“We played for practically 24 hours. When somebody got too tired, somebody else would take over. It was a functional, practical thing to enable the band to play for ever!” When the Pink Fairies and Hawkwind became a single band

Pink Fairies in 1972
(Image credit: Getty Images)

At the dawn of psychedelia, Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies found themselves pushed together by accident. The result was a live hybrid who became known as Pinkwind. In 2011, Fairies bassist Duncan Sanderson (who died in 2019) told Prog about those times.

If you were to make a TV documentary about the time Pink Fairies bassist Duncan ‘Sandy’ Sanderson spent growing up in the days of psychedelia and its underground scene, you’d see a series of jump-cuts from some of the most oft-repeated images of the 60s.

Those images come thick and fast: going down Tottenham Court Road to the UFO club for the first time in 1967, and hearing The Pink Floyd live; the battle of Grosvenor Square outside the US embassy during a demonstration against the Vietnam war in 1968; sharing a communal house off San Francisco’s Haight-Asbury in 1969 as a member of The Deviants.

“That was where the Pink Fairies started, really,” recalls Sanderson. “After Mick Farren had quit The Deviants at the end of a tour, the rest of us stayed on in the States, living in a hippie house with a dance troupe and all that kind of thing. We had a music room in there and every day we’d get up, have our macrobiotic muesli or whatever, and then go and play music for as long as we wanted.

“We were listening to a lot of Grateful Dead and just jammed forever. I think that’s why we had a certain appeal when we got back to England; we were slightly different and we were playing a different kind of music as a result of being out there.”

Underpinned by Sanderson’s rock-solid bass work, Pink Fairies benefitted from the on-stage charisma of ex-Pretty Things drummer and vocalist Twink, additional rhythmic propulsion from second drummer Russell Hunter, and Paul Rudolph’s fiery guitar heroics. A volatile mix of heavy work-outs and the gusty garage band vibe which had partially fuelled The Deviants’ anarchic brand of agit-prop rock’n’roll, the Fairies were quickly identified with the then-growing trend for playing for free – either at festivals or spontaneous word-of-mouth events.

Quickly signed to Polydor, Do It from their underrated debut Never Never Land (1971) was a far-sighted clarion call to a generation to stop passively consuming and take control of their own lives. Cutting and caustic, both message and music anticipated punk’s DIY ethos and sound by several years.

Though anti-capitalist consciousness-raising was as much in the air at the time as the smell of dope at a free gig, Sanderson admits he was uncomfortable about the Fairies becoming allied to any of the political causes that were espoused in counter-culture periodicals such as OZ and International Times. “I think there’s too much emphasis put on the idea that we were part of a movement or that what we were doing was political. The only thing we had was our music, so that’s that we offered.”

While this quickly led to them being dubbed ‘the people’s band,’ it actually had a detrimental effect on their career in the longer term. “In a way we shot ourselves in the foot because we’d be going out for £500 for one gig one night – which was quite a lot of money in ’71 – and then of course, we’d be playing in a field down the road for free the next day. Naturally the promoters got angry about that.”

A significant part of their live set was the open-ended jam-based Uncle Harry’s Last Freak-Out which could extend beyond 30 minutes on a good night. “Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. In a way it was like jazz. You’d have a few bare bones that you’d hang a song on and then it was every man for himself.” 

The Fairies’ ability to play extended sets was particularly useful when the band started playing with Hawkwind. The first occasion was underneath London’s A40 dual-carriageway. “When they built the Westway it was just empty space underneath the flyover, not like it is now with shops and services. I remember standing in the dust with all the Hawkwind boys just playing free for the people.

“It wasn’t a conscious decision. We were bands that both lived around Ladbroke Grove, and I think it was just a natural progression. Rather than it being any competition about who was going to be on the top of the bill, we alternated the bill or sometimes each of us did a bit of set and then we’d both play together.”

Known as Pinkwind, Sanderson remembers the joint gig at the Isle of Wight festival in 1970 as being a particularly epic appearance. “We played for practically 24 hours. When somebody got too tired or wanted a drink or something, somebody else would take over. So the Pinkwind thing was a functional, practical thing to enable the band to keep playing forever!”

Pink Fairies’ flame burned bright but brief. After 1973’s Kings Of Oblivion (marking the arrival of Larry Wallis), the band’s energy was finally sapped by a mixture of inertia and indifferent marketing. Over the years there’s been a series of sporadic guerilla-style reunions, notably at Glastonbury in 2011, when they played 40 years after their first appearance at the festival as Mick Farren & The Last Men Standing.

When asked which album summed up the Fairies at their best, Sanderson has no hesitation in settling upon a live recording from 1971 called Finland Freakout, released in 2008. “Our version of The BeatlesTomorrow Never Knows. That was us. That’s how I remember us as a live act. The really big over-the-top screaming guitar, thundering bass and flailing drums. I like to think that when we were good we were very, very good; and when we were bad we were fucking awful.”

Sid Smith

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.