Dave Brock, singer-songwriter and founder member of Hawkwind, chats with Kevin Cooper about his life as a busker, his solo album Brockworld, Hawkwind’s latest album The Machine Stops together with their forthcoming tour of the UK

Dave Brock is an English singer-songwriter and musician.  He plays electric guitar, keyboards, bass and oscillators.  He is best known as being one of the founders and musical focus of the English space rock group Hawkwind.  Brock is the only member of the group to have been a constant throughout the band’s history.

In 1968 he resorted to busking for a living and, on the back of the success of Don Partridge’s Rosie, he joined a band of buskers playing The Royal Albert Hall.  He also toured Britain on a double decker bus, and contributed track Bring It On Home to The Buskers album.

He was honoured with a lifetime achievement award at the annual Progressive Music Awards in 2013.  Hawkwind have also been a previous winner of the MOJO Maverick Award.

Whilst busy rehearsing for his forthcoming tour, he took time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Dave how are you today?

Hi Kevin I have actually got a terrible bad cold (laughter).

Oh dear, that’s just what you don’t need at this moment in time.

I know it’s really annoying.  I think that we have all got it actually, it’s just one of those things.  Fred, our keyboard player caught it last week and we all seem to have caught it off of him.  It’s very annoying to say the least (laughter).

So what are you taking for it Dave?

Nothing (laughter).  I will just have to get on with things really.  That’s not entirely true as I have bought myself a bottle of Drambuie (laughter).  I had a couple of glasses yesterday afternoon and I think that I might have another one this afternoon (laughter).

Well if you are ok to chat with me for a few minutes let me firstly thank you for taking the time.

That’s alright, let’s go for it and see how it goes.

I was going to ask you how life is treating you but I don’t know if I dare now (laughter).

Life is good and it is treating me alright at this moment in time so what more could I ask for.

Hawkwind are about to go out on tour to promote your new album, The Machine Stops and you will be playing Rock City here in Nottingham on Tuesday 19th April.  Looking back through the bands history would I be right in thinking that you have always had an affection towards the city?

Yes, you would be correct in thinking that.  We have done it all in Nottingham and we try to play there at least once every year whenever we do our tours.  We love it because to be honest Nottingham is quite a nice place really (laughter).  We love playing at Rock City, especially now that the backstage area has been refurbished.  Over the years that we have been playing down there we have got to know all of the staff and we always have a really good time whenever we play Rock City.  What I will say is that they really do look after us and the meals that they cook for us are wonderful (laughter).  It is certainly a place of history.

At least Rock City is still standing and continues putting on live music, unlike lots of other venues that we have now lost to the dreaded commercial developers.

That is totally right.  Touring around the country as we do, a lot of the places that we play at are incredible historic venues.  Lots of them still have the original Art Deco interiors and it is nice when some of these places have been refurbished and the local councils have finally realised that they are a benefit to the local community.  It’s a crying shame really that lots of the places that we used to play have now been pulled down.

Didn’t you and Hawkwind get involved in saving your local Town Hall down there in Seaton?

Yes we did, that’s right Kevin.  We found out that the local council were intending to turn the Town Hall into offices and when we heard that we all banded together and that is how we got the Hawkies together.  We did a three day festival and gave all of the proceeds to the volunteers who now actually run the Town Hall and they had it totally refurbished.  The volunteers have been running the venue for the past four years now and all of the members of Hawkwind have become patrons.  Gateway, the people who run the venue have been granted a long lease on the property so now the council can’t get their hands on it.

It is regularly used for community events such as acting, drama, yoga and even old time dancing which is a wonderful thing really (laughter).  It’s great that there are volunteers who are prepared to put in the time and effort in order to keep these places going.  It angers me because there are so many arts grants around and I feel that they should be utilised in trying to keep these community venues open.

With the frequent closure of venues throughout the country together with the demise of the working men’s clubs just where are the upcoming bands and vocalists expected to learn their trade?

I don’t know, we ask ourselves the very same question.  It is quite difficult for lots of bands now I think.  What I find is that a lot of bands are now becoming tribute acts because they can’t make it as themselves.  I hate that because it is just copying what other bands do which is a shame because there are some really good musicians out there.  We should be encouraging these fine musicians to come through as themselves and not just as copyists.

You have seen things from both sides as back in the day you made a living out of being a busker which here in the UK is frowned upon and not encouraged as it is throughout the rest of Europe. 

