Wednesday 12 August 2015

Two-Fisted Tales:
The Time of the Hawklords
by Michael Butterworth
& Michael Moorcock
(Star Books, 1976)

In view of my nationality, cultural interests and taste in music, it should come as no surprise that I greatly enjoy the work of Hawkwind. Perhaps only marginally less predictable is the fact that a special corner has formed within my ever-growing hoard of paperback fiction specifically devoted to literature inspired by, or to some degree relevant to, the ‘70s UK free festival rock milieu from which Hawkwind emerged. Within that corner, my recently acquired copy of ‘The Time of the Hawklords’ naturally now takes pride of place.

Given that Michael Moorcock knocked about with Hawkwind quite a bit on the Ladbroke Grove freak-scene of the early ‘70s (contributing spoken word recitations and slightly more nebulous ‘concepts’ to their ‘Space Ritual’ and ‘Warrior At The Edge of Time’ albums, amongst other things), it must have seemed splendidly inevitable that the prolific scribe should choose to immortalise his rock n’ roll mates in fiction at some point. However, the co-billing here of Michael Butterworth (a latter-day New Worlds contributor who went on to co-found the controversial Manchester imprint Savoy Books), together with the book’s absence from most Moorcock bibliographies, tells a slightly different story.

Indeed, a meager quantity of googling turns up the following quote from Moorcock, writing on the messageboards of his Multiverse website in 2004:

“I think I wrote the opening paragraph of the first book.
The publisher insisted on putting my name on it bigger than Mike's and that annoyed me, since one of the objects was to promote Mike's own work. That's since been rectified.
But I never had any intention of writing the books and essentially see the entire project as being between Mike Butterworth and Hawkwind.”

So, there we go. Given that ‘Time of the Hawklords’ was Butterworth’s first novel, it may seem cruel to characterise it as a rather blunt and hastily bashed out pastiche of various aspects of Moorcock’s style, executed with little of the wit and lightness of touch that the more experienced of the two Michaels might have brought to proceedings, but, under the circumstances, I’m just going to have to live with being cruel I suppose.

Which is not to say that ‘Time of the Hawklords’ is really *bad* as such. Taken on a pure comic book level, it’s thoroughly readable – think a feature length version of a text story from a 2000AD annual or something - and, if we take it that it’s primary purpose was to provide a good laugh for Hawkwind fans and maybe introduce a few curious outsiders to the band’s legend, I’d say it succeeds admirably, presenting a motherlode of chest-beating myth-making and galactic-scale in-jokery purpose-built to flesh out the evocative liner notes and album artwork of its subject into a cohesive, if somewhat ham-fisted, pulp fiction narrative.

Basically, open to any random page, and the chances are you’ll find something a bit like this;

“Simultaneously there stepped from behind the vast mixer unit the powerful figure of that brave and sagacious champion who, with Thunder Rider, had first conceived, with noble ideals, the Company of the Hawk, Baron Brock, Lord of the Westland. He held a jackplug in one hand, trailing yards of coiled black flex behind it. He walked, keeping his own counsel, towards his stacks, the sleek and tawny guitar Godblaster held at his side. As he reached his stacks, he swung Godblaster lazily over his powerful shoulders and the light flashed on his muscular, tattooed arms, his pale gold hair. He plugged in his jack and began, instinctively to play a short A minor progression.

Then came Lemmy, Count Motorhead, almost slipping down the front of the high stage, but regaining his jack-booted footing at the last moment and hauling himself up. He arose and looked around him, apparently dazed by the spectacle of the yelling, sheering biomass plastered against the skyline. With a grin of self-mockery he drew his heels together soundlessly and raised his arm in a salute, turning the shrieks to the friendly jeers he seemed to find more tolerable. But the enthusiastic roar returned as he bent down to retrieve his trusty Rickenbacker bass, Gutsplitter, from the blood-red paneling.

