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Alan Davey

Interviewed by Bruce Stringer
Interview Alan Davey from 2003


MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2003 Year Book Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

How are things coming along with the new line-up?
Yeah, pretty good actually - just getting on with this album: the one that we started last year.
MSJ: Could you tell me something about it?
Well, it's all new tunes…. Obviously! We're working on a sort of concept for it, but that isn't finalised yet. We've got loads of ideas floating around for it. It's about halfway through at the moment and we did get some stuff to Arthur Brown last week, 'cause he's going to put some lyrics to it. We're righting songs in conjunction with Arthur.
MSJ: That sounds promising after what I saw at the Xmas gig in Walthamstow, London.
Yeah, that's a good band at the moment with me, Dave (Brock), Rich (-drummer Richard Chadwick), Arthur Brown and Tim (Blake). I think that's going to be the band that's working at the moment. It's a good line-up.
MSJ: Alan, how did you actually get the Hawkwind gig?
Well, I was quite a big fan, really…. Well, not fan - they were one of the bands that I would always go and see along with Motorhead and various other bands. I got wrote to another fan-club member, Brian Tawn because he lived just locally to me: I was in Ipswich and I was in Norwich. I told him that I was in a band and he told me to send some of our stuff so he could have a listen to it. He ended up sending one to Dave and Dave phoned me up after a few days because I played like Lemmy anyway, I suppose. Hawkwind's always needed a lead-type bass player to kick out the rhythm and lead as well. I suppose when Dave heard that he thought there's not many people like this around, I might as well jump on the guy while he's available. So, he phoned me up and I went down to his place and had a quick rehearsal then we did Stonehenge! Quiet weird, really.
MSJ: Was that about the same time Danny Thompson started out?
We were looking for a drummer for the Stonehenge festival in '84 because Clive Dreamer, the drummer who was doing it at the time couldn't make it. He used to get a lot of well-paid session work, so he couldn't make it. Dave asked me if I knew any drummers and I knew Danny. Dave knew of Danny father (Danny Thompson, snr.) so he thought that his son could be alright and got him to come down. That's how Danny got in the band. Strange little story…
MSJ: So, Stonehenge was the first thing you guys did together?
Yeah, that was my audition, I suppose. Auditioning on very strong hash cake was not a good idea but it paid off, alright!
MSJ: Did Dave give you any direction as bassist-vocalist?
Bass wise he just let me get on with what I was doing. Vocally, I couldn't sing at the time. I'd never sung before, ever. I don't particularly think I've got a good voice: I'm one of those people who are quite happy to admit that I haven't got a good voice compared to someone like Arthur (Brown). When I compare myself to him I'm not a very good singer. People seem to like it…
MSJ: I like it. I think you have some really good harmonies happening.
The advantage I've got is that I can sing in tune. With Dave, I think that is important because when we do harmonies they can't be out… I've had that with my own band. Dave is someone you can trust to sing in tune all the time.
MSJ: When you first went into studio with Hawkwind, do you remember what you played on?
I think it was the Black Sword album, the studio one.
MSJ: So, that was the very first thing you did together?
Yeah, that was the first studio stuff I did. The first time I ever did any recording with Dave was about an hour after I arrived at his place in Devon. I'd never met him or anything, I just turned up and he said I want you to put some bass on this. It was a version of the Right Stuff he'd done. I think it was a little test to see how well I worked under pressure. I got it down in the first take, so I didn't have a problem. (Laughs) I suppose, if you can't handle a situation like that then you don't belong in Hawkwind. It's why a lot of musicians go in and out, I think. Anyone can play in Hawkwind but whether you can play in Hawkwind when it suddenly goes off on a tangent is another matter, you know.

MSJ: Around the time of Chronicle of the Black Sword material such as Arioch and Moonglum highlight chemistry between yourself and Huw Lloyd-Langton. Were you aware of how well it worked and just went with it, or was this a conscious thing that you guys developed - did you work at it?
No, I didn't really have to get used to playing with anyone, actually. I can fit in with anyone and so can Huwey. We were two reasonable good players and we just clicked. We should be able to anyway: professional musicians should be able to do this and just get on with it but some professionals can't. They can't just go off and jam. Huwey would make up riffs and I'd join in and make up things around them and it would sound good. It's like my band Bedouin on As Above, So Below: we did that in two weeks from scratch. The whole lot - mixed and everything. People were like "what?" but why not? It only takes one, or a maximum of two takes to get your songs right. You should be able to play then first go, really. That's what we were doing, just banging them out first go and just working on them from there.

