It is a great honor for me having the opportunity to talk with the Champ himself, the man who gives the keys a Fuel Injection. I’m talking about Alan Hawkshaw! The name might not ring a bell to everyone, but some of his work will. The man played with Serge Gainsbourg, The Shadows, Dusty Springfield, Cerrone and The Mohawks, just to name a few. He was one of the most groovy, influential and contributing musicians of the british Library scene, for labels such as KPM and Bruton. He recently released his autobiography called: The Champ -The Hawk Talks.
When did music start for you, not necessarily as a musician, but in general? What, for example, was the first record you remember buying?
Music was always being played in my house even as I was born. Mostly classical, with a little jazz here and there. As I was learning a language by listening to my parents speak, so I learnt music. When about 8 years old I borrowed my brothers portable wind-up record player and my favourite jazz record, a piano duet played by Fats Waller and Benny Payne playing a tune called After You’ve Gone. From then on I loved jazz piano, Oscar Peterson, George Shearing.
Could you describe the scene you were part of as a young musician? What other music were you into?
As a young musician it was always jazz. It consumed me.
How did you get into the library scene? Were you friends with other label-colleagues, for example, Keith Mansfield or Johnny Pearson at KPM? What was the KPM era like?
During the year 1963/4, I was introduced to Robin Phillips who ran KPM. Guy Fletcher, the now president of The Performing Right Society introduced me to him, although I was still in a rock group called The Original Checkmates. Robin was looking to modernize the library, to supply more music of the day, namely rock ‘n roll and funky music. He let me loose in the studio with my group. What resulted was tunes such as Rocky Mountain Runabout, Senior Thump, Beat Me Till I’m Blue and other later Mohawks tracks. I met up with Keith Mansfield during this period and we collaborated on quite a few pieces. Johnny Pearson was already an established composer and library writer, of the old school.
I first heard of Alan Hawkshaw after a little research I did on the 45 I bought of The Mohawks’ The Champ. The song is considered a classic among the Hip Hop heads, as it has been sampled over and over. Were you aware of it being sampled at the time? What was, or is, your opinion on the whole sampling industry?
I gradually became aware of the multi-sampling of The Champ. I suppose sampling breathed new life into a lot of the old catalogue so I am not against it.
What do you consider to be the favourite record you worked on? Or if that’s too hard to decide; which record did you really enjoy working on?
Difficult to answer, but one I really liked and was proud of was the stuff I did with Keith Mansfield, the funky organ stuff and some piano pieces with orchestra, one being a piece called ‘She’. Also some synthesized cool library stuff with Brian Bennett, Synthesis.
Other musicians describe your playing as a “percussive style of playing the organ” (Keith Mansfield in this case, but I’ve read it multiple times), could you tell me more about this technique or style?
The Hammond is a very dynamic instrument. I enjoyed employing its Percussion stops to play my percussive pieces, although I also like playing coller jazz on the instrument with less percussion, more in the Jimmy Smith style.
How is the music scene treating you now? Are you still asked to play on records, provide soundtracks etc?
I’m occasionally asked to contribute to other peoples albums but I’m more into my orchestral stuff, especially musicals, writing love ballads in the classical-crossover vein.
Finally, could you tell me something more about your book, The Champ – The Hawk Talks?
My autobiography The Champ chronicles the start of my professional life in the music business with some chapters on the period of my teenage years prior to going professional. It lists many of the people I’ve worked with, gives details of key sessions I was on and provides interesting photographs, diary details and anecdotes throughout the 60’s, up to the present time.