Name Robert Calvert
Birth date 1944
1972 1973 The Band's Page
ROBERT CALVERT: BIPOLAR ARTISCTIC CENTIPEDE
Even among a already so strange bunch as Hawkwind was and still is Robert Calvert proved to be an odd one. Many have sought reasons for this in him being bipolar, others have pointed out that whereas all the other Hawkwind members were basically musicians pure sec, Calvert was a multi artistic performer. Whatever the case might be, it stands above doubt that his contributions to the band in its first decade were probably greater than those of anyone else with the exception of Dave Brock. In the following I will try to highlight some facets about Robert’s character, that are hard to find in any detail in the many existing biographies of him that are available. Those only interested in the hard facts I advise to skip this part of the biography and immediately go on the the latter part which comes from “AuralInnovations” and in my view is one of the more comprehensive Calvert biographies available.
Frustration of boyhood dreams and the impact on his life
It is well known that the great dream of the young Calvert was to become a fighter pilot, not unusual among young boys. It is also more than common that such dreams are shipwrecked on very though medical demands that come along with such a job, as it did for him.
Basically such setbacks can easily be overcome by normal persons, but given Robert’s bipolar disorder, things were different and his rejection for his dream-job became a thing larger than life. Where others can clearly see that the rejection finds its ground in a minor disability, Calvert looked upon it for the rest of his life as a major failure from his side, repeatance of which had to be avoided at all costs in anything he did.
This made him into a special kind of workaholic for whom a task once set is not just another thing to be achieved in life but more like something on which the survival of the entire planet is dependent. Such made him very difficult to work with for other people and that sure proved several times in his contributions for Hawkwind.
When Robert had decided to put his shoulders under an effort the band had set himself, his enthusiasm could be out of all bonds, leading to bouts of insomniac workaholism which were extremely difficult to keep up with. However, in Lemmy, who is equally know for bouts of (amphetamine-induced) around the clock working, and Dave Brock who is a continuous workhorse in a more controlled way, he found two important admirers, enabling him to often get his way with his crazy-sounding plans and schedules against the protests of others.
The same character trait is to be found in the way Calvert’s solo projects were performed. It is certainly no wonder that on his solo album “Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters”, more energy was spent and more personnel hours were made than on almost all other albums in history. This simply because for him it was not just the making of an album, it was also an effort to put right his “failure” to realize his childhood dream.
Bipolar Disorder and its influence on his work for Hawkwind
Quite a large percentage of the entire population suffers from minor bipolarity, but Robert Calvert’s case was a real serious one, so much that at a certain moment in his life it brought him under sectioning of the Mental Health Act. This serious bipolarity has its impact on every aspect of life and in such became clearly apparent in his participation in Hawkwind.
Even every normal person shifts his mood and opinions sometimes, but for a seriously bipolar person these changes are radical to the extreme and often occur suddenly, making the persons actions and behavior utterly incomprehensible for his surroundings.
For sure his “Up” periods where he recognized something as of great importance for the band, helped Hawkwind greatly to become what it otherwise probably would not have achieved, as his tremendous energy input in it not seldomly led to results that others dare not dream of. The negative side of it was certainly that his strange ways were exhausting and in more than one case irritating for his cooperators.
Just as pronounced as the stimulating effect of his work bouts greatly helped the band, his “Down” periods, which could come suddenly and at the most inconvenient moments, frustrated it equally. When his energy went out or he had suddenly changed his mind, in his opinion everything could become useless, repugnant, not worth giving even the slightest attention.
What is worse, such periods were accompanied by most negative moods and changes to a rejective and even insulting attitude. Like most persons, several Hawkwind members had a hard time dealing with Robert’s changing attitudes, and it is not to much to say that this has been an important factor in causing the frequent line-up changes that Hawkwind saw in the 1970’s.
“Time of the Captains”, Calvert as “Hawkwind’s Stalinist purger”
At a certain moment in the first halve of the seventies Hawkwind had no less than four larger-than-life personalities in the line-up: Dave Brock, Robert Calvert, Nik Turner and Lemmy Kilmister. Such is for sure the perfect recipe for trouble and it proved so for Hawkwind. At times band members were more busy with forming factions, plotting against and feuding with each other than they were with their artistic performance.
Several former band members, most notably Huw Lloyd-Langton, Paul Rudolph and Alan Power, have pointed to Robert Calvert, more even than to Dave Brock, as being the “evil genius” behind this plotting.
Paul Rudolph is credited with once having said that he and drummer Alan Powell at the end of 1976 had to leave the band as a result of what he called “A Stalinist purge by Dave Brock and Robert Calvert”. The conflict seems to have originated in differences about the musical directions to be taken. In all honesty here it must be said that if that is so, Brock and Calvert, being the bands senior member, had indeed more right than Rudolph and Powell.
