Welcome to the Future

Now Or Never (1994)


The object was small with grey and white images and lettering on the front. He could just about make out what it said: This Is Your Captain Speaking… Your Captain Is Dead. Inside there were brightly coloured square folders of thin card with silver discs in which neither flew nor contained holographic images. Only later did Flight Commander Brock remember that in the past digital sound information had been stored thus, and summon one of the science androids for assistance. 

It was the work of an instant to convert the primitive music to cloudstream sound, and soon there were whooshes and bloops, riffs, chants and electronic pulses available for listening throughout the starship. By the evening the androids could be found stoned and horizontal in the loading bay, whilst on the bridge there was a deep and meaningful conversation going on about which eye-shadow suited the captain more.

The music wars of the 1960s are ancient history, and it is difficult to understand from our 23rd century perspective the complicated lives musicians had lived back then in order to make their music. Bucking social convention they grew their hair and beards long and made themselves uniforms of blue industrial cloth; they also had to dodge the law enforcement agencies of the time in order to obtain their creative drugs, and to grapple with the clunky equipment of the day. No mind-bots could compose or play for them back then, they had to write their own tunes and words, as well as organise how and where to play, record and promote their work.

Surviving documents suggests that Hawkwind lived in a part of West London that no longer exists. Not-in-Hill was a bohemian quarter that extended from the ancient Westaway track down to How Loud Park. Musicians were made to live here so they would not bother the financiers, politicians and workers of the day. They could play to each other and obtain legal alcohol and nicotine, but there was not enough housing, and the area’s earlier race wars had still not been resolved. At the time fossil-fuelled autos and electric trains still traversed the area, even through the long market which stretched from south to north and was the principal meeting point for residents, as well as were they traded for food.

There were other bands, but it seems that the members of Hawkwind were the ones who first time-travelled and came back with some faint echo of the future, some musical leak that had not been completely plugged. True, much of the music sounds like the other 20th century rock we have found, but the words and images speak of other planets and planes of existence, and occasionally the music becomes incoherent and electric, indeed electrifying to the unwary and unprepared.

This is music to facilitate mass paranoia and inaction; it is rhythmically simplistic and sonically adventurous. The later music in the little box that somehow survived the millennia, not to mention the ecology and psychic wars, suggests that time and music leakage became more frequent over the decade. The music becomes celebratory as well as mysterious, indeed the lyrics – which some argue are a naive attempt at poetry – cajole those listening at the chaotic live events recorded for posterity here, to dance and freak out, also to travel in space to escape the planet’s demise. Like other early societies, there is some confusion about individual and group activity, about the convergence of altered states, rhythm and imagination.

Perhaps the strangest relic is the final disc in the box, which contains reworkings and short versions of music found on the others discs, which are carefully grouped and thematically linked and labelled clusters of songs. [These were known as albums – Editor] Although one song, ‘Silver Machine’ stands out here as an anthemic celebration of the decadent imagination at work, much of it seems unnecessary, and spoils the implied trajectory which rumour says would find the band becoming cyborgs, addicted to metronomic noise and particle science. Historians and storytellers talk of the band becoming Hawk Lords ruling over small clusters of outlaws around the state of Your Hope, of many associates assigning themselves as psychedelic warriors serving the legendary drug baron emperor Hassan-I Sabbah, and demanding they be given ‘the spirit of the age’. Archaicologists have never found the drug this spirit refers to, or any other evidence that Hawkwind continued after the box project was completed.

It did not take long for Star Command to ban and remove Hawkwind from the universal music modules, and for order to be restored. No-one saw Flight Commander Brock take the box and discs to his cabin, or with him when he later slipped into the time capsule for one of his regular visits back to a previous life on Earth. The music, he reasoned, was too good to lose, and he wanted to make sure it was created exactly when and where it should be. No-one would notice him in 1960s Notting Hill, even in his 23rd century casuals. He had music to make and time to spare. He took his little pink pill and pressed the button. It felt like going home.


Lost Johnny Brainstorm
Collage: ACE


This Is Your Captain Speaking… Your Captain Is Dead is an 11 CD box set of Hawkwind albums containing seven remastered studio and live albums from 1970-1974, including the complete Greasy Truckers Party Hawkwind set, along with a 15-track disc of singles and rarities.


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