Perfect Sound Forever

Bridget Wishart

Bridget live with Hawkwind

The Fringe Of Things
Interview by Jack Gold-Molina
(August 2014)

Bridget Wishart is known as the only female lead singer to record and tour with space rock pioneers Hawkwind. Working with them extensively from 1989-1991, her album credits include the poignant Space Bandits, Palace Springs, and the Nottingham 1990 concert DVD. An accomplished graphics artist, performance artist and musician, she has been a figure in the UK music and festival scene since the late-1970's and has performed with some of the most prominent musicians and artists of the psychedelic music genre.

(Sources: "The Saga Of Hawkwind," by Carol Clerk; "Hawkwind: Sonic Assassins," by Ian Abrahams; Wikipedia)

Perfect Sound Forever: Creatively, did you start out as a musician, or were you doing other things?

Bridget Wishart: At senior school, my favourite subject was art. I also really enjoyed acting in school plays. I loved music when I was very young and taught myself to read music and play the recorder but when I went to senior school and learned clarinet it all felt a bit like hard work. I wasn't allowed in the school choir because I was labelled ‘trouble.' So my interests in music waned and I focused on drawing and painting. I was accepted to do a foundation course at Corsham Academy and then did my BA in Wales. The course there was new that year. There were no boundaries and my interest in performance and music gradually fed into my art until I was working on installations, sound and performance for my degree.

PSF: How did your early creative projects, musically or otherwise, lead into performing around the UK in the late 1970's and ‘80's?

BW: Whilst at Corsham, I met a bunch of musicians living in a terraced house, a squat called Stoat Hall. The band's name was The Demented Stoats. They were looking for a vocalist, my best mate and me gave it a go. We played the free festivals and local gigs. The music was heavily influenced by a mixture of punk and Hawkwind. Three members of the band ended up playing with Hawkwind in later years — myself, Steve Bemand and Richard Chadwick, Hawks' longest serving drummer. I didn't have any singing experience but was influenced by Nina Hagen, Patti Smith and Siouxie.

When I went to Wales, the band split and Steve and Rich formed the punk band Smart Pils. I loved being at college. Once past the confusion of the first year, I became really committed to the projects. Recurring themes in my performances were man versus nature and escaping limitations. I still returned to Bath and played music with friends. Steve Bemand joined me and Chris Pink in a band called Spiral for a while.

PSF: What would you say that you were trying to achieve musically and artistically?

BW: Nature, peace, science fiction and love were my strongest inspirations growing up. I was always aware that animals are people too and became a vegetarian as a young adult. Pollution, cruelty, war, etc. seemed so unnecessary and so prevalent. My early poems (excruciatingly bad!) and first songs reflect these themes plus a healthy ignorance of true political life, as you can guess from the 1981 song title "Be Free" - "Why don't you listen, why can't you see, you lock us away so we fight to be free!"

I spent my teenage years worried that nuclear war would break out. Any plane overhead could be the one with the bomb. A lot of kids in my generation were the same.

After I completed my BA degree I took a year out and formed a band called Next Year's Big Thing. We were a three piece at first with no bass. I picked up the clarinet again after a lengthy break and played riffs on it when I wasn't singing. We played festivals and local venues, recording our songs on a Tascam 4-track. We had a quirky college band feel. I continued singing in the band whilst also living in Reading doing a Masters in Fine Art. By this time, the band had grown to include a keyboardist and bassist, we also had a new drummer. At Reading my work was involving photography, collage, machinery, climbing frames, sound, performance and animation. The band folded just as I was finishing my degree.

While still at university, I had applied to do a fellowship at Cheltenham. They only had four places, altogether there were 8 sculpture fellowships available in the country. I didn't tell anyone I had applied as I didn't expect to hear back.

I was hanging out at my mum's over the summer, sad as I couldn't go to France with some mates when the phone rang. It was for me. I was asked if I wanted to do the fellowship. I said "Uh, yes." He said "Okay, come to the induction tomorrow." The person they'd given it to had dropped out to do the Rome scholarship and I was the next in line! It shocked the hell out of my boyfriend when I told him that afternoon and made for a tricky parting!

While I was doing the fellowship, I lived in Tewkesbury and travelled into Cheltenham by bus everyday. I made some great friends there and the town was so beautiful, I loved my time there. I came back to Bath frequently and it was on one of these visits that my best mate Claire (Remember the girl who was invited to sing with the Demented Stoats? Her) told me that Batty, their singer, was leaving the Hippy Slags and would I like to join? Would I? OMG I was SO chuffed! The Hippy Slags is by far and away my fave ever band. We practised at Stoat Hall and regularly drank vodka. Being in a band with all girls was a hoot and so much fun!

After finishing my fellowship, I got a job at a private school in Bath teaching ceramic sculpture. It was a part time job, so the money wasn't great but the flat I found with my dad's help was cheap and I loved the teaching. So, by day a teacher and by night a Hippy Slag! Again, art and music were running parallel in my life.

Claire and I met at tech college in the common room. I was doing A levels and she was on day release from her employer, doing O levels. She was piercing a guy's ear with an earring. I'd had my ears pierced at school... very painful... but I really wanted another piercing. I asked her if she could do my ear but I didn't have an earring to use. She shrugged, pulled a stud out of her ear and pushed it into mine! What a way to make a friend! We travelled to Egypt together many times in the '80's and '90's. Her love of Egyptology sparked the destination and once there, we both fell in love with the place. We were in Egypt when we decided to break up the band. Boy trouble is the simplest way to describe the reason.

