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Robert Calvert   &   Hawkwind

the 1976 Hawkwind tour // the Atomhenge stage-module

"We would like an audience to have the same reaction seeing what we’re doing as we would if we were to go and see ourselves: A polished and astonishing act. That’s how I see it all developing. With more props and theatricals used not as gimmicks and effects but with a degree of artistry and skill to mean something of some sort of value, as well as making good entertainment." - R. Calvert
"At first I thought it was part of the venue itself, a sort of modern art creation designed to make Birmingham Odeon a more congenial place to see a gig.

Lit by diffused green light, the construction not only took up the whole width of the stage but also towered imposingly above the audience.
It looked like some vast blow-up of the structure of an atom, central crystals joined at various points by translucent bridges.
Most curious.

It was only when Hawkwind arrived onstage and the object blazed into life that I realised that it was in fact an integral part of the band`s new stage show. Called Atomhenge, it is every bit as impressive as Ritchie Blackmore's rainbow. Atomehenge is full of multi-coloured bulbs and light-effects.

Throughout Hawkwind's show it pulses on and off quite dramatically - and effectively: when slides are projected onto the screen behind it, the 3-D effect is quite startling.

Onstage Nik Turner, Bob Calvert and Dave Brock play out the parts smoothly, often malevolently, wearing weird accoutrements ranging from a gasmask to a pair of lenses squarerimmed spectacles. Soon, Nik will be wearing a spacesuit. A touch of rock theatre, a pounding rhythmic beat, a synthsised wail and the Hawkwind machine grinds forward.
I think 'revitalised' is the right word for this Hawkwind line-up. No longer do they draw the bulk of their material from the Space Ritual era, no longer is the show a mid-Sixties psychedelic throwback. Hawkwind have moved forward.

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.

The sellout audience - remarkably few aging hippies in evidence, mark you - lap all this up with wide eyes and mouths held agape, I must admit that, before I entered the Odeon proper, I doubted Hawkwind's present day ability to draw capacity crowds and was quite shocked to find the venue literally bursting at the seams.

But I suppose, when you think about it, Hawkwind are now very much unique. Bands that once encroached upon their area of the cosmos - like Nektar of Pink Floyd - have either become less accessible or have fallen right by the wayside. Right now Hawkwind have a niche of the market much to themselves.

Travelling in the band's coach l the next day, I talk to Bob Calvert about the band. Bob, who as usual has a million-and one projects currently brewing in his fevered mind, is a very intelligent man.
You get the impression that there's no subject on Earth that he isn't able to wax prolifically about. He's trying to write his play on the road - the one about the coinciding deaths of Donald Crowhurst and Brian Jones.
Also occupying his mind at the moment is a book about a World War One fighter ace, one Aubrey Dawney - about which a little more later.

I mention the fact that Hawkwind seem to be doing a lot of new material right now.
"That's right," Calvert replies. "We're writing numbers now with visual ideas in mind, rather than trying to think of things to impose on numbers we've already got. We're trying to get the visual side of the band focussed on individuals rather than on screen projections.

Brock + Calvert Nik, Dave and myself are, in some parts of the show, playing the parts of actors.
Of course, it's all in the formative stage at the moment - what we're striving for, in fact, is a true science fiction show. We're continually adding bits and pieces, new ideas and also there's a lot of space for things to happen spontaneously, something which I think we're getting quite good at.

Plus, Nik, Dave and myself keep seeing old numbers in new perspectives.
Take Brainstorm, for example.
Nik Turner - through the looking glass(es) In the middle we all do a chant - three different ones that merge together. lt doesn't always work, but when it does it's good. Dave chants, 'What's he say? What's he say?' I reply, 'lt's brainstorm, brainstorm and Nik does another Brainstorm; Brainstorm which overlaps with mine.
What happend last night was that first of all Nik was playing this sax solo wearing a big pair of lenseless spectacles, looking totally insane.
I used my megaphone like an eyepiece and examined him.
I could have been a galactic psychiatric inspector or something.
Then I went over to Dave who was wearing a gasmask with a big hole in it and the trunk hanging down, looking extremely sinister, and I examined him and then accused them both of Brainstorm. Brainstorm! Brainstorm! I yelled into the microphone.
Nik denied it with his Brainstorm and Dave went Brainstorm What's he say? What's he say?

Now, all this may sound ,extremely silly SOUNDS reader, but believe me it works quite effectively.
"All in all, it works up to a nice piece of theatre, spontaneous theatre that is. 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.
By the time the tour finishes we should have got all this down to a fine art - and we shall use it as a springboard for something really good. Rock theatre is at the moment doing little more than being attractive or sensational - it would be good to go a step further and produce something really valid."

We begin to talk about the various characters Calvert plays onstage
"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.
At the end of the show I'm a sword and sorcery character, wearing
a silver horned helmet and inscribing runes with my blade... 

I wondered, if Calvert was surprised to find the tour so well attended.
"No. I just go by the yardstick of imagining whether I'd like to come and see the show or not. If I think I would then I decide it must be good and it doesn't surprise me if a lot of other people think so too."
Finally, I comment upon the fact that Hawkwind seem to have secured a very, solid market for their own particular brand of music.
,,Yeah, we've cornered it. Lots of bands tread on our ground but, let's face it, as a science- fiction / science fantasy band, Hawkwind are the ultimate.

"lt's something that's grown steadily over the years, it's happened gradually through our association with Michael Moorcock and others. Although Pink Floyd are a much more musically brilliant and more sophisticated band than we are, I think that as far as science fiction goes they're more in the Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke upper middle class, whereas we're more like Roger Zelazny.

This is reflected, I think, in the audiences who areat the momemt coming to our gigs. There's a fair smattering of old-time hippies admittedly, but there's also an awful lot of young kids, which is a healthy sign."

Too healthy, perhaps. I don't think even Calvert could have anticipated the scene outside the Liverpool Holiday lnn. Apparently, the Bay City Rollers had been staying at the hotel the night before Hawkwind and, as we pulled up outside, a few persistent tartan clad youngsters were still in attendance in front of the lobby doors. As we disembarked, three of them ran up to Nik Turner, yes, he of the thin frame and wiry beard which looks like a brillo pad left out too long in the sun, and demanded his autograph.

Geoff Barton

> > Calvert & Hawkwind - MORE reviews / pics / interviews

Brian Tawn on Calvert's & Hawkwind's stage show

review & pics: HAWKWIND - Hammersmith Odeon / Melody Maker (UK) / Oct. 1976

back to: Calvert's biography | | Calvert & Hawkwind