In answer to a 2006 interview question concerning the main characteristics of Robert Calvert’s works Nick Calvert comments “There are so many characteristics, so many different types of work this is quite hard to do. Futurism is the biggest one, which was Robert through and through. Morality and love are the two others that spring to mind” (Gerwers 2006: no pag.). Nick’s observations were very similar to those of Jill Calvert who, in a 1996 interview also with Gerwers, said of Robert “And he was actually very moral, he was very…he had very great integrity. And he was very honest. He wouldn’t have been the writer he was if he didn’t have those qualities. And as I got to know him I think that’s what I really appreciated…I suppose you could also say it was objectivity. If you look at the kind of things he wrote about, or wrote music about, wrote poetry about, a lot of his subjects are quite kind of moral issues. And I suppose taken as a whole his work had a kind of moral integrity to it. I mean, all the Test Tube stuff, the Test-Tube Conceived album, and the play, was based on his perception that tampering with nature is not a very good idea. And that’s the kind of morality, the kind of integrity I’m talking about” (Gerwers 1996: no pag.).

This article will pick up on Jill and Nick’s comments that Robert Calvert’s work was characterised and underpinned by ‘morality’, exploring that theme in his work and interviews. According to the Cambridge Dictionary morality is ‘a set of personal or social standards for good or bad behaviour and character’ while integrity, a term Jill used a few times, is ‘the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles that you refuse to change’ (1, 2). This piece will attempt to identify those characteristics as they were expressed relative to various subjects in Calvert’s work. Of course, Robert was a person existing in a certain time and place and as social constructionism teaches us we construct ourselves, our sense of self, including our values and belief systems from the cultural resources available to us. This means that Robert, as with all of us, had blindspots and culturally/time specific views that have to be contextualised within the 1960/70/80s.

State/economic violence.

The first recorded ethical choice Robert made was at age seventeen, his parents had moved back to Britain from South Africa when Robert was two and now, fifteen years later they were moving back to apartheid South Africa. Apartheid was a system that ‘governed relations between the white minority and the non white majority’ in South Africa, legalising ‘racial segregation’ and also ‘political and economic discrimination’, part of the system required non white people to carry passes authorising them to access white areas. Although dismantled in the 1990s its economic legacy, particularly, lives on. (McKenna et al n.d: no pag).. Robert refused to move back citing his opposition to the apartheid system as the reason (Abrahams 2004: 43). Some years later in an interview he commented  “I am in actual fact, in exile from the situation through choice. Although I was brought up in England, my parents went back to South Africa in the early Sixties, and they gave me the chance to stay here or go with them…I`ve always been very much against the system in South Africa and couldn’t live there myself, although the rest of my family seem to have no problem dealing with it. My feelings about this are expressed as clearly as I can in the poem ‘White Dynasty’… Although I`ve divorced myself from active participation in an exploitative system, I’m still descended from white fascists who live there, but they are my family, and I must say that the talk about the bloodbath is very disturbing from all points of view, but especially from my personal feelings about it…” (Calvert n.d.: no pag.). 

In the interview Robert refers to the poem ‘White Dynasty’ which appeared in his poetry book Earth Ritual, it includes the lines,

‘While they relax
On their verandas-
The sun of Johannesburg
X-Raying the page-
Tear gas drifts
In Soweto’s lanes
And I am exiled
At a desk in Kent:
My conscience clear’ (Calvert 1987).

This isn’t the only piece to engage with South Africa; he also wrote ‘Working Down a Diamond Mine’ and ‘Soweto’. The former is a powerful set of lyrics about the experience of a young black man experiencing both racism and exploitation, contrasting his experience with that of a transnational elite.

