|Music from the Hawkwind family tree - Part 19
Thanks to Graham for these reviews - except where noted otherwise, of course
There is an increasing volume of Calvert-related
material appearing posthumously. The revived "Spirit
Of The P/age" website offers a detailed history and a
wealth of audio files and Voiceprint has just launched
a series of archive albums.
Unrelated to these endeavours, two CD singles
(along with limited edition paintings) have appeared
for sale on E-Bay, all produced by Adrian Wagner,
Calvert's collaborator on "Distances Between Us". In
both cases, the back-story is probably at least as
interesting as the tracks themselves.
"Cricket Star" is credited to Robert Calvert and the
1st XI and was released on CD in 2004 through
Adrian Wagner's MediaQuest. It originally appeared
on a flexi-disc in 1979 on Mr Wagner's Wakeup
Records (WUR 5), the intention being to cash in on
the England cricket team's forthcoming tour of the West Indies (read all about it on E-Bay). The titular
cricket star is one of the suggested future careers of the song's protagonist, a young Jamaican boy - the
alternative being to become a reggae star. This brief slice of whimsy is as authentic an example of reggae
as 10cc's "Dreadlock Holiday" but is enjoyable enough. Unfortunately, unlike 10cc's effort, it failed to
trouble the singles charts and, according to Adrian Wagner, around 8,000 copies were ultimately dumped
on a rubbish tip in Oxford.
Worth A Listen: Robert Calvert - Cricket Star and Paranoid Android
"Paranoid Android" was also released in 2004
through MediaQuest and is billed as coming from the
1979 album "Disco Dream and the Androids",
produced by Adrian Wagner. As Adrian Wagner
explains on E-Bay, Bob Calvert: "wrote the complete
lyrics for two tracks as well as contributing to the
entire concept and is the lead vocalist on one of the
tracks". The CD features these two tracks. The
theme of the lyrics, again according to Adrian
Wagner, is "What happens if a male android falls in
love with a female (girl!) android? What happens if
they are a different design and 'they can't make no
connection'? What about if one he fell in love with
danced too fast and had strange sight which gave
her a different 'view' of the world around her?"
The first song on the CD is a generic disco track, called "Connection / Disconnection" (disco-nnection,
you see). This is slightly reminiscent of Joe Tex's wonderfully politically incorrect "Ain't Gonna Bump No
More (With No Big Fat Woman)". Perhaps the more pertinent reference point is Adrian Wagner's own
"Amazon Woman" from "Distances Between Us". Anyway, the punning title is probably its most engaging
feature of "Connection / Disconnection". Calvert's vocals, intoning his own lyrics about android love, are
buried rather too deep in the mix to make out all the words. The second track ("Cafe des Illusions")
continues the lyrical theme, thankfully without the disco beat, but also without Calvert's direct involvement.
Both CDs are still available through E-Bay.
Worth A Listen: Robert Calvert - Blueprints from the Cellar
This CD started life as two cassettes of demos ("The
Cellar Tapes One" and "The Cellar Tapes Two")
released through Calvert's own Harbour Productions
imprint in 1986. The original volume 1 consisted of
12 demos of tracks from "Freq" and "Test-Tube
Conceived", with volume 2 collecting demos of ten
songs that never appeared on a studio album
(although "Working Down A Diamond Mine"
appears on the live "Robert Calvert at Queen
Elizabeth Hall", released posthumously in 1989). The
CD compiles 9 tracks from volume 1 (dropping
"Telekinesis", "Test-Tube Conceived" and "On Line")
along with 8 tracks from volume 2 (dropping â
€œYour Purple Lids" and "Cats").
It is apparent that many of the musical ideas as well
as the lyrical content were pretty much fully formed
at the demo stage. In fact, arguably, some of the
music works better than on the studio albums, perhaps because we can imagine how it could have
sounded with a full band. Equally, though some of the simple melodies and repetitive electro/synth pop
arrangements rob the songs of any life. Let's be clear: Bob Calvert was a supreme lyricist and poet, and a
capable enough performer of his own lyrics, but much of his best music involved co-writers.