Robert Calvert’s reaction to the accusations is characteristic for the man “Well, they wanted to turn Hawkwind into a Funk and Reggae band, and as that were not exactly styles to our liking, we threw them out”!
Within the group of “captains” it seems that Calvert and Lemmy always remained on speaking terms and that the sacking of the latter was purely the work of Dave Brock. Relations with Nik Turner on the other hand were always tense. Both men favored bizarre stage acts and dresses, but there the comparison immediately ends as in every other mental aspect they were each others opposites. Calvert always the intellectual, the pensive person, seeing negative aspects in nearly everything, Turner being a down to earth, even boorish and badly behaved person, whose devise was always “the show must go on and before all, let it be fun!”
It’s well known what course history took: Lemmy was thrown out and went on to form Motorhead, an act that eventually became one of the rock world’s sensations and thus bigger than Hawkwind, this allowing him to leave bygones mostly bygones. Turner, feuding with Brock over directions, left, rejoined and left again and is to the present day still feuding with Brock over who really is “mr Hawkwind”. Calvert exhausted, frail and ill and increasingly suffering from bouts of depression also finally left, but never really fell out with his longstanding friend Dave Brock, with which he kept some kind of cooperation until shortly before his untimely death. The last “captain”, Brock remained on the ship as the undisputed leader, free to shape Hawkwind into which we know it as today.
Gletscherwolf, October 2010
Biography: General Part.
Robert Calvert was born 1945 in Pretoria, South Africa. In 1947 his parents moved to Margate, England.
Having finished school he joined the A.T.C. where he became a Corporal and played the trumpet for the 438 squadron band - then went to college in Canterbury where he got acquainted with the poetry of Rimbaud who had written that 'poetry is an illness of the ear'. As Calvert, due to a slight defect on his eardrum, couldn't become a fighter pilot... ( a fascination that stuck with him for life) ...his growing interest and work in the field of poetry, literature and music seemed to be the only possible outlet for a 'career'...
Later on he joins 'Street DaDa Nihilismus", a provocative street theatre troup and founds two comedy & entertainment bands, somewhat in the style of the Bonzo Dog Band Doo Dah Band. At the end of the 60's he moves to London, and delves right into the heart of the flourishing 'psychedelic' subculture. He soon becomes one of it's most active members joining, amongst other activities, Frendz, one of the leading underground magazines. He soon gets in touch with the "New Wave" of Science Fiction writers. Michael Moorcock (winner of several renowned Science Fiction literary awards), head of the movement and publisher of the influential New Worlds magazine, becomes a lifelong friend. Calvert's poems get published in "New Worlds" and other magazines. Although he is influenced by the New Wave, Calvert develops a distinct style of his own. His ability to change fluently between and mix poetry with music and theatrical ideas soon let him become one of the true 'multi-media' artists - long before that term came into fashion.
In 1970 he meets Dave Brock, the main musical force behind the band Hawkwind which then is one of the leading psychedelic bands - though, due to their pre-punk-attitude, not one of the most typical ones. Calvert accompanies the band as their resident aural space-age poet. In sharp contrast to the typical psychedelic musicians, with hair cropped 'provokingly' short he turns up out of the dry-ice-fog, the strobes and lightbeams to recite his poems while the band creates and improvises on the suitable sonic surroundings. These experiments became blueprints - both in musical and lyrical terms - for what some years later had been labeled 'industrial' music.
Calvert also becomes Hawkwind's part-time vocalist; he starts to compose and sing his own songs, helping the band to get a world-wide top-ten hit with Silver Machine. dedicates himself He often reads them with such dedication that he is totally exhausted after the concert. However, due to his disposition as being a manic-depressive combined with the extreme dedication he puts into his performances force him to take breaks from his work with Hawkwind, so his appearances are rather in-frequent.
In 1973 he leaves Hawkwind for the first time to refrain from the stress of touring and to pursue his own projects.
In 1974 his first solo record is published. Captain Lockheed & the Starfighters is a brilliant crossing between a Rock concept album and a Monty Python`esque radio play. Subject: the Lockheed affair in Germany, which cost the lifes of innumerable pilots, as well as the tragic/romantic comedy of the test pilots' "brotherhood". The record is very well received and Calvert finds himself suddenly in the limelight.
In May '75 he wins the Capitol Radio poetry competition with his poem Circle Line.
Later this year he releases another concept album: Lucky Leif and the Longships. Subject: the history of the USA and that of the Vikings, who discovered America a long time before Columbus. Produced by Brian Eno the record combines radically different styles: rock music and word experiments, electronic collages, Country and Beach Boys parodies and much more. Apparently too innovative and experimental for many critics; the record was not understood and got bad reviews.
At the end of 1975 Calvert joins Hawkwind again, now as a permanent lead singer influencing the band's style a lot. He becomes famous for his qualities as an entertainer, his talent for improvisation and the eccentricity and theatricality of his shows.