That’s right I was busking around London back in the 1960’s (laughter).  The funny thing is that we had to serve an apprenticeship as a busker (laughter).  You had to work your way up the food chain and I can remember playing a lot of the big queues in Leicester Square.  Don Partridge started out in the music business by busking around the theatres in London and I knew Don really well.  A lot of these characters were really good musicians too and busking was the only way that they could make a living.  I remember playing down the subways and various other places back then, even during the winter when it was freezing cold.

I would wear a pair of gloves with the tops cut off so that I could play the guitar (laughter).  It wasn’t a wonderful existence I can tell you.  You had to put up with drunks, nuisances, oh Kevin I tell you, sometimes there would be fights.  It was a colourful existence to say the least.

But if you tried to do that today the Police would simply move you on.

Maybe so, but even back then when I used to play Portobello Road I used to get moved on by the Police and sometimes I got fined and even taken to court.  They always used the excuse that you were drawing a crowd.  As soon as you started to draw a crowd you were then guilty of causing a nuisance.  It’s a shame but that’s how it goes.  There are still people out there who are trying to make a living out of busking, I am sure that they are.  There are even some great musicians out there and occasionally when I visit London, I used the subways and the underground system and I will often see a classical guitarists happily playing away down there (laughter).

Busking is a very good way for you to practise playing your instrument whatever it may be, plus you learn to sing well and you also have got to be able to entertain the crowds especially during the times that you are taking a lot of abuse (laughter).  The whole thing about busking is that it makes you quite sharp in everything that you need to be, especially if you are trying to get a foothold within the music business of today.

Bringing you right back up to date, Hawkwind’s new album The Machine Stops, are you happy with it?

Yes I am Kevin and it is a really good storyline actually.  Have you ever read the book on which the album is based?

I have to say that actually I have.  It’s based upon E.M. Forster’s 1909 novel The Machine Stops if my memory serves me correctly.

(Laughter) smartarse, well you will fully understand what it is that we were trying to do with the album then won’t you (laughter).  The novel, although it was written way back in 1909 is all about what is quite evidently happening today; computerisation and people sitting alone in their rooms.  To be honest with you when the idea was put to the band we all thought that if we could put all of this together then it would make a really good stage show.  So we at once set about breaking it all down and I have to say that visually it is looking very good.  There are some very interesting parallels that can be drawn between the story that was written all that time ago and what is happening in our lives today.

Especially when you think about all of the infuriating times that you are about to do something on the computer and you get a message telling you that your computer is currently installing downloads which then goes on for about twenty minutes and you just think ‘oh for fucks sake’ and I am sure that you know exactly what I mean (laughter).

You briefly mentioned the stage show, what can we expect?

Well the down side is that at this moment in time both of our dancers have got the flu but fingers crossed I am sure that they will get over it by the time that we get to Rock City.  We have put together a wonderful lightshow which is fantastic as it pretty much tells the story of exactly what is happening within the songs, which all relate to the Forster’s story.  We have written about twelve new numbers which we have mixed with a few old ones in order to keep everyone happy.  It may be difficult for us in Rock City because the venue has such a low ceiling but I am sure that we will get by (laughter).

Because you have based the album upon the book, did it naturally lend itself to being a concept album?

Yes it did actually because it is as I have already said a really good story about a boy who is having a constant battle with his mother and who are living their separate lives.  As we were making the album we were all constantly thinking why hasn’t someone done this before.  The storyline and the characters are so strong that it simply had to be written as a concept album.

You have obviously enjoyed both writing and recording the album so dare I ask, how is it to play?

(Laughter) what I will say to you Kevin is that it will only get better (laughter).  Although we have already started to rehearse all of this, it is when you go along playing it live in front of the audiences that you realise that you have to ad-lib (laughter).  No two shows are ever the same and so I am sure that we will get better the further we get into the tour.

As well as The Machine Stops you have also released your own new solo album Brockworld to some fantastic reviews.  Are you happy with that as well?

Funnily enough about two or three tracks on Brockworld are taken from The Machine Stops.  I got so fed-up waiting for the band to do things I just thought ‘oh fuck it, I will just get on with doing things myself’ (laughter).  And that is the main reason why I recorded Brockworld.  On the subject of computers I have a Mac computer which is really good and it allows me to play the bass, keyboards and pretty much allows me to do everything.  It allows me to record tracks which I then play to the rest of the band who sit there, and then I get the feeling that they don’t seem to like that number so I just think ‘bollocks, I will do it myself’, and that’s how Brockworld came to be (laughter).

Whenever you are writing for the band and then for yourself, do you have to have a different mind-set?

No, not really because they are pretty much the same.  I am quite lucky in the fact that I can constantly write things; some people simply don’t or can’t.  As a unit we are very flexible and I have just got one of our young roadies to play the bass for us as he is very talented (laughter).