The set kicks off with two tracks that appeared in their final forms on "Freq": "All The Machines Are
Quiet" and "Work Song". The low key production and the plaintive voice work well although it is perhaps
deliberately ironic that, on songs that call attention to the loss of traditional jobs and the rise of
mechanisation in the workplace, synthesisers and drum machines stand in for real musicians. "Standing
On The Picket Line" is played as a punk/thrash track, an idea that was sadly buried under the electropop
trappings of the final version. "Nedd Ludd" is also conceived as more rock'n'roll than synth pop,
suggesting that "Freq" could have turned out to be a more interesting and varied album than it ultimately
Turning to the "Test-Tube Conceived" material, one might expect the demos to have a harder edge.
Somewhat surprisingly, "Thanks To The Scientists" is a mournful ballad here, with none of the metallic
sheen that appeared in the final version. "Rah Rah Man" also gets an understated, if menacing, treatment.
The demo of "I Hear Voices" is angular and insistent, but undoubtedly effective, while "Fly On The Wall"
is suitably paranoid. "Acid Rain" is every bit as horribly unlistenable as it was in its finished form but
otherwise these demos suggest that "Test-Tube Conceived", like "Freq", could have been a far better
album than it finally turned out.
Of the "unreleased" (volume 2) tracks, the reflective minor key "Subterranean", "Radio Egypt" and "Hidden
Persuasion" work well enough. "Over The Moon" is bland, â€œMarathon Man" doesn't really go anywhere
and the jaunty "Soweto" is more irritating than profound. The highlights are "Working Down A Diamond
Mine" and "Re-wind", both of which feature slightly heavier arrangements, closer to the stark and
aggressive material on "Test-Tube Conceived". The lyric of "Re-wind" also seems more personal than
most of the others.
The first CD release of this material was on BGO (BGOCD135) in 1992 and it was re-released as a double
CD (with "At Queen Elizabeth Hall") in 2003 (BGOCD601).
The Cellar Tapes - volume 1 and 2
A brief note on the "missing tracks" which didn't make it onto Blueprints from the Cellar:
Volume 1, side 1 tracks five and six are "Telekinesis" and "Test-Tube Conceived". The former is a little bit
flat compared to the more menacing finished version. The latter is played as a straight synth-pop song,
almost jaunty in execution. In fact it would be interesting to see what the Pet Shop Boys could do with
this. "On Line" (track five, side 2) is played as proto-punk and, although the sound is a bit muddy, it would
have been a valid inclusion on the CD.
Side 2 of volume 2 opens with "Your Purple Lids". Over a chirpy percussive backing track Bob recalls
sitting in a hospital waiting room while someone, friend or family, is under the knife. This little slice of life
is unflinching is its portrayal of both the banality of the experience and queasy reality of "your purple lids
and your ashen face...¦". Perhaps though it was better left as a poem rather than set to music. Track 4 side
2 is "Cats". Buried under a heavy fuzz synth-guitar riff, the lyric seems to be about, well, cats - sleeping
by the fireside, hunting at night and with (apparently) teeth like sharks. On my copy at least, quite apart
from the rather twee subject matter, the vocals are rendered almost unlistenable by distortion. Again,
leaving it off the CD was a good call.
Essential listening: Robert Calvert - Centigrade 232
[Right: this illustration is actually of the paperback (?)
book of the same name]
This cassette-only release appeared on Bob Calvert's
own "Harbour publications" label. It consists of Bob
reading his poetry, presumably from the book of the
same name. The printed cover (the labels on the tapes
are written in his own hand) lists a mere six titles but
they represent a tiny fraction of the total - the tape
lasts around an hour. Calvert's voice and intonation are
familiar of course, although his tones are measured
here, with no hysterical shouting. Tucked away on
side 2 is a set of poems that were performed with or
by Hawkwind, or on solo albums: First Landing on
Medusa (The Awakening is the first part of this one),
The Starfarer's Despatch and The Clone Poem (parts 1
and 2 of Spirit of the Age), The Gremlin, and the poem
that became Fahrenheit 451. By far the majority of the
material though steers a path well away from science
The topics are wide ranging: everyday events at home;
closely observed human behaviour, places, and animals; recollections of past encounters and relationships;
historical imaginings and flights of fancy involving military, cultural and rock characters from the Red
Baron to Jimi Hendrix. We hear of Churchill auditioning for a recording contract and of the poet John Keats
playing the fruit machines at Margate.
