My Pop Life #159 : Sonic Attack – Hawkwind

Sonic Attack   –   Hawkwind

In case of sonic attack on your district, follow these rules
If you are making love it is imperative
To bring all bodies to orgasm simultaneously

Do not waste time blocking your ears
Do not waste time seeking a sound proofed shelter
Try to get as far away from the sonic source as possible

Not all music is the food of love.  Some music is challenging, ugly, vicious, cruel and cold.  Many of my friends like certain bands who perpetrate these kinds of musics.  There is almost a family tree which runs from The Velvet Underground throughout guitar music which is bleak and discordant.  Deliberately so.  It’s not for me.  Not much anyway, which is why the vast majority of this blog has been melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, beautiful in one way or another.  But of course that’s not the whole story, of my life or any other.  Music has been used for war and torture ever since the trumpets sounded out against the walls of Jericho.  Eminem was used extensively in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay, as was Christina Aguilera.  There are theories that early hunters used music to lure animals into the open.  Guitars are strung with catgut – the word for sheep or goat intestines.  Horn instruments originally were the actual horns of beasts.

I first heard Hawkwind’s Space Ritual when I was tripping in the early summer of 1973.  Andrew Taylor – Tat – had bought it – and invited a group round to listen, handing out the microdots first.  Tiny little black dots which I knew from experience (see My Pop Life #133 ) were powerful.  I’d already done acid – once.  I was just sixteen years old, it was 1973, I was in Lewes, East Sussex, with Tat, Martin Elkins, Jon Foreman and Pete Smurthwaite.   Adrian Birch declined to trip and thus became the steady hand on the tiller of the next 12 hours.  Always a good idea we found.  We ‘came up’ sitting around and smoking joints in Tat’s bedroom and Hawkwind were playing live.  When Sonic Attack blistered through the speakers into my warping brainwaves I was fully tripping and I almost freaked the fuck out.  Perhaps privately I did because I can still remember the flickering light and vibrating forms of my friends who seemed unfeasibly OK.

 The hollowed-out voice of Robert Calvert, entirely lacking in compassion but brimming with arch, vitriolic & dripping disdain shattered my illusions of hippy bliss, sharing, getting stoned with mates…

Think Only Of Yourself (yourself)

A horrible little elfin voice echoed the first one – is it Nik Powell the sax player or Dave Brock the leader of the gang ?  Chilling, evil, wrong.  Ice trickled down my spine.  Some of the lads found it funny, especially Jon Foreman who’d also laughed hysterically at The Exorcist which we all went to see that summer (for another post)…  Tat chuckled knowingly to himself and poked a biro down a circular rizla tube, evening-out the tobacco and hashish mixture.  We only smoked hash in 1973 – it was all we could get.  Afghani black, Red Leb or Moroccan Gold mainly.  With tobacco.  Old Holborn, Golden Virginia or occasionally a Number Six.

Every man for himself…..
Statistically more people survive if they think
Only of themselves….

Was this some kind of test ?  Does taking LSD always have to invoke some kind of demonistic energy ?  Calvert’s english voice haunts this LP, and it does not comfort the listener at all.  It stares out at the void of Space and finds it to be NOTHING.

We walked out of the house after a while, perhaps a cup of tea had levelled things off (always calming) and climbed the steep downland path above Tat’s house.  He lived on Southover Street, at the end of Cliffe High Street and below the great chalk cliff which looms above the River Ouse at the east end of Lewes.  Up we went towards the golf course, and found a grassy outlook point overlooking the river, the whole town, what felt like half of East Sussex.

Perfect.  I remember little of what happened after that, except that we wandered through Lewes, hallucinating gently.  But I never forgot the chills of Sonic Attack, and they were to reappear the next time I took acid too, on Kingston Ridge with Andy Shand, in the middle of the night.

