Saturday, 2 July 2016
Touring with HAWKWIND. Part ONE.
It was the winter of 77/78, a cold and seemingly never ending season. We were living in Newport, a village attached to Barnstaple, North Devon, in a brick-built, semi-detached house belonging to Bert Bell, the social worker attached to Chelfham Mill, the school where I worked. My French wife, Simone, seemed quite happy with our life, being able to get out and about a bit with our 2 and a half year old son, Nat, whilst Sam, now 6, was enjoying life at the local primary school, being used to listen to other children read cos he could already do that perfectly.
I was probably the least satisfied. My teaching job, working in a specialist boarding school for maladjusted 6 to 13 year old boys, no longer inspired me, as I felt that my efforts to make the school's systems of behaviour management work better were not appreciated. The school's owner seemed to be using myself and a few others to help him get his doctorate and he was a 'fundamentalist behaviourist' who would not tolerate any ideas that seemed to dilute or contradict his beliefs. To make matters worse, after rehearsing for and playing the Sonic Assassins' gig just before Xmas, I was wondering where all that was going. Dave Brock had taken us all off to Martin Griffin's studio outside Bodmin to add some overdubs to the recording of the concert which was rather serious and not much fun. For the keyboards he just wanted me to redo the beginning of FREE FALL, to find something that made it sound more interesting which I did successfully. He seemed happy with then rest of the keyboards so I just spent a lot of time sitting around bored.
I am sure that even the most devoted HAWKWIND fans are not aware that this track and DEATH TRAP were very much Sonic Assassins creations which we should have all been credited with. For example, the keyboard riff central to Death Trap was my creation, found in Umberleigh Village Hall which was where we rehearsed. I was quite amazed when these two tracks appeared on the later album and I was not credited, but then all of this was a learning experience.
Anyhow, as day after day passed, I wondered where my music career was going whilst going through the motions at work, teaching my class OK but not looking for any new projects. Then one day my wife called me at school during the lunch hour, very excited. She told me that Dave Brock had phoned to ask if I wanted to go on Hawkwind's American Tour which was coming up very soon and that he needed an answer quick. I asked what she thought and she said, to her credit, "You must go. if you didn't you'd always regret it!" Wow!! I phoned up Dave and asked for some details and said yes, fine.
The first thing I had to do was send my passport up to the management office, to Doug Smith, so that they could get me an American visa. Time was short. Then Dave said he would drop me round the set list on a cassette so that I could learn it and. finally, I had to go up to Abbey Road studios to get a look at the new Yamaha CS8 polyphonic synthesiser that they had just invested in.
I went up to London the coming weekend and met Simon House, Adrian Shaw and Simon King, the other musicians in the band alongside Dave and singer Bob Calvert. at Abbey Road. What an experience!! To get to play in the famous studios! The others had been in there recording some music for a Kodak advert. This fantastic new keyboard, groundbreaking at the time, had a piece of felt running right along the keyboard in front of and below the keyboard. You could play a note or a chord and make it side up or down by running your finger along the felt. Fantastic. Simon showed me how they had recorded the 30 second ad just by using this feature. I didn't really know these other Hawkwind musicians. after all, us members of Sonic Assassins were sort of rivals for the future of the band.
But they were friendly and were bantering about the up and coming tour and about life on the road in the States. They kept laughing about the number of BJs they'd be getting. I was so naive at this time, I didn't even know what they were talking about. They were obviously quite jealous of Simon House who was leaving the band to join David Bowie's band for his US tour, obviously a step up the rock ladder. Because Simon, as well as playing keyboards, played violin and it was because of this skill that Bowie had sought him out.
I had hoped to take the Yamaha home with me to get used to it but apparently it had to be fitted with a travel case and then sent to the airport with the rest or the band gear ready for shipping out. I was also told I didn't need to take any of my keyboards with me. Trying to get to learn the keyboard parts was not easy as it was often not clear what was keyboards and what was the synths that Dave used to play. Also, most of the tracks we were to play were new tracks I didn't know well. new songs like High Rise and Robot, and it was difficult to prepare without the keyboard I would be using, particularly preparing what sounds to use.
But all in all I was too excited to worry about any of that. The main problem was going to be getting the time off work. It was to be a six week tour with a few extra days at the beginning for rehearsals. And it was due to start in early March, in term time. So, I went to see my boss to ask for the time off. I knew he had let other musicians in the school have time off, particularly for the New Orleans Jazz festival (he was a trad jazz fan and (poor) drummer), so I hoped for a positive reply. But his answer was a firm NO. I said I would go anyway and he replied that if I did I would come back to no job. I told him, I didn't care, he didn't believe me and that Monday when we set off, he had not even arranged any cover, so sure was he that I wouldn't go. So he had to take my class himself. And I bet he found it difficult too.
Sorry. I lost my camera after a few days on the road so I have no photos of the tour at all.