Robert Calvert

> part III <

> from Madmen to Quarks & Robots <

...welcome to PART III - the craziest part, probably...

...but the best songs 'n years in this story are yet to come...
....and they are coming NOW....

the Hawkwind's - 1976
Nik Turner * Simon King * Dave Brock                
Robert Calvert              
Simon House * Alan Powell * Paul Rudolph

1975/76 saw the return of Calvert to the ranks of the band. After a guesting at Hawkwind's Reading gig in 1975 Calvert joined the band once more - this time as their full time lead-vocalist and frontman - and this should cause an immediate change in the band's musical style and appearance...

Being in his preferred / natural position as frontman and entertainer, Calvert introduces an even stronger poetical and theatrical influence to the recordings and especially the band's performances. The Atomhenge model, used throughout the 1976/77 tours, is a gigantically extended molecular model - looking, according to it's name like a mixture of Brussel's Atomium and Stonehenge.

Designed by Larry Smart (of 'Exploding Galaxy') and Hawkwind's reknown lighting and stage-design wizard Jonathan Smeeton - (better known with his company of helping hands as Liquid Len and the Lensmen), Atomhenge stretches over the entire stage and serves at the same time as a projection element.

This stage set-up - combined with Calvert's elaborate performances turned Hawkwind's performances far over the edge of anything considered to be 'just' another ordinary rock concert - their gigs turned in fact into a fully-fledged rock theatre.
A type of performance in which Calvert could integrate his numerous talents: songwriting, singing, directing, acting, improvising - and entertaining.

Calvert: "It all works up to a nice piece of spontaneous theatre. lt's great to be able to improvise something like that at at the drop of a hat. Rock is a very theatrical thing, what with body language, gesture, movement, mime and the like.
Although we're steadily getting into more theatre we're very wary about it becoming too contrived. In some way, it must grow out of the music."

Calvert soon gained recognition for his talent for improvisation, his rock-entertainment style and the eccentricity and theatricality of his shows.

He created performances for various songs using countless props and costumes - the most famous of these is probably his Steppenwolf performance - appearing with top hat, a frock-coat and walking stick, carrying some chains around his neck...

"Robert Calvert is a most compelling onstage figure.
During Steppenwolf he dresses in a very sinsiter fashion with black coat, black top hat, even - or so it appeared - a blacked out face. Later in the set he abandons the sombre image and adopts a sword-fighter's role, brandishing swords and battling with unseen foes."

[ Read an extensive article on a typical Hawkwind performance in 1976 HERE and / or HERE ]
[ Read 8 Days a Week - a one week diary by Calvert, orig. published in the MELODY MAKER, Oct. '76 - a brief & witty insight into the time preceeding the Atomhenge '76 tour.]

For Calvert the spontaneity of the shows was always an important aspect - he used the stageshows also as a kind of laboratory to live out and experiment with the characters he invented in his lyrics and to experiment with the ideas and imagery that currently preoccupied him.

A lot of ideas and inspirations came from books that Calvert was reading by the time - which subsequently turned into lyrics and stageshows - like in the case of H. Hesse's Steppenwolf.

> LISTEN   to Calvert talking about his inpirations
     drawn from books and his obsessive way of working

He always worked in an 'obsessive way' and everything that was 'currently in front of his senses' could turn into the act - often reappearing onstage in the fusion of seemingly strange or exotic characters:

"The main character I play is someone called Aubrey Dawney. He's a sort of 1914-1918 fighter ace, plus a bit more. Mick Farren described him as being a cross between Biggles, and Lawrence Of Arabia -, which he is, he has connections with the Far East and also Opium smoking."  Dave Brock - live 1976 Mick Farren:

"Visually Hawkwind are the mutations you know and ove.
World War I aviator goggles seem to be the order of the day. Turner wears them with a long John Silver tricorn hat and Dave Brock with the debonair grace of the first man to swim the Atlantic.
Bob Calvert, however, must take take the prize.
In black leather jodhpurs riding boots, head scarf and flying helmet, he comes on like a cross between Biggles and Lawrence of Arabia with definite S&M undertones."

READ the entire review HERE.


But Calvert did not only 'revamp' Hawkwind's 'image' and performances. By writing all the band's lyrics and co-composing almost every song, he changed Hawkwind's musical style dramatically.

But, at this stage the group consisted of 7 members - big ego's amongst them... obviously too many wanna-be captains on board...

...still, they went on to produce some...

