Robert Calvert is probably best known for his time as Hawkwind’s lead lyricist and singer in the 1970s however, as Banks (2021) and Abrahams (2017) remind us, Calvert’s art practice carried on after the 1978 Hawklords’ album 25 Years On. In the 80s Calvert had both a novel published, Hype, and released a second book of poetry, Earth Ritual. He also wrote two staged plays, appearing in one, The Kid From Silicon Gulch. Robert was also active musically in the 80s releasing three studio albums and collaborating on several other recordings that were released both before and after his death in 1988. This essay will look at these post Hawkwind recordings plus use of Robert’s recorded voice posthumously and, in a turn that would surely have fascinated him, the computer reconstruction of his voice for an adaptation of the play Mirror Mirror.

Robert’s post Hawkwind recording career got off to a fairly  leftfield start when in 1979 he teamed up with Steve Took, Adrian Wagner, Pete Pavli and Simon House to re record ‘Crikit lovely Reggea’ a track originally recorded in 1974 off the back of the Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters album, the new version was released as a flexi disc on Wake Up Records as ‘Cricket Star’ by Robert Calvert and the 1st XI (author unknown n.d: no pag.). Released in July, Adrian Wagner, who ran Wake Up Records, ended up dumping 8000 flexi discs at the local rubbish tip when the West Indies cricket  tour was cancelled with plans to sell them outside a cricket ground also consequently cancelled (Banks 2020: 363, 365, 414).

In 1979 Robert teamed up again with Adrian Wagner. As well as working on the above single the two had previously contributed to each other’s albums; Wagner to Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters and Robert to the 1974 album, Distances Between Us; Robert’s contribution included an early version of ‘Steppenwolf’. In 1979 Adrian was working on a disco album, Disco Dream and the Androids, released under the name of The Androids. Robert provides the vocals for ‘Connection Disconnection’ (Banks 2020; 363). Wagner recounted “Robert came over to my house outside Oxford for one of his many visits in 1979. This time it was to write some lyrics and sing on a crazy spoof sci-fi disco album I was producing called Disco Dream and the Androids (tracks: ‘Connection Disconnection’ and ‘Cafe Des Illusions’) and he played the part of a broken down and neurotic android who fell in love with a female android but that’s another story” (Wagner n.d: no pag.). The album was released in 1979 on Wake Up Records, with Adrian releasing ‘Connection Disconnection’ and ‘Cafe Des Illusions’ as a CDr single in 2004 under the name Robert Calvert’s Paranoid Android (discogs n.d: no pag.). (I presume from this that possibly Robert was involved with the latter track as well.)  

Robert’s third post Hawkwind recording was also a single. Wikipedia observes that the tracks ‘Lord of the Hornets’ and ‘The Greenfly and the Rose’ were originally recorded as demos for the album Hype (released on A Side Records) but were released by Flicknife in 1980 (Wikipedia n.d; no pag.). The two songs do appear as the last two tracks on the album however, in a January 1980 article ‘Winds of Change’ Getts commented ‘…I bumped into Mr Calvert several months ago, and subsequently spent an afternoon chatting to him at his London flat. He was working on a project entitled ‘Lord Of The Hornets’, a highly imaginative story around which Bob had recorded a number of tunes with the aid of Lemmy, Simon King, Huw Lloyd-Langton and ex-Hawklords keyboard player Steve Swindells’ (Getts 1980: no pag.). So it may be that the two tracks started as a stand alone project and were later incorporated into the Hype album. Whatever their origins, ‘Lord of the Hornets’ is a superb track! 

Hype: the Songs of Tom Mahler.

In a 1981 Newsbeat interview Calvert comments that having written a novel “about how the music business operates, considerably exaggerated, I might add, it’s meant to be entertainment and as I had invented a rock singer I had to, to make it convincing, invent songs for him that he had written, I found that I actually started hearing the songs in my head, this led to composing the songs and then recording them and eventually releasing the novel and the album of the novel at the same time.” Slightly worrying he observes that the reaction he had from the music industry to the novel is of “delight” with various people imagining themselves to be the basis of the villain of the book.(This is disconcerting as Robert also comments “The book is not about the band`s situation as much as the actual types who work in the business itself, who are for the most part horrifying examples of humanity” (Calvert in Gerwers n.d: no pag.)). Later on in the Newsbeat interview he replies to a question about taking the album on the road and whether he would be presenting as Robert Calvert or in the persona of Tom Mahler, “This is a good question, it’s a fictional world really and how much I’m going to get buried in it I don’t know yet, I don’t mind if I am, I don’t mind if people actually believe there is a Tom Mahler Band. But the band in fact is a band called Bethnal who were, in my opinion, one of the best new wave bands who didn’t, unfortunately, make big news owing to problems with their management which makes them an appropriate band to have used on the album because that is what happens to The Tom Mahler Band in some ways…” (Calvert 1981: no pag.).

