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Friars Interviews

Tim Blake
Gong  Hawkwind

friars appearances 01/12/73  28/05/11

     Tim at Friars 2011. Picture: Russ Naylor

Tim Blake is a man of sounds and some very interesting ones too. A career in sound engineering and pioneering electronic work has seem him noticed in both Gong and Hawkwind. But as we will see his Friars links go beyond those bands...

We spoke to Tim at his home in drought ridden Poitiers, France in July 2011

Thanks, thanks for talking to the Friars Aylesbury website. As we will see your Friars history is deeper than at first glance! There's a lot of links!

I'm looking at my mantelpiece and there should be a nice piece of engraved glass....except I don't see it!

Ah, the Friars Heroes Award! You will have to take turns sharing that on your mantelpiece!

Dave (Brock) won't share that! (laughs) - Anyway Dave's the hero on this one !

The last time we spoke, when I literally caught you with your trousers down(!), your manager was encouraging us to try to photograph you!

She likes photos like that with my trousers down but the News of the World has gone out of business!

Anyway, it turns out that your Friars history went back further than I realised, you first came to Friars in 1969 to the King Crimson gig.

Yes, I've done everything (at Friars). I've been a client, a roadie and had the honour of playing at your establishment with two of the greatest psychedelic acts!  

As well as being in the audience for King Crimson, you came back at the Phase One venue as a roadie for Skin Alley didn't you? You were part of Clearwater Productions?

I was a roadie for Skin Alley, and High Tide as well. What you need to understand that my history with Hawkwind goes back to the first day, I was the person who should have said "f*** off!" [to them], but instead I said "why not?" The band were searching around to find somewhere to play. I was setting up my sound system in All Saints Hall in Ladbroke Grove where we were putting on one of the bands I did sound for ( High Tide). The week before, David Bowie had been a guest when Space Oddity was high in the charts. Then it was High Tide's turn.  I was a big fan of Simon House's music.[Simon went on to be in Hawkwind - ed] High Tide's music was very important to me in my growing up. I liked Skin Alley but it wasn't so important. If I wanted to go "Walking in the Park", I'd listen to Graham Bond, but High Tide were so very unique, and something that was, to me, completely new.

As part of my work with this website, I tried to contact High Tide a while back and somebody on behalf on Tony Hills said they didn't talk about the past.....

Tony didn't talk a lot. In fact none of High Tide talked a lot! (I'm well known for being a chatter-box) (One of the band ended up not speaking for two months and  ended up being taken away...... !)

It was at a High Tide gig that I think Dik Mik, Nik Turner (who I think, were originally chosen to roadie for the band) and John Harrison possibly or Mik Slattery, I can't remember who, came up to me and said we're forming a group [with Dave], can we come and play and me agreeing, (I knew we had no support that night) and that was Hawkwind's first concert. We called them Group X !

I suppose this first ever gig by those who were to become Hawkwind started the band off, really. 

So your Hawkwind links, by accepting that first proposition, go right back literally to day one....

Yes and you've no idea how much I enjoyed Hawkwind's 40th birthday gig, it was a party for us all.

How did you come to be the roadie for Skin Alley and High Tide?

When I left school, I went to drama school and was a pupil with Celia Humphris who the singer in Trees who made the most amazing song The Garden of Jane Delawney which has been covered by many artists including Francoise Hardy. Celia told me about her band and that led to me being with Clearwater. By the age of 17 I had done a sound engineering course. I quickly became a man to know!

Good engineers were hard to find I should imagine?

No-one was doing it at the time. These were the days of two 4x12 speakers with the microphone plugged directly in and I had been trying to evolve that with introducing a mixing desk and stuff like that. This became particularly relevant with High Tide. Why? They were such a unique group. There was electric violin playing as the counter point to an electric guitar. It was a different sound to any group around. Until Mahavishnu Orchestra came, High Tide was the first band to feature an electric violin.

Aside from the sound engineering, you're known for the sounds you create.....

I was never going to become a classical trumpet player! (laughs)

When people see you on stage now or even in old photos, you are surrounded by synths, old Moogs, VCS3s and of course a theremin....

Yes, but the theremin came much later and was for me a return to source. Just working out how to play it in tune it as we speak.

It's a unique instrument and its sounds like you've figured out how to tame it!

How I got into that is magic in itself. Romain Turzi gave it to me and I'd waited 40 years to have one of these. It's now down to taming it more and more.

You came back to Friars in 1973 with Gong. There's an interesting history with this band isn't there? By this time you had moved to France hadn't you?

Yes, I'd actually moved to France in 1970.

What was it that made you decide to move there?

Because of Gong.

Because of them?

