Twenty years ago I developed a broadcast documentary about legendary space-rockers Hawkwind.
And although it ultimately did not go into production, I wanted to share some of the design elements that emerged from the treatment (published by my good friend Jonathan Downes here). Then manager, Doug Smith (whose residence in Acton spawned him the Hawkwind nickname of Actonium Doug), was very positive about the idea and over several meetings contributed much background info, as did the splendid Brian Tawn, lifelong fan and Hawkwind expert.
For those unfamiliar with the band that spawned the classic hit single Silver Machine (allegedly co-written by the professional Wrestling bad-boy Mick McManus!) their writing and mythology was frequently fuelled by science fiction – not least because of the involvement of author Michael Moorcock and poet Bob Calvert in the band’s formative years. Add to this more line-up changes than Spinal Tap, and their story was a chaotic one to tell a broader TV audience.
To simplify it for those folks who were alien to Hawkwind, and to be true to the spirit of the band, the best approach seemed to be a parody of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy (a parody of a parody as it were!)
I contacted the narrator of the BBC radio and TV adaptation of Hitchhikers, the venerable comic actor Peter Jones, who responded enthusiastically to my suggestion that he be the voice of the Galactic Net as envisioned in the Hawkwind treatment.
Aliens exploring deep space would happen upon a Hawkwind broadcast from earth and use the Galactic Net to discover more about these curious signals…
I am indebted to my friend and colleague Jean-Pierre Sharp, whose graphic design elements and illustrations were truly inspiring, and delighted to share some of them in this blog.
The Aliens were to be classic Greys, much-loved of UFO mythology, and used for artwork on Hawkwind’s Alien 4 album around that time (not to be confused with the movie franchise!).
For production value we hoped to create latex puppets to be used on a small soundstage to represent the interior of the alien spacecraft; it’s exterior was to be a CGI adaptation of the Grey motif (it is genuinely nothing other than synchronicity that the idea was also used in the movie Mission To Mars!)
The Alien spacecraft interior was to be smoky, moodily lit, with artefacts and consoles that were almost organic, featuring ‘Roswell’-like runes.
A novel feature (we hoped) was a graphic rendition of a cosmic totem pole erupting from beneath a planet’s surface. Carved into it would be depictions of notable band members such as Dave Brock (Guitar, Vocals & founding member), Nik Turner, Lemmy and Bob Calvert etc.
All looked positive. I presented the finished treatment to Doug Smith and Dave Brock at Doug’s garden office and waited while they both read through it there and then.
“Well this all sounds jolly good fun!” said Brock.
Unfortunately what didn’t surface that day was ultimately his reluctance to appear in a documentary with Nik Turner (Saxophone & vocals), a situation that I believed would make producing a fully inclusive documentary untenable. A long running dispute about the use of the name Hawkwind had evidently caused friction between Brock and Turner which ultimately led to a court battle in the USA in 2017. Though won by Brock the action has perhaps led to an unfortunate schism between the wider family of Hawkwind fans and the band’s many musical offshoots. The depth of this rift was apparent when in 2007 the BBC documentary Hawkwind Do Not Panic featured interviews with Nik Turner and other ex-Hawkwind members but not Dave Brock or the then current line-up!
Hopefully, in the fullness of time it is simply the fantastic music of a uniquely British band that will overshadow all.
Follow that ship!