Elsewhere Calvert commented “The way the record came about, was because when I was writing the book I had to keep inventing songs to make it credible. Every time I thought of a song-title it seemed necessary to quote a line from it, and suddenly it took shape as a song. This bloke Tom Mahler actually did become quite real to me at one point. I didn’t actually plan to do an album of the book until I was about a quarter of the way into it. It came to me that I’d have to record his songs” (Calvert in Gerwers n.d: no pag.).

Interestingly in the Newsbeat intro the presenter comments that Robert ‘takes the whole package on the road next month’. Abrahams writes that ‘there was a possibility that Hype would become a stage musical’ and quotes Steve Swindells, the keyboardist in Hawklords, “Bob had this brainwave to turn it into a musical, and said ‘I want you to star in it’…He had an actress…all these proper actors…We had a week of rehearsals, and then I got double pneumonia; soon after that the production fell apart. I moved out of the area, and we lost touch” (Abrahams 2017: 202). However, in Robert’s show at The Arts Theatre in June 1981 he did play ‘Evil Rock’, ‘Lord of the Hornets’ and ‘We like to be Frightened’ (setlist.fm n.d: no pag.). At a gig at the Marquee in June 1982 he played two tracks from Hype, ‘Hanging Out on the Seafront’ and ‘We like to be Frightened’ (setlist.fm n.d: no pag.). 

Banks describes the album as a ‘collection of well-turned, catchy powerpop, but with a few proto- electronic tunes too, mostly notably the moody synth noir of ‘Flight 105’ and the spiky urban paranoia of ‘The Luminous Green Glow of the Dials on the Dashboard (At Night)’…’ (Banks 2021: no pag.). A reviewer on progarchives.com described it as ‘charming’ and possibly of interest to those whose ‘tastes lean toward the literate, slightly low-fi new wave of the ’80s’ (Connolly 2005: no pag.).

Revenge.

One of the musicians on Hype was Peter Pavli who then worked with Calvert on several projects. In February 1981 Robert, with Jill Riches and Pete Pavli as ‘Krankschaft Cabaret’, staged a series of evenings that consisted of Hawkwind and solo songs, poetry and sketches (Gerwers n.d: no pag.).He was also very involved with Calvert’s 1981 stage play, The Kid from Silicon Gulch. The actors were Robert as private detective Brad Spark, who specialised in cyber crimes, Pete Pavli as hapless police Sgt. Karelli and Jill Riches as the Countess. Pavli as well as acting in the play was also involved with the music, as was Dave Brock (Gerwers n.d: no pag.). (None of the songs that featured in the play were recorded although it is possible to watch it on youtube!) The third project that Calvert and Pavli worked on together was several tracks that became the Revenge EP which was originally (posthumously in Robert’s case) released in 1992 as a limited edition cassette on Cyborg Records and Tapes but has subsequently been rereleased by Blueprint/Voiceprint (discogs.com n.d.: no pag.). The EP consists of four tracks; ‘Revenge’, ‘Fascism/Futurism’, ‘Bugatti’ and ‘Isadora’ (with a fifth track ‘Turn the Tape Over’ which had nothing to do with Calvert (Pavli 2013: no pag.)). The musicians were Calvert on vocals, Pavli on drum machine, piano, bass and guitar with Simon House on violin and synthesiser (discogs n.d; no pag.). Gerwers comments ‘The Revenge tracks are songs, but certainly not in the usual rock-or-pop meaning. They’re all based on -sometimes simple/minimalistic, sometimes intricate string arrangements, played by Pavli- with the assistance of Simon House. The same characteristics count for Calvert’s vocals – at times more spoken words, at times very poetical – and always powerful and inventive in their imagery. Three of these four songs are indeed circling about the ideas of speed and movement, combining the a slightly nostalgic/historical flair whilst recurring to the times they are stemming from: the 20’s and 30’s – i.e. the movement of Futurism (‘Fascism/Futurism’), the invention of (racing)-automobile (‘Bugatti’), the pioneering works in modern dance (‘Isadora’ Duncan). In short, this is more experimental music by nature – but nonetheless (and why should this be an exclusion?) with a strange beauty to it’ (Gerwers n.d: no pag.).  