The great mythology around LSD was that everything that happened to you came from inside you, that if you can’t handle acid, you can’t handle yourself.  Your own fears, your own demons.  You wanna see them ?  Actually see them ?  I realised too late, sitting high on the hillside with Andy at 2.00 a.m. that yes, he relished this aspect of the drug.  As the few cars on the A27 echoed into splinters of sound pierced by starlight, he announced without protocol or reason two words :

Elephant’s Vagina

He didn’t laugh, and neither did I.  I suddenly found him to be rather weird.  He said it again.  I think I might have asked him why he’d said it.  His answer was equivocal.  We walked down the hill and he sang a few lines of Black Sabbath :

what is this that stands before me ?  A figure in black who watches me…

Again, I wasn’t full of joy at this image either.   My vulnerability increased.  I was panicking really.  We were in Waterlilies that night, home of The Ryles (see My Pop Life #47 ) and for some reason Tat was sleeping in Conrad’s room with Elvira his girlfriend.  At one point I couldn’t stand Andy’s incessant embrace of the darkness any longer so I woke Tat up.  Must’ve been about 4.00am  He glowed a pale lilac in the moonlight.  Even as I tripped I was aware that he was tired.  He counselled me words of wisdom :

It’s just the acid.  It will wear off.  

At which point Andy came in with the cat in his hands, put it down and said :

Urgh… I can feel all it’s bones and innards…

I felt vindicated by this public display of uncool dark glee and drifted back to the kitchen for the apparent organic downer of orange juice as Tat went back to sleep.  I was convinced that I had unearthed a vital precious stone, a clue to my so-called friendship with Andy Shand.  We had absolutely nothing in common.  Christ !

Do not attempt to rescue friends, relatives, loved ones
You have only a few seconds to escape
Use those seconds sensibly or you will inevitably die

Do not panic…

Hawkwind were based around the figure of Dave Brock, a spaced guitarist from Notting Hill in West London, and neighbour of the writer Michael Moorcock.  Full-on greatcoat-wearing acid-casualty hippies, the band were pioneers of the Stonehenge Free Festival, (which happened to be the next time I took acid the following summer) and they also pioneered a smoky but eerie space rock sound.  The only bands that sounded remotely like Hawkwind in 1973 were Can, Neu! and Amon Duul II, German garage rock now seen as seminal.  We didn’t listen to them.  We didn’t know them.  Masters Of The Universe was our big Hawkwind record, and of course Silver Machine, the single from 1972 which allowed them to mount the huge Live experience which was The Space Ritual Tour, with synths & electronics courtesy of Del Dettmar and DikMik, dancers like the legendary Stacey, lights and smoke, weed and the words of Michael Moorcock, the walking bass guitar of Lemmy Kilmister and the thundering drums of Simon King.

Michael Moorcock I did know,  for Tat and I were immersed in the world of Jerry Cornelius, hero of a quartet of Moorcock novels :

The Final Programme

                    A Cure For Cancer

                 The English Assassin

              The Condition of Muzak

which I thought (aged 16) were flipping marvellous, but I didn’t make the connection to Hawkwind – or at least I certainly didn’t realise that Moorcock had written the words to Sonic Attack.  Would I have forgiven him if I’d known that ?  He was my hero.   I know now it was a chilling spoof of the public information films which polluted our screens in the 1960s, the feeling that an official death was awaiting us all in some soulless nuclear bunker.  Peter Watkins‘ The War Game had covered similar ground, made in 1965 but had never been shown on television.  BBC bosses felt it was too realistic.  We all grew up in the shadow of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which my parents actually witnessed on the cinema newsreels.  My father was in CND (Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament) in the early 1960s and carried me on his shoulders on the first Aldermaston March.  Unsafe, safe.  Now I was left, alone and abandoned, with my mum & brothers and sister, but fine enough to listen to Hawkwind on LSD without disintegrating into the nearest mental hospital.  Unsafe, safe.

On the album Space Ritual, Sonic Attack is on side 3, immediately after 7 By 7 which is a marvellously evocative Space Odyssey-type journey through a meteor shower and a swirling galaxy with “my astral soul” by my side, and includes another spoken word interlude by Bob Calvert as your friends and companions slowly melt beside you, quivering, vibrating softly, juddering into infinite glistening spiderwebs and droplets of mirror, chuckling gently into infinity as their smiles remain like the Cheshire Cat.  “A doorway, to which I must go”

