BIMM Bristol graduate Harry ‘Haz’ Wheaton studied at two different BIMM campuses (Brighton and Bristol) before making his way into the music industry as a full-time professional. Today, he lives the touring lifestyle as the bassist for legendary psychedelic rockers Hawkwind. Here, he describes how he landed the role and reminisces about his time at BIMM.
“I’d followed Hawkwind around as a fan since I was about 12 or 13. They were my favourite band as a teen, so I used to go and see them as often as possible. I’d loiter around after shows trying to meet all the members, so they kind of got to know me through that.
I’d go and offer to help load gear and when I reached eighteen, I joined the road crew. I didn’t really know what I was doing at first but I learned, and I never got sacked so I must have done alright! That was my first ‘professional’ involvement in the music industry.
Then I started picking up any crew work I could for venues, promoters and festivals. If they didn’t have any work I’d offer my services for free and then eventually I’d end up on their crew list, and then I landed more touring work with other bands going all over Europe which was loads of fun.
All this time I was also playing in my own little bands, but I didn’t really think anything would ever take off, so I was focusing more on working in the industry. I did an internship with a booking agent thanks to a BIMM lecturer (the brilliant James Scarlett) and was looking at going into that field, and then in 2015, Dave Brock rang me up and asked if I’d fill in on bass for the next couple of Hawkwind shows, and I ended up staying!
It’s a cool job. I’m not like a session musician who turns up to play the shows, this is more of a full time thing and we’re all pretty involved with what goes on. It’s a collective effort with leadership, and there’s a lot of room for creative freedom in the band, so we all pitch ideas and contribute our bit to the music; I have co-writing credits on half of our new album, “Into The Woods“.
The great thing about Hawkwind is that it’s always evolving and changing, depending on the time and who’s in the band; it’s not one product that has to be emulated and repeated. The ethos of the band is to be progressive, in the true sense of the word. The first thing I was told when I joined was ‘just play like yourself’, which is great, there’s not many constraints on what I can do.
Performing with these guys is great fun. For me it’s all about playing live. The nature of our music is quite dangerous and we do a lot of improvisation and jamming in our set. We take that risk every night and that chemistry is how we stand out and do something that very few other bands do nowadays. It’s fun to get to tour all these big venues and festivals after years of playing to 20 people in bars.
There’ve been quite a few standout moments for me since joining the band. Our last two albums both reached the top 40 in the UK album charts. We played Hellfest in France recently which was a milestone for me personally, coming from a heavy music background; half of my favourite bands played on our stage, and then we headlined it to 6 or 7,000 people, it was pretty surreal.
We do some cool festivals all over Europe actually, last year we played this festival at the Jodrell Bank Telescope which was awesome, and the year before that we headlined a prog festival in this amphitheatre on top of the Lorelei rock in Germany. It’s a really amazing place! We did the Roundhouse a while back and packed the place out, and we had Motorhead’s guitarist Phil Campbell come and play some numbers, so that was a blast; my first ever gig was Hawkwind and my second Motorhead, and all of a sudden I’m playing this legendary venue, stood between the first two guitarists I ever saw back when I was a kid – that was a special moment! While all that stuff is really fun, I’m just happy if we play well and have fun making the music that we do, you can do that to 20 people or 20,000.
I had a lot of fun at BIMM and met some cool people that will be friends for life, including some great lecturers. I did the Tour Management Diploma at BIMM Brighton (which is now known as the Diploma in Events and Sound Production) and then was very fortunate to land a scholarship for the Music Industry Management course at BIMM Bristol (now known as Music Business). I used the course as a base and outside of it spent a lot of time finding work experience and getting out to as many live shows as possible, getting to know people and eventually landing proper work.
You’ve got to do these things yourself because no piece of paper alone will land you a gig in the music business, but BIMM is fertile ground for meeting people involved with the industry who can give you advice or help you out. If you turn up to your lectures, you’ll learn stuff about the business that will save you a lot of time and hassle down the line; I’m very grateful to have a broad understanding of how the industry works as a whole thanks to BIMM, especially as my only experience and knowledge beyond BIMM is in the live sector. There was some stuff I wasn’t as onside with of course; I think some people were more interested in being fashionable. I probably came across as this really out-of-touch metalhead to some people!
All my coursemates were great though, we were all from different backgrounds and had different ambitions, so we all helped each other out and there was a great camaraderie – we were pretty good friends and had a laugh. I’m in still in touch with a lot of the people I met at BIMM, and the music industry being the small world that is, you’ll inevitably run into lecturers or former peers backstage at a festival at some point.
My favourite part of the course was probably just hearing all the amazing and amusing anecdotes my lecturers had, I couldn’t get enough of their tales from the road. And I’d say the most valuable thing I learned at BIMM was, as one of my lecturers used to say, ‘the harder you work, the luckier you get’.