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Progressive Rock Interviews

Spirits Burning & Bridget Wishart

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Bridget Wishart - January 2008

This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 1 at

You were in Hawkwind for a while. Can you tell us who that came about?

In the 80's I was in an all girl punk band called “The Hippy Slags.” We were a festival band and had quite a few connections with Hawkwind.

Claire (our bassist) knew Hawkwind from the early 80's and had done the lettering for their lyrics in a book back then. Our drummer Angie was going out with Hawkwind's drummer, Richard Chadwick and he had been the drummer in my first band, The Demented Stoats.


The Slags were invited to record a track or two (another story!) for the Travellers Aid Trust album and then when the Hawks toured that year all the bands who had contributed music to the album had the opportunity of supporting Hawkwind on a couple of dates. We got Folkestone and Nottingham Rock City. Rock City has a great underground back stage area and we had our own dressing room...the chaps couldn't help but visit us as we got ready! They invited us on stage to sing with them on an instrumental called “Back In The Box.” We all said, “yes” and after we played, sank a few beers. When it came to it I was the only one who got up on stage and sang. Not that I can remember much of what I sang, but it must have been OK as a while later they invited me to record it. Then whenever I was at the same festival I'd sing it, if I got there on time! I remember running from somewhere quite far away at Bilbo Baggin's Party! Some time later they asked me if I'd like to join them doing a gig for a live TV show called “Bedrock.” We had a weekend to rehearse...I wrote a few lyrics, got permission from work to take the time off and went for it. Then came the Space Bandits album.

At this point we had to make the decision as to whether I joined the band or called it a day as I couldn't keep taking time off work, I was teaching ceramic sculpture at a school in Bath. We went with me joining the band.

MSJ: What was the experience like for you?

It was all kinds of things good, bad, weird, scary, lonely, boring, exciting...although I'd been in lots of bands they were all festival bands with not a lot of cash behind them. We recorded ourselves, organised our own gigs, posters and transport. Hawkwind was very different kettle. (of fish). I was the only girl and it felt pretty lonely at times.


The band were okay chaps but it wasn't like in the Slags when we were all in it together for the hell of it. This was business and a career; fun came further down the agenda, though time out during rehearsals could be a laugh sometimes as we always had a huge collection of polystyrene planes to fly.


The gigs themselves were really good, the venues we got to play, like Brixton Academy with big stages meant I had loads of room to perform. We always had excellent sound crews, fabulous light shows and recorded in top quality studios.


Touring was a great experience. We lived in the Grateful Dead's old touring greyhound bus when touring the US and Canada. What a magnificent beast! It's the best way to travel. You really get to see just how big the countries are. I never believed you could spend most of a day driving through a forest!  Travelling up through the Rockies in a blizzard in the dead of night with the driver’s wind screen wiper out of action was one of the scarier moments. Running around a beach on the west coast in the middle of winter throwing seaweed at each other was a lighter one!


I thought that when I joined Hawkwind I'd love the recognition, after all why had I got into music and performing if I didn't want success? But when it came to it I felt very uncomfortable with people knowing who I was and me not knowing them. Maybe that was one of the reasons I had so many costumes and disguises. It meant not many people knew what I really looked like and I could wander around, be a member of the audience and enjoy myself just like everyone else.


What was the scope of your involvement as far as writing music and performing in the band?

I had complete autonomy over my lyrics, costumes and performing. I had a great contact in Glastonbury who put together my designs for costumes and I rehearsed my ideas for moves and dances wherever we were and developed them throughout the tours. Each costume had links to the song and particular moves associated with it. In “Wings” I dressed in black...mourning the loss of bird life. I wore a shawl that I used to twist and wrap up into a small bundle and pretend it was the last bird...and very movements could be quite tense and intense! I wrote the lyrics for “Back in the Box,” “Images” and a few jams that have since been given names. I found the words that I recited on the track “Black Elk Speaks” in a book on Native American Shamans, they were written by a female shaman which, being a girl, I felt was appropriate, plus, they're great words!


How did you wind up no longer in the group?

I still don't know if I get the whole story...