‘He got a permit for the town
And left his folks behind
He told them he was going down
Down a diamond mine
He’s just another Zulu boy
Escaping from his tribe
But there’s no sun and there’s no joy
Down a diamond mine
His mother told him
Not to go down the diamond mine
Don’t talk back
If your skin is black
‘Cause your life is on the line
You’ll never own
A precious stone
Working down a diamond mine
It’s dark and damp and there’s no air
The foreman is a swine
Dust in your lungs, dust everywhere
Down the diamond mine
They’re cutting rocks and hacking stone
Looking for a sign
Work your fingers to the bone
Down the diamond mine
Don’t talk back
If your skin is black
‘Cause your job is on the line
You’ll never own
A precious stone
Working down a diamond mine
Those ladies in their theatre blocks
In their vermin wraps
Never know what life it saps
Drilling holes in rocks
A diamond is a girl’s best friend
Inflation doesn’t touch
But their lungs will give and backs will bend
Never worth that much
Don’t talk back
If your skin is black
‘Cause your life is on the line
You’ll never own
A precious stone
Working down a diamond mine’ (Calvert 1986).

Calvert’s concerns about state violence and racism wasn’t limited to RSA, in an interview with Hawkwind from 1976 Calvert comments that over the last couple of years he had been lethargic, “I was sitting around, watching TV, not taking life at all seriously”. He then goes on to say that at one time when living in Notting Hill, he had seen “the police beating the hell out of a” black man outside his house, “I really got actively involved with the situation, almost to the extent of appearing in court and defending the guy. But more recently I became very bourgeois. I see it now as a mistake to have ever left Hawkwind. When I split from the band originally, I had plans to get into the theatre. But I had no money, there was only me, there was no other source of energy.  But now, I’ve been saved from the clutches of bourgeois limbo by Hawkwind, and I thank them for it” (Barton 1976: no pag.). In this interview Calvert positions himself again in opposition to state violence and racism stating “I really got actively involved with the situation, almost to the extent of appearing in court and defending the guy”. 

(He also positions himself in opposition to a bourgeois mentality/life. The Cambridge Dictionary again, ‘Bourgeois’, ‘belonging to or typical of the middle class (= a social group between the rich and the poor) especially in supporting existing customs and values, or in having a strong interest in money and possessions’ (5)).  

The above poetry and interview show clearly Robert’s opposition to systemic/state violence, racism and oppression in South Africa and the UK and this position was also expressed in opposition to Thatcher’s use of state violence to impose neoliberalism in the 1980s. Here’s some of the lyrics from ‘Picket Line’ on the 1985 album Freq.

‘The police are massing,
in their riot gear.
they’ve got pick-axe handles
and it’s very clear,
that they’re just strike-breakers
working for the government.
I said: slow down brother,
you ain’t driving in here.
shove that lever into reverse gear
we’re the picket line’ (Calvert 1985).

The album Freq was released in 1985, it consisted of six tracks punctuated by recordings made by Robert of conversations he had with miners on a picket line and speeches by trade unionists.

One of the last statements of Robert’s ethical position was a letter dated June 1988 where he expresses an interest in staging a play around what’s become known as the Battle of the Beanfield (3). The Battle of the Beanfield refers to violent police attacks on members of a convoy of travellers who had been prohibited from holding/attending a free festival at Stonehenge in 1985 (4). Hawkwind had played the festival in 1977 and Robert states in the letter his desire to be there for that year’s solstice so it is reasonable to assume the intended play would have been sympathetic to the travellers!

As can be seen from the above Robert’s ‘personal’ ‘moral principles’ positioned him in opposition to racism, state violence and economic oppression. Whether writing or talking about the RSA or the UK Robert identified a racialised capitalist system/state and spoke up on behalf of those suffering at its hands.


On the Rockfield Studios Sessions 1977 version of ‘Uncle Sam’s on Mars’ Robert Calvert starts the lyrics with

‘First man to set foot on Mars,
Before the highways arrived with their cars,
got a…(?)…remaining life form stuck
to the sole of his boot
Said ‘Oh fuck’.
Uncle Sam’s on Mars…
Shoals of dead fish float on the lakes,
While Uncle Sam’s on Mars,
And science is making the same mistakes,
While Uncle Sam’s on Mars,
And no one down here knows how to work the brakes,
But Uncle Sam’s on Mars.
For there’s war in the Lebanon and death on the streets,
there’s people down here who’ve got nothing to eat,
But Uncle Sam’s on Mars… ‘(Calvert 1977).