Astounding Sounds;

Astounding cover
Amazing Music Nik's House of Love
- the first and only album this line-up has recorded, gathers a strange and somewhat incoherent mixture of styles due to the fact that almost every member delieverd a song. Consequently the quality of the entire album is quite varied - still, it contains two all-time Hawkwind highlights: the fascinating Steppenwolf - featuring some of the the best lyrics Calvert ever wrote - and the paranoid and driving Reefer Madness.
Both songs are Calvert / Brock collaborations - pointing the way to Hawkwind's new energetic and original style.

strap on with Paul
Keeping up with the inventiveness of Brock & Calvert's songwriting was (again) the cover design and concept, featuring yet another sleeve by the late & great Barney Bubbles, one of the UK's outstanding and most influential designers, and a wonderful quirky and surreal painting by Calvert's friend Tony Hyde in the style of early SF pulp magazines.

Brock's Atomic Piles The inner sleeve accordingly consisted of an assemblage of faked adverts offering the most dubious services of the band members:
an invitation to Monsieur Nik Turner's Love House,
Paul Rudolph's Manly-Strap-On-Underwear,
Mr. Calvert's He-Man-Voice-Institute....

However, the power struggles lying ahead were probably inevitable...

Calvert's Voice Institute "Rudolph and Powell were blamed by me and Brock for trying to introduce a funky style. Well, funky music and Reggae were two styles I was never very fond of..."

In another interview Dave Brock said that both he and Calvert felt that musical and commercial 'corruption' was creeping in. So, in a sort of 'Stalinistic purge', as Calvert put it, Paul Rudolph, Allan Powell and even the long time member Nik Turner were shown the door by Brock and Calvert - now sharing control over the motherboard.

HERE you can read another interview with Calvert and Dave Brock from 1977 - shortly after the split of the 'Astounding...' line-up.
HERE's another article on Hawkwind & an interview w. Calvert on the litetary and theatrical characteristics of his / their work However harsh this process must have been - the co-captains apparently did the right thing. With Adrian Shaw as the only new member being drafted in on bass the line up got tighter - and musically by far more effective - now being able to develop their entire virtuosity and experimental / innovative abilities.
So, when probably most of the music-biz already saw Hawkwind as a dead man walking, the new line-up balanced out a perfect musical chemistry, set out to explore new territories - and in 1977 delievered

>     Quark, Strangeness and Charm

the band's musical milestone and all-time Meisterwerk
Quark cover Charged with energy, a daring modern approach and some of the most imaginative - in fact far ahead of their time - lyrics ever written in rock - music, QUARK... is not only on the height of it's time - it became a distinctive precursor and strong influence for a lot of upcoming Punk & New Wave bands ...

...though they probably would've never admitted it then.... -
with some rare ekseptions to proof it - as no other than The Clash's Joe Strummer, one of the heralds of Punk, cited Hawkwind as a major influence when talking about The Clash's first record:

'I wanted to do a Hawkwind version of a song that was familiar to us, and we just did it within our limitations'.

Quark Tour poster While all members deliever outstanding performances, Calvert keeps pushing his poetical and conceptual preoccupations. The subjects of his lyrics range from new technologies (genetics/cloning) / post-nuclear wastelands / the threat of Islamic fundamentalism / an ambiguous review of the lost and commercialised Days of the Underground to the subtle ironies of Quark, Strangeness and Charm.

Calvert on Hawkwind and the current music of 1977:
"Hawkwind is an experimental group at a time when rock music is very conventional; very conservative. That's the thing that puzzles me about the "New Wave".
It's produced by kids who 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 the future applies for our time. (more...)
-- sounds familiar, nowadays as well, doesn't it?

charming Eventually the band made it's second TV appearance on Marc Bolan's show to play the album's title track.
Calvert on QUARK:
Adrian Shaw and Calvert on the Marc Bolan Show "QUARK... is one of the few albums available at the moment which is very much in touch with the modern world, and Hawkwind is a band which has always been in touch with the modern world. The title itself is an expression of modern physics terminology ... The album contains a selection of musical and poetical interpretations of the world we live in, including the threat, not only of nuclear war, but the threat of the Middle East becoming a very powerful influence on the future of this globe (...)."

With QUARK... the band finally receives the long overdue critical acclaim.
The Melody Maker even chose Quark, Strangeness and Charm as the single of the month.

READ a review of QUARK from the NME, July 1977.