In the electric silence that followed, Thunder Rider’s free-form sax burst out once more, almost inaudibly at first, but gradually rising in volume, climbing up and down in the air. When the squealing noise reached an unbearable pitch, he allowed it to fade away. Before it could vanish altogether, the rest of the group let out a sudden, frightening crash of blurred notes and drum rolls from which snaked low, vibrant synth sounds prolonging the roll and the ethereal high pitch of the melatron. Just as suddenly, these sounds too faded away – this time into the echoing, clipped voice of Lemmy, who started to chant the old Calvert number ‘Welcome to the Future’.

‘Welcome to the dehydrated land,
Welcome to the south police parade,
Welcome to the neo-golden age,
Welcome to the days you’ve made you

You are welcome
You are welcome
You are Welcome
Welcome to the future’

The introductory poem ended in a mighty, rising din of drum, gongs and synth that strained the stacks and almost rent the five thousand shuddering rib cages. Then, after a full, torturous minute the sound gradually subsided and the group began playing their first, mind-blasting number, ‘Psychedelic Warlords’.”

Great stuff, needless to say.

Despite the pomp and circumstance of the novel’s presentation of Hawkwind as mighty cosmic music lords and planetary saviours though, it’s hard to overlook the fact that the band were actually heading into a pretty shaky transitional period by the time ‘Time of the Hawklords’ saw publication in 1976.

For one thing, the primitive ‘sonic generators’ of resident mad scientists Del Dettmar and Dik Mik – a key component of the band’s ‘classic’ sound - were already long out of the picture by this point, with the rather more refined sound of ‘Sonic Prince’ Simon House’s mellotron instead predominating on the divisive ‘Warrior on the Edge of Time’ album. For another, despite having assumed the somewhat grander title of ‘Count Motorhead’ since his listing as “Lemmy the Lurch” on the sleevenotes to 1972’s ‘Doremi Fasol Latido’ album, bassist Lemmy was also ancient history by the time ‘Time of the Hawklords’ hit shelves, having been unceremoniously sacked in ’75.

Apparently no one mentioned this to Butterworth though, as, in one of ‘Time of the Hawklords’ more curious anomalies, Lemmy here stands shoulder to shoulder with his replacement, Paul Rudolph of The Pink Fairies (described by Butterworth as wielding “..his great bass, Boneshaker, which all men feared and all women loved”), in a line-up of Hawkwind that never actually existed, insofar as I can tell.

In view of this, indomitable drummer Simon King – rechristened ‘Hound Master’ for reasons that continue to elude to me – might well have felt pretty wary pounding the skins alongside recently appointed second drummer ‘Astral’ Alan Powell (his “white cotton suit, dark hat and shades” contrasting somewhat with the Hound Master’s “stick-quiver [and] bare, tattooed back”), but as it turned out, Powell was actually the first to get the boot in this case, his services being deemed “surplus to requirements” by the all-powerful Baron Brock before the year was out, in a cull that also saw Rudolph leaving the group, and founding member Nik ‘Thunder Rider’ Turner following shortly thereafter.

Given this internal discord, the all-for-one-and-one-for-all cosmic unity with which Butterworth portrays the band must have struck an odd note, to say the least. I’m not sure how much time Butterworth actually spent with Hawkwind, but despite the endless cavalcade of in-jokes and extended tributes to just about every member of their touring retinue, it is disappointing to note that, despite the lively range of personalities within the group, most of the time the members and their entourage behave like one undifferentiated hive-mind, with bland lines of expository dialogue being placed in the mouths of different characters seemingly by rota, and little attempt to build individual personas.

Admittedly, this was perhaps a necessary courtesy when placing a large number of real people into a fictional story, but for better or worse, the overall effect is far more Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park than ‘A Hard Day’s Night’.

In an attempt to counteract this problem, many band members are given their own mini-adventures and points of interest in the second half of the book, which helps to make things at least a bit more interesting – Sonic Prince takes the lead on building the ‘Deltron’ devices that help the Hawklords fight back against the ‘death music’ of their enemies, Baron Brock gets the disembodied consciousness of a dead scientist downloaded in his head, and Captain Calvert returns from afar in his ‘silver machine’, to much rejoicing. Meanwhile, poor old Stacia, in her role as the sole ‘Hawklady’ (yes, they call her that), is lumbered with responsibility for cooking all the food, caring for the sick and undertaking a mission of sexual blackmail – which perhaps tells us all we need to know about the true nature of Butterworth and Hawkwind’s vision for a free and idyllic new society.

