|And you thought Hawkwind were just a bunch of old cosmic hippies
Dave Hancock finds signs of life in ancient psychedelic concept helmsman Robert Calvert
This interview with Bob Calvert is from the 16/7/77 issue of Sounds
Brian Jones and lone yachtsman Donald Crowhurst drowned about the same time
"I'm not even sure if rock is the answer anymore"
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Did dey do dat Idi in
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Or idi in hell
Or idi just not feelin well
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Quark, strangeness and charm. An entirely new sketch starring Bob Calvert. Our legendary hero has spent
the last year saving sci-fi rock band Hawkwind from the dreaded funk. Now read on...
"Alan Powell and Paul Rudolph who were effectively the rhythm section of the band, had distinctly different
ideas to me and Dave Brock - and we're the ones who have to take responsibility for the direction.
There was always an argument about the style of music because they wanted to play a more funky rhythm
and they weren't too keen on our near obsession with fantasy and science fiction, so it came to an obvious
split," says Calvert cunningly disguised as a mortal, eating melon in a Soho restaurant.
Powell and Rudolph have formed their own band, Kicks, and saxophonist Nik Turner has also left. He'll be
working with Steve Hillage. But the institution of Hawkwind continues even though Calvert admits that in
1977 they're hardly a fashionable band.
"We try to stay outside fashion and do what interests us and if people come round to liking what we do
that's fine. But no, we're not as popular as we have been though we do still manage to pull a large concert
audience," he says.
Point is, the last album 'Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music' was their least successful.
"It was not a very good album," concedes our hero. "Because it was made before the split and under the
tension of a lack of co-operation." But the latest 'Quark, Strangeness And Charm' is a more solid
"The musical direction is not vastly different but it's a step further from what we've done before. We seem
to be able to clarify what we're doing now, whereas before it was instinctive, a bit thrown together.
Nowadays more thought goes into it, I think the music is more sophisticated.
To me, Hawkwind is a way of life. Other things I've written, like poetry, I would sometimes put into
Hawkwind, but it does have a clearly defined area. For instance we've never done a love song."
An example of Calvert's poetry met you on the way in to this article, as did the subject of a play the man's
written about Brian Jones.
"I've researched it quite a lot," he says. "And a lot of the things that were happening to Brian Jones were
happening to Donald Crowhurst. So I've written this play, an extremely controversial piece of work actually,
especially as far as the Rolling Stones parts of it are concerned.
I don't really want to say too much about it in case it's squashed before it's even seen the light, but it's full of
strange coincidences because they were both driven to a kind of suicide by inadequacy and the drive of
ambition for fame. They were carried along by publicity.
To get a thing like this staged is going to be difficult," he adds. "I don't think various members of the Rolling
Stones might like the way they're being portrayed and it would be easy for someone round the Stones to stop
the whole thing by not allowing the music to be used which is what they've done before. I understand Mick
Jagger would like a film made of Brian Jones, I don't know whether it's true."
And if you thought that was a revelation how about this for a bit of science fiction gossip: Johnny Rotten
used to hang around Hawkwind. (Gasp).
"Yeah, I knew him vaguely from some time ago, but I don't want to blow his image for him," maintains
Calvert. "I don't want to suggest that he might not be 20 years old. He came to see us when we were in
Camden Town and I knew his face..."
But Calvert refuses to be drawn anymore although he denies rumours that Rotten was once a Hawkwind
roadie! In fact he admires much of the punk rock scene: "Johnny Rotten is proving that freedom of speech
cannot be taken for granted in this country."
But "while they're saying decadence is to be despised they're manifesting another sort of decadence just as
much, in the same sort of star syndrome. We've done punk kind of things," owns up our hero. "In fact
back in 1972 I think, just after 'Silver Machine' we wanted to follow it up with 'Urban Guerilla', a very
dangerous piece of work actually. "It was about urban bombing and just after we released if the IRA had a
really concentrated attack all over London, so the record was quickly withdrawn. United Artists quite rightly
got cold feet about it because it would have been very likely they'd have made themselves a target for a
And you thought Hawkwind were just a bunch of old cosmic hippies. "Hawkwind is an experimental group
at a time when rock music is very conventional; very conservative," claims Calvert. "That's the thing that
puzzles me about the 'new wave' actually. It's produced by kids who have grown up with the media at their
disposal and yet still their view of the world is so old-fashioned. Their political ideals seem to be based on
really outdated ways of thinking; influenced by George Orwell. They still believe that a 1930's vision of
paranoia for the future applies for our time. Big Brother is watching you is nothing to the subtle techniques
that are already being used. The 'new wave' is the most conventionalised influence I've ever noticed in any
art form at all."
Hawkwind presumably defy convention.
"To my mind the psychedelic era was the most creative with new adventures in lifestyle and music style;
pharmaceutical experiments. I tend to be against trends," (which is why he's dressed like a solicitor's clerk),
"because it's a denial of individuality. There are people now who are so trendy they can't like anything unless
it's been OK'd by the trend, and they end up being unable to form an opinion.
"During the acid rock period there was a new approach to the music but now it's all gone back to the
three-minute pop format, even the current avant-garde use it. I'm really not even sure if rock is the answer
Calvert, like his band, thrives on being unfashionable; calculatedly enjoys going against the grain. From his
house in Devon he doesn't view modern urban society as the frightening picture painted by Ob Noxious from
his tower block flat.
But he also warns that Hawkwind "are not a joke".
"Hawkwind is more than just entertainment. It's a serious band but people don't take it seriously, they think
it's a joke. But that's starting to change. It's certainly more than the common misconception of us being a
bunch of Ladbroke Grove hippies into science fiction. In fact I suppose Nik Turner was the nearest we got
to a hippy. In many ways Hawkwind is unique; there's no other band like it. We're in touch with the modern
world as people and we take an interest; we're not living outside the tide of events just because we're
interested in science fiction."
Physicists now believe that the atom is not the smallest particle of matter. It is in fact a quark.