MSJ: What is your all-time favourite Hawkwind material that you've played on
They're always hard questions, they are! There's so much… I must be on close to 30-40 albums, now.
MSJ: I suppose songs are like children?
Yeah, if you have too many children you can't remember their names. If you have over four it becomes difficult! (Laughs)
MSJ: Was there a favourite line-up?
Probably the Black Sword ... That and Electric Tepee, I'd say were the two best line-ups. The thing with Hawkwind was that there seemed to be a pattern I kept seeing: every five years you'll get a whole new line-up that will just click. It's funny when that happens, like Warrior (on the Edge of Time): that really clicked big time, then five years later you've got Levitation. That clicked big time. Then five years later you've got Black Sword and that clicked, then five years later Space Bandits. Alien 4 clicked and now you've got this one. Its' a weird pattern. I think Electric Tepee and Black Sword are my two favourite line-ups. Studio wise, I think one of the most enjoyable one's was Business of the Future. That was a lot of fun doing that and Space Bandits was another one I really enjoyed doing in the studio.
MSJ: Bridget Wishart was a surprise to the line-up. I think a lot of fans were like what - a female singer? But that worked so well, didn't it?
It worked well when Bridget did her arty stuff, when she was doing the costumes and stuff like that. I didn't think the singing was so great, but the other side of it - the art stuff was pretty good visually. If you've seen the videos there's some pretty good stuff going on. She had trouble singing in key live and you can't really have that. Hawkwind were always known as a ramshackle mess, wall-of-sound but when you analyse or study it it's always tight and in tune. You get odd moments where you go out but that's because you can't hear your voice in the monitor very well.
MSJ: That's like any band live, there are a hug amount of elements that can knock you out for a brief moment. Something gets lost, but Hawkwind can go off on these tangents and it sounds as though the song is just spontaneously developing.
That's the good thing about this band. That's what I like. You can do what you want every night, you can go off on a tangent and everyone will follow. Whoever goes off we follow.
MSJ: Were there any songs that were dropped from any albums, which you would've liked included?
Well, most of the stuff that got rejected of mine ended up going on Captured Rotation (- solo album), or used as Bedouin songs. Vision Quest, Ancient Light, Chasing the Dragon - all these things were rejected from Hawkwind, probably because they were too heavy or maybe too fast. It doesn't really worry me, I'll just use them myself, anyway. If they're not what the Captain's looking for…. (Laughs)
MSJ: Obviously Bedouin is an outlet for you to do things that you normally couldn't in Hawkwind.
Yeah, I think these songs are as good as any of the one's I'd written in Hawkwind. Chasing the Dragon is easily as good as Sword of the East (from Xenon Codex) to me, anyway. On the same par… It's just a matter of what suits Hawkwind at the time. It just means that you've got loads of songs for your own solo stuff. It's easy to get your ego hurt, but you can't. You've got to control your ego a lot, it's an important fact of being in a band for a long time. You can't take things personally if someone doesn't want your song. It just might not fit the scene at the moment, maybe in two years it might. I've had songs rejected that have gone back two, or three years later and all of a sudden we're using them. LSD was rejected first of all, then about a year later it was like "what was that track you were playing before? That would fit in really well with what we're doing now". It's like a jigsaw puzzle really… An annual jigsaw puzzle: that piece doesn't fit in 1989, so maybe it will fit in 1991 - in that picture. Some songs I've had around for years. Ancient Light I wrote in '82 and all of a sudden it appears on an album in '96, fourteen years later.
MSJ: Have you always tended toward Rickenbacker basses? What type of bass rig are you using now compared to when you first started out with Hawkwind?
I wouldn't say I've made any changes. I'm still using a 50-watt valve amp that's got no pre-amp in it, so to get it dirty you just turn it up. Because it's 50-watt you don't blast everybody off the stage. I can't use pre-amps or distortion pedals: they're shite. I can tell when people are using distortion on the bass - they've got no bollocks! It's just fuzzy. It's like a guitarist using an octaver: I can't see the point. To get a really dirty sound you've got to use valves - you can't use anything else. I've tried all sorts of amps. The only way to do it is get a valve amp and whack it up! I use a 1971 Fender amp - it's older than my girlfriend! (Laughs) It's never gone wrong since I've had it, for year and years. It's just got bass, treble and volume -that's it. If you've got a good bass you don't need all this crap, equalising bollocks!

