Throwing a little light on Hawkwind - By Peter Erskine
An article with a difference this one, it appeared in a publication called 'Disc' and it's dated January 6 1973 and rather than the personalities in the band, it instead concentrates and the work of the bands lighting guru, Liquid Len.
Liquid Len crouches near the door rolling a cigarette of sorts and claiming, amongst other things, that he was responsible for the two miles of fairy lighting at the 1970 Bath Festival; in fact, it was he who handled all the lighting there. Len is head of the lighting team for Hawkwind. He's also worked with Traffic, Free, Mott The Hoople, Black Sabbath and toured with Zappa's Grand Wazoo through Europe in the summer, but that's not really the point. The point is that Len (alias John Smeeton) is something of a lights freak and a dab hand at getting amazing from what started out as fairly standard equipment.
He and the Lensmen - Molten Mick (Mike Hart) and Astral Alan (Alan Day) have been running light units since the UFO days of six years ago, when it was all down to liquids and rotating cards and just about anything else that could be improvised - mind you the whole thing is still in it's experimental stage, but their attitude is extremely professional and scientific to the point where they're probably the definitive British lightshow, employing over a ton of equipment humped by Britain's first lightshow roadie, a certain John Lee, and designed and built by them and john Perrin, who also builds sound systems for bands.
They've been working as part of Hawkwind's space opera since May, and according to John, the combination has acted as a tremendous catalyst for them and the band.
"Everything I've wanted to do in the last two years has really come about in the last few months" he claims, dipping in to a tobacco pouch, then adds: "We've really reached a point, from working with Hawkwind, where we can do something serious to expand the whole scope of lighting, and get the business away from the connotations of bits of whirring cardboard and slides of the Pope....."
It's more or less impossible to explain the technical set up of this formidable combination but, between them, they have been responsible for the revival of the mirror ball, that rotating globe fixed with millions of tiny mirrors that you can see in dying ballrooms round the country - and claim to be the inventors of the bubble blowing machine that was featured on the Top Of The Pops "Silver Machine" film clip.
However, they've reinterpreted the use of that old mirror ball - it's now enclosed in a box with high powered spots focused all around it, the whole thing being controlled remotely by an amazing machine called a colour organ - a direct relationship between colours, light and shade, and sound. Alan explains "It has 61 keys like a piano keyboard, and pedals. Each key corresponds to a certain effect, and within the framework of each key you have light and shade and phasing from the position of the pedals. It controls the whole set-up."
"The whole set up" Is something like nine industrial projectors fitted with long range lenses, so that the rig can be positioned right at the back of a hall out of the audiences way, with 15 stage lamps on John's side, while Alan and Mike use another nine projectors and smoke apparatus.
It's all scripted. The whole lights sequence is arranged and follows a lengthy and complicated script, with allowances for the omission of some numbers and the addition of others. "I listen to what Lemmy or Simon is doing rhythmically," adds John. "One of the nicest bits to 'play' is the electronics number 'Brainstorm'."
Aside from Joe's Lights' collaboration with the Grateful Dead, this is the first time that light and sound have fused as a whole, each a part of the other, and the fact that it's worked so well makes the future look good. John explains excitedly that he can foresee a time where video becomes incorporated into the set so that actual "live filming" could take place and a kind of collage of fantasy and reality built up. Multiple images simultaneously.
And the other difference between Liquid Len and yer run-of-the-mill cardboard kaleidoscope merchant is that old Len's something of a dandy at something called "front projections" - simply the projection of an image on the front of the stage, rather than it's usual blanket image that swathes both band and stage. They also use a low wattage laser capable of projecting three dimensional images, via a complicated system of mirrors, on to a flat surface on stage.
Plans for the future may include some kind of light / sound collaboration between John and Del Dettmar (synthesiser) and the setting up of a king of "lighting pool" in the new year, where outfits can exchange ideas, alter and develop existing equipment and work together on devising visual machinery that can keep up with the advances in what can now almost be termed as musical machinery.
as John says: "We'd like to raise the status of the whole field; create almost an industry, where we can work on our own employing our own ideas independent of the big manufacturers.