Eighth Day - "We Saw Them On TV..."

An article inspired by trying to chase down every single shred of film relating to Hawkwind in the 1970s... Published October 2020.

Hawkwind were a one band revolution in the 1970s, countercultural avatars who took the spirit of the underground to every town and city in Britain. In an age of prog rock puffery and plastic pop, Hawkwind performed their unique brand of deep space psychedelia to crowds of thousands wherever they went. After ‘Silver Machine’ became a million-selling hit in 1972, their profile was raised even further, culminating in a headline show at Wembley Empire Pool (now Wembley Arena) in May 1973. By any estimation, Hawkwind were one of Britain’s biggest bands during this period, and continued to be a major live attraction throughout the ‘70s…

Which makes it all the more mysterious that there’s practically no film or video footage of the band from this decade. Go to YouTube and search any number of second division bands from the ‘70s, and you’ll be rewarded with, for example, an appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test, a concert from Belgian TV or a collection of primitive promos. But for Hawkwind, there were just two pieces of footage (and two songs) that appeared on British TV in the ‘70s.

The first is the promo film for the aforementioned ‘Silver Machine’ made for Top Of The Pops after the band made it clear they wouldn’t mime in the studio. As just about the only legitimate ‘live’ footage of Hawkwind from this period, it’s something of a holy relic. Shot for the BBC by Caravel Films, it does a pretty good job of replicating the intense multimedia assault of a Hawkwind live show on celluloid. Its opening shot is of a crowd already in the grip of what looks like religious ecstasy, hands aloft flicking peace signs in the air, the provincial underground in all its scuzzy glory. Stacia is implacable and mesmerising, her face painted silver and white; Simon King’s pale, almost emaciated body buzzes with kinetic energy; Lemmy is the very essence of grimy biker chic; Nik Turner furiously shakes his flute above his head like a space-age sceptre…

This promo was shown three times on TOTP, and not only played a major part in propelling ‘Silver Machine’ to number three in the charts, but also established Hawkwind’s reputation as the kings of the underground. It was a clarion call to nascent heads and freaks everywhere, a bold assertion of a music scene and lifestyle that rejected mainstream society.

The second piece of footage couldn’t be more different. In July 1977, the title track of Quark, Strangeness And Charm was released as a single. It didn’t chart, but it did lead to an incongruous slot on Marc Bolan’s teatime pop show Marc, its foil discs and flashing lights the epitome of the sterile, artificial pop world that Hawkwind had previously shunned. Now fronted by the flamboyant Robert Calvert, it’s quite a performance. While the rest of the band give a good impression of wishing they were somewhere else (and band leader Dave Brock actually is), a heavily made-up Calvert – who looks like he’s leapfrogged the punk years into the New Romantic era – pretends to play guitar and gesticulates meaningfully with a stuffed hawk on his arm, a man in his element.

However, that’s not the full story of Hawkwind on film in the 1970s. In 2007, the ‘Collector’s Edition’ reissue of the band’s legendary Space Ritual live album came with a DVD which featured not only the ‘Silver Machine’ film, but also a promo for ‘Urban Guerilla’, their controversial 1973 single which had been redrawn from sale after three weeks due to an IRA bombing campaign. This film was an exciting discovery for fans, as it’s based on another live performance, this time featuring a sword-wielding Calvert and a writhing, naked Stacia. The latter detail may account for why it was never shown on TV at the time, but Hawkwind’s ex-manager Doug Smith has speculated that it was actually made by United Artists (their label at the time) as a way of promoting the band internally to the company’s US headquarters ahead of Hawkwind’s first American tour.

Intrigued by a reference to an unknown Hawkwind film on the BFI website, I managed to track down a further 22 minutes of footage from the ‘Urban Guerilla’ shoot during the writing of Days Of The Underground. Astonishingly, it was still in the possession of the original filmmaker, Cynthia Beatt. Now based in Berlin, where she continues to make films, Beatt had lived in the same Paddington flat as Robert Calvert in the early ‘70s, and had thus got the job of filming the band. The exact details of the performance are lost in the mists of time, but Beatt thinks it was a real gig, and it seems likely that it’s from the Wembley Empire Pool show. The film is currently being restored and synched, and hopefully the finished product might reveal more about its origins.

The other ‘official’ footage from the ‘70s that’s known to exist, but still remains tantalisingly out of reach to fans, was filmed at Brunel University, Uxbridge on 24 November 1978 (during the band’s incarnation as the Hawklords) and was the product of a professional, multi-camera shoot. It’s unknown whether the entire concert was filmed, but a promo for ’25 Years’ that used this footage was shown on Australian (and possibly Italian) TV. And in 2001, ten seconds of the band’s performance of ‘Psi Power’ featured in Channel 4’s Top Ten: Prog Rock programme. In 2017, Cherry Red, Hawkwind’s current label, announced that this film was finally going to be released – but since then, there’s been no further announcements about it.

And yet, that’s still not all. Similarly tantalising is the film taken at London’s Roundhouse during the Atomic Sunrise festival, which ran for seven nights in March in 1970, and featured the likes of David Bowie, Arthur Brown, Genesis – and Hawkwind. A minute of the early band playing the festival – including a young Huw Lloyd-Langton and original bassist John Harrison – is available to view online. Adrian Everett, who owns the raw footage, has been trying to produce a film based around this priceless celluloid for years – we can only hope that one day it emerges.

Other fleeting glimpses of the ‘70s band on film include five seconds of their headline slot at the Watchfield Festival (1975) featured in a travellers documentary from ten years ago, and a very brief appearance in the faux-groovy 1973 movie adaptation of Michael Moorcock’s The Final Programme (Moorcock had wanted Hawkwind to soundtrack the film – the director said no). There’s also some wonderful (if murky) 8mm fan footage from the band’s shows at Newcastle City Hall in 1976 and 1977, which has been on YouTube in various forms. Oh, and uncut footage of their performance at the Futurama Science Fiction Music Festival from 1979 apparently resides in Doug Smith’s garage…

Of course, the question still remains – just why is there so little footage of Hawkwind from this period, given not only their popularity, but also the fact that their concerts were visually impressive, multimedia extravaganzas compared to just about every other bands’ shows? One reason might be that Hawkwind were extremely wary of the traditional music business and anything that smacked of the ‘star trip’ – Dave Brock in particular seemed particularly militant about not performing in front of studio cameras. And in an interview from the ‘70s, keyboardist Simon House suggests that Hawkwind’s light show and projections simply wouldn’t translate to being filmed. As for the Whistle Test, House simply states, “We've heard that Bob Harris isn't that keen on Hawkwind.”

Ah well. Perhaps we just have to put Space Ritual on the stereo, shut our eyes, and imagine what might have been – until that is the mythical film of that tour turns up in some dusty archive…

All the films and footage mentioned in this article can be viewed at the Days Of The Underground website – https://www.daysoftheunderground.com/videos

Days Of The Underground is an in-depth primer to the music of Hawkwind in the 1970s. It also explores the ideas and concepts that fuelled the band during this period, and speaks to the crew that manned the ship.