There were a number of issues going on. I had refused to go with them to America. My partner at the time asked me to stay with him and I put my relationship first. The tour of the US was to be done in a car and to be honest I wasn't keen on the idea of being in a car for 5 weeks with three men! This put them out a bit and I think they questioned my commitment. While they were gone I made two or three new costumes. All very inventive “Blue Peter” style affairs using white paint, cardboard, plastic bags, cheese cloth and broom sticks! We did a few gigs when they came back and at my last gig in Exeter I recall coming on in the middle of some songs to do my act and people were clapping. I knew that would upset the band. Hawkwind aren't a jazz outfit, you can't applaud halfway through a song. Later, I remember Dave complaining about my performance on that night. He said he’d destroyed the tape when I asked to hear what he meant.


Alan was living in the same house as me and my boyfriend and one afternoon him and Rich sat me down for a chat. They said some pretty hurtful things, some truth, some lies. The impression I got was that Dave was kicking me out. Then, years later that I was told Alan had given the band a “her or me” ultimatum. I’ve only been back in touch with Alan through musical collaborations in the last year and it was just yesterday when I checked my facts with Alan that he said that he hadn’t said any such thing and it had in fact been Dave’s decision. He did admit to being a bit bemused when I called him a bastard on the phone the other day. I’d finally got round to telling him off for something he didn’t do! Luckily, my heart hadn’t really been in it! He has reminded me that all decisions concerning Hawkwind are always Dave Brock's.


You were also featured on the Mooch CD. How did that come about and what was the scope of your involvement on that album?

That came about through my contributing two vocal tracks for Don Falcone of Spirits Burning to work with on Alien Injection (due out imminently).


When Stephen Palmer recorded guitar for one of the tracks he asked if Don would pass on my email address.


Steve emailed, inviting me to contribute to his next CD, Dr Silbury's Liquid Brainstem Band (released last year on the summer solstice). I said I was possibly interested but asked to hear music first. I loved the music and not the lyrics. Martin, my other half, decided we needed to invest in some recording equipment because Steve lived too far away and I needed to be home for our daughter.


The original plan was to do 2 songs, “Sandman” and “Cycad,” using my lyrics. Later Steve sent me an instrumental to listen to that he was working on and I fell in love with it and asked to sing and play clarinet. He said “no” but I went ahead anyway because the piece demanded it and Steve loved how it turned out! The track is called “Silver Violet Flame” and is my favourite on the CD.


How about your work on the new album with Spirits Burning?

This started as I was finishing up on the Mooch project. Don had enjoyed working with my vocals on Alien Injection and suggested doing some more work together. I think I wrote to him and said something like, “yeah, OK, but I haven't much time.” Well, you can ask Martin and Hannah how many times they had to drag the headphones off me and switch off the computer! I think the project has taken a year or two from start to finish. Don and I work really well together. Sometimes it’s hard with the time difference...he's heading sleep ways as I'm waking and vice versa but the distance also means we don't argue like a lot of band members do!


Some of the songs started with Don's ideas, some purely from my lyrics and vocal melodies and others have come about by lots of us swapping music files. Many of the tracks have been sent round the world to various musicians for their creative input to the songs. We have some great people playing on the CD. Trey Sabatelli has played drums for Todd Rundgren, Jefferson Starship, and now for us! Daevid Allen from Gong features on a number of tracks, when Don sent me the file of him singing duet with me on “Crafted From Wood” I was totally blown away, I loved it! We have other multi talented musicians like Simon House, Richard Chadwick, Alan Davey, Richard Wileman and Michael Clare contributing - in fact something like 28 artistes to be nearly precise! The CD is due out on Voiceprint Records on the 17th March 2008 and available to pre order.

I also designed the cover with the help of Karen Anderson who did the layout.


Other than those experiences, what other musical accomplishments have you had over the years?

I have played at and enjoyed many festivals with the bands; The Demented Stoats, Next Year's Big Thing, The Hippy Slags and Star Nation I won't just stick to the music as I'm an artist too. I was the original designer and painter for the best UV décor company of the 90's “Temple décor.” Later I worked as a décor designer and painter for WOMAD and I have exhibited artworks and performed art pieces in Northern Ireland, Wales and SW England.


Musically, last year I contributed to three songs on the second CD by Citizen Zen Return To Shelter ALL proceeds from CD sales go to Shelter, the charity for the homeless.


I have also worked on a number of tracks for the Spirits Burning Action Man CD. This is a very different CD to Earth Born. Action Man is Roger Neville-Neil; a rock writer/lyricist/artist. One of his more famous songs is Hawkwind’s “Needle Gun.”


I have just recorded vocals for a very different cover of the Motorhead classic “Ace Of Spades.” This is a Spirits Burning collaboration.