Speaking of which, another unfortunate drawback of ‘Time of the Hawklords’ is Butterworth’s insistence on propagating a brand of garrulous hippie idealism must have seemed an embarrassing throwback to readers in 1976.

Indeed, with the remnants of the ‘60s counter-culture that birthed Hawkwind shattered into a thousand pieces and the new Year Zero of punk just around the corner, the book’s simplistic, Manichean vision of an eternal conflict between peaceful ‘freaks’ and blood-thirsty ‘straights’ must have seemed excruciatingly tiresome. By the time Butterworth brings in some mind-bending Scientology-esque bullshit about the human race being seeded from two opposing alien races whose descendants can apparently be identified according to whether they are soothed or sickened by Hawkwind’s music, even the most ardent peaceniks must have been choking on their [insert your own cheap hippie joke here to complete the sentence].

Despite the author’s determination to fly his freak-flag for all it’s worth, another irksome element of the book is it’s tendency to get stuff *just a little bit wrong*, in a manner that suggests that, whilst Butterworth is working hard to appear hip to the demands of both the underground rock world and to that of esoteric science fiction, he is only a hairs-breadth away from revealing a chronic unfamiliarity with either.

One element of the book for instance concerns Hawkwind undertaking a kind of ‘music battle’, in which the positive force of their own recordings and live performances is pitted against the ‘death music’ broadcast by their militaristic / authoritarian enemies, with the latter allowing Butterworth the opportunity to humorously mock various more mainstream songs and artists, encouraging his readers to join him in deriding their squareness.

Whilst it will no doubt stick in the craw of us modern, open-minded listeners to see such varied performers as Frank Sinatra, 10cc, The Carpenters and Ray Charles (on the basis of his later, more schmaltzy stuff, presumably) casually dismissed as ‘Death Music’, I suppose it is at least understandable that the kind of audience who followed Hawkwind in 1976 may not have thought highly of them. However, one addition to the list that struck me as being entirely off-message is that of Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, which at one point is broadcast by the villains to their zombie soldiers to shield them from the benevolent effects of the Hawk-music.

Now, it’s not a personal favourite of mine by any means, but surely by anyone’s estimation, Dylan’s song is closer to the hippie/idealist spirit that Hawkwind stand for than it is to authoritarian blandness of their opponents? In fact, I’m sure there are many who would make the argument that this very song, with its questioning lyrics and pleas for freedom, actually represents the very genesis of the kind of independently minded musical culture that gave birth to Hawkwind a decade later. To push the point further, couldn’t you go so far as to say that Dave Brock’s acoustic songs, as heard regularly on early Hawkwind records, betray a distinctly Dylan-ish influence here and there..?

I’m not sure whether Dylan’s inclusion amid the musical baddies represents a personal dislike or instance of cultural ignorance on Butterworth’s part, or whether it is systematic of the wider forgetfulness and prejudice of ‘70s heavy rock fans in general, but either way, it strikes me as a pretty definitive blunder.

Equally unfortunate is the book’s claim that the departed Del Dettmar took inspiration for the transformative ‘Deltron’ devices he gifted to Hawkwind from ancient techno-occult secrets gleaned from studying the Malleus Maleficarum – clearly an utter absurdity to anyone who has so much as glanced at a synopsis of Kramer & Sprenger’s puritanical 15th century witch-hunting manual.

Meanwhile, another reason I’m glad to discover Michael Moorcock didn’t write ‘The Time of the Hawklords’ is that he actually appears as a character in the book, celebrated rather broadly in the guise of ‘The Moorlock’, Acid Sorcerer of Blenheim Crescent, who lurks, garbed in silks of Eastern finery, in his impenetrable, electronically customised townhouse, from whence he offers psychic and spiritual guidance to the Hawklords, and apparently enjoys a curious sexual relationship with a computer named ‘Victoria’.

