There are bands that go in phases, that ebb and flow as a singular member becomes more prevalent or a relationship changes. People come and go and the sound changes or develops or stagnates.
There are band members who have been on the periphery and then are suddenly in the ascendance. Bob Calvert had always been around Hawkwind, adding lyrics, poetry and if you believe the books instability in all areas. A cross between Biggles, Lawrence of Arabia and some fictional English lord, although he was South African. Go read about him he is a fascinating/challenging man. For a brief few years at the tale end of the 70’s he was the stylistic and lyrical driving force of the band along with Dave Brock’s metronomic riffs and the electronic bubbling that went along with the Hawkwind sound.
Between Space Ritual and rejoining Hawkwind Calvert released two solo albums. Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters and Lucky Leif and the Longships. Both are patchy. The first a comedic rock opera of the US’s sale to Germany of somewhat defective military hardware. The second a tale of the viking discovery of America with the wonderful Lay of the Surfers sounding like Hawkwind covering the Beach Boys and Michael Moorcock appearing on the banjo for Moonshine in the Mountains. Both albums contain great songs and have an eclectic cast of musicians including all the usual Hawkwind and Pink Fairies alumni and Brian Eno. They do not seem fully finished though however fun they are, my preference ins Capt. Lockheed with it’s Pythonesque interludes with Vivian Stanshall and let’s face it it has Lemmy on bass.
I believe Calvert’s strength to have been the fact he was not really a musician, he was a writer. He was also bonkers and suffering from challenges that made him unpredictable and a dangerous performer. Listen to the recording of Over The Top when he wants to sing Master of the Universe and the band goads him into an improvisational piece that flowed out of his mind straight to the mic. A band and it’s lead man not necessarily in sync but definitely heading in the same direction, two forces opposing each other to create. Of course by this time Hawkwind were not Hawkwind but the Sonic Assassins and preparing for another incarnation that unfortunately only included Bob for a short time as they became the Hawklords.
So for the best part of three Hawkwind albums and the Hawklords album Bob Calvert and Dave Brock led what was left of Hawkwind on a merry trip through some of the best space rock you can find. Gone were the endless riffs and Lemmy’s pulsing bass, instead we had something coming close at times to Bowie in a punk band. In fact Bowie stole Simon House for his band from Hawkwind around this time. Preaching a dystopian vision of the world that was terrifying before dystopias became the last comfy bastion of the young adult novel. High Rise, Uncle Sam’s on Mars and Damnation Alley paint a terrifying picture of a world in disarray.
The music at this time feels a little restrained. It’s as if the excesses that the band were known for were being held at bay by the control necessary to get the ideas out. It’s not as anarchic musically, although lyrically the chaos was still there. Songs are stories not chants to anchor the music, experiments are a little more controlled and the bleeps and swooshes while still there are the background and the songs would still exist without them, they are dressing not integral to the whole unless you acknowledge those bleeps and farts along with the rhythm guitar is the Hawkwind sound.
I never saw Calvert with Hawkwind, I heard the stories from those grizzled old fans in the pub though, the Atomhenge stage design, the machine gunning of the audience the waving of scimitars and the strange uniforms for the Hawklords tour. I did however see Calvert, due to some poor decision making I do not however have any memory of the gig apart from talking to strange man smoking outside before the show started. To this day I swear it was Calvert and he whispered the secrets of the universe to me as I stepped inside. Of course the bad decisions I was making may have caused this memory, it’s fake news I tell you. I also cannot remember the secrets of the universe, although I know for a fact I knew them once and s our glorious orange leader may say they were the best secrets.