Hawkwind’s Dave Brock: ‘They phone me up every day to check I haven’t died’

Hawkwind's Dave Brock
Hawkwind's Dave Brock - Dale Cherry

Dave Brock is sitting at the dining table in his West Country farmhouse, recalling the day he sacked Lemmy.

Hawkwind’s much-loved bassist was given the push by Brock in 1975 during an ill-fated tour of North America. The band’s co-founder and sole remaining original member, Brock is an excellent raconteur. At 82, wearing a skull-and-crossbones hoodie and chunky rings across his knuckles, he leaps from his chair to dramatise his 50-year-old tale of rock ’n’ roll misadventure. He is full of brio, despite a newly diagnosed heart condition.

“Our manager warned us to make sure we didn’t have anything on us when we went over the Canadian border,” says Brock. “I was driving and Lemmy was sitting next to us. He’d fallen asleep” – Brock whispers – “he was dribbling a bit. The guards must have said, there’s a load of long-haired hippies in there, we’ll have them. And they opened the car door and Lemmy fell out!”

Lemmy was arrested for drug possession and spent two days in jail. (“Speed! He liked speed… My drug was always marijuana, but I can’t smoke that much any more because of my chestiness.”) Meanwhile, the rest of Hawkwind decided enough was enough.

How did Lemmy take the news?

“Aghast!” bellows Brock. “He was flown back to England. But a year later Motörhead [Lemmy’s subsequent, highly successful band] were supporting Hawkwind! Then he did better than us! And then Hawkwind were supporting Motörhead! But me and Lemmy were on good terms right up until he died [in 2015]. We were always all right.”

The band in 1973: Brock (second right), Lemmy (far right) and Nik Turner (far left)
The band in 1973: Brock (second right), Lemmy (far right) and Nik Turner (far left) - Michael Putland/Getty Images

Brock co-founded Hawkwind, the space-rock band with a revolving door approach to its line-up, in west London in the late 1960s, with guitarist Mick Slattery and bassist John Harrison. Lemmy was one of more than 50 musicians to pass through the band’s ranks. Now, the latest iteration of Hawkwind is about to go back on the road with an 11-date tour of the UK and France (Brock’s angiogram permitting).

Next month, they release Stories from Time and Space, Hawkwind’s 36th studio album – a surprisingly warm, almost poppy interpretation of their experimental sound. “Every album we try to make different,” says Brock. “Otherwise it becomes awfully predictable.”

Brock’s house is remote and utterly silent, other than occasional twangs and drones from the studio next door. He has lived here since 1987. Everywhere is charmingly cluttered, dark and rambling with slightly unsettling interventions: a totem pole in the garden, a life-size mannequin in a blonde wig at the window. Kris Tait, Hawkwind’s manager and Brock’s wife, supplies tea in Eel Pie Island Club mugs and a plate of vegan sausage rolls.

Hawkwind may gig at the Glastonbury festival in June, though Brock has not yet decided. The band first played the festival in 1971 on the same bill as David Bowie and Joan Baez. Remarkably, entry was free (today, it costs £355).

Dave Brock of Hawkwind performing during the Rock 4 Rescue charity concert
Dave Brock of Hawkwind performing during the Rock 4 Rescue charity concert - C Brandon/Redferns via Getty Images

Who comes to Hawkwind gigs now? “Oh grandparents, parents, kids,” says Brock. “And a lot more women. It was mostly men in the 1970s, now it’s much nicer.”

Today’s crowd reminds him of the band’s early days “when we used to play free gigs underneath the flyover on the Portobello Road. That’s what music should be like. No one should feel out of place.”

Brock was born in 1941 to a working class family in Feltham, west London. “There was an army camp there – we used to get bombed a lot,” he says. He recalls air-raid sirens, hiding under tables, shattered windows and curtains in tatters. His mother took him to the south coast for a holiday. “I remember she was pushing me across the downs and a doodlebug [a V-1 flying bomb] came across – dunnnunnunnn! – really low. She picked me up and we jumped into a ditch.”

He and Kris recently hosted a Ukrainian family fleeing war at the farmhouse. “I was telling their daughter, who was three, about my similar experiences,” he says. “You never forget.”

As a teenager, Brock began busking around London, at tube stations and outside cinemas in Leicester Square. “I used to do it for a living, but it was hard going. Playing during the winter down in subways is not fun,” he says. “You could get arrested for being a public nuisance. But I made more busking than I did with Hawkwind to start with because Hawkwind played for free.”

Wilder, heavier and altogether darker than flower power, Hawkwind’s psychedelic sound – heavy guitars, saxophones, drones and bleeps – captured the moment when 1960s utopianism became tinged with 1970s LSD-fuelled paranoia. John Lydon was a fan, once telling an interviewer he had followed Hawkwind around the country in his pre-Sex Pistols days.

Then there were the spectacles. Hawkwind was always more of a travelling carnival than a conventional rock outfit. There were spoken-word interludes, extraordinary costumes and a string of guest members (“peripherals”, as Brock calls them), which over decades included sci-fi novelist Michael Moorcock, exotic (sometimes nude) dancer Stacia Blake, mime artist Tony Carrera, actor Brian Blessed, drummer Ginger Baker and Tait, a qualified fire eater.

These days, Hawkwind has no dancers and no peripherals. “We’ve got such a fantastic light show we don’t need them,” says Brock. Though “Arthur Brown sometimes comes on and does poetry”. The frontman’s job now falls to Brock. Is he reluctant?

“Yeah. Because of the attention you get. There are so many problems with ego. It corrupts your life.”

'To start with, I made more busking than I did with Hawkwind'
'To start with, I made more busking than I did with Hawkwind' - Michael Putland/Getty Images

Tensions formed within the band over the years, perhaps inevitably for a group fond of drugs whose members often vied for attention on stage. “Excess, bad drugs – the downfall of everybody,” says Brock. “And paranoia. It happens with every band, it’s a bit like being in an office where everyone moans. Little cliques. It’s human nature.”

In recent decades, Brock was involved in a protracted and complex legal battle with Nik Turner, Hawkwind’s ebullient saxophonist, over the use of the Hawkwind name on tour. Turner died in 2022. Did they ever reconcile their differences?

“No, not at all.” Brock is clearly still aggrieved. Such disputes are, he says, “the other side of this awful business we’re in”.

We talk about his health. Brock was recently admitted to hospital with an irregular heartbeat but attempted to discharge himself. “I said, look, I’m in a band and we’ve got a tour coming up. The consultant had never heard of Hawkwind and I could see him Googling on his phone. He saw all the pictures, the Albert Hall. Then they let me out under supervision. They phone me up every day to check I haven’t died.”

He takes me on a tour of his studio, a converted cowshed stuffed with Hawkwind memorabilia. There are towers of gear and instruments, posters plastering the ceiling, a vast silver chalice on a shelf. The studio door serves as a pinned collage of snaps: Turner in flying-helmet and goggles, Brown in his flaming headdress, Lemmy with bass.

Despite his delicate health, Brock refuses to stop; his new album is a swift follow-up to last year’s The Future Never Waits. The instinct to make music and perform never leaves him.

“Sometimes it soars, and sometimes it goes down the drain for a bit,” he says. “At the moment, it’s soaring.”

Hawkwind tour the UK from April 3; ‘Stories from Time and Space’ is out on April 5: hawkwind.com