Ersatz.

Robert’s next recording was in 1982 working with long time collaborator, Barney Bubbles. The two had already worked together several times; on ‘The Hawkwind Log’ that accompanied In Search of Space, on the cover of Doremi Fasol Latido, on the Space Ritual tour and programme and on the Pan Transcendental Industries brochure that became the Hawklords’ 25 Years On tour programme.

In 1982 Bubbles released an album, Ersatz, on the Pompadours label under the name The Imperial Pompadours, the album had been recorded over ‘the previous couple of years’ (Gorman 2022: 191). Revisiting previous collaborations Bubbles involved Nik Turner, members of ICU and Robert Calvert with the album which, in a letter, Bubbles described as ’inspired rubbish, loud and in extremely bad taste’(Gorman 2022: 191-2). One side of the album includes covers of various ‘trash classics’ ’(Gorman 2022: 191-2). This side involved using the cut up method made famous by Burroughs and Bowie, Turner commented ‘We’d record the song, cut the tape into one yard lengths, throw it up in the air and stick it all back together as it came’ (Clerk 2006: 254). The other side was a 25 minute track about the life of Hitler, ‘Insolence across the Nation’ (Gorman 2022: 192). The album was released ‘once Warners had established that the intention was to protest fascism, not embrace it’ (Clerk 2006: 253-4).

In Hawkwind: Sonic Assassins Abrahams describes the album as ’for the main part, frankly unlistenable’, going on to quote Phil Reeves, “Bob Calvert sang ‘Brand New Cadillac’ at the…first session. He also did a great version of ‘I’m a King Bee’; his throat bleeding at the end, such was the ferocity of his vocal” (Abrahams 2017: 172). However, both Gerwers and Cope state that Calvert only appears on ‘Insolence across the Nation’, Cope writing ‘ Side two is “Insolence Across The Nation” and is a surefire rent-breaker at any volume: An album side’s length of collaged sound effects, samples of Wagner and brief instrumentals backing a multi-perspective narration of the life of Adolf Hitler. It’s psychedelic/punk cabaret action, for sure and one of the narrators is most definitely Robert Calvert…’ (Cope 2000: no pag.).

Freq.

The 1980s were a period of discontinuity in the UK, from 1945 until 1979 Britain functioned within a social democratic framework accepted by both Labour and Conservatives. In the 1970s due to global pressures and internal problems industrial relations were turbulent culminating in the ‘Winter of Discontent’ in 78-79. Margaret Thatcher was elected in May ‘79 and thus began the ideologically driven imposition of neoliberalism which involved the restructuring of Britain economically, socially and politically. Although neoliberalism has been so normalised that it is difficult for many under forty to imagine a different society, the imposition of neoliberalism actually required and caused wholesale changes to social, political and economic relations and structures. The citizens’ relationship to the market, the state and each other were reconfigured as the government set about dismantling organised working class power in the form of the trade unions, shrinking the welfare state, deregulation and privatisation of previously state assets. Class solidarity gave way to individualism, competition and increasingly identity was based on consumerism rather than work. The neoliberal subject was brought into being, replacing the subject produced under social democracy. Although unemployment had increased in the 1970s the restructuring of Britain led to 3 million unemployed in the early 80s (Maggie’s millions) and Thatcher was a deeply unpopular Prime Minister. However, the Falklands War in 1982 changed that with Thatcher able to present herself in a new way with Britain carried away on a wave of jingoistic patriotism. Newly empowered, the Conservatives set their sights on confrontation with the miners. During the year-long miners strike between 1984-5 Thatcher described the miners as ‘the enemy within’, using a militarised, politicised police force which attacked the miners at Orgreave in June 1984. The tactics used against the miners were then deployed against the free festival/traveller movement in the Battle of the Beanfield in June 1985.