My Pop Life #133 : Sun King – The Beatles

Sun King   – The Beatles

Questo obrigado tanto mucho cake and eat it carousel

After 18 long and eventful months after being asked by John Lennon to imagine there’s no heaven I dropped my first acid trip.  It was the beginning of summer 1973.   School had almost broken up and the fifth form was abuzz with the plans.  We’d all completed our O Level examinations at Lewes Priory and there was a sense of freedom in the air.  Most of us would stay on for the sixth form, not all.    Before the summer holidays started, Tat’s girlfriend, the mysterious gypsy-eyed Elvira, invited what felt like the entire school to her house in Ashdown Forest for a midsummer night’s dream.  We travelled by bus then walked.  It was balmy and dry.  We were stoned and happy.   I travelled with Simon Korner I think.  Also present were Conrad Ryle, Pete Smurthwaite, Patrick Freyne, Chris Clarke, Martin Elkins, John Foreman, Adrian Birch, Andy Holmes and some older kids.  We lay around on the vast lawn of Elvira’s parents’ house.  Presumably they were away, but they may not have been.  A large set of speakers on the terrace blasted out The Beatles’ final album Abbey Road.  It was everyone’s favourite LP.  It seemed like an impossible piece of confectionary that went on forever and had the most satisfying last piece.  It still feels like that to me.  It has been varnished by time into a shiny antique pop marvel, but at the age of sixteen it was just 4 years old, and already a classic, an album for the ages. It was perfectly natural to be selected to play as the sun went down over a raggle-taggle gang of groovy student wannabees smoking dope and nodding wisely at each other’s amusing observations.  It was uncontroversial and universally admired by the cognoscenti.

The Beatles : Abbey Road

Elvira and Tat were like the alternative hippy royal couple that summer.  They both had curtains of long hair, flared jeans and embroidered tops.  They should have been on an album cover.  Elvira wore dark kohl eye make-up and flowing beaded skirts and she looked at everyone with witchy suspicion and a twinkle.  Her party was guaranteed to be a hit.  Tat – or Andrew Taylor – played guitar in the band Rough Justice (see My Pop Life #80) and wrote songs, had a sweet easy-going nature, a dry and pleasantly absurdist sense of humour, laughed easily and was slow to anger.  He’d become a closer friend of mine when he introduced me to his favourite band Gentle Giant, (for another post naturally).   He lived with his parents on South Street in Lewes, under the chalk drop of The Cliffe and the Golf Course which would be the location for our second acid trip.  Elvira was mysterious to me yet friendly, I can’t remember having a conversation much longer than a minute with her.  Who were her parents?   We didn’t talk to each other’s girlfriends much to be honest.  She was Tat’s girl.

There must have been food at the party but I can’t remember it.  Perhaps a barbecue.  The sun was starting to set.  We drank cider and lager.  Wine. Then the acid was handed out.  Tiny black microdots of  LSD.  We all took one and swallowed.  “It will last twelve hours” someone said.   Perhaps Space Oddity was playing…Memory Of A Free Festival

“the sun machine is going down and we’re gonna have a party…”

Before the light disappeared completely we all walked into the forest.  About a 20-minute walk ?  I do remember that Patrick still hadn’t arrived and we wondered how he would find us.   He did.  We found a small clearing, a small stream, a few rocks amid the trees and made a base camp.  Something weird was happening.  I felt nervous.  I looked around.  Someone winked.   Someone laughed.  It echoed with a ghoulish chuckle.   Shit – what?    A host of golden daffodils were flowering inside my stomach up through my veins through my fingertips, an unmistakeable rush of gold surged through my nerves, my skin, my eyes, like a huge chord with an impossibly large number of notes swelling lifting quivering getting louder and louder like a motorbike coming straight towards me.  Rather like falling off the top of a fairground ride with no brakes or a bunjee jump, except going upwards.  Can be fun.

here comes the sun king?

It’s entirely possible that not everyone was tripping, that we had a guide vocal, but I can’t remember who it was, even if I knew at the time.  Later on, in subsequent acid adventures we always used to have a guide on hand to hold our hand in case things went weird.  When things went weird.

because,

well,

they always did.

But not this time.  This being my first trip I didn’t know what to expect but I wanted hallucinations mainly.   I remember laying down on the rock in the stream to get a stereo effect of running water.  I remember looking at the trees dancing at dawn for about an hour, their branches wavering together in choreographed vibrations.  I remember staring at my hand for about an hour.  My eyes couldn’t focus properly for hours.

everybody’s laughing

       I remember laughing a lot with Conrad, Pete, John, Simon and Patrick.

everybody’s happy

It felt safe.   We smoked and drank.