Absolutely. In the Clearwater days and the start up of Hawkwind, musically I was very attracted as I mentioned to Simon House's violin playing in High Tide, I thought there was something happening there that might change things. I was thinking what would change the face of music as a fledgling musician at the time as I hadn't found the type of music I could perform with. My first visit to France [came about because] I was listening to what was going on. Whilst being the  roadie/doing the sound/driving with High Tide  we ended up doing some gigs with Soft Machine. This was post Daevid Allen Soft Machine but I followed them with Kevin Ayers in the band and developed a good relationship with Robert Wyatt. Anyway, Gong were looking for a sound engineer and people including Wyatt said to Daevid that they should check this Tim Blake guy out. So they did and I found myself in France and I have stayed there. I actually prefer to speak French.

We know there was some great musicianship in Gong including the likes of Steve Hillage, but to me Gong's history draws parallels with Hawkwind's history in some ways, there's been troublesome elements [to your histories] along the way...

If you read Daevid Allen's autobiography, which is a load of crap, then the troublesome element is me.

I certainly wasn't implying or suggesting that. I mean in the sense of there's been quite a number of people in both bands over the years and shall we say there's been, for want of a better expression, friction and all sorts of goings on over the years in both camps.

Friction...there's no problem with that and I will take full responsibility for that (in Gong). I will not suck up to anyone and certainly no longer to Daevid. To play in Gong you have to suck up to Daevid.

How come you effectively ended up paying off Gong's debts when you were no longer in the band and bailing them out?

Yes I did, unfortunately and I'm quite proud about that actually.

Well how come it fell on you to do that?

What you have to remember is that on 1st February 1973 there was no more Gong, it had finished.

I remember the last time we spoke you got Gong up and going again.

I wasn't alone by any means. I was accompanied by one of Gong's brilliant musicians Didier Malherbe and then there was this young English guitarist who wanted to know all about synthesisers and the like and that was Steve Hillage, who we had just met playing with Kevin Ayers. After the Flying Teapot debacle in the studio, the three of us met up in the Gong house in France and we got the band back up on the road, with a brilliant new drummer, Pierre Moerlen. Daevid had f***ed off by then and I'm not really interested in finding out [where]. In his book, he talks about "time out", but he had ceased to be a creative part of Gong by that time. He was the leader though and when he decided to come back after we put the thing together, he was there but musically he was like a cannonball, one chained to your left foot !  I don't want to to denounce Daevid's creativity in any way because he was great and a huge inspiration to us all, but I never got on with this "Trilogy" business - there is no trilogy. And it was written by completely different people to Daevid and he's spent his life frauding and being "me me me".

There have been issues with Gong over the years with copyrights and so on.

Well, what can you do about someone who steals your record masters and sells them to another record company behind your back? That's what Daevid Allen does. Is that right or ethical? There's nothing right or ethical about what Daevid Allen does. He's just a very inspiring man. But when push comes to shove, Gong was formed in 1970 not 1969. Daevid's desire to be a parallel to Hawkwind is so deep he has even lied there. It goes back to his first record company, the world famous pirates, Charly Records in as much as they re-issued all Daevid's solo albums with the word Gong written on them. You just have to let them be.

To answer the specific financial questions...when I left Gong...I didn't leave, I was "left" and anyone who had a musical future....the likes of Steve, Didier and even Daevid renegotiated their agreements with Virgin so that they could continue borrowing money off of them to continue financing their musical careers which hadn't always been a great success or at least the Virgin part of them. In that way they were not held responsible for debts racked up under the Gong name and me not in the band anyway was left responsible for that and as Virgin had various contracts on me and I wasn't going to work again unless 50% of everything I earned went to paying off the Gong debt. It's all paid off now.

That sounds almost like extortion.

Well, to become a knight of the realm, you have to be into extortion. Many people I went to school with are knights of the realm...I'm not! (laughs) I've never extorted from anybody and I'm not going to start!

That's genuinely shocking to hear how bad that situation got. But I know since then you have taken part in some Gong reunions but you weren't part of the most recent one a couple of years back which did feature Steve Hillage.

I was busy with Hawkwind. And of course this tour was to ensure that they had a 40th anniversary tour the same year as Hawkwind despite forming in 1970. Hawkwind's name crops up a lot in Daevid's autobiography - I don't know what fascination he has with us.

After Gong, you were doing your solo stuff....

If I can quote you and the extortionate conditions of business, it was for the glory, I couldn't  earn a living from it especially as I had invented an expensive and interesting art form by that time. Unfortunately, everything Patrice Warrener and I invented as Crystal Machine ended-up being taken up by other, more affluent people.

This is around the time of Crystal Machine stuff?

Yes, Crystal Machine is the cream of my personal creation and very proud of it.

I know you've been around Hawkwind since day one, but when did you become 'part of it' as it were?

It took a long for me to discover, including when I was playing with them that I had actually been part of them since day one. It was a conversation in 2006 I had with Dave Brock when he started talking about me at age 17 and he knew I had to be come a member of the band again. I played originally with Hawkwind from 1979 to 1981 before playing with them again from 1999 on and off, then from 2007 till today.