It is in this context that Robert Calvert’s next release has to be considered.      

In the 1982 interview ‘Ramblings at Dawn’ Robert claimed, ‘I do not attempt to put any political/social message in my lyrics at all’ before then conceding that lyrics with wide subject matter are ‘bound to have social content…unless you work in purely fantasy terms”. He then comments “I’ve not really been overtly political in my work at all because I don’t really think I’m qualified to be a political spokesman in any way’’ then going on to elaborate that the complexity of the modern world requires specialist knowledge in order to make statements (Calvert 1982: no pag.). However, as Brock observed on Hawklords “Our songs were quite political too. Bob was very political” (Clerk 2006: 195). An opinion Nik Turner shared, “…Bob was politically aware…” going on to describe him having “the idealism without wearing the badge. Bob would use current images, topical things to express basic universal truths” (Abrahams 2017: 78). Certainly Robert’s pre 1982 interviews and song writing included critiques of capitalism, ethical and socio-political ideas, concepts and observations from the ‘Hawklog’ and ‘Urban Guerilla’ to the Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters album, ‘Steppenwolf’, ‘Days of the Underground’, ‘Highrise’, ‘Welcome to the Future’ and ‘Uncle Sam’s on Mars’, perhaps finding its fullest expression around the 25 Years On project. In an interesting radio interview from June 1977 Robert gives eloquent expression to an egalitarian mindset, an awareness of global geopolitics and a concern over cultural Americanisation (Calvert 1977: no pag.). Post 1982 Robert’s political position was very explicit, in his poetry he criticised the South African apartheid system in ‘White Dynasty’ and ‘Working Down a Diamond Mine’ and Steve Pond remembers Robert’s political strength of feeling, recounting that at a May 1985 ICU gig that Robert had been invited to play, “Bob let rip with the first of several violent anti Thatcher tirades, bashing the stage and being generally militant” (Pond in Abrahams 2017: 204).

In a wide ranging 1996 interview Jill  Calvert answers Gerwers’ question 

“The Freq album, I think, came mostly out of the miner’s strikes, or was at least addressing it to a great part. Was he always kind of sympathetic to labourers movements -was he very aware of such political ongoings?

Jill: ‘Yes, yes. There again, he didn’t so much talk about politics or morality or spirituality, but what he felt was his philosophy – he just worked. He worked it. But yes, I mean he actually did get very involved in the miner’s strike, which was partly I think because at that time we lived in an area of Kent where a lot of pits were threatened then with closure, and so in one of his periods of going out and about and meeting a lot of people he met a lot of miners, and listened to what they were saying and realised what the social implications would be for them. And I suppose you could say that that happened also to fit in with what he was working on, it kind of happened to gel, because he was at that time working on material and songs… this was the kind of Luddite thing coming up again. It was kind of technology pros and cons, because one of the songs on that album is called ‘Work Song’ which is simply about Robert I think, sort of happily working with his machines. So that’s the kind of the good side if you like, and then all the kind of technological nightmares that are possible. And somehow he managed to gel the two together, the whole idea of work, what’s work for, it’s necessary to us maybe as human beings” (Jill Calvert and Gerwers 1996: 3).

Freq was released in late 1984, Banks comments that Freq was ‘(r)ecorded almost entirely alone, with assistance from just his wife Jill and local guitarist friend PG Martin’, Banks describes it as a ’visionary work that marries a minimal aesthetic to sophisticated songcraft’ (Banks 2021: no pag.). It was released on Flicknife Records, co-founder Frenchy Gloder commented “The album we did with Bob Calvert…you could not have a better document of the Miners’ Strike than that album. You had interviews with the miners and in the original album you had notes on what happened when we did the interviews, like we often had to leg it because they didn’t get the fact that that we were supporting the strikes…We had to explain that it was for an album and that this was Bob Calvert and then people knew, because Hawkwind were still a significant name and ‘Silver Machine’ was still on most jukeboxes. So Freq wasn’t only musically relevant, it was a piece of the time and socially very important” (Abrahams 2017: 203). 

