Skip to main content

That time Dame Vera Lynn sang with Hawkwind, Lemmy, and a former topless dancer

Lemmy, Dave Vera Lynn and Dave Brock (composite shot)
(Image credit: Lemmy/Dave Brock: Fin Costello | Vera Lynn: Doug McKenzie)

It's August 1985, and Pete Townshend's Double O charity, set up by The Who in 1976 to address issues of addiction, domestic violence and sexual abuse, has arranged a summer charity show at Crystal Palace Bowl in South London. 

Topping the bill are space rockers Hawkwind, with support from cult prog icons The Enid and a peculiar smattering of names from the new wave, post-punk and goth fraternities: Spear Of Destiny, The Armoury Show, Doctor & The Medics, The March Violets, The Comsat Angels, Balaam And The Angel.

Like all all-star charity shows, the show needs an all-star finale – this is little more than a month after Live Aid, after all – and this show gets one. After Hawkwind climax with a version of Brainstorm that has dozens of worse-for-wear fans drunkenly frolicking in the lake in front of stage, former bass player Lemmy strolls onstage for a romp through the band's classic hit Silver Machine, accompanied by the band's legendary dancer, Stacia. Both had left Hawkwind ten years earlier. 

The excitement does not end there. The organisers have promised a special guest, and, to widespread bemusement, Dane Vera Lynn is introduced to the crowd. Yep, that Dame Vera Lynn. The 68-year old former WWII forces sweetheart whose most recent hit, Travellin' Home, had scraped into the Top 20 in 1957.

Dame Vera does the sensible thing and plays the hits. 1942 banger (There'll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover gets the ball rolling, with Hawkwind guitarist Huw Lloyd-Langton an unlikely occupant of the drum stool. 1939's We'll Meet Again follows – with Lemmy on bass – before the entire ensemble gathers for a stirring performance of Auld Lang Syne

Self-confessed speed freak Lemmy may not be an entirely appropriate guest for an anti-drugs event, but it doesn't matter. Goths, grebos, punks and drunks sing along in delirious union, and the day is decreed a success. Although, to be honest, at £2.50 a ticket it can't really fail. 

It wasn't all good news. In war correspondent Ed Vullaimy's book Louder Than Bombs: A Life With Music, War, And Peace, Hawkwind leader Dave Brock reports that the band's involvement in the show led to problems with gangs and drug dealers and "all kinds of things we don't talk about, like getting shot at and making enemies."

But Brock did report an upside, with Vera Lynn's presence impressing his mum and dad. "That meant a lot to me," he said. "The second world war was my childhood."

Fraser Lewry
Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 36 years in music industry, online for 23. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.