MSJ: I think a lot of players try and make up for it with an expensive amp, but if your instrument isn't up to standard then you're defeating the purpose and giving yourself more hassles.
Most basses I find these days seem to be plodding planks of driftwood, really horrible: got no life to them at all. Then there's my Rickenbacker. (Alan makes a sinister laugh)
MSJ: Which model are you using, a 4001, or….
4003S, custom. Rickenbacker built it for me. They made it out of their '64 maple, which was their best year, I think. That's why it's a killer! I wouldn't swap that for any of these basses you have now.
MSJ: Who were your bass influences when you were growing up?
Um, not Lemmy! (Laughs) That's obvious. Him, Stanley Clarke - I think that's where I get my lead things from, although I wouldn't say I was a patch on Stanley Clarke. He's fantastic, that guy! Chris Squire (of Yes), he's an innovative player as well.

MSJ: He's also a Rickenbacker user.
Yeah, same with Lemmy. If anybody played a Rickenbacker I always watched because as I was learning I expected that anybody who played them were a good player. Bruce Boxton from the Jam was a good bass player, I thought. Nothing really special but he had a lot of solid ideas and a great sound. I wouldn't say I was influenced by him, but he was one of these I enjoyed listening to. Going Underground, listening to the bass on that in detail, there's some pretty nifty playing on that. There's a lovely sound on that record. Lemmy, Chris Squire and Stanley Clarke I would say are my three main influences. Maybe Dal Palmer, as well. He played bass with Kate Bush, fretless bass - he used to do some wicked little things.
MSJ: Have you ever thought of playing fretless in Hawkwind?
Well, I did have a fretless bass and we did Wings from Space Bandits with that. On tour I'd put down the Rickenbacker and pick up the fretless. Singing that was a task - playing fretless bass and singing wasn't easy, but it was good fun to play on. Every time I went back to the Rickenbacker I didn't want to play the fretless, that's the trouble. (Laughs)
MSJ: It's funny that you mention Wings. Your choice of live material with Bedouin is exhilarating, with songs like Wings and Elric (part 2) included. How do you go about the selection process?
With Bedouin I've got a list of all the songs that we play, which has probably about 25, or 30 altogether and I have a list of all my keyboard settings and it's all in alphabetical order. Normally we just choose whatever song feels right at the time onstage, there and then. Most times we just pick and choose a set as it happens. Every now and then we hit on a good running order and if we do that we normally stick to that order for the year. It's nice to have that list there: let's do that song now as opposed to having a constant set thing.
MSJ: Any favourite Bedouin song?
Ones that I like to play most… Chasing the Dragon - that's a good one to play, we always get a big hit off of that one. It's so fast and heavy. Vision Quest is always a good one to play… Rock Palace, with its' Arabic scales. Most of it, really - it's hard to choose from the Bedouin stuff because it's my band. I'd only let good stuff into it, if you know what I mean. Glenn's (-Glenn Povey, Bedouin's guitarist) got some really good stuff at the moment that's really interesting, actually. He's a good player; he's really starting to shine with us at the moment.

We've got loads of new stuff in Bedouin, at the moment. Lots of new things hanging about, but I don't think we'll do another studio album until we get a deal. But there is a live one that's cooking that we did at Rye last year. I've heard bits of it and it's hot, energetic as hell!

MSJ: You're not referring to Live & Beyond (a previous live recording from Rye)?
No, that one was done a couple of years ago at the same place. A lot of these places continuously have us back because we get a good audience and they like what we do.
MSJ: Okay, Snorkwind. What was that about?
(Alan's evil laugh returns) I think that was about 1985 - '86. That was Huwey, Danny and myself: we used to just go out and play Huw's numbers and some Hawkwind numbers, here and there. It was just in smaller venues for a laugh, just to get out and gig. I'm a bit of a gig addict - if I don't get to gig for a month I start to get the jitters. That's probably why I do Bedouin and Hawkwind both at the same time - to get my fix. That was a good little trio, good fun. But that's all it was: just to go out and have a bit of fun, really.
MSJ: I recently spoke with Frank Marino (of Mahogany Rush fame) who mentioned that he hadn't made much money out of music but he just wanted to enjoy himself and when that ended and the business took over he just wanted out.
It can get too business-like out there, where it takes away from the writing. Because I'm not really a businessman - I'm not too good at business at all… It's probably not a bad thing because a lot of businessmen are crooks and I would rather be an honest poor person than a rich crooked one. But it is hard to get yourself off the ground if you're not business minded. You just have to rely on being an honest person and somebody giving you a break… I've been doing this twenty years now and I have the freedom to do what I want. I'm not exactly well off but that's the price of freedom, I suppose!
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