Here comes the Sun King

There was undoubtedly speed in the acid which kept us keen.

Quando paramucho mi amore de felice corazón

It wasn’t cold, and we had sleeping bags and coats.   I can’t remember any music, amazingly.

Mundo papparazzi mi amore chicka ferdy parasol

Just the wind in the trees, the stream, the birds, the snatches of conversation.

Questo obrigado tanta mucho cake and eat it carousel*

 It didn’t change my life.  But I would do it again, and I did.

Sun King, like most of Abbey Road, is inspired by the music of the late 60s.  The Beatles had their ears open for the people around them, and this song is inspired by Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross with its heavy dreamy guitars.  Lennon put the chords together and he and McCartney added the nonsense lyrics at the end.  It is the second song on the medley which completes side 2 of the band’s last LP.  The story goes that Paul McCartney, keen to leave the legacy on a high, spent hours in Abbey Road studios with producer George Martin polishing and reworking the “Huge Medley”as it was known on the tapes and later bootlegs.  But the studio out-takes, some of which are available on Youtube, show a band working together to learn each other’s songs, as they had been doing for years. Both versions are probably true.  The Huge Medley,  almost all ‘Paul songs’, opens with You Never Give Me Your Money the song about the break-up of the band, and what Ian MacDonald (in the magisterial Revolution In The Head) called “the beginning of McCartney’s solo career”. It contains the immortal harmony and lyric

Oh that magic feeling : nowhere to go

and the song finishes with a spiralling guitar lift into

one sweet dream

and the three chords:   C   G/B   A  which will return at the end of the Huge Medley for the finale, but this time we have a whispered

one two three four five six seven, all good children go to heaven

and a bluesy guitar solo fades slowly into the faint sounds of an organ and bells, gongs and cicadas, a lush exotic other-worldly sound which ushers in the lazy guitar shape inspired by Peter Green and Albatross and played by George Harrison.  Sun King is a minor John Lennon song which can’t be imagined outside of the context of the Huge Medley, but which is quite magical inside it, especially the G 11th chord which bridges the E major section and the C major section – very lush, very Beach Boys.

The song ends abruptly and punches into Mean Mr Mustard, another Lennon snippet which wouldn’t stand on its own as a single or album track, but which gives the Huge Medley its charm and delight and keeps us interested and entertained.

When The Brighton Beach Boys chose to perform Abbey Road live at the Brighton Festival in 2011, Sun King presented a variety of tricky problems and we spent a fair amount of time on the 2 minutes and 26 seconds of this song, not least the vocal harmonies, particularly that G 11th chord on 52 seconds.  I actually bought a small gong which played a shimmering E from the percussion shop Adaptatrap on Trafalgar Street where I used to get the kazoos for Lovely Rita and bought the tambourine for Polythene Pam.  Good shop.  Since The Beatles are largely unrepresented in their original form on youtube I will post a version of  by the Fab Faux who are the best Beatles tribute band out there I believe, having not just the accurate notes and tempos but the feel too.  Tribute bands, so low in status, will be the classical music players of late-20th century pop in the future.  We always played in black suits for that reason.

It wasn’t the most difficult song on the album, but it was close.  But for me it’s less about the song, more about the feeling and the memory.  I can’t remember how we got home from Ashdown Forest that midsummer night’s morning, but Andy Holmes remembers a group singalong of Here Comes The Sun at 5am.   I suspect I caught a bus in Uckfield and ended up in Kingston with Conrad Ryle and his family.  Buzzing faintly, getting shivery electric echoes of the vision interference.  Strange taste in my mouth.  Slept all day Sunday.   Was this the same Uckfield bus trip that Simon Korner and Patrick Freyne took, or were they on the bus in front ?  They were threatened by a man with a large head, a kind of combine harvester of a neanderthal, who, taking exception to their stoned and strung out giggling, told them that: “If you don’t shut up, You’re Gonna Die.  BY ME.

The following acid trips wouldn’t be quite so simple.

Questo obrigado tanta mucho cake and eat it carousel*

*lyrics websites hilariously have this as “Que Canite” rather than “cake and eat it”…