SPACE ROCK PSYCHONAUTS HAWKWIND CONNECT WITH CLAPTON AND… MIKE BATT?
THE INCONGRUOUS collaboration has a noble history in rock, from Stanley Unwin guesting with the Small Faces to Karl ‘Wimoweh’ Denver’s team up with Happy Mondays. Yet few have the double-take quality of Hawkwind’s new album Road To Utopia, where reimagined songs from the group’s first decade are given new orchestral frames by Mike Batt, the producer behind hits for Steeleye Span, Vanessa Mae and, of course, The Wombles. “We met him when we were queuing up for visas at the American embassy in 2007,” says chief Hawk Dave Brock. “I probably met him when he was working in the office at [early Hawkwind label] Liberty in 1970. Strange how your paths cross. Some fans probably won’t like it but you have to do something different, don’t you?” Batt got involved after a proposed Hawkwind acoustic album began to acquire electric elements. Though Hawkwind weren’t present when he added strings and brass to the tracks, their collaborative preparations for concerts reveal a lively creative dynamic. “Mike’s a very clever, eccentric character,” says Brock. “When we were rehearsing he was saying, ‘Oh, you’re two bars out…’ he gives you a bollocking if things go wrong. And the first time we’re going to play with the fucking orchestra is when we do it live! It’ll be all right though. Is he a member of Hawkwind? I should bloody well hope not! We ad-lib a lot.” Batt plays piano on a new version of The Watcher, a Lemmy composition from 1972’s Doremi Fasol Latido: the track also features the unmistakable guitar of Brock’s early-’60s busking pal Eric Clapton. Reconnection was made when Brock contributed to Philip Norman’s new biography of Clapton. “They wanted to know all the bits and pieces about our background and the blues, when we used to sit around in Richmond playing our guitars,” says Brock. “And we thought, Wouldn’t it be good if we got Eric to play on The Watcher? It was really nice to see him – I probably hadn’t seen him since he was in Cream. What did we talk about? Not the next project, this one.” The next project, wonders MOJO? What’s that? “Oh I dunno, who knows?” says Brock. (Intriguingly, Hawk manager/Brock’s partner Kris Tait chips in with, “He’s coming down next week.”) Another old comrade the record salutes is late, great Hawkwind poet/ frontman Robert Calvert, who died 30 years ago this month: four of the nine songs are co-written by him. The Road To Utopia’s cricket-themed cover art also references Calvert’s 1979 release Cricket Star. “On the sleeve Mike Batt’s the umpire, Eric’s in the pavilion coming out to bat, and Bob’s there too,” says Brock, “in the silver machine/flying saucer in the sky.” Still capable of surprise nearly five decades into their voyage, Hawkwind’s orchestral tour begins in October. Following past stage theatrics – we’re thinking Calvert’s steampunk fighter ace outfit or dancer Stacia’s psychedelic body paint – might there be room for a Womble on-stage? “Certainly not!” retorts Brock. “[Hawkwind bass/ voice] Dibs could put a mask on though.”
“I hadn’t seen Eric since he was in Cream.” DAVE BROCK
The road to Utopia is paved with Batt and no-balls: Eric Clapton and (right) Dave Brock; (above) Mike Batt and the album.
Road To Utopia is released by Cherry Red on September 14. See review on page 93.