’t get out.
RT: He was a poet quite simply, and apparently he took music up because of Hawkwind.
JR: I think all the people that have been involved in the band over the last 40 years have all brought something... they’ve had their fingerprint as it were, and that’s why they get invited to join the band in the first place, because they’ve all got some kind of special skill or something that’s missing within the band at that particular time that they can bring to the table... like Ron’s got an utterly unique vocal style and general style anyway. He comes from a very oblique angle. Ron and I we do a lot of Dada poetry in these performances where one of us will start something off and the other will join in, or I’ll start ranting about stuff and Ron’ll come in at a completely oblique angle and start talking over it, under it, around it and then you get all this weird chaos going on then, and then you start sparking off each other and that’s how you get new music, rather than you sit down and you go “Right boys I’ve got a song here and it goes like this” and everbody goes, “well it’s alright, but what about doing this with it or and doing that?” You have to make something new out of nothing and make that nothing reality. Know what I mean?
SD: You’ve recently completed the European leg of the tour. How did you go down on the continent?
STEVE SWINDELLS: Like a lead balloon!
JR: (laughs) Like a lead balloon, yeah. No, it went well.
RT: It was good yeah, they loved us!
SD: Where did you go down best then?
JR: Berlin was really good, but every one of them was really good... every one.
SS: Madly enthusiastic... small crowds to be honest but...
SS: ... hardcore, they were loving it, absolutely loving it!
SD: So they were more enthusiastic crowds than over here?
SS: No, no.
JR: In Scotland. It was off this planet...
RT: Edinburgh and Glasgow...
JR: ...it was shirts off in the audience and people were just having it, really, really going for it and leaping like crazies.
HARVEY BAINBRIDGE: There’s a bit of a vibe going on, because Steve is our online...
JR: ... he’s our web wizard!
HB: It’s amazing what comments are coming through after each gig
SS: The most common one is “This is the real Hawkwind”.
SD: Well there are more previous members of Hawkwind in Hawklords albeit at various stages than there are in Hawkwind!
RT: There’s only one in Hawkwind at the moment and that’s Dave (Brock).
SS: Nik (Turner), where is he? Lost in conversation somewhere. He co-founded Hawkwind so it doesn’t come much stronger than that, and of course Harvey and I were both in the original Hawklords which was just called that because of a contractual thing, so we feel perfectly entitled.
SD: Flicknife Records have recently released a spate of Hawklords related CDs haven’t they?
SS: Hawklords: Friends and Relations yeah, and Gunslinger.
SD: Steve, you’ve got something coming out on Flicknife too haven’t you?
SS: It’s called The Lost Albums from 1980.
RT: I’ve got stuff out as well but it’s not on Flicknife... you can get any of our stuff through the website.
SD: So, the idea behind this free gig... Steve, you told me earlier that you’re originally from Thornbury, so is that why you chose this place?
SS: It came through Facebook...
JR: Somebody’s birthday – Justin Day...
SS: A big fan, and he contacted me and said “is there any chance?”, and I just thought “yeah mate, why the hell not, what a great idea”. It’s our way of saying thank you to all the people who have supported us. It’s old school Hawklords approach to...
JR: Life the universe and everything!
SS: ... thanking people
SD: Any plans for any Hawklords recordings featuring this line up in the future?
JR: Absolutely! All brand new material in the pipeline. We are beginning to work on all that and putting our brains together for it. We’ve got a few album titles floating around already just to kick start things. We might have some assistance from Michael Moorcock on all of that and we’ve been in touch with him. There’s a few other characters involved that we might be able to drag into the equation if we can persuade them to do various bits and pieces with us. So, yeah hopefully we start recording just before Christmas and we’ll try and get back into the studio at the end of January 2012.
SD: So aside from the new material, where next for Hawklords following this tour - presumably you’re planning to tour the new material at some point?
JR: Yeah, but unfortunately that won’t be happening in the UK until next October / November. We’re going to back to the continent to do more dates in Europe, hopefully in April / May next year, and then festivals as well, and once we’ve got the festivals over here sorted out tour the UK again in October / November 2012.