PSF: How did that lead into working with Hawkwind, and how would you say that you evolved as a musician and performance artist during your time with them?

BW: While in the Slags, we recorded a tune for a compilation album of festival bands put together by Hawkwind for Travellers Aid Trust. That year when Hawkwind toured, all the bands from the album were invited to support them. I've told the story many times of how we were invited to sing with them and then how, through that, I eventually joined Hawkwind.

In Hawkwind, the dual aspects of my life, art and music, were finally joined again in one place. I was offered an opportunity to create characters, costumes, dances and props to fit with the songs in the set. It was an exciting and tense time in my life. I had to make the choice to give up my career as a teacher and rent out my flat as my income was no longer steady. Touring was hard work. It was also good fun, rewarding, thrilling, tiring, strenuous and confusing.

My ideas evolved and changed and matured as the tours continued. My nerves settled. Larger stages meant more room to maneuver and were no longer daunting. New songs sparked new characters and new costumes. In America, smaller venues meant sometimes there was nowhere to change between songs and I had to adapt my performances so that I could change on stage. Later in my time with the Hawks, there was a shortage of cash and my costumes had to be more inventive and economic. I used pizza boxes for headdresses, mutton cloth covered with strips of plastic carrier bags glued on and hand sewn into a body costume, masks made from cardboard, painted with white emulsion and black cloth cloaks.

My art, in whatever form or media, has always been about communication of an idea, a feeling, an emotion. There's always an element that what I create should please the eye through colour and composition. I still adhere to this premise in my computer art, CD covers and collages.

PSF: After your tenure with Hawkwind ended, what did you do to pursue your creativity, to satisfy your creative muse?

BW: When I parted ways with Hawkwind, I drifted for a while, unsure of my path and lacking in confidence. I formed a duo with Danny from 2000DS. We were called Daze and we wrote some great songs, but Dan had some issues to resolve and we didn't last long as a band. A TEFL course pulled me back on track and just as I was going to go abroad and pursue my new career, an invite to dance for a techno band formed by Klive Farhead (a onetime Hawk roadie) came my way.

I embarked on the new venture with enthusiasm and a million and one ideas for a dance troupe with UV costumes and props. We played many gigs even venturing as far as Reading and London. We had a UV tree made from scaffolding, two giant UV jelly fish, and a seven-foot robot and a silver woman. We parted ways after a while and I followed the UV decor path we had been exposed to in Reading.

I formed a UV decor company with a man named Tim Carrol (and the company was) called Temple Decor and linked to the Temple Ball raves in Reading. I designed a themed decor and we presented it to WOMAD organisers in 1995. They liked my designs and hired us to do the decor in one of the huge sports halls. Wow, that was hard work! Though it was nothing compared to the following year when they took us on to provide decor for both halls. Sadly, after that year I suffered a breakdown from overwork and was determined to remove myself from the music world.

Once I was better, I became a care worker and looked after people with special needs. It was shortly after recovering I met my partner/husband/friend Martin. After four years working in care I became pregnant, left work, left Bath, moved into a house with Martin, became a mother, and then a wife. Wow, my life was so different and so amazing!

Becoming a mother at 40 was leaving things a bit late. The NHS calls mums of my age geriatric mums! Some days I guess I felt like it!

PSF: Can you talk about how you got involved with Spirits Burning?

BW: Hannah was still a baby when I was surfing the Internet one day and decided to search about Hawkwind. I then realised that people were still interested in my tenure with them. I contacted the online website Hawkwind Museum and let them know what I was up to. They were very pleased to hear from me and I did my first interview in years. Don Falcone, the head of the spacerock collective Spirits Burning, happened to read the interview and wrote to the museum asking if they would pass on an invitation to work with them on a few tunes. Now, ten years later, I have guested on many Spirits Burning CD's and co-written with Don and crew three complete albums.

PSF: How do you feel about your musical and artistic direction and where that has led you creatively throughout your career?

BW: I have always loved collaboration -- the sharing of an idea, be it written, performed or danced, using instruments, gestures, spoken or painted, whatever. I love working with people. The sum is always greater than its parts. The advent of the world wide web has helped my creative path in endless ways. Social networking, besides enabling people to hold hands across the world, provides us musicians and writers and artists ways of connecting and creating without distance hindrance. I sometimes think back and wonder what my life would have been like if I'd never joined Hawkwind, and would I have followed a more traditional career path. But I don't spend too much time thinking about I've got too many songs to write.

PSF: What can you suggest for an artist or musician who is trying to discover his or her own creative voice?

BW: If you're starting out on a musical path, these days playing live is still really important but also so is having a good Internet profile — vids on YouTube, a MySpace page, a Facebook profile, good advertising, a good rapport with fans, a Soundcloud account, a Reverbnation account. I'd also suggest you not take drugs just because they're part of the 'rock and roll' world. They stunt and blunt your creativity, and if you drink too much alcohol before playing live, you'll sing out of tune or mess up the guitar picking. But have fun, follow your heart, have fun and have more fun. If you're not having fun, do something else.

Bridget at art college

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