Calvert: Hero with a wing
By Martin Hayman
WELL AS everybody knows, craziness is contagious. It spreads in ever increasing circles of darkness, like ripples in a pond, around hamlet, eventually submerging all and sundry in it's fearful penumbra.
Some forms of dementia are more aggressive than others: their exponents tend to be lucid proselytisers. Such a man is Bob Calvert, who has quite a pressure building up behind his own personal obsessions with a particular brand of kamikaze heroism.
Most of those who patronise the music press will know by now that Bob Calvert is Captain Lockheed, the hero with a wing, the fantasy pilot of a self destructing jet fighter, the German Starfighter, one of the most disastrous designs ever to have streaked across the heavens in the name of national defence.
The Starfighter story, which I shall not recount here other than to remind you that upwards of one hundred and sixty examples of the said craft have crashed in everyday service, constitutes an essential co-ordinate point in Calvert's imagination: where the quest for individual glory, fame in perpetuity assured at the moment of oblivion, intersects with childhood absorption with the technical and atheistic attractions of autonomous jet-powered flight.
Above all Calvert admires the autonomy of the hero, his aloofness. Hence, the Hero With A Wing; hence his admiration for the German expressionist play wright Bertolt Brecht, hence his admiration for Hamlet, and the need to re-use him in "The Ride And Fall Of Luigi Brilliamtino", the project which follows "Captain Lockheed".
"Luigi Brilliamtino", is set in Chicago of 1928 - 35 and traces the story of Luigi, who set out from Sicily to avenge the murder of his father and his mothers re-marriage with the murderer. Calvert says it has an Oedipus - style twist at the end so you may be assured that his literary reference points are respectable. He has gone some way into writing words and dialogue for the presentation which he calls "another black comedy".
the only musician he has in mind for the music, which he dubs "swing rock" - rock music with the swing band sound of the thirties - is ex Pink Fairy, Paul Rudolph. Although the subject matter is to be weighty, Bob insists that the treatment will have an element of parody which will make the music appropriate.
But the dividing line between theatre with music and musical theatre is fine: on the recorded "Captain Lockheed" I had a strong impression of a collection of songs linked with spoken parts rather than an integrated dramatic work. Whether the stage show, which will be considerably expanded, will give the same impression or will be more of a complete dramatic presentation remains to be seen.
Calvert admits that, according to his lights, he's doing things the wrong way round: as it's name implies, a record is a permanent impression of a work that pre exists it's recording. "The main difference between the stage show and the album is that it's longer. But the album is a complete sound play in itself whereas the stage thing has lights and all the other effects that the theatre can provide"
"the whole thing seems even more extraordinary me now than when I first started the venture. I can see no reason why they continue to fly this plane".
"I find something fascinating about the arms dealer as a figure - I always had a sneaking admiration when I was a kid for the bad man in the westerns who incited the Indians to attack the farmers and then supplied both sides with arms."
"I want to be a novelist one day but I haven't had the time to get down a protracted prose work yet . . . things have happened since I left Hawkwind. My whole approach to work is different to there's. They're improvisers, but I meditate for a long time over something before I commit to it."
But for all the machinations that exploit the hero in his jet plane, his heroism is nonetheless presented as real and admirable in Lockheed (as no doubt it will be in "Luigi"): "One thing that has been missing from almost every form of fiction," he says, countering a suggestion that Bruce Lee was a very real popular hero, "the hero seems to have been lacking. I think the actions of a hero more or less sums up the ideals of his race. They are the expression of the ideals of his race."
"I'm not obsessed with Germany or Germans, though I admire Paul klee and Bertolt Brecht very much. My observations cover quite a wide range of things. When I was a kid I was always more interested to be a gangster than a cowboy, whom I always thought was an oaf."
Doubtless say I, jokingly, you prefer cricket to football, ""Yes I was coming to that," he said. "I've made a single called Howza! and the flip side is 'Cricket Reggae Cricket'. I always wanted to give cricket the same thing football's been given."
5, 4, 3, 2, 1, LIFT OFF!
Captain Lockheed And The Starfighters are launched and zooming in your direction. This is the news from ground control and the master - Robert calvert.
Calvert is the man who wrote Hawkwind's old hit "Silver Machine" , but besides his work with the space truckers, this strange earthling has been pursuing his own project - Captain Lockheed And The Starfighters. He comes from the planet Margate.
Now just to put you in the picture, Starfighter aircraft under the direction of Joseph Strauss, became 700 strong in the German Airforce. Over the years many of them crashed, earning them the names such as "jinx jets", "widow makers" and "flying coffins", because so many of the young pilots who flew them were killed.
Captain Lockheed is basically a comedy tragedy - it's a good way to put across a heavy idea, although 159 crashed jets is no joke. Bob conceived the idea of the play over two years ago, and it's now completed and ready for blast off.