In this possibly ad libbed, sprechgesang-style early version of the song Calvert accuses the extra terrestrial capitalist imperialist USA of being neglectful of/unconcerned with life of any sort whether on Earth or Mars, the later PXR5 version has ‘he’s looking for life to wipe out, he’s looking for life to stamp out, he’s looking for life to grind out, he’s looking for life so mind out’ (Calvert 1979). Both versions have ‘shoals of dead fish float on the lakes’. In the earlier version Calvert goes on to say ‘For there’s war in the Lebanon and death on the streets, there’s people down here who’ve got nothing to eat’ thereby in the song highlighting environmental destruction, war, social problems and deprivation and their continuance while money and attention are instead directed to extra terrestrial capitalist adventures and the expansion of consumerism.

Another Robert Calvert song that engages with both the problematic collision of science and life is the powerful anti vivisection track ‘Save Them From the Scientists’ from the 1986 album, Test-Tube Conceived

‘See that monkey – fear in his eyes –
they’re feeding him to an enormous size,
they’re testing his digesting
in laboratories.
They cut him open, they look inside
They send him on a centrifugic ride:
distress is progress
in laboratories.
Save them, save them from the scientists.
Save them, save them from the scientists.
See that spaniel, he’s no-one’s pet –
if you listen you can hear him fret:
injected, vivisected in laboratories.
Save them, save them from the scientists.
Save them, save them from the scientists.
It’s all for lipstick and facial creams
all the misery and all the screams:
pain and stress is progress
in laboratories.
It’s all for research into disease
so men live longer they burn and freeze.
Injected, vivisected in laboratories.
Save them, save them from the scientists.
Save them, save them from the scientists.
Save them.
Save them’ (Calvert 1986b).

Also on the album Test-Tube Conceived were the tracks ‘Invitro Breed’ and ‘Test-Tube Conceived’ which, along with the associated play, Test Tube Baby of Mine, and an interview quoted on asks questions around the subject (Calvert n.d.(b): no pag.). In many ways these songs expanded the questions he started asking with ‘The Clone Poem’.

Capital and Corruption.

Calvert’s resistance to the profit motive that drives capitalism was expressed in a 1972 Hawkwind interview where he talks about the concept behind the upcoming Space Ritual tour, further commenting “I suppose if the underground has any meaning at all we’re part of it, simply because we don’t see ourselves as part of the music industry or aligned to the profit motive which is what that industry is about” (Johnson 1972: no pag.). This position was again reiterated in another 1972 article where the writer (or possibly Dave Brock) comments “It’s not yet known whether Bob Calvert will be actively involved in the tour, having performed only sporadically with the band in recent months. Bob has plans to do a solo album, Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters, with royalties going to the families of deceased fighter pilots” (Mann 1972: no pag.). Whether this was the eventual outcome I don’t know but it was Calvert’s plan for at least a time.

Calvert’s 1974 solo album, Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters, held a satirical spotlight on the payment of bribes to West German politicians and a political party in exchange for the purchase of the Lockheed Starfighter which had a notorious crash rate. Milas observed ‘Time magazine called it the Deal Of The Century in a 1975 article that would send shockwaves around the globe. Within 12 months a United States Senate investigation would reveal in excruciating detail how American aerospace goliath Lockheed had bribed high-ranking foreign officials into authorising the large scale purchase of their F-104 Starfighter, including 900 F-104Gs to Germany…On February 13, 1976, Lockheed chairman Daniel Haughton and vice chairman Carl Kotchian would resign from their posts in the wake of one of the biggest political scandals since Nixon. New president Jimmy Carter would sign the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. It was an appropriate gesture – Lockheed executives had been found to have paid millions in bribes for over ten years to key decision makers in places as far afield as Japan, West Germany, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, and perhaps most sensationally Prince Bernhard, husband of Holland’s Queen Juliana’ (Milas 2021: no pag.).

