There’s no denying the fact that some properly mad shit happened in the 1980s, but perhaps one of the strangest things was when the late Vera Lynn, who sadly died today at the age of 103, played an anti-heroin gig at London’s Crystal Palace Bowl with space-rockers and famed psychedelics fans Hawkwind. No, seriously.
On August 24, 1985 Hawkwind were top of the bill at a show raising awareness for the Anti-Heroin Campaign, which was founded by The Who’s Pete Townshend. Also on the line-up were Doctor and the Medics, Spear of Destiny and a bunch of other rock and prog leaning bands and, excitingly, a secret special guest. Though a big hairy man – of which there were many knocking around the 1980s guitar scene – would have been the expected surprise star, forces sweetheart Vera Lynn, who was by then 68 years old, was almost certainly bottom of the list.
So when former Hawkwind member Lemmy – then the legendary frontman of Motörhead – came out to play Brainstorm with the band and their topless dancer Stacia, it was a welcome but hardly shocking event. Mystery headliner Vera Lynn however, was a different matter entirely. But tottering out and bursting into rousing wartime anthem We’ll Meet Again at a heavy rock show might have been the most punk rock thing Vera Lynn ever did.
Hawkwind’s founder Dave Brock later spoke about the show in the book Louder Than Bombs: A Life with Music, War, and Peace. His band’s participation in the concert, he said, led to “all kinds of things we don’t talk about, like getting shot at and making enemies” – presumably for the anti-drugs stance rather than for hanging out with a torch song singing OAP. But the show also ingratiated him to his parents “by including Vera Lynn… that meant a lot to me. The Second World War was my childhood.”
Bass player Harvey Bainbridge remembered that “she still had an amazing voice” and if the pictures are anything to go by, a jolly good time was had by all, with a bearded, beaming Brock cuddling up to the smiling, shampoo-ed and set singer.
And let’s be fair; Vera Lynn had lived through two World Wars; she wasn’t going to let a couple of grubby hippies scare her. This morning Hawkwind paid tribute to their former gig buddy, writing: “RIP Vera 😢…..A great singer, a lovely lady….It was an honour to share a stage.”