I met Bob in the offices of his record company, where he was busy throwing a tantrum over a nasty picture of him that appeared in another music publication. But after a calming chat he settled to divulge just what he's about.
"This is my new invention," he explained, showing me a cassette machine complete with earphones. "I'm going to patent it, because I think it'll catch on. At the moment , people seem to think it's silly to be seen with a pair of headphones plugged into a cassette, while reading the paper on the tube."
"But what the GPO should be doing is offering a news service that you can plug into your cassette overnight, so that come the morning, you can listen to the latest news on your tape." I'm well and truly confused, But the captain continues at twice the speed of a Starfighter.
"You know I collect all kinds of weird things especially sunglasses and headphones. One of my favourite hobbies is lying in a darkened room with a set of headphones on."
TIME TO STOP, I insisted. Sink your brain to my level and lets get talking about Captain Lockheed. Thankfully, he obeyed and saved me the embarrassment of running out on him.
"We've just completed the Lockheed album and now we're preparing a set of concerts. The idea of the play is to get the tragedy of the Starfighters across to as many people as possible. But the only way to do it is to make the play funny and entertaining so that people will take notice and possibly go away afterwards and think about it."
On the album there's an assortment of guest artists, including Arthur Brown (The Gremlin), Jim Capaldi, Viv Stanshall, Eno, Paul Randolph (Rudolph?) and all the Hawkwind Voyagers. Calvert once performed with Hawkwind but went potty with the strain of always being on the road. The Who's Keith Moon was also booked for a session, but needless to say he failed to turn up. But when this play with music crashes onto the road the line-up will change, with Adrian Wagner (keyboards), Paul Randolph (lead guitar), Michael Nichols (drums), Sal (Roxy Music's road bassist) and Bob as captain Lockheed. The Captain is a mixture of the British Aircraft Corporation and the dreaded Red Baron.
"I've just changed management to Python Productions, who are the people responsible for Monty Pythons Flying Circus, so venues are changing along with previous plans. The show will be a musical event and I'm hoping the people will look on it as such."
Then he started to tell me about a group of his friends who went around spraying red paint on people living in Camden Town and I picked up my case and ran fearing a splurge of the red goo on me.
From what I've heard of the album, both musically and visually, Captain Lockheed And The Starfighters are well worth seeing. Might I suggest you take a crash helmet, goggles and headphones, just so you don't look out of place in the audience.
UNTITLED PIECE FROM UNKNOWN SOURCE, SOMETIME IN 1974!
WAS A TIME WHEN GERMANY'S STARFIGHTER jets dropped from the skies at an alarming regularity and it took "Der Spiegel" to bring it all into the open. In a lighter vein, but with an undying strata of seriousness, former Hawkwind member Robert Calvert has written a musical play titled "Captain Lockheed And The Starfighters".
The album is now on release and the stage production takes to the road in mid May. South African born Calvert took time out from preparations to tell his Uncle Beast what it's all about.
"When I was working with Hawkwind I was more interested in working with a band that wouldn't just stand there for two hours playing a set of songs related to one another. I wanted to do a show as a whole".
He has dabbled in street theatres and in particular one in Camden Town called "Street Dada Nihilismus" which often shocked people by throwing paint at them. He is also interested in sound poetry.
"Hawkwind seemed to be doing almost the same thing in terms of electronic sound that I was attempting to do with poetry and it seemed logical to put the two things together," he explained. "Space Ritual didn't turn out to be the work I tried to achieve. The sound of Hawkwind very often remind me of the aero-space age and it inspired me to think of jet planes rather than space travel".
"The Starfighters in Germany seemed to be an ideal subject for an electronic rock drama using satire telling a complete story in a logical way that you can follow. There is nothing dadaistic or esoteric about it, some of it is very Monty Pythonesque, some of it's Navy Lark".
"The music is based on the Germainic hypnotic riffs that Hawkwind use, the musical varionics. The whole thing derives from the Velvet Underground primitive rhythms, but also using the technology of music".
Those involved in the album include Hawkwind, Jim Capaldi, Viv Stanshall and the ubiquitous Eno. Adrian Wagner, a keyboard playing descendant of classical composer Richard Wagner, is on the album and in the touring cast. Costumes have been designed by Wendy Dagworthy who created outfits for Roxy Music and Stanshall plays amongst other things Franz Josef Strauss, the former West German Defence Minister.
The drama is in short scenes and the songs are commentaries on those scenes and an extension of them and take you on to the next scene, Calvert points out :-
"Rather like what Bertold Brecht called 'epic theatre of the thirties', I have tried to present the situation in terms that are my interpretation of the events using my humour. The whole thing was laughed at by everybody in Germany except the relatives of the pilots that were killed. The plane wasn't designed to perform all the functions including assault and battery that the Germans wanted it to do, the instruction manual was always changing, the pilots were constantly flying a new experimental plane and the ground staff were only conscripts who couldn't care less about it anyway".
BACK TO THE HOMEPAGE