The album consists of six tracks interspersed with field recordings of conversations with striking miners, the subject matter bringing together at least two streams in Robert’s thinking; his ambivalent relationship to technology and his internationalist working class solidarity. Abrahams in the liner notes to the 2008 reissue comments ‘Robert, though, very much allied himself with the working man and saw the labour in which he himself was engaged as very much a craft like any other, with its own requirements to make a ‘living wage’’ (Abrahams 2008).

First track is ‘Ned Lud’ (a reworking of a track from ‘The Kid from Silicon Gulch’), which has a sound similar to some early Human League. The track’s lyrics are based around the historic/legendary figure of Ned Ludd who in the late 1700s broke two stocking knitting machines; in the early 1800s he became the mythic leader of the Luddites who broke machinery that drove down wages and produced inferior goods (Wikipedia n.d: no pag.). Robert takes the historic figure and uses him to explore how the opponents of capital and power are then represented by the establishment; that Ned Lud was represented as an  “idiot boy” and someone whose “reason had fled”. The song also engages with the effects of technology on working class lives through the lines “Ned Lud heard nine babies’ cries…Ned Ludd heard stick babies’ cries…he turned to his workmates and said death to machines, they tread on our future and stamp on our dreams” (Calvert 1984). The song cleverly engages with the ongoing process of automation, deskilling and the reduction of the worker to an adjunct of technology and possibly has fresh resonance with current discussions around AI and the replacement of specialist and cultural workers with technology.

‘Acid Rain’ continues the same theme as Robert lists technological advances; the introduction of home computers and associated surveillance, the advancements in vitrification and sperm donation against a repeated refrain “and acid rain is falling”. Robert’s lyrics seem to question whether the scientific advancements listed are unqualified good while foregrounding the deleterious effects of capitalist development symbolised by acid rain, ‘most acid rain is a product of human activities. The biggest sources are coal-burning power plants, factories, and automobiles’ (Nunez 2019: no pag.).

The next two tracks, ‘All the Machines are Quiet’ and ‘Standing on the Picket Line’ are profound and empathetic, exploring the experiences of those on strike. The track ‘All the Machines are Quiet’ is the most poignant of Calvert’s explorations of temporality, it is an account of a worker’s experience of being on strike. The song’s lyrics catalogue the striker’s different social, physical and emotional experiences of time slowed down in the absence of wage labour and work; of days spent dreaming, time spent queuing, of frustration and financial precarity. The song captures the changed experience of time for the worker who is so used to experiencing the familiar imposition of capitalist time and tasks that their absence feels alien, “I could scream, all the machines are quiet”. To quote Gang of Four, ‘At Home He Feels like a Tourist’.

‘Standing on the Picket Line’ is from the perspective of a striking miner; the experience of intra working class conflict between strikers and those crossing picket lines, of the police being used as “strike-breakers working for the government”, of police violence and of the knowledge that even if the industrial conflict is won a striker can still be blacklisted.

On these two tracks Robert articulates the lived experience of the miners in the 1980s, a contemporary manifestation of the historic working class struggle under capitalism where labour has generally had to struggle for improvements in their situation or to preserve previous gains as capital uses its power to lower its costs and erode previous concessions to working class pressure. Again, the relevance of this track has not decreased between 1984 and the 2020s.

In a sudden change of direction the next track is ‘The Cool Courage of the Bomb Squad Officer’. This track sees Robert agin exploring the subject of work by reprising a favourite theme; the lone hero. The lyrics chart the bomb disposal officer being phoned and then starting to defuse the bomb, the lyrics culmination is open ended evoking the ongoing uncertainty of the job.

The final track is ‘Work Song’. The lyrics cleverly construct the character as a member of the urban working class at ease in an urban environment and (possibly) thinking of a significant other as he goes about his industrial job. In the last verse the lyrics evoke a sense of camaraderie and community and recognition that his experience of work is based on the gains made by previous generations of workers. However, I may be misinterpreting the song as Jill Calvert said it “is simply about Robert I think, sort of happily working with his machines”, the positive side of technology (Jill Calvert and Gerwers 1996: no pag.). Or it may be a synthesis of autobiographical writing and working out from that base to make a wider point.