Most of the poems are short; he makes his point and moves on. Some are very short indeed, as in the
classic (well it was used on the poster that came with the Queen Elizabeth Hall album) Insomnia: "I must
have accidentally tripped the switch that turns the stillness on".
The first side kicks off with poems about the common cold and nail biting. While neatly observed, the
subject matter certainly isn't instantly inspiring. The third track though, about a lost key, and consequent
need to climb out through one window and in through another, reminds us of his way with words: "at 60
feet up you have only to step on the upturned rakehead of the air for its handle of concrete paving to come
flailing upwards to crack your skull...¦". Slightly annoyingly, my copy of the tape ends part way through the
If you have any tolerance of poetry and any interest in Calvert's work this tape is essential. This is who he
was and Hawkwind merely offered him a vehicle for presenting one particular genre of his work in a
musical setting. Settle back then, and let Bob Calvert talk you through his world, bringing the mundane to
life with surprising detail, quirky and tangential observation and, just occasionally, fevered imaginings.
Approach with caution: Robert Calvert - Rehearsals 1987: Radio Egypt and Middlesborough 1986:
The Right Stuff
Major disappointment time I fear. Perhaps it
shouldn't be a surprise - if there was any really good
stuff left, it would be out there already. The major
problem is the sound -poor bootleg quality on both
albums and heavily distorted on the live album. The
artwork is well designed but it's a shame that they
couldn't include writing or musician credits
The 1987 rehearsals feature a basic three-piece
band: guitar, bass and drums, and everything is
delivered in raucous garage band style, something
which works better on, say, "The Right Stuff" than
on the slower numbers. On the plus side, the band
are obviously enjoying themselves and the material
spans most of Calvert's solo work and his some of
his Hawkwind work: five songs from Captain
Lockheed, one ("Ship Of Fools") from Lucky Leif,
three from Freq ("Why Can't The World Be Run By Machines" is simply a mis-titled "Work Song") and
one from Test-Tube Conceived. The Hawkwind material comprises "Quark Strangeness and Charmâ€�,
"Spirit Of The Age" (preceded by an uncredited "Fable Of A Failed Race"), "(Only) The Dead Dreams (Of
The Cold War Kid)" and "Silver Machine", the latter partially transformed into a blues.
Worth A Listen: Tim Blake - Tide Of The Century (Review by Steve)
Tim always seems to surprise, and in a move that
echoes the opening of his 'Blake's New Jerusalem'
album, the opening cut here ('Nature L') features a
slap bass as the dominant instrument in the mix.
It's accompanied by vocoder'd vocals and an
expressive, attenuated lead voice that's become a
latter-day Blake trademark: "virtual lead guitar".
The song itself is not what I would call a Blake
classic, but I only seem to like half of what he does
- the classic synthesizer instrumentals rather than
the singer-songwriter material. A case in point is
the title track, which is next up. Again, vocals and
a more organic instrumental voice (piano) dominate
what is, IMHO, a not-very-good song. The best
thing about it is another virtual lead guitar solo,
while the lyrics are somewhat New Age, but all
right. The same cannot be said for 'St.Dolay'
which features some of the most excruciating words I've heard for a long time: "So, Christian, when you
pray - say 'Hi' for me to Jesus". This over a sparse backing of voice (Tim's, but his husky tones work all
right in this setting) and grand piano. Erk.
'Crystal Island' is another odd one for what it does with vocals and lyrics. "So tell me...do you dream at
night? Of course you do!" Well the whole track was obviously intended to be more dreamlike but the
horrible jaunty verses are marred by Mr.Blake's rasping "singing", weirdly offset by female backing
vocals. The song has touches of 70's Al Stewart or even some of the stuff Sandie Shaw had been known
to dabble in before Morrissey rescued her from obscurity. But...¦it's (sorry Tim) just not very good.
What a relief it is to move on to 'Byzantium Dancing', which opens with some atmospheric synth
noodling. One way in which this album surpasses Tim's 70's work is in the tonal richness of the various
voicings - the bass pedal notes are plunging, deep and clear (there's a slap bass in here too), while the
melody lines are located in the upper register, leaving lots of space in the mix. This instrumental probably
has some of the best actual tunes on the album, and it segues into 'Sarajevo (Remember)', which opens
with a "Chariots Of Fire" type intro. This is another vocal, song-orientated number, but better than the
preceding efforts, with an elegiac, uplifting quality, rather at odds with the lament inherent in the lyrics.
