SFF Song of the Week: Eric Brown


I met Eric Brown at my first Eastercon; he’s a charming guy, and is universally admired as one of the finest and most imaginative writers in SF, equally adept in short stories and novels, as well as being the firm-but-fair leading SF critic of the Guardian.

Fortunately he recently gave me a very nice review for HELL SHIP; but even if he hadn’t, I’d still be delighted to feature this, his blogjay choice of the week.

Eric Brown writes:

Silver Machine by Hawkwind

Hawkwind released Silver Machine, composed by Dave Brock with lyrics by Robert Calvert, in 1972, and it reached number three in the hit parade. It was released again in ’76, ’78, and ’83. It must have been around ’78 that I became aware of it. I liked its energy, its allusion to SF – which I’d discovered a few years earlier while living in Melbourne.

Robert Calvert has written: “I read this essay by Alfred Jarrey called, “How to Construct a Time Machine”, and I noticed something which I don’t think anyone else has thought of because I’ve never seen any criticism of the piece to suggest this. I seemed to suss out immediately that what he was describing was his bicycle… I thought it was a great idea for a song. At that time there were a lot of songs about space travel, and it was the time when NASA was actually, really doing it. They’d put a man on the moon and were planning to put parking lots and hamburger stalls and everything up there. I thought that it was about time to come up with a song that actually sent this all up, which was ‘Silver Machine’. ‘Silver Machine’ was just to say, I’ve got a silver bicycle, and nobody got it. I didn’t think they would. I thought that what they would think we were singing about some sort of cosmic space travel machine.”

Well, I certainly did.

In the early eighties I went to a concert by Hawkwind at St. Georges Hall, Bradford. The only track I knew by them was Silver Machine – I’d heard a few others, but they did nothing for me. I was hoping to hear more tracks like Machine. As it happened I was wearing an old Hawkwind t-shirt, given to me by a woman I worked with in a factory in Keighley: her son was or had been a roadie with Hawkwind, and she was clearing out some of his rubbish… Anyway, there I was, an overawed fellow in my early twenties wearing this heavy metal t-shirt surrounded by what looked like a convention of Hell’s Angels in the bar of St. Georges Hall. At one pint I noticed a vast bearded guy staring at me, and I shrank into my half of bitter and wondered what I’d done to offend him. A minute later I felt a tap on my shoulder, and turned to find this hirsute giant glaring down at me. I felt, I can safely report, like shitting bricks and building myself a barricade. He said, “Like the t-shirt.” He went on to say that it was very rare and he’d give me a tenner for it. I was astounded. A tenner was a lot of brass to me, back in the early eighties. I said, “Ber-but… but I don’t have…” He vanished, to return a minute later by a new, cellophane-wrapped t-shirt that were on sale in the foyer. He gave me a tenner and I stripped off the t-shirt and donned the new one, a tenner the richer… All parties were happy.

That’s all I recall of the concert.

I haven’t heard Silver Machine for years.

I still don’t much like heavy metal, or Hawkwind.

I just took a ride
in a silver machine
and I’m still feeling mean
I got a silver machine
Do you want to ride
see yourself going by
other side of the sky
Well I got a silver machine
It flies sideways through time
It’s an electric line
To your Zodiac sign
It flies out of a dream
It’s anti-septically clean
You’re gonna know where I’ve been
In my silver machine

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