The album tracks are interspersed with recordings made by Robert and Frenchy Gloder of conversations they had with striking miners and of trade union speeches. The recordings communicate a tense, fractious and uncertain attitude among the workers, some are critical of Arthur Scargill while others chant their support for him in response to a negative banner. In the conversations Calvert comes across as more astute and progressive than some of those he conversed with, the highpoint being a trade union speech by a representative of the communication workers pledging their support for the miners.

Freq is a highly focused album with five of the six tracks exploring various aspects of paid labour and the world of work. Musically it is a great synth pop/rock album reminiscent of early John Foxx or Human League and in many ways extends some of the themes explored on Hawklords 1978 album 25 Years On.

The next three albums Robert appeared on were self-releases.

In 1985 Nik Turner had reformed Inner City Unit and invited Robert to guest at a gig in Dingwalls, London. At a rehearsal the band ran through some Calvert compositions with Robert, Steve Pond remembering the atmosphere around the gig being very positive with Robert “being full of enthusiasm for playing live again” (Abrahams 2017: 204). The gig was recorded and self- released on cassette by ICU. It includes four of Robert’s solo tracks, ‘Ned Lud’, ‘Picket Line’, ‘Ejection’ and ‘Acid Rain’ as well as several Hawkwind tracks (discogs n.d; no pag).

In 1986 Robert self-released a cassette, Centigrade 232 on his own Harbour Publications. It was a recording of him reading six poems from the 1977 book of the same name (discogs n.d: no pag.). (The 2007 reissue and 2011 reissue of Centigrade 232 coupled with Revenge appear to include Robert’s reading of the whole of the book (discogs n.d: no pag.).

In 1986 Robert also self-released The Cellar Tape 1 and 2, again on Harbour Publications. This release was a collection of seventeen early versions and demos of songs that mostly appeared on Freq and Test Tube Conceived. In the liner notes to the 2003 reissue Tawn points out that ‘the remaining eight (tracks) represent some of the many songs which (Robert) had in the planning stages, though a couple of them were performed on stage’, concluding that Robert was ‘(a) keen observer of life and the world around him, with the wit and intelligence to find the wonder in everything’ (Tawn 1992: no pag.). In 1987 Robert observed “The reason I did them was because I know myself would be interested if I could hear the demos made of songs that I’ve liked. I think the demos are often very much more interesting than the finished recordings which are done under such a clinical set-up. The fact that they were recorded on primitive home equipment, some of it home-made, and one in mono, made me wonder, if in this age of digital-compact-no-noise-ultra-high- clarity-recording, they might seem like fossils of wire-recordings dug up out of a time- capsule – perhaps that is part of their charm.” (Calvert on Gerwers 1987: no pag.).     

Test Tube Conceived.

Robert’s next and penultimate album was recorded in 1985 at Foel Studio in Wales which had been started by ex Hawkwind bass player Dave Anderson in 1973 (discogs n.d: no pag.). Musicians on the album included Dave Anderson and Julie Wareing. The album was released in April 1986 (Banks 2021: no pag.). The same year Robert’s play Test Tube Baby of Mine was staged, it engaged it an exploration of genetics and nature v nurture through a darkly comedic story about two research scientists who ‘genetically engineer their own superhuman baby’, due to a mixup at the IVF clinic the embryo is implanted into another couple who ‘raise the child as their own’, while the two scientists raise this couple’s child. The scientist’s child is brilliant and his inventions change the family’s fortunes. Fourteen years later the scientists discover the mix-up and try to get the children back to their genetic families (Gerwers n.d: no pag.). Robert’s comments around the album are fascinating, in a 1985 interview he commented on the origins of the album “While I was building this place I got obsessed to the point that my only topic of conversation was sheds. Shed building. Wood work. Tools. The virtues of various kinds of paint. I was reading do it yourself magazines and quoting from them at the breakfast table…the last time it got this bad was when I formed an obsession with genetic science. I had to write an album of songs to get it out of my system” (Calvert on Gerwers 1985: no pag.). Although actually there are only three tracks on the album which deal with genetic science, ‘In Vitro Breed’ and the title track which share very similar lyrics plus the instrumental ‘Fanfare for the Perfect Race’. 

