|This article is from the Autumn 2000 issue of Progression magazine...
Throughout earth's timeline, from acts of heroism to creating test tube miracles, special moments occur that
invigorate our belief in the human spirit. Perhaps the young Robert Calvert, who dreamed of nestling in a
fighter cockpit while protecting his country in wartime, saw his future brightly in this manner. The youthful
Calvert may or may not have realized his life's path was tied to rock 'n' roll, and that from this base he truly
We can now gaze into the crystal ball of the past and sight Robert Calvert, the artist - at times heroic, often
inventive - forever singing. It truly is a crystal ball for many, because that visage remains a prediction, of
sorts. Those who look will never meet him in the flesh, never talk with him one-on-one. We experience
Calvert vicariously, in our living rooms, our dens, through loudspeakers, headphones, and now on the
Internet, through computers. But the messages hinted at in his lyrics remain alive for as long as we wish to
keep them alive.
Initially, we can only borrow from the past: spoken and sung words, written works, music, and the visual
and verbal memories that survive. It becomes the task of those infatuated with the best of his works to
make sense of this past, and to welcome all to the present, which eternally becomes the future.
I remember going to see Hawkwind and telling my wife that anything can happen at a Hawkwind concert.
Maybe Bob Calvert will show up, I said. Dave Brock put to rest all hope when he addressed the audience:
"We'd like to dedicate this next piece to the late Bob Calvert." It was an irony the singer might appreciate.
But while I came away with an anecdote, a man remained dead and unknowingly died again for those
unaware of his passing. Yet rock fans would do well to remember to temper their emotions. It's fine to
mourn the loss of an artist, but one should acknowledge those who have lost more: a wife, a child, all those
who were a part of his daily breath.
In life, Calvert made every effort to reach us all. Not as a pilot of planes, but as an adventurer of art,
specifically within the rock motif. While "Silver Machine" speaks to our childlike primal fantasies, each
subsequent work by Calvert tempts us to dig deeper into other art forms, closer and closer to a world that
has less to do with rock music and more with redefining our lives.
Like many science fiction rock fans, I graduated from Marvel Comics to sci-fi / fantasy paperbacks. I was
already reading (British author and Hawkwind collaborator) Michael Moorcock when I was introduced to
the breathtaking tribal chaos of Hawkwind's definitive live recording from 1973, Space Ritual. Throughout
this sonic expedition lurked that voice - at one turn calm and clear, at another slightly deranged, so that we
might partake in both future states, perfect and imperfect. In this beginning, Calvert and company took me
deeper into Moorcock and New Worlds magazine. This would soon change.
I was aware that Moorcock greatly admired writer J.G. Ballard, but it would be Calvert's lyrical adaptation
of Ballard's novel High Rise that finally persuaded me to check out the original. I suspect Calvert influenced
many of us to read Hesse's Steppenwolf or to view certain films (Damnation Alley). Some of Calvert's lyrics
created their own story, like "Spirit of the Age" (marrying two of his poems, one about a clone, the other an
android). Its spin of unexpected words asks us to exercise our minds in the same manner, albeit in a shorter
format, as Ballard or Hesse.
In the world of "serious" poetry, Pulitzer-winning New York poet John Ashberry shattered expectations
from stanza to stanza (in stark contrast to the language required when he wrote technical manuals for a
living), while digging deeper and deeper into minimalist expression. Calvert similarly toyed with language -
always twisting lines in a clever manner, but moving headlong toward the minimalistic voice of the city and
its cold machines.
Over time, the original search in space (outer, then inner) becomes an expanded adventure. For me it would
be Calvert and the Hawklords' onstage mechanized persona, which introduced me to Japanese Noh Theater.
Tracks like "Automaton" genuinely prepared me for minimalist music works by artists such as Philip Glass,
Steve Reich, and even the dark ambient music of the '90s. So much so, that I pursued ambient soundscapes
with Thessalonians and Spaceship Eyes.
Calvert prefaces early industrial music and acknowledges inspiration from German poet Bertolt Brecht and
his "sprechgesang" (speechsong), "which gives a very Germanic feel to our machine-gun lyrics," he was
once quoted as saying. "A lot of people who live in the cities are influenced by what goes on with them.