Strangeness and Charm... David Watson sums up the qualities of this particular song, which was mainly a Calvert composition, in his HW history Born to Go:
charming 'Quark' neatly showcased all the ingredients of the genre hailed as 'power pop' two years later by the music media. Musically and melodically it was almost a blueprint for the like of the Buzzcocks, Undertones and Skids in the late 70's. Lyrically, it left each of them at the starting post - containing subtle humorous lyrics, with Mr. Calvert's tongue firmly in cheek.'

The new line-up did their first 'Spirit of the Age' tour through the U.K. and delievered the best Hawkwind performances ever - accompanied again by a lavish stage show - greeted by both the audience and the press with enthusiasm:

'Wind of Change' is a brilliant multi-media creation and says a lot very economically. Liquid Len's silhouette projections tell the tale of civilisation's development from a lone tree to space city and all the way back down again while the band develop from a simple bass pattern to majestic chording on guitar and Hammond.'

The set consisted mostly of the recent material with Calvert slipping into even more different stage-characters. The Steppenwolf transformed into the mad drugged-out oriental assassin to become the frantic pseudo military advisor who delievered the Sonic Attack warning.

Calvert completely dissolved into those characters, creating an evergrowing intensity - but apart from embracing the audience with a full-scale theatrical performance this constant personality-switching again led to problems in Calvert's very own psyche, that built up the longer the tours went on.

The U.K. tour, however, went down very well - but the next one, leading the band over the European continent, followed closely and now Calvert gradually changed more and more into his stage-personae's.
Just one example of Calvert's increasingly manic phases is the '(in)famous' Hawkwind in Paris episode, where, near the end of the tour, Calvert finally went over the top.
              it's recommended that you read
the whole story in
Calvert's own words before you proceed...

However funny this episode might read, it merely scratches the surface of Calvert's massive mental problems. According to Jeff Dexter, Hawkwind's road manager at the time, at this very gig Calvert was under the impression that the whole audience consisted of folks willing to organize an underground / guerilla revolution - under his very own leadership, of course.

Throughout the entire tour Calvert read books on 'How to set up your own private army' and other guerilla war-fare antics. He read all those books in the long nights he couldn't get to sleep - he was a chronical insomniac, often staying up for 5 or 6 successive nights.
Later on, Calvert even exchanged his machinge-gun stage prop for a real one, travelling the whole tour in his stage-outfit - a combat suit, complete with gas pistol on his hip...

high times...all this happening in 1977, the peak of European terrorist movements... and the longer the tours went on, the more problems Calvert apparently had to distinguish between his on and off-stage personae(s).
However, all this apparently didn't spoil the actual performance - Read an NME review of the gig in Paris.
After the Paris-incident the rest of the European tour-dates were blown out and Jeff Dexter, being left by the other band members with the horrifying task of taking care of Mr. Calvert and bringing him back to London, went through a nightmarish time...
sabre dance For simply suggesting to drive back to the hotel Calvert chased him with another of his stage-props: the sword he used during the Hassan I Sahba / Assassins of Allah song.
Dexter in fear of his very life, finally blew him over the head with a large piece of solid wood. Although this had the desired physical effect, the impression on Calvert didn't last too long.
The next day he even threatened Dexter with his gun when suspecting he'd be taken to a mental hospital - but... eventually Dexter got him to the airport...

...still, the nightmare wasn't over yet for poor Jeff, as Calvert's paranoia was playing up again: all planes were booked out and the longer they had to wait the more Calvert became suspicious of some sort of conspiracy to kill him while being on the plane.
He spent the hours marching up and down the hall, refusing to drink or eat.
Dexter finally managed to talk the airport people into letting them on the next available plane - before a real catastrophe would be on their hands...
However, Calvert wasn't unaware of his own manic periods - arriving back in London he signed himself (again) to mental treatment and... married for the second time.

so there...
...after a short break and some more outstanding recordings
for their next album the tension grew again...

...yes, more troubles ahead - and more good music, after all... about more split-up's and even more Hawkwind incarnations in

> part IV <

of the gripping & final episode of the Calvert-Collab-Relations story with HAWKWIND:

from Sonic Assassination to the Dead End

part I / part II

the spirit's home
biography   NEWS bulletin
works / part I / II / III   works / part IV / V / VI
words / lyrics   quotes
collab-relations   Mike Moorcock
Calv-Art   the spirit behind
the World ON Calvert
contact the spirit

...bug me...