You formed Hawkwind back in 1969.  Could you ever have envisaged some forty-seven years later that you would still be as popular today as you were back then?

The simple answer to that is no, never.  When I formed the band I was still busking in 1969 and so our old manager Doug Smith said that I had to make a choice.  Doug gave me the ultimatum that I was to either play with the band or try to make my living as a busker.  He said that I needed to try to sort my life out as I would sometimes fail to turn up for gigs with Hawkwind because I was still out busking for the queues at Leicester Square (laughter).  It was at that point that I thought that I should give it a go playing with the band (laughter).

That’s how I originally met Hawkwind’s original bassist, the late John Harrison.  John was working in London and he would see me busking in the subway at Tottenham Court Road.  At that time I was playing a lot of blues stuff and John would stop to listen and he would often speak to me.  After a while I found out that he was a bass player and so we would often play together and then I met Huw (Lloyd-Langton) there as well because Huw was working in a music shop.  As I got to know Huw better I found that he was a really good guitarist and that is how the three of us got together (Laughter).

On the subject of bass players, on the tour will you be doing something to mark Lemmy’s passing at all?

Yes we will, we will be playing The Watcher which is one of Lemmy’s really good numbers, and which was really well written.  Also it works wonderfully well with the rest of The Machine Stops.

Hawkwind have been labelled as being the band that invented Space Rock.  Would you go along with that?

I suppose so because we do play that sort of music with lots of spacey sounds together with poetry and heavy rock chords, so yes, I really don’t mind that.  And it has stood us in good stead for forty-seven years that’s for sure.

What drives you on; what keeps you wanting to make music?

Sometimes it is the challenge of trying new things out although I have to be honest and say that it is quite wearing at times.  It does get me down sometimes but it is an art form in a way and whenever we get a good idea like the one we had for The Machine Stops, which is the only impetus that I need in order to keep going.

Do you ever wake up and think that’s it, I have had enough?

Yes I do if I am being honest with you.  But saying that I think that everyone who is working has that moment at some time during their working life.

Was it always going to be a career in music for you?

I don’t know because funnily enough somewhere back in the 1970’s my mum and dad asked me if I thought that it was about time that I got myself a proper job (laughter).  I remember saying to both of them ‘just what do you think that it is that I am doing’ (laughter).  It’s funny how your parents regard playing music as not being a proper job.

Are you always writing?

With me it tends to come in spurts, sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t.  There are times when I won’t play my guitar for a few weeks, however, whenever there is football on Sky on a Sunday afternoon you will find me playing my guitar (laughter).  I do tend to do that.  Quite often I would come up with some really good ideas which I would record but I later found out that you can hear someone in the background doing the football commentary (laughter).

Who has inspired you along the way?

Years ago when I first started playing the guitar I would listen to a lot of the old blues musicians.  What I will say is that my personal musical tastes are so varied now; I often find myself listening to a lot of jazz together with classical music (laughter).  I really do try to listen to everything that I can Kevin.  I no longer have to listen to music in order to get new ideas.  I am lucky in that I can pick up my guitar, pluck away and record stuff.  I don’t really get inspired by anyone.

What was the last song that made you cry?

I can’t honestly recollect ever crying over a song actually.  Having said that whilst I have never cried I do get slightly emotional whenever I listen to The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams.  It is all down to the emotion within the music plus what your mood is at that specific moment in time.

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

That’s easy Kevin that would be when I received the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award at the Progressive Music Awards.  To me that was quite something.  We also won as a group the MOJO Maverick Award for doing things the way that we wanted to do them.  That was rather nice and that was presented to us by Jarvis Cocker.  Both of those are quite nice to have in your life really; it’s like winning an Oscar really, a musical Oscar (laughter).

Is there anything left for Dave Brock to achieve?

Having a rather nice house in Hawaii where it is nice, sunny and warm with a nice ocean view.  If only (laughter).  Being serious I would love to put on a really big show; if we had the money to allow us to be able to do that it would be fantastic.  We have got lots of good ideas but it is always a question of the cost of doing them.  However you never know, one hopes and if things are successful then yes, we will try and do that.

Hawkwind’s new album together with the tour and your new album, what next?

Well I am pleased to say that we will be playing at lots of open-air festivals this year and we are currently in talks to record a live album of those shows later on in the year.  Who knows what will happen next year.  It’s a strange old business plus it all depends on whether or not your health keeps going.  This year it was quite amazing just how many artist died who were all in their early seventies.  It was quite sad really but there you are.

On that note Dave let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me, it’s been an absolute pleasure.

Thank you very much Kevin and I will see you in Nottingham.