Robert’s attitude to scientific progress and development was nuanced, while he acknowledged its importance and positive effects he was concerned about its misuse, “I am not at all opposed to scientific progress, but what I am opposed to is the possible misuse of scientific discoveries which is the main danger we face. We are now living in an almost infinitely scientifically possible world. When you look at the advances that we know have been made already in, say, biology, we have to look very carefully, there have to be very strong controls over what is done with this knowledge. The possibility of creating human beings in test-tubes has been around since the fifties. What is being made available to the public now, I don’t think is necessarily indicative of what actually is available to scientists in research laboratories who haven’t published their papers yet. The prospects are quite terrifying that a human being can actually be created…It seems likely to me that they have already found a way of being able to create human life without the necessity of the womb being involved at all – I am sure they can do that. (…) I think it does fundamentally question what a human being actually is. It enables the possibility of human life being considered to be extremely expendable if it’s extremely creatable. I mean, if you can create a human being without any trouble at all then why should you worry about getting rid of it. (…) Obviously you can’t say “stop doing this”, nobody`s in a position to say that it is absolutely categorically wrong either. This is what`s quite frightening about it – there’s nobody who`s in a form of moral position to judge on this. Having come this far from escaping religious governings, where do we stand?” (Calvert on Gerwers n.d: no pag.). This uneasy relationship with science and technology colours the album’s subject matter with songs on IVF, computer hacking (in 1986!), vivisection, surveillance and the android as companion/lover (an idea first explored by Robert in the poem ‘The Starfarer’s Despatch’ incorporated famously into the song ‘Spirit of the Age’). There are also tracks on childhood fears and the paranormal. It is important to remember, as Jill Calvert commented, “…when he first thought of working with an idea like in vitro fertilisation, it was at its very beginnings”, and of course Robert’s concerns about its misuse have not been realised (Gerwers and Jill Calvert 1996: 2).

However, as one reviewer in 2006 observed, Test Tube Conceived  ‘is very effective at putting across its warnings about the ways that the supposed blessing of advanced technology can be twisted to suit the needs of unscrupulous governments and corporations. It’s a very timely message that deserves a hearing’ (Thompson 2006: no pag.).

Die Losung.

Robert’s final album was as main lyricist and vocalist for the third album by Amon Duul (UK). Die Losung was recorded in 1987 and/or 1988, again at Foel Studio and, as with Test Tube Conceived, among the musicians were Julie Wareing and Dave Anderson. The album was released on Anderson’s Demi Monde label.  

Although he doesn’t sing on the track, ‘Die Losung’ was also the name of a piece of work written by one of the poets Robert admired the most, Bertolt Brecht. The album has seven tracks, five of them with lyrics by Robert. 

The album’ music was written by John Weinzierl and was originally to have been called Weinzierl Meets Calvert, the musician and the poet interacting (Weinzierl 1996: no pag.). However, the album was never finished due to Robert’s death in 1988, the unfinished version released by Anderson in 1989. 

Although frustrated by the release of the unfinished album John Weinzierl, had very positive memories of Robert and working with him, “He was pleasant company, a permanent fountain of creativity – always ready to work in new, open processes. During the sessions (for ‘Die Lösung’) as we played along you could already hear it in the background: hack, hack, hack – Robert, hammering the lyrics into his typewriter which he handed out to us immediately” (Weinzierl on Gerwers 1996: no pag.).

Robert wrote the lyrics for, and sings on, the first five tracks. The first two, ‘Big Wheel’ and ‘Urban Indian’, are complex works, possibly metaphorical  and certainly open to interpretation with the latter seeming to suggest that some experiences of living in an urban environment can be similar to/equated with being a native American. The third, ‘Adrenaline Rush’ is about fishing and cricket, contrasting the views of someone who thinks that the first is a bore and the second dull with the excitement that he derives from participating in them. It concludes with the retrospectively poignant words “You, you’re always rushing around. Why don’t you try slowing down? That’s how people get heart attacks. Why don’t you try to relax?” (Calvert 1989: no pag.). The last two tracks by Robert on Die Losung are unusual as the lyrics explore aspects of ‘romantic’ relationships. The first, ‘Visions of Fire’ is about love lost and the second, ‘Drawn to the Flame’, is about finding someone attractive.