Jello Biafra commented “At the time, that level of bribery and corruption wasn’t new to the average American, let alone the average American teenager who was already reeling from Watergate and Vietnam and CIA spying scandals all coming out at once. It only occurred to me later: ‘Hey, wait a minute, this album was released one or two years before Lockheed’s scandal even broke in the media. How does an artist from the so-called space rock world even find out about this stuff?’’ (Milas 2021; no pag.). He also remembered  “I saw them as the Hawklords in 1978. It was stripped down, no light show. I was 19, in freshly spray-painted punk clothes. I had a chat with Bob Calvert about Captain Lockheed asking him, ‘Where do you get your information?’ He told me where he read things up, and how he had dossiers on white-collar criminals. When I began doing spoken word, I was doing the same thing” (Kendall 2013: no pag.). Biafra also commented “…he kept dossiers on corporate wrongdoers. I’d never heard of such a thing before, reverse surveillance, reading what’s out there and making a note of it” (Abrahams 2004; 123).

Another aspect of Calvert’s resistance to being assimilated into the music business and allowing money to become the driving force was his enthusiasm for playing benefit gigs and free festivals, where supporting causes was more important than money made. As late as 1978 the freedom that the new look Hawkwind/Hawklords gave to do that seemed to be something he was enthusiastic about as he mentions it in two separate interviews, “Initially, Dave and I formed The Sonic Assassins down in Devon with Martin and Harvey in order to be able to do the gigs we wanted to do at a moment’s notice, instead of getting into arguments with people about whether they wanted to play a benefit, for example, or play Northern Ireland” and in an interview on Capital Radio “…we’ve gone back to an earlier point in Hawkwind’s development, in terms of actual presentation of ideals but a bigger step ahead in musical terms, so what we’ve got now is a band which is very musically flexible and sophisticated even in some ways, but is willing to play free festivals still and to even play under the motorway on the green in Notting Hill, go anywhere, play anywhere…do everything that Hawkwind is supposed to do and hasn’t done for a long time…” (Gill 1978: no pag. and Calvert 1978: n.pag.).

As can be seen from the above Calvert actively confronted corruption as well as being aware of the dangers of being assimilated into the music industry and the attendant pull of the capitalist profit motive, he didn’t want to just talk the talk but wanted to walk the walk including playing benefit gigs and free festivals again and, at one point at least, seemed to be planning to give royalties from Captain Lockheed to the families of deceased pilots.    


Of course, it would be ridiculous to present Calvert as a sanctified, saintly figure! He was a subject of the mid/late 20th century UK where both the mainstream and the counterculture had blindspots, including accepted racisms and sexisms. In the ‘76 Barton interview quoted above where Robert talks of seeing ‘the police beating the hell out of a’ black man outside his house, and getting “actively involved with the situation, almost to the extent of appearing in court and defending the guy” he uses a casually racist term that he had also used in a 1972 short piece for Frendz, this term was presumably considered acceptable at the time (Calvert 1972: no pag.). In a Sounds interview also from ‘76 entitled ‘How to Pick Up Girls in Paris: The Calvert Method’ by Phil Sutcliffe it’s hard to work out who is more embarrassing, Calvert or Sutcliffe (Sutcliffe 1976: no pag.)! (Actually it’s Sutcliffe, at least Calvert has the maturity to be embarrassed about the tale and points out he had been drunk.)

Although this has in some ways been a whistlestop tour of Robert’s writings and interviews which has hardly mentioned his plays it can (hopefully) be seen from the above that, as both Jill and Nick Calvert observe, Robert Calvert’s work does engage with moral questions and give expression to his own views and positions on a variety on issues ranging from capitalism, state violence, racism, corruption to vivisection. As with all of us he was of his time and place and constructed himself from the cultural resources available, the resources he chose were, as they almost always are, flawed but were progressive and egalitarian and enabled him to see clearly, call out abuse of power and challenge injustice. 

