Carol Clerk was much loved by the musicians about whom she wrote, and her affable, easy-going nature enabled her to easily gain their confidence. The two longest books she wrote for Omnibus Press, on Hawkwind and The Pogues, both benefited from her friendship with these two very different groups, so much so that she was able to interview all the important personnel in the course of her research and get to the truth of events, no matter how unpalatable that might sometimes be. Carol simply wasn’t the type of biographer who would rely solely on second-hand sources to produce her books, and this was most unusual for biographies that weren’t ‘authorised’ by the management, ie books over which they exert editorial control and from which they benefit in royalties.
Here’s the first of two extract from The Saga Of Hawkwind, Carol’s book about the legendary counterculture band that still embrace an honourable tradition of free gigs, benefits and protests.
Trying to set aside their private disenchantments, Hawkwind left for a tour of the States and Canada, opening in St Louis on April 29, 1975.
But the resentments were festering beyond their control. Dave Brock and Nik Turner were individually losing patience with Lemmy who, in turn, was at the end of his tether with drummers Simon King and Alan Powell. And he was still isolated by his speed habit.
Hawkwind played a gig at Chicago on May 7, after which the first crisis occurred. “We were travelling through Michigan,” relates Lemmy, “going from Chicago to Detroit. I was with Nik and Dave and somebody else in a car. We stopped off at a roadhouse to eat. I didn’t want to eat, ’cos I’m a speedfreak. We don’t eat. I went out for a walk and a look around. I came back and they’d driven off without me.”
Douglas Smith remembers, “He disappeared and they waited for hours. He fucked everybody off.”
“We thought that perhaps he’d gone off with somebody, that he’d been offered a big bag of drugs or a lift with a pretty girl,” says Nik Turner. “We left the service station without him. What had happened was that because of what he used to take, he went off to the toilet and went to sleep. Nobody knew where he was.”
Lemmy would not be the last member of Hawkwind to be left stranded for being unpunctual. “I hitch-hiked overnight, tripping, in trucks and VW vans,” he recalls. “I got there at seven in the morning, arrived at the hotel and there was a cripples’ convention. I’m coming down off acid and there’s all these fucking wheelchairs and gimps around. I get into my room, go to sleep... and then I’m called for the soundcheck.”
Lemmy was not the most popular person in the world that day, although he did the Detroit gig and the trouble blew over.
But a much greater trauma lay ahead. Setting off in one of two cars to Canada, where Hawkwind were due to play a gig in Toronto on May 18, Lemmy was busted at the border for possession of cocaine. In fact, it was speed, a much less serious offence, but he couldn’t prove it straight away: the on-the-spot vial test couldn’t tell the difference between the two substances. It simply turned a certain colour, and that was enough to have Lemmy charged and carted off to jail on remand.
There were, apparently, two ways of entering Canada if you were travelling from Detroit – the easy way, over the bridge, and the hard way, under the tunnel, where the border police were more scrupulous.
“They spotted Lemmy with his mouth open, head lolling back,” says Dave Brock, who was with Lemmy in the car taking the more problematic tunnel route. “We were quite a shady-looking lot. The annoying thing is we’d already been waved through. Then we all had to get out of the car. They searched Lemmy, and they found some speed which they thought was cocaine. We didn’t know it was speed at the time.”
Douglas Smith was in New York when it happened. “I wasn’t going to Canada,” he explains. “I was due to fly back to London the next day. I got a phone call, probably from one of the band, who said, ‘Lemmy’s been arrested and they confiscated a white substance.’
“I think I contacted someone in New York, who organised a brief to represent Lemmy the next morning when he came to court. But as far as I remember, the brief was told there was no point in seeing the client ’cos the case was going to be chucked out. They’d thought they were going to get him for coke, and they’d realised it was amphetamine sulphate.”
Lemmy was quickly released from prison after the band arranged his bail. And since, according to his understanding, he couldn’t be charged again for the same offence, he was therefore a free man. He was whisked off to the airport at lightning speed, and as he flew to rejoin Hawkwind in Toronto for the gig, he believed that they had been doing their utmost to help him since his arrest.
He sums up what happened next in a few loaded words: “Get off the plane, do a soundcheck, do a really good show... and get fired.”
Gathering their thoughts in Toronto while Lemmy was inside a jail cell, Hawkwind had held a meeting.
Nik Turner recalls: “It was collectively decided that everybody had had enough of the ups and downs of Lemmy and the difficulty of working with him at the personality end. It was decided that he would leave the band. This was one of the only collective decisions the band ever made. The bust was the last straw. We didn’t know at the time that he only had speed, but whatever it had been, it was such a lot of hassle, and who fucking needs it, really?
“I didn’t have anything personally against Lemmy, but I found it very difficult to work with him. It’s regrettable that it should have come to that sort of pass. Previously, I had allowed or accepted things – ‘Oh well, that’s Lemmy.’ But then it got to the point where we were getting attention we didn’t really want from the Drug Enforcement Agency.