We're influenced by the cities themselves."
As one examines the influence Hawkwind has had on punk, new wave, heavy metal, industrial, ambient and
techno, it becomes apparent that Calvert laid down much of the early cement. Or at the very least, got us to
look at where the cement was being created.
Calvert's adventures, in a James Joyce-like manner, seem to suggest: Check it out. Follow me and check it
all out, because everything that has existed can lead us into everything that can and will exist. His adventure
asks us to travel beyond rock and conventional art forms. For fans who have become artists, be it rock or
otherwise, Calvert is a teacher, a mentor in absentia.
Life, however, is not just an adventure, or a box of yea and nay Pandoras to be studied and reshaped.
Seeded in many of Calvert's works are messages, however encoded: we can believe the hype of popular
culture, as long as we recognize that hype for what it is. We can believe in science, as long as we realize
there is both good and bad in this venture. We can see that fantasy and fiction are viable paths that can,
indeed, lead to reality, but that the opposite is true as well.
Calvert is never about absolutes, only possibilities. His message, at its most serious, is that the human
condition is plagued with problems, regardless of whether we can wrap it up in neat little sci-fi / fantasy
It is at this moment that Robert Calvert becomes the hero. Not as a soldier in armor, but as a rising voice
that looks into its own crystal ball, with the text of the world by his side, preparing to pour out his findings.
The hero, here, has but one request: Listen. Listen to the sounds.
"Working Down A Diamond Mine," "Acid Rain," "Picket Line." The adventurer approaching his twilight now
asks us to follow him into reality and enlightenment: Perhaps, if we acknowledge the problems, the fears,
then we can begin to deal with them and find solutions.
At the heart of any inventor is the drive to find solutions. But what happens if personal demons interfere
along the way? For Calvert, sometimes described as a hypo-active manic depressive, these were potent
artistic foes. He can be admired for continuing to experiment and present musical solutions despite those
For those similarly afflicted, this appears heroic in its own right. The drive in his vocal delivery, even the
lyric/poem on paper, is forever tied to the challenge of overcoming self-imposed obstacles.
Another great challenge to Calvert, aside from securing record deals and support for artistic endeavors, is
the battle for acceptance. Robert Calvert never asks to be considered a hero or even an adventurer. As a
musician and poet, his actions suggest that he desires to be acknowledged as an artist; more than just a rock
One reason I believe this: I, too, began writing poetry before I played music. And as I've had a certain level
of success musically, the poet side of me cries for greater legitimacy for both my music and the poetry I
have done little to cultivate in recent years. For better or worse, rock -at its pinnacle- most often does not
enter the serious art circle, though many have tried to make it so.
Calvert understood this. He understood that music is one form of language. And language is at the heart of
serious art. Calvert, with his Morse code music, his short-wave samples, his megaphone maniacal deliveries,
and his cool mechanical computer rhythms, sought to expand his and our personal languages and our
experiences with language. The language of the space pioneer begat the language of the scientist, which
begat the language of the city which begat the language of the worker.
Given that his lyrics were becoming more serious, and his inner self might have been craving serious
recognition, one might expect Calvert to abandon the muse of rock. Yet at the time he was furthest from the
lyrical language of his Hawkwind origins, his music swung closer to the simplicities of rock 'n' roll than ever
before. One should not be surprised. If nothing else, Calvert never fails to surprise. Or, perhaps, he was
beginning to accept that he was and always would be, a rocker.
I often wonder what Calvert might have accomplished had he pursued non-vocal music throughout one
album. Perhaps we would have gotten an ambient adventure of sorts, or even a serious new music. We do
have other paths of language that Calvert realized publicly; in theater, in poetry. But because Calvert is rarely
remembered as a poet or as a playwright outside rock circles, he seems to float endlessly as a tragic figure -
three-fourths an artistic Hamlet, if you will.