Image from video of ‘25 Years’ on Days of the Underground boxed set, Atomhenge 2023. 


(1) ‘Morality’ (accessed 26 August 2023 via bing).

(2) ‘Integrity’ (accessed 26 August 2023 via bing).

(3)Facebook post 27-2-23

(4)’Battle of the Beanfield’ [accessed 9 April 2023 via Google].

(5) ‘Bourgeois’’ (accessed 26 August 2023 via bing).

Abrahams, Ian. 2004. Hawkwind: Sonic Assassins (Lumoni Press).

Barton, Geoff. 1976. ‘Have the Hawks become doves…or just a vision of the future that went wrong?’, Sounds 20/3/1976 at The Plastic Fragment of a Child’s Toy- a Hawkwind scrapbook, (accessed 26 August 2023 via Google).

Calvert, Jill. 1996. Jill Calvert on Robert Calvert, Interview with Knut Gerwers

Calvert, Nicholas. 2006. Nicholas Calvert on Robert Calvert, interview with Knut Gerwers 

Calvert, Robert. No date. On South-Africa, his familiar background and the situation of the self-chosen exile, [accessed 30 March 2023 via Google].

Calvert, Robert. No date (b). ‘On his own attitude towards new technologies and the effects of scientific progress and just one of the grim perspectives of a new human condition that genetic engineering & the creation of artificial life are offering’ (accessed 27 August 2023 via google).

Calvert, Robert. 1972. ‘Street Theatre Police Brutality Read All Abaht It!! 0accessed 27 August 2023 via bing).

Calvert, Robert. 1977. ‘Uncle Sam’s on Mars’ from ‘The Rockfield Studios Sessions 1977’, Days of the Underground: The studio and live recordings 1977-1979, Atomhenge 2023.

Calvert, Robert. 1978. Robert Calvert – ‘A Disagreement Has Been Reached’ – A Hawklords Interview from Capital Radio,1978 [accessed 4 Feb 2023 via Google].

Calvert, Robert. 1979. ‘Uncle Sam’s on Mars’ on PXR5, Charisma Records.

Calvert, Robert. 1985. ‘Picket Line’, Freq. Flicknife Records. (accessed 26 August 2023 via bing).

Calvert, Robert. 1986. ‘Working Down a Diamond Mine’ from The Cellar Tape Number 2 [accessed 30 March 2023 via Google].

Calvert, Robert. 1986b. ‘Save Them from the Scientists’ on Test-Tube Conceived, Demi Monde (accessed 26 August 2023 via Google).

Calvert, Robert. 1987. ‘White Dynasty’ in Earth Ritual [accessed 30 March 2023 via Google].

Gill, Andy. 1978. Leisure Wear of the Hawklords, NME 16-12-78, [accessed 5 Feb 2023 via Press Articles-1970-1980].

Johnson, James. 1972. ‘The Truth About Hawkwind’ New Musical Express 5-2-1972 at The Plastic Fragment of a Child’s Toy- a Hawkwind scrapbook (accessed 26 August 2023 via Google).

Kendall, Jo. (2023) ‘Jello Biafra: “Hawkwind’s Space Ritual is my Ground Zero!” originally in Prog magazine issue 35, April 2013

Mann, Steve. 1972. ‘Sonic Assassins and Silver Machines’ IT Let It Rock 1-12-1972 

Milas, Alexander. 2021. ‘Captain Lockheed And The Starfighters: The story of Robert Calvert’s comical concept album’, (accessed 27 August 2023 via bing).

 McKenna, Amy et al. no date. ‘Apartheid’ [accessed 9 April 2013 via Google].

Sutcliffe, Phil. 1976. ‘How to Pick Up Girls in Paris: The Calvert Method’ Sounds 10-7-76 (accessed 27 August 2023 via Press Articles-1970-1980

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