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A Conversation with Richard Chadwick of Hawkwind

Hawkwind recently announced a special orchestral show at the London Palladium on 4th November 2018, titled “In Search of Utopia – Infinity and Beyond”. The concert is set to be a mixture of old and previously unheard material, with the band currently writing and recording new music. Drummer Richard Chadwick gives some hints about what to expect at the show and reveals what their upcoming album is going to sound like. In addition to discussing the group’s present and future, we also take a brief look at the past.

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Hawkwind live in London in 2017 (Credit: Kevin Nixon)

Where did the idea for this one-off show at the London Palladium come from?

Chris, our manager, came up with the idea, and we thought: “Why not?” We are sort of celebrating getting closer to our 50th birthday, so we wanted to do something special. The idea is to amalgamate with lots of other musicians to create a really big show.

Are there going to be any famous guest musicians?

Yes, we have got a few ideas for special appearances by various people to take various roles in the production. But I can’t reveal any names as yet.

Have you thought about what the set list is going to look like?

With the addition of the other musicians, we’ll be able to expand and extrapolate on some of the older songs, and we’ve starting to come up with quite a lot of new material for it as well. So it will be an amalgamation of both new and old stuff, but all of it rearranged quite dramatically with the help of lots of musicians. It will be a surprise and it should be very good.

Have you been working on a lot of new material recently?

Yes, we’ve started writing, and everybody is very inspired at the moment. Things have been going very well and we’ve come up with quite a lot of new stuff. We’ve just set up a system whereby we can record as we rehearse. We have quite a lot of new material already.

Can we expect something similar to ‘Into the Woods’ musically?

I think it will be an extrapolation and extension of those ideas. Hawkwind always reflects its line-up in terms of its sound. It’s a more vibrant, lively sound than what we’ve had for a while, I think.

Does this mean that you’re also going to release a new album soon?

Oh, yeah; a lot of this new material is quite strong, so there will be a subsequent studio LP. Because we record while we rehearse, we’re able to assemble material as we go along. We write lots and lots of stuff, and then pick the best of it.

You are credited as a writer on many Hawkwind tracks. What’s your usual role in the songwriting and composition process?

I like to see my role as essential but indefinable! I’ve always been involved in the writing process, in all of the bands I’ve been in – mostly in terms of creative input and enthusiasm. I don’t write a lot of music but I can actually play keyboards to a sort of homemade extent, which is enough to come up with simple ideas. I also write lyrics sometimes. So I do have things to add to our ensemble.

Do you think the “space rock” genre accurately describes what Hawkwind’s music is about?

Yeah, I would say that it’s the kind of music that deals with futurism and romanticism in equal parts. It’s about creating moods and atmospheres, with which the imagination can soar. It’s not necessarily something that can be pinned down as a specific point of view, but rather an open-ended index of possibilities, I would say. So yes, it’s music that fires the imagination.

Do you have a personal interest in space and science fiction?

Yes, I’ve always had a huge interest in science fiction. It’s a type of fiction that allows people to explore and extrapolate ideas that might not otherwise work in, say, crime novels. It’s about new ideas and visions of what might be. It’s a futuristic sort of vision, really, and it’s a kind of sensibility that we need to think about; what does the future hold?

Do you have any favourite science fiction novels or authors?

I have a huge collection of Michael Moorcock paperbacks, and a lot of American superhero-type comics, very much concerned with space exploration and travel.

When you write lyrics, are you inspired by the science fiction you’ve read?

Oh, yeah – I usually listen to the music and try to fit words to it. The last thing I wrote was some poetry for the ‘Into the Woods’ LP. It was about the kind of primordial fear that can occur when you’re lost in the forest alone, and the sense of a creeping kind of malevolence and danger of being lost in an open, wild space. So I tend to try and picture in my mind an image of what it would be like and write words to describe that.

Were you a fan of Hawkwind’s music before you joined them in 1988?

Yes, of course. I saw them at Malvern Winter Gardens in Worcestershire in the 70s. It was fantastic. The audience sat down cross-legged on the floor – people did these sorts of things in those days. But I’ve been influenced by all kinds of music, really. I’ve always been a fan of rock music, especially electric guitars with a nice, warm distorted sound that makes you want to warm your hands on the speakers.

Which drummers have influenced you the most?

Keith Moon was the first drummer I’d noticed as standing out in the music, rather than just keeping the beat. Since then, there have been a lot of people who play drums or drum machines who interested me. I got into drum and bass and techno for a while, and I found electronic drumming really interesting. I’ll never forget the first time I heard New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’ with the bass drum intro and realized that drum machines can play things than humans can’t. That’s fascinating! I’ve also got into black metal, so I’ve been listening to lots of really groovy drummers in that genre. The first one that comes to mind is Frost from Satyricon, a Norwegian band. I also used to like a lot of prog rock when I was a teenager; I used to love the drummer in Curved Air, a guy called Florian Pilkington-Miksa. He’s a really delicate player – I really liked what he did. Then I got into punk rock, so I really liked a lot of the drumming that was going on in there. The drummer in Bad Brains was a genius!

What do you think about most of the electronic music that’s produced today?

I was into techno for a long time. Some of dubstep is really fantastic; I like the sort of cross-over fusion effect. But as far as techno ad drum and bass goes, I haven’t really heard anything that surpasses what’s gone before or adds anything new. It seems that the scene is somewhat stagnated at the moment, so I’ve moved on and got back into rock music.

Do you think there’s still potential for electronic music to progress in some way?

Yes; the street finds its own use for things. It just takes someone coming from left field with a new idea, and then the scene takes off again. An electronic artist music I’ve heard recently who I liked was Jane Weaver – she played at one of our concerts last year and she’s a really good artist.

How do you feel about the state of the music industry these days, in general?

I think we’re getting to the point where the first noise a musician makes will be the valuable thing, because after that it’s copied or reproduced in some way. So live performance is where the great value of music still lies. There’s a big interest in live music these days, which is good, but once the band have played the concert, you can probably get a recording of it on YouTube. So we’re basically seeing the death of the hard copy – there’s still some interest in that kind of thing, but I suspect that people can probably download it for free.

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Hawkwind in 2016 (Credit: TeamRock.com)

What do you think about streaming services like Spotify?

From the artist’s point of view, the first thing that goes is the sequencing of music. The way we make records, we like putting the songs in a certain order, so that the journey for the listener goes through a form of a trajectory, which is engineered by us, choosing which song to hear next. Of course, with streaming all of that goes out the window, and people just pick individual tunes they want to hear, or they have it on random, so anything can come up. It’s a shame, because when bands like Pink Floyd make records like ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’, they’re hoping that the listener will listen from start to end. And it’s the same with most recording artists; they choreograph the listening experience for the consumer.

You famously supported free festivals in the past. How do you feel about the current state of the festival industry?

Well, as far as free festivals and free parties go in this country, it’s nil, isn’t it? But I feel that the free festival movement had kind of triggered what we have now, which is a massive amount of festivals – more than anywhere else in Europe. They were a springboard for a lot of creativity, especially in the space rock scene. I really enjoyed those years, but you can see how it wouldn’t be able to continue. You know, free festivals are actually very expensive, because they’re on somebody’s land and you’re not supposed to be there.

Are there any plans for Hawkwind to play anywhere else before the Palladium show?

There are always things popping up. At the moment, we’re pencilled in for a concert in a holiday camp in Minehead in early January with a lot of other bands from the 70s and 80s, like Uriah Heep, Curved Air and Boston.

 

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