Die Losung works well as an album, with Robert’s lyrics and voice suited to the guitar based rock. McBeath commented ‘The music here is generally more accessible than that of the other Amon Duul configurations, with strong melodies and choruses. Calvert’s vocals are slightly distorted and sometimes multi-tracked. Instrumentally, it is the guitar of John Weinzierl and the synth of Joie Hinton which dominates, with both contributing fine performances…In all, while those seeking the difficult prog of Amon Duul/Amon Duul II’s early years will have to look elsewhere, this is something of a lost gem. Not only do we get some of Robert Calvert’s most accessible work, we also find a collection of well crafted pop prog’ (McBeath 2008: no pag.).

In addition, Robert also appears on the subsequent Amon Duul (UK) album, Fool Moon, again released on Demi Monde in 1989. According to an entry on discogs the album is a ‘selection of session oddments (recorded in 1987 according to Dave Anderson)’ (discogs n.d: no pag.). Track 4 is ‘Hauptmotor’, a fourteen minute track with Robert coming in at about 4 mins. It’s fascinating with Robert singing in German and at times sounding surprisingly similar to Blixa Bargeld!

Robert died of a heart attack in August 1988; over the ensuing years there have been a number of posthumous live releases the best generally considered to be At the Queen Elizabeth Hall (1989) and Robert Calvert and the Maximum effect Live at the Stars and Stripes, Carlisle (2002), both recordings are from 1986.

The 1986 self released tape of Robert reading his poetry, Centigrade 232, made a reappearance in the Spirits Burning 2001 release Reflections In A Radio Shower where the poems ‘Ode to a Crystal Set’ and ‘Centigrade 232’ are embedded in tracks 1 and 2 respectively (wikipedia n.d. and spiritsburning.bandcamp.com)

In 2006 The Brock/Calvert Project was released on Hawkwind Records. Dave Brock recounts that he had had a cassette of Robert’s poems for a number of years, eventually he was asked to put some music to the poems, which he and Jason Stuart did (Brock 2006: no pag.).

The Last Star Fighter, an album of 19 remixes of Robert’s songs from across his post Hawkwind work, came out in 2021. Pleasingly, ‘Lord of the Hornets’ is remixed by Rat Scabies who was the intended drummer for an aborted run of shows featuring music from Hype and Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters. The show only played twice, once for the press and once for the public before being cancelled (Clerk 2006: 178). The album blurb describes Robert as ‘one of the most charismatic and cutting-edge visionaries to emerge out of London’s psych rock scene of the ’60s & ’70s’ (bandcamp.com 2021: no pag.).

Posthumous uses of Robert’s voice took a very difficult to foresee turn with the reconstructing of his voice for the short film adaption of his play Mirror Mirror, released in 2020. Described as a ‘fast-paced short (that) follows a grief stricken woman battling with her sanity as her carefully constructed fantasy comes crumbling down in this retro-futuristic exploration of identity’, the film includes a reconstruction of Robert’s voice for one of the central characters; the Mirror (independentshortsawards.com 2022: no pag.). The director Katya Ganfeld commented “we have worked closely with Calvert’s estate and anthology writer Chris Purdon to include Calvert’s songs and have the right audio excerpts to recreate his voice from. He will play the character of the Mirror in his own film…’ (Ganfeld n.d; no pag.). The company who recreated Robert’s voice, Respeecher, wrote that they collected hours of Robert’s voice from gigs, interviews etc and analysed the samples for the ‘vocal nuances’ that made his voice ‘so distinctive’, they then used ‘voice cloning technology’ to recreate his voice (Respeecher n.d; no pag.). Surely a development that Robert would have been intrigued by! 

Conclusion.  

As can be seen from the above Robert Calvert’s post Hawkwind recordings were creative, dynamic, prolific and diverse! His recordings ranged from a reworking of a reggae track through an album of a novel to a finely focused political commentary on work in the 1980s to a consideration of the effects of science and technology on modern life before recording an album with members of Amon Duul (UK). When you add into the mix a novel, a book of poetry, two plays and many ideas and projects that were never realised it becomes obvious that Robert was a multidisciplinary artist of remarkable talent and diverse skills with an unusual level of productivity. As John Weinzierl said of the recording sessions that became Die Losung “…they had to hire two sound-engineers working continuously in 12 hour shifts each to keep up with Robert’s creative pace” (Weinzierl on Gerwers 1996: no pag.). 

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

 

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