Huw Lloyd Langton: Guitarist with space-rock giants Hawkwind
Wednesday 12 December 2012
As an original recording member of the psychedelic space-rock band Hawkwind, Huw Lloyd Langton was a teenager among musicians who were arguably already music business veterans. They included the band's one constant over the next 40 years, Dave Brock, who had played in various ensembles throughout the 1960s and was a familiar figure on London's busker scene; the Joe Loss Band bassist John Harrison; and roadie-turned-saxophonist Nik Turner.
Add to that experience the Pretty Things' Dick Taylor, who was assigned the task of channelling Hawkwind's dense and improvised sound on to vinyl, and it is unsurprising that Langton described himself as "overawed" while recording their eponymous debut. Such self-deprecation was typical of Langton's unassuming character, but he would become one of the most dexterous and skilled musicians to grace Hawkwind's ranks.
He was born in Harlesden, west London; self-taught as a guitarist, he also possessed natural ability as a painter. He attributed his decision to follow a musical path to his Welsh mother who, he said, "always liked singing and dragged me and my sister off to chapel whenever she could." His earliest professional work was as a member of Winston G, with whom he toured in Europe, but it was while he was working for Ivor Maraints in his legendary Musicentre in London's West End that Brock and Harrison recruited him to replace Hawkwind's original lead guitarist, Mick Slattery, who had decamped after cutting their first demo.
Hawkwind had been spotted playing at All Saints Hall in Ladbroke Grove in 1969 by the Clearwater Productions impresario Douglas Smith, who became their first manager and signed them to Liberty, later United Artists. They made their name through an affinity with the burgeoning Notting Hill underground and a willingness to play for free for myriad causes, including a famous appearance with counterculture comrades the Pink Fairies outside the 1970 Isle of Wight festival – ostensibly as a protest against the high price of admission – that became a key moment in Hawkwind mythology. It was also a defining point in Langton's life for a different reason.
"I started taking hallucinogenic drugs," he recalled. "Not the heavy duty stuff ... but there were very strange substances going around." Hawkwind's stated intent was to create an audio-visual experience that didn't rely on drugs; the scene within which the band was developing, however, created a focal point for consumption that Langton eschewed, having already had one bad experience of LSD. At the Isle of Wight, however, he unwittingly consumed orange juice laced with LSD which triggered a breakdown and led him to walk away from Hawkwind for the next nine years, during which time they scored a Top 3 hit with "Silver Machine" and released the highly regarded live album, Space Ritual.
Marrying Marion Chamberlain in 1971, Langton spent the decade moving between roles. He taught at Streatham Comprehensive, worked as a session musician for artists such as Leo Sayer, and joined "supergroup" Widowmaker, whose membership included Mott the Hoople's Aerial Bender (Luther Grosvenor) and the Love Affair vocalist Steve Ellis, and who released two LPs: Widowmaker (1976) and Too Late To Cry (1977). He remained in contact with Hawkwind, filling in for them on a handful of instances.
By 1979, Hawkwind were unrecognisable from the band with which Langton had recorded. They had undergone numerous line-up changes and recorded successful albums for United Artists, and then with Tony Stratton-Smith's Charisma label, but at the end of the decade they were out of contract, with Brock the sole remaining founder-member.
Brock had recruited the former Gong synthesiser player Tim Blake to a new-look line-up that would move Hawkwind's style from the "new wave" tone of recent releases back to a heavy rock sound. Blake, another Ladbroke Grove veteran, suggested re-engaging Langton.
A winter tour yielded Live – 79, a mix of reworked standards and new material that delineated Hawkwind's rediscovered rock agenda, and secured a deal with Bronze Records. They recorded Levitation with Ginger Baker who, recruited through contact via Marion Lloyd Langton, joined as drummer for the album and supporting tour. Levitation was a triumph, noted for its high production values and Langton's distinctively sharp but fluid lead lines. It failed to serve-up any singles chart success, but by then Hawkwind was effectively an albums and live band with a diehard fan-base who saw them as not just a group of musicians but as an ethos.
Langton remained with Hawkwind for a decade, his status by choice that of a session musician engaged for studio and live work. Co-written with Marion came well-loved standards: "Rocky Paths", "Solitary Mind Games", "Dragons & Fables" and the crowd-pleasing "Moonglum". During this tenure, the band cut Sonic Attack and Choose Your Masques for RCA, before releasing the Michael Moorcock-inspired concept album The Chronicle Of The Black Sword on the Flicknife label, and The Xenon Codex for GWR. Concurrently, Langton put together the Lloyd Langton Group, releasing albums that musically had some common cause with his Hawkwind work but which often lyrically explored the disconnections between people, an identifiable theme running through the songs he wrote with Marion.
Approachable and friendly, Langton was a popular figure, regularly to be found in a local bar before concerts happily chatting with fans. He left Hawkwind again in 1989, returning for a one-off appearance in 1997 before rejoining for the band's 30th anniversary show at the Brixton Academy in 2000, dubbed the "Hawkestra". This led to him touring with yet another reconfigured line-up the following year, though he contracted Legionnaires Disease towards the tour's end.
That prefigured a decline in his health that continued to dog him for the rest of his life. He was regularly invited back to Hawkwind, generally for acoustic guest spots. One of his last appearances was in August in Sidmouth with his great friend Dave Brock, in aid of the Devon Air Ambulance. Unknown to his fans, for two years Langton had been fighting throat cancer, from which he died at home.
Richard Huw Lloyd Langton, guitarist and songwriter: born Harlesden, London 6 February 1951; married 1971 Marion Chamberlain; died Dorset 6 December 2012.
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