“Long before the final collapse, the Moorlock had known what could happen to humanity. His peculiar sensitivity had seen in advance the outcome of the recklessness and the greed. He had seen the cities collapsing, and the men running like frightened ants across the wasted deserts. He had seen the bombs dropping. He had seen the children of the future lying battered and dead in their cots. He had tried to warn of the silent holocaust, and the bitter fighting and rioting, as the saviors fought for control of the last remaining pieces of greenery. He had written books about it. He had spoken on television about it. Finally, he had sung about it. He had formed his own group, The Deep Fix, and played at concerts and outdoor festivals. But no-one had listened. The game of death had blindly continued. Gradually, the prophecies had come true. Prophesies that not only he predicted, but also the ancient books of law.

Disillusioned, and scornful of his selfish fellow men, he had decided that the outside world and all it contained was no more than a grisly cosmic joke perpetrated by sick-minded Gods. He built a thick, protective shell about him, and locked himself away.

For months he brooded, absorbing the knowledge from his books. Even inside his electronic fortress, he was unable to escape the events outside. Man’s follies haunted him – he was of the same race, he could never escape. Many times he had almost given up, and opened the doors to the marauding gangs and self-styled militia. But he had held out, Now, after the final death, they had come in from outside to tell him that a new race of Man was being born out of the ruins.

Now, he stared through the shadows of his cell at the two intent figures sitting on the sofa opposite him. They were man and woman. They were Stacia and Thunder Rider. They were a part of the new men he dared not belong to. Finally he spoke. ‘You came at the right time,’ he told them. ‘I’ll help you.’”

No wonder the real life Moorcock was so pissed off that Star Books had put his name alongside Butterworth on the book’s cover. Imagine his embarrassment at the thought of readers assuming he was writing this rubbish about *himself*!

Amongst other curious detours in ‘Time of the Hawklords’, we are also treated to section in which the band unaccountably go on holiday to Brighton, and subsequently undergo a metaphysical transformation into the super-human “Hawklords” in a haunted pub in Rottingdean in East Sussex (your guess is as good as mine), whilst another interesting sub-plot concerns a tower in North London wherein the disembodied spirits of England’s middle-classes have been uploaded to a vast computer network in which they enjoy a kind of illusory freedom whilst simultaneously being persecuted by a team of tabloid journalists who enter the network via pre-virtual reality headsets to publically shame them should they contemplate having sex.

A further boon for Butterworth meanwhile comes via the convincing characterisation of the book’s villains. A British Army battalion charged before the apocalypse with defending oil reserves in Saudi Arabia, this crew are gradually transformed into a truly nightmarish force of demonic, horror movie fascists whose atrocities, whether by accident or design, seem to preempt the tone of some of the publications that would prove so controversial for Butterworth’s Savoy imprint during the ‘80s and ‘90s.

All of these are good (or at least, strange) ideas that, whilst they inevitably go somewhat underdeveloped amid ‘Time of the Hawklords’ finished-as-fast-as-i-can-type-the-bloody-thing pulp romping, nonetheless suggest that Michael Butterworth had at least a few aces up his sleeve as a producer of satirical sci-fi.

If little of that comes through in this book's muddled trudge to the finish line, I’m nonetheless glad I persevered with it – even as my attention level gradually dropped toward ‘skim’ level, it never failed to provide a good laugh and a bit of random weirdness every few pages, and, if nothing else, a book in which Michael Moorcock stands on stage playing deafening glissandos of slide guitar whilst Lemmy battles zombies with an adjustable spanner certainly deserves a place on my bookshelves.

In 1977, Star Books dutifully published ‘Queens of Deliria’, the second volume in Butterworth’s trilogy (the cover now stating “..based on an idea by Michael Moorcock”), and, according to the synopsis on this page, it sounds absolutely bananas. Presumably these books weren’t as successful as the publisher had hoped though, as the concluding volume – ‘Ledge of Darkness’ – was shelved, eventually seeing publication as a comic adaptation drawn by Bob Walker, which appeared as part of a Hawkwind box set in 1994.

1 comment:

revsven said...

You were born to write this review! I read "Queens of Deliria" many, many cosmic cycles ago, and it's... I think you've said enough about the matter!