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
We spoke to Tim at his home in drought ridden Poitiers, France in July
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
How come you effectively ended
up paying off Gong's debts when you were no longer in the band and bailing
Yes I did, unfortunately and I'm quite proud about that actually.
Well how come it fell on you to
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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.
The Tim Blake
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This interview and its
content are © 2011 Mike O'Connor/www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk
Blake /www.hawkwind.com and may not
be used in whole or in part without permission.