For each song he creates a performance employing countless props and costumes, while the band plays in front of the Atomhenge model, which is used throughout the 1976/77 Hawkwind tours, a gigantically extended molecular model that stretches over the entire stage and serves at the same time as a projection element.
Calvert writes all the lyrics and has a distinctive influence on the music of the band - most apparent on the 1977 album Quark, Strangeness & Charm. Because of Calvert's influence Hawkwind's style becomes more precise, varied and modern. "Quark..." and the following records are influential
milestones on the way to the New Wave.
In his "leisure time" Calvert continues to write poems and plays. In 1976 The Star that played with Laughing Sam's Dice has its first night in London, a story about Jimi Hendrix before he started his career in rock music. In 1977 the collection of poems Centigrade 232 is published - an extensive selection that shows Calvert's ability to combine scientific / futuristic themes with his private views and obsessions.
One of the outstanding poems is the legend of ezra pound - a stunning example of his rich poetical imagery and his subtle, at times almost surreal humour.
His shows and working-schedule are as manic as his personality. When touring for longer periods he rarely finds back into "normal" life again. The characters he impersonates on stage possess him more and more. Living and working with him becomes an extreme trying. Even during the day he insists on wearing the oriental-terrorist uniform of one of his stage figures, complete with the tear-gas gun in the holster. ---
At the end of 1978 Calvert left Hawkwind for good.
In 1980 and '81 he tours with his "Krankschaft Cabaret" - a mixture of songs, poems and sketches. With revived energies he writes, composes, directs and performs the electronic musical The Kid from Silicon Gulch - a film-noir-like detective story persiflage, placed in the milieu of computer hackers. At a time when words like "harddrive" or "interface" meant simply nothing to 99% of all mankind, Calvert made a witty futuristic musical out of it, inventing songs that would suit any of the legendary Kraftwerk-records - if only they would use more words and display their humour in the open... - The Kid from Silicon Gulch is certainly one of Calvert's masterpieces, a perfect fusion of his literary AND musical talents. Sadly - and probably because Calvert was already too busy following his next projects - no proper recording of it has been made... (the best and most extensive documentation of THE KID can indeed be found on this site.)
Around this time Calvert worked extensively with multi-instrumentalist Pete Pavli - apart from "The Kid..." project they also worked on some wonderful avantgarde-ish tracks, later released as a demotape entitled Revenge - feat. some superb minimalistic string arrangements, while dealing with subjects like Futurism or the famous modern-dance-pioneer Isadora Duncan.
In 1982 the novel Hype is published by the New English Library, accompanied by a record of the same name. Both tell the story of Tom Mahler, a young 'n' dumb Rock'n'Roll star. Hyped up by some sharp miserable managers, Mahler rises to a mindboggling overnight fame - only to get framed by a drug deal at the peak of success - by his very own managers. They watch him get shot afterwards and exploit the resulting legend which really - and ultimately - means the big money.
In 1983 he publishes the album Ersatz together with the band Inner City Unit under the name of "The Imperial Pompadours" - a grim and at times surreal satire on Hitler and the Third Reich. 1984 sees the release of his album Freq. It deals with the mechanization of man (the 'casualties' along the way, the revoltes against it), as well as the strikes of the british miners at that time, that (almost) drove Great Britain into a turmoil. The album is a collage out of songs, interviews and electronically reworked recordings from the demonstrations. In the same year he makes several guest appearances with Hawkwind.
His next record is once again focused on his preoccupation with new technologies, and with genetic engineering in particular. Test-Tube Conceived is released in 1986. The subjects centre on the development, consequences and manifestations of new technologies. The songs are about gene manipulation, vivisection, telekinesis, love-robots; and one song even deals with the then futuristic On-Line existence. Again Calvert was far ahead of his time - and again far away from a big-time-selling-album.
Closely connected to this record was his next play Test Tube Baby of Mine, which premiere-staging he also co-directed. It is a black comedy about two geneticists whose experiments go foul. The play had its premiere in London, and later moved on to New York.
In 1987 The Earth Ritual , his last collection of poems, is published.
Calvert's work-mania brings him in contact with numerous other artists. But many of these projects remain unfinished, as it happened with the record Die Lösung, his last collaboration with the legendary German psychedelic & experimental band Amon Düül II .
Relentlessly driven by his creative force, his numerous interests which often turned into obsessions, he exhausts himself physically and emotionally to such an extent that in order to recover he admits himself several times to mental hospitals.
In 1988, while preparing a new album and tour with his new band "The Starfighters" he dies of a heart attack on the 14th of August. He was just about to work once again with Hawkwind and prepare another solo album - rumours saying it might have been another collaboration with Brian Eno.
Work on a new play, as well as several songs had started. He left - at least - two tapes with blueprints for his new songs behind - more documents of his stunning creative output.
Calvert was married three times and leaves four children.
He is buried in the Minster cemetery near his hometown Margate.
His estate lies in the hand of his wife Jill Calvert.