“We felt he’d actually drawn that attention to us. He probably didn’t think he was doing anything wrong and was just carrying on as normal. But it had become too much for people. Were we supposed to be revolutionaries, confronting the authorities? I don’t think that’s what we were trying to do, but it was the stance that Lemmy wanted us to take.”
Dave Brock agrees: “We all discussed it in a hotel room – ‘He’s let us down too many times in the past... He’s always late... ’ Prior to this, it had always been hard to get Lemmy out of bed. It wasn’t just one person saying these things. It was a joint band decision.”
Simon House says: “In retrospect, it was the wrong decision. It was a terrible, terrible decision. I think Lemmy had power and a really big charisma, he writes good songs and he’s a good musician.”
Having made the fateful decision, Hawkwind urgently needed someone to step in on bass. Paul Rudolph, formerly lead guitarist with Pink Fairies, was the popular choice since he knew the band’s material already through his gigs with Pinkwind over the years.
Douglas Smith had arrived back in London and had just gone to bed when the first phone call came through. “It was Dave. He said, ‘We’ve sacked Lemmy. Get Blackie [Rudolph] over here as soon as possible.’ All the moves, the motivations about Lemmy came out of all of them, but were specifically pushed along by Dave. He was the person who rang me up.”
Two or three hours later, Douglas woke again to the sound of the phone.
“It was Lemmy. It really put me in a difficult position because I already knew they’d thrown him out of the band. I thought it was going to be temporary. I thought they were teaching him a lesson. On numerous occasions, Lemmy wouldn’t turn up until they were about to go onstage. ‘Where the fuck is Lemmy? He’s doing it again.’ And there were threats of chucking him out.”
Dave Brock and Nik Turner each claim to have been the one to break the news to Lemmy, with Nik believing that, “It seems to be something that Lemmy has always held against me, the fact that I sacked him. To me, I was just voicing the consensus of the band.”
Lemmy may well believe that Nik was instrumental in the decision, but his memories of being sacked are as follows: “I did the show in Toronto and I was quite happy. I was all right with them [the rest of Hawkwind]. I’d got used to all the bollocks. The show was a sell-out and it went down a storm.
“We were in the hotel after the show, it was 4am and I was summoned to one of the other rooms. I think it was Nik Turner’s room. Dave and Nik and Simon [King] were together, and Alan Powell. It was Dave who actually spoke. I was fired. I went straight back to my room, ’cos I had two chicks there.
“The only reason they’d let me do the Toronto show was ’cos Paul Rudolph couldn’t get out there in time. They already had Paul on his way, apparently. I didn’t find that out until after I’d been fired.”
Dave Brock says of the sacking: “I remember a billboard flashing outside the window. I was the one who actually had to say, ‘We’ve all made this decision.’ Quite upsetting, it was. Lemmy was very upset, ’cos it was his life.”
Nik Turner adds: “I think he was very stunned by it, and very remorseful, but he probably couldn’t see the reason for it because he was always right.”
Some believe that certain individuals had wanted to get rid of Lemmy long before he was apprehended at the border.
Nik claims: “I don’t know, in hindsight, if there was a personal agenda going on as well. I was told that Dave Brock had been talking about sacking Lemmy six months earlier. I hadn’t been talking about sacking Lemmy. I hadn’t been talking about sacking anyone. I just accepted the way things were. At the end, when he was leaving, it wasn’t me that said, ‘I don’t want Lemmy in the band.’ I wasn’t a driving force more than anybody else was. Everybody had agreed it. It was increasingly difficult to work with him because of the drug situation and because he always had to be right.”
Brock rejects the suggestion that he had been planning to fire Lemmy, counter-claiming that Turner had threatened to leave if Lemmy didn’t – an allegation vigorously denied by Nik.
Douglas Smith does not go along with any of these theories. He declares: “I can’t remember anything going down before this, or that this was a conspiracy. I think that when they sacked Lemmy, it was a hot-headed reaction to what had happened on the tour and at previous gigs. It was such a shame. I just could not believe it. I thought they were completely mad.
“There was always the evil side to Hawkwind, the wicked side that the public wouldn’t see. They weren’t very nice to each other... chucking Lemmy out of the band because he got busted. ‘Hey, wait a minute – you’re supposed to be supporting this guy.’”
“They fired a guy ’cos he got busted for the wrong drugs,” snaps Lemmy.
In one interview published on the internet, Lemmy revealed that he felt looked down upon by the other members. “They weren’t doing speed, and it was just like the caste system in India. ‘Well, we’ll take these drugs because they’re cool and we don’t take those drugs because they’re not.’ It was very strange – anybody who does take those ‘lesser’ drugs must be a fucking pariah. Unmentionable.”
The “speed division” had claimed its remaining victim.