'Tribulations' closes out the album, very oddly, as it is built around a French-accented rap and a Eurodisco
stab at reggae. Tim's vocals work well here, and are (this time) nicely balanced against the female backing
singers, though once again the synths are thin on the ground. It's actually very smooth and reminds me of
Sniff'n'The Tears - but that's not what I came for. Tim has commented that this album is the real
successor to "Blake's New Jersusalem", and I wouldn't disagree with that. Unfortunately it has all the
same faults as the aforementioned album, and writ larger if anything. But beauty being in the eye of the
beholder, anyone who enjoyed the "New Age singer-songwriter" aspects of his 1978 opus will like this too.
Sometimes listening to "space rock" albums is like
watching old Star Trek episodes - they can be
utterly compelling if they are really good or if you
are in the right frame of mind, but at other times
you may find yourself wondering why these people
are dressing up in funny clothes and appear to have
Cornish pasties strapped to their foreheads. And
think that mobile phones are futuristic. Anyway,
this album comes dressed in all the right clothes: the
gothic sci-fi cover shot, the spacey song titles and,
of course, the presence of Harvey Bainbridge. So,
is it possible to suspend disbelief or is it just a load
of old men making silly noises?
The album kicks off with "Inroads To Empire", a
piece of science fiction radio theatre - musical
phrases and sound effects provide the arch and
vaguely unsettling backdrop to a whispered
Worth A Listen: Spaceseed and Harvey Bainbridge - Empire Of The Night (Review by Graham)
narrative by Kelleye Kendrick. "Empire Of The Night" takes a long time to get going but that's one
monstrous riff which kicks in after 4½ minutes and Harvey, although clearly deranged, is really quite
engaging on this one. Track three, "Airlock One" is an instrumental, to these ears rather spoiled by the
mix: the listener is apparently sitting inside the drum kit while the rhythm guitarist is playing in the
bathroom down the corridor. "Photon Phantasm" is a short spoken word piece with some sound effects,
percussion and violin providing a bit of atmosphere.
"Clouds Over Titan" is probably the most conventional space rock track, an 8+ minute instrumental,
complete with wailing sax courtesy of Brother Anubis Re. Indeed the introduction of the sax rounds out
the sound nicely on the remainder of the album.
"Office Colony" sounds like Harvey again, a fantasy about insect office workers, the sort of thing Ron
Tree might write in fact. It's a spoken word piece, again, with plinking piano, squealing sax, moaning
guitar and irritating percussion in the background. Like "Empire Of The Night" this kind of thing isn't bad
in small doses.
"Delpi" cranks up the space rock again with some phasing on the main riff and an eastern tinged sax
melody before the music drops out and Harvey drops in, at around the four minute mark, to deliver
another rant, apparently about Spaceseed themselves. The main riff comes back in before the end but by
then the damage has been done.
Track 8 ("A Chance Encounter") is actually a song and is relatively short and sweet, with the sax
meandering pleasantly over the fade out. Lastly, "Wasted Skies" has a good riff, some tasteful solo guitar
and builds to a decent climax. It's only partially spoilt by the half spoken, half sung vocal.
Basically this album is a hybrid of sci-fi theatre and space rock and, for my tastes, contains rather too
much of the former and not enough of the latter. It isn't easy to listen to but at least Harvey does some
new stuff instead of reprising "Dreamworker". Worth checking out then but not a classic episode.
The 1986 concert features a fuller sound (including
keyboards) and a bit more light and shade in the
dynamics – but with a drum machine in place of a
human drummer. Calvert is on good form in his
between song banter. The set relies heavily on Test-
Tube Conceived, which is represented by eight
tracks, with just two tracks from Freq (“All The
Machines Are Quiet” and an uncredited “Ned
Ludd”) and “The Right Stuff” from Captain
Lockheed. The main set is topped and tailed by
rather perfunctory performances of “Quark” and
“Spirit Of The Age”.
Both were released on Voiceprint (VP384CD and
VP385CD) and there are at least four more where
these ones came from. Can’t wait.