Who do you see as musical influences?

Wire, Can, Nina Hagen, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, The Eagles, Nancy Griffiths, The New Age Steppers and early Pink Floyd


What’s ahead for you?

Djinn, s 5 track EP in partnership with Alan Davey, I’m singing, song writing and designing the cover. One song, “Aasfe Kattir,” is written and sung in Arabic, this was a bit of a challenge as my Arabic is sadly a bit limited! The idea came about because last year when we discovered that we both share a love of Arabic music I suggested doing an EP and Alan came up with the title Djinn. Djinn, according to the Quor'an are a race of beings that were created by Allah alongside Men and Angels. A lot of the songs are based on what has been written about them. Fascinating stuff!


Bloodlines, this is my 2nd CD with Spirits Burning. All the tracks on this album are linked by a common thread; they are about various royal characters. Songs at present include lyrics about Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, Lobengular, a King of Africa, and King Midas from Phrygia. Yup he really did exist!


I've agreed to do some spoken word on Spaceseed's next CD. Looking forward to this! Astro Al is busy writing as we speak.


I'm co writing a book about free festivals from the 70's til now. This is with Ian Abrahams, the rock writer of the 21st century, the author of Sonic Assassins, the story of Hawkwind and Strange Boat an informative and entertaining read about The Waterboys. For our book we're gathering together photographs, stories and memories from all kinds of folk, from bands to litter pickers, managers to stage hands, travellers and festival goers. SAF are publishing and I have a good feeling about this book.


Are there musicians you’d like to work with in the future?

I'm really happy with the bunch I'm working with now. Though I did ask Harvey (Bainbridge) if he'd like to work on a song for Bloodlines and got a tentative “yes” so that'd be just great! Yeah, I know, I've worked with him before but that was ages ago! And I'd love to work on a song with DanMingo, Steve Swindell's band.


Do you think that downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians? It’s been said by the major labels that it’s essentially the heart of all the problems they are having in terms of lower sales would you agree?

I think it’s great, record companies with savvy are in on the act and can still make some cash, Artists have more of a chance of earning an equal share and small independents are out there equal with the big boys. I like it. The only reservation I have about the whole thing is that everyone is listening to mp3's and they are very compressed, records and CD’s give a better sound.


In a related question how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?

Depends what you mean by trading...passing on to mates I don't have a problem with but selling dodgy, badly recorded music doesn't do anyone any favours. I guess if the odd bootleg is well recorded and is unique in that it gives fans something they can’t get elsewhere then I think that’s ok. I can’t say I agree with large money making schemes that take the cash out of the pockets of those who should be earning it.


What was the last CD you bought, or what have you been listening to lately?

Sweet Warrior by Richard Thompson, I bought this for Martin for Christmas and have really loved it. We’ve also been listening to Robert Wyatt’s Comic Opera. He does some great spoken word and Bombay Dub Orchestra by Bombay Dub Orchestra.


What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?

Heed The Thunder plus 3 other bands at the Bath Fringe Festival. Heed The Thunder are an absolutely wonderful band that play in the SW of England. Jasper Pattison from the brilliant Citizen Fish is their bassist. Sadly they don't play so much as their main man, singer/songwriter/guitarist Alex Gordon has moved away. Matt Dowse, their trombonist, plays on “Storm Shelter” on Earth Born. Apparently the whole street heard him play when we recorded the track. What a fantastic sound! Matt told me very calmly as I went on to triple track him...wanting to hear more! “You've got trombone fever.”


What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?

There've been a few but this one's a goody! On the American tour, winter 1990. I was just climbing steps to go on-stage for the start of a gig when Doug, Harv's roadie fell down onto me, knocking me back into my “wardrobe” flight case, (of interest for Hawk fans; it used to be Bob Calvert's case), the case toppled over shutting me in and Doug on top! I was battering against the lid shouting to get out. Luckily there was some delay on stage and I got to where I needed to be on time but slightly shaken up and with me feathers a tad ruffled!


Finally, are there any closing thoughts you’d like to get out there?

It’s been amazing to be writing and singing again and it’s ace to be playing with such great musicians and friends and the response I've had from people has been fantastic and inspiring. Cheers everyone!


There's one special person who has made all of this possible, Martin. I couldn't have done it without him and I can't mention him without mentioning Hannah and how happy I am and how lucky I feel that she is here with us.


I think that's it,


Peace and all the best!

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