I was asked to help start a space-rock band in the early '90s, as the resident poet. Two years later, Melting
Euphoria was still a three-piece. With a great rhythm section, my keyboard rhythms, leads and pads were
required much more than any vocalizations. However, live and on the band's premiere disc, I got to take on
the Calvert poet/ vocal threads. Much like he did, I used poems not originally composed for a rock motif.
And like him, I tried my hand at various emotions.
I felt the best Calvert performances were dark clear intonations, the voice futuristic, but striking at the core
of our existence. I don't know if my performances on Melting Euphoria's first album Through the Strands
of Time succeeded toward this goal, but I would not have another opportunity with Melting Euphoria as I
soon quit the band and forged on with instrumental projects.
Since then, whenever I've spoken on record or CD, I've considered the following: Calvert, as his career
continued, seemed intent on not just speaking future texts or current issue texts for the sake of it: There was
always direction, purpose. I hope that all artists consider this lead.
There is another Calvert influence that permeated my earlier works, as well as my current work with
Spaceship Eyes and space-rock band Spirits Burning. For example, during the Melting Euphoria sessions, I
would breathe into a straw aimed toward the mike to produce an eerie wind. Or, breathe into a straw placed
inside a plastic cup containing just a little liquid. I placed a metal ball with an internal bell on a pillow and
recorded the soft tinkling.
I don't know if I would trace this type of experimentation only to Calvert. But I do know that this sense of
play has influenced many musicians who have followed.
We are often too serious in our art. Within Calvert is this: The message may be serious, but that does not
need to prevent us from being playful in its presentations, or from attempting new strategies that seem
childlike and wide-eyed in their approach.
The rock forum was perfect for Calvert's mental adventures and heroism. Calvert is not a renowned poet in
most poetry circles. His output in theater was rather minimal. His legacy is in Hawkwind, and as a solo rock
musician. Herein lies the heart of his artistry.
And each day seems to produce a new Calvert convert to this work, breathing new life into what he left
behind. Simply put, Robert Calvert, for those who have looked and those who will be welcomed in the
future, is an artist who attempted much and achieved much. The scales on which we judge this success
does not matter. What does matter, is the chord he struck for many, and that it continues to resound.
- Don Falcone
All music genres have their share of gifted yet
disturbed, often tragic figures. In the progressive arena,
Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett is an acknowledged case
study. And of course, there are others - including
Hawkwind visionary Robert Calvert.
A native South African known for his brilliant poetry
and love of science fiction, Calvert joined the
Hawkwind crew in 1971, two years after the group
emerged from London's Ladbroke Grove hippy
community. Calvert catalyzed the band's revolutionary
second album, In Search of Space, and worked closely
with mainman Dave Brock on developing Hawkwind's
enduring identity - that of the quintessential
For three heady years, through Hawkwind's landmark
Space Ritual tour and live album, Calvert cut a
compelling stage presence - singing, and reciting poetry
between songs. He was instrumental in bringing the
influences of sci-fi authors Roger Zelazny, Ray
Bradbury, John Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Harry
Harrison, J.R.R. Tolkien, Arthur C. Clarke and Michael
Moorcock, as well as Herman Hesse, into the
Hawkwind musical universe.
Calvert left the group in 1974, returned two years later, and did some of his best work with Brock, covering
a period that saw brief band name changes to The Sonic Assassins and The Hawklords. Calvert's frontman
status was solidified during the late '70s, during which he theatrically recreated the characters depicted in his
songs. His lyrics reflected everything from Hesse's Steppenwolf to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey
("Spirit of the Age") to Asimov's Robot books ("Robot"). All, of course, were delivered with an appropriately
Calvert again left Hawkwind in 1979 to pursue a solo career. As fate would have it, Calvert died of a heart
attack in the summer of 1988, just as he was preparing to rejoin Hawkwind for its 20th anniversary tour. He
The following reflection on Calvert's enduring influence comes to us from Don Falcone, whose
California-based Spaceship Eyes project recently released its second album, Truth in the Eyes of a Spaceship,
on Cleopatra/Hypnotic Records. Falcone also plays keyboards with progressive space rock band Spirits
Burning. Previously, he worked with Melting Euphoria and Thessalonians.
- John Collinge