Proto-Punk and Psychedelic Warrior
interview by Jack Gold-Molina
Known historically as one of Hawkwind's longest standing members, bassist Alan Davey got his start with them performing at the 1984 Stonehenge Festival and stayed with the band until 1996 when he left to pursue other musical interests. He rejoined Hawkwind in 2001 after performing at their 30th anniversary concert, and then left finally in 2007. Reforming his own band Gunslinger, he released an album of original material written with them between 1979-1982, and toured the UK, Europe, and the United States. He has collaborated with former Hawkwind members including vocalist Bridget Wishart and violinist/keyboardist Simon House, and from 2009-2012 was active with the reformed Hawklords, sharing bass duties with Adrian Shaw during a major tour of the UK. Davey continues to record and tour with his own bands Eclectic Devils, Al Chemicals Lysergic Orchestra, and The Psychedelic Warlords.
(Sources: Carol Clerk, The Saga Of Hawkwind; Ian Abrahams, Hawkwind: Sonic Assassins; Wikipedia)
Perfect Sound Forever: At about what age did you start playing music?
Alan Davey: I was 15 when I got a bass guitar, a Hondo 2 Rickenbacker copy. I had no lessons so I just started strumming chords on it like I saw on the TV not knowing that's not what you do with a bass guitar. Soon after it occurred to me that's how Lemmy makes the bass sound like he does. I spent the next two years working out all the riffs, chords and bass runs Lemmy played on everything he did. Hence I play the way I do.
Some local bassists saw me playing in Gunslinger saying, "You'll never get anywhere playing bass like that." Normal bass playing doesn't interest me at all. The only bassists that got my attention playing normal but uniquely intelligent bass are Chris Squire, Stanley Clarke, Danny Thompson, Del Palmer and Holger Czukay.
I first met Lemmy in 1985 and he asked how I started playing like that. He was quite touched by the answer. He then gave me a few tips on how to get the sound right for that style and from then on it was nothing but flare flapping booming bass all the way.
PSF: Was the bass your first instrument?
AD: Yes, bass was my first instrument. I was bought an acoustic guitar at 14 but had no interest in playing it. I got a bass after hearing the bass solo on a Hawkwind album called Doremi Fasol Latido on the song "Time We Left" in 1972. That's what inspired me to get a bass guitar in the first place. Those chords growling away got my attention big time and I just had to make that sound.
PSF: Who were some of your early influences? Are they the same influences that you have now?
AD: Lemmy, nothing but Lemmy at the start, and still I suppose. Later on, about 1995, I got a huge influx of new inspiration from Charlie Parker, the bebop sax player, an incredible musician! I bought 35 CDs from him in a month after discovering him.
PSF: Can you talk about some of the bands that you played with early in your career?
AD: That was mostly Gunslinger with Nigel Potter and Andy Lamb (Liffy), but we wrote other non-Gunslinger tunes too like "Sword of the East" that ended up on the Hawkwind album Xenon Codex, "Pulsing Cavern" from The Black Sword album, and "Ancient Light" that ended up on my first solo album Captured Rotation. That's all I did before Hawkwind in 1984, so not many bands at all, but we always wrote and performed our own songs.
PSF: You were with Hawkwind for many years. How did you start playing with them?
AD: I was in touch with Brian Tawn from Hawkfan, the official Hawkwind fan club, and I sent him a copy of a demo tape that Gunslinger had just done. Seems he sent it to Dave Brock and ‘cause the bass was so Lemmy'esque, I was soon called and recruited in. For me, Lemmy made Hawkwind's sound, you know, that classic raw edged ‘70's sound, so when I came along I was snapped up as that was what the fans wanted and Brock knew it. I'm the only one that can do Lemmy according to Lemmy anyway! Lots of people can strum bass chords but it's not just about that. There's a lot more going on with Lemmy's playing – subtle, rhythmic, almost percussive playing that you don't learn from a book or hear even. I've studied Lem's playing so much it's second nature to me but you have got to want to play bass like that and really, really get a big kick out of the sound of it or it's half-ass astronaut time. I'm happy to say it feels totally natural to me to beat the shit out of a Rickenbacker bass with as loud and dirty a sound as I can get away with.
PSF: What were some of the highlights of your work with them?