You missed out on Hawkwind's previous Friars appearance as they played in 1976. 

Yes, I was trying to do something else in 1976.

I thought we played Friars on the 1979 tour but it was actually St Albans.

I'll ask you what I asked Dave Brock a little while back. Hawkwind, 42 years in still have a big fan base. I'm not saying that from a point of view of being surprised, just that many bands of a similar longevity would kill for that!

I'm inclined to agree. It's not a 50 year old fan base either. There were kids there at Friars....

Yes, aside from the long term fans, you'll have fans coming along to see what you are all about.

I hope the kids at 17 get the same flash out of it as I did. That's my only desire really. It is a great institution.

The Friars gig was amazing....

A lovely venue and a lovely stage. I had a wonder round while Wilko was playing there and I was thinking it must be a great place to go and watch a show. If I was an Aylesbury resident, I would be a regular visitor (there) - the bars even seem to be a nice place to have a drink. It's nice to see places like that.

As we said at the start, you have many links to Friars. Hawkwind has been going as long as Friars Aylesbury. No issues there, we started in 1969 as well! But as we know you have links to not only Gong and Hawkwind, but Skin Alley and High Tide and Steve Hillage, you also produced an album by Christian Boule? He played Friars with Steve Hillage.

I worked with Christian and I buried him too (he died sadly in 2002) - he was a very good friend. I once had the intention of playing in another rock band in 1976 and I started bringing together several musicians. So I brought Christian with me to Basil Brook's  house, in order to start putting something together with the two of them, but instead I had the unfortunate experience of having Virgin Management  calling up (they must have known what was going on, as they knew that Christian was there ) and hiring them both for the Steve Hillage band...anyway, Steve got a band and I didn't!

I find your story fascinating - not only have you helped shape sounds, you've been quite connected with a lot of Friars history....

I think the most amazing thing was last year when Dave Brock and therefore Hawkwind were given this most amazing award by Mojo magazine - the Mavericks award. We got this prize and all of a sudden they were taking all these photos and it reminded me that all this time it was exactly what Dave and I had been...mavericks. Dave has more of a chance in the music business than I have but I don't need to do what he's done, he's done what he was going to do anyway. Same thing for me really. I was very proud of that moment and being asked to accompany Dave for that award. A bunch of old mavericks!

I thought it was great and at the same time you told the rest of the world that Hawkwind was still here.

Very true. If you look at the band today and there's some extraordinary talent. Dave, of course and Richard Chadwick, the drummer, has been there for 21 years and is still looked at as the new boy! I don't know why! (laughs) In my career I have played with four or five amazing drummers.....I've played with the likes of Ginger Baker, Bill Bruford, the fabulous Pierre Moerlen, Pip Pyle, Simon King to name just a few, but Richard is unique. Richard saw me play at a free festival many years back and he told me that, when he saw me making percussion sounds on a synthesiser and he wanted to become the drummer that could play with electronics and sequencing, and that's exactly what he's done! He's a drummer working with the clock and not against it.  The bassist Mr Dibs was a roadie and supporter of the band for 11 years and has now been in the band four years. Nial Hone (whose Dad is a lifelong friend of Dave, and supporter of Hawkwind in those early days) has been onboard since the end of 2008, so the band itself covers all the generations it's been flying !

It was after a festival we both played in 2006,that Dave (who never normally stays up after gigs) told me that at 17 I had wanted to be the lead guitarist in Hawkwind...(you bet I did), and that now was the time to do it!

Hence you with a Roland Ax and becoming a keytar hero!

I've invented a lot on the synthesiser and I couldn't deny it and I am proud of it. But we are coming to the day where everyone and his uncle could play like I could 40 years ago, so I get no pleasure out of that. Nial has shown how very capable he is of continuing the computer programming side to synths, too,  So I am now doing what I couldn't do 40 years ago and really enjoying it and that is really important to me. Playing in Hawkwind, nowadays,  is a return to my roots, living the dream I had in 1969 - when I was 17 !

To finish, somebody said to me recently that we were lucky you did Silver Machine at Friars as you don't always do it because you don't actually like doing it - is there any truth in this? Whilst Hawkwind has a massive body of work, to many people all they have heard on the radio is Silver Machine. I'm told Dave isn't a fan of actually playing it live?

It's not that, it's because it's all been done before. Yes, of course we love to make the audience  happy, by playing it,  but the thing about being a musician and being in band with 42 years of history, is to always move forwards, and Dave even more than the rest of us... we still play it, as you've heard, but it's only one short track in a huge repertoire!

I do agree with you on that.

It's just as when I play a solo show, I have to do Jerusalem don't I?!

Tim, thanks for your time and best wishes from us all to you in France.

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