AD: The Black Sword tour in 1985, a huge stage show and lots of fun, being my first big tour. It was quite something at the time. The first time I toured the USA in 1989 was fantastic too. I met so many super cool Americans who helped all they could if you needed something quick. A lot of them traveled huge distances to see as many shows as possible and so we became friends. The first time I played with Lemmy on stage at Reading Rock Fest in UK in 1986 in front of 35,000 people, Lem and I scraped our bass strings together like dueling swords. At one point, it made a huge train wreck kind of sound and the audience went wild. We had fun that night!
PSF: You have done a lot of recording and touring since leaving Hawkwind, with former members and your own bands. Can you talk about some of those projects?
AD: Former Hawkwind members I've done stuff with outside of Hawkwind are Danny Thompson Jr. in a band called Bedouin, described in one European magazine as ‘Motörhead on acid.' We did one studio album called As Above so Below and one live album called Extremely Live 2003 which rocks like hell with a tad of psychedelics thrown in.
Another ex-Hawkwind member who came along and guested with Bedouin also was Simon House, the Hawkwind keys and violin guy from ‘74-‘78. He did a couple of years with David Bowie after Hawkwind. Simon is a great musician and always put the icing on the top so to speak.
Gunslinger, the more down and dirty rock band, returned in 2008 with the first ever studio album called Earthquake in E Minor and we toured UK and Europe extensively for about four to five years releasing a live album called Unlawful Odds which kicks fucking ass I can tell you. If you like Motörhead live, raw and edgy, you'll love Unlawful Odds on Flicknife Records.
I do lots of recording at home, mostly solo albums of which I've released about 15 now since 1996. My solo stuff is a real mixture of music from heavy to film sound tracks. I like to record all sorts, but you can always tell it's me though.
I've also done the bass on all the Meads of Asphodel albums since 2003, an interesting band of black metal, folk, soundtracks, rock, you name it- mostly metal but really different and well written stuff which is why I like to (play) bass on it. At the moment, I'm bassing on and mixing an album with my new brothers Larry and Uriah Bennett from Tucson, Arizona. They've got a band called Lobotomactic. I visit Arizona every year and met Larry and Uriah last year and after hearing a track or two they'd written, agreed to do bass on them for fun, but as we got on so well I've now ended up doing bass on all the album. It's good rocking stuff as you'd expect for me to get involved so look out for that release later this year. All my solo albums are available from www.alandaveymusic.com.
PSF: How do you think that extensive touring and recording affects your music creatively?
AD: The more I do the more I do the more I do the more I do the more I do, so best not to stop, eh?
At the moment, I'm about to start a 20-date UK tour with the Psychedelic Warlords, a new band I've got together. We've been doing classic Hawkwind albums starting last year with Space Ritual from 1973, which blew Hawkwind fans away. We nailed it, even making some old bikers teary eyed as they couldn't believe how realistic it was, and that's not easy folks, really! This year we're doing Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters and also Hall of the Mountain Grill albums from 1974 in one set. Later this year, we're writing new songs in conjunction with the internationally acclaimed sci-fi writer Michael Moorcock and his Multiverse. It's going to be a great project and cool as hell to work with Michael again. More info about that coming soon on www.psychedelicwarlords.com.
PSF: How do you go about staying creative as a musician?
AD: You've got to want to do it. If you don't or don't have the drive you won't do it, it's that simple. You have also got to have that creativity in the first place, I suppose, so I'm lucky enough to have that and the drive.
PSF: What do you suggest for people who aspire to be great musicians?
AD: Don't take lessons! That'll kill any style that may be lurking inside you. I've not had one single lesson. Yeah, you could say I just play like Lemmy but someone from Kerrang magazine in UK said that while interviewing Lemmy with me in the same room and Lem put him straight saying, "Yeah, he plays like me but he's got his own style too." Shot him down basically for trying to belittle what I'd done bass-wise. Good ol' Lem. Hey, top man and still down to earth.
To be a successful musician like the old song says, "You gotta have style," so find yours and don't have lessons to start with. Experiment with your instrument first. And yeah, a lot of successful musicians haven't got style, as we know, but how boring that must be, eh? And short lived, mostly. Just do your thing man.
Alan and Lemmy
Also see a Hawkwind bio book excerpt
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