Album review: Robert Calvert – The Last Star Fighter (Cleopatra Records) – The nebula city is still sounding like the luminous (green) glow of a cutting edge video coin-game, the glorious thing about the music of Tom Mahler was the sparse sparse beauty of it all, the edgy sound of West London’s future shock, of new wave post punk before most had even thought to call it any kind of combination of those things. It was about the motorik forwardness of it all, who knows where it might have gone if Mahler hadn’t been assassinated in such a cynically cold-blooded manner? Shot on stage at the Hammy O at the end of the gig like that, it was the Hammersmith Odeon wasn’t it? Hype was such a fine novel, it felt rather real to me, personally I used it like a rererence manual in the days of Atom Seed. Hype was such a good album, so perfectly right there, right there at the start of the 80’s, the right stuff baby the right stuff, flying beyond Captain Lockheed and the auto suggestion of it all. Robert Calvert was always ahead of the curve.
This new album of remixes is, I guess, a rediscovery, and new appreciation of the one time Hawklord – and Calvert did fuel so many of the very very best Hawkwind flights, he came back and moved them on when things could have so easily stood still, the Quark, Strangeness and Charm, Hawklords, PXR5 period of Robot and High Rise of brilliance of(Only) The Dead Dreams of the Cold War Kid.
Some of The Last Star Fighter works wonderfully well, almost all of it does, some of it maybe doesn’t quite work so well as most of it does? Lord of The Hornets, one of Calvert’s finest of many many fine moments has maybe turned into just a little too much of a bombastic over-industrialised beast, Rat Scabies making a damned mess or just being brave enough to take it on and add his own metallic KO? Can a remixever really satisfy when the original was so powerful?
One of the most charismatic and cutting-edge visionaries to emerge out of London’s psych rock scene of the ’60s & ’70s, Hawkwind frontman Robert Calvert, gets rediscovered and revamped by a superb collection of nextgen artists!” so reads the hype of the press release, was the writer wearing his Tommy Nutter suit when he dictated the release? Did they decide all the photos to go with this album would look black and white even if they were shot in full colour? The album, so we are told, “Features remixes by indie noise icons Xiu Xiu, chillwave group Small Black, post-punkers Soft Kill plus darkwave duos Xeno & Oaklander and Sixth June as well as veterans A Flock Of Seagulls and The Damned’s Rat Scabies. The album Includes reworked tracks from both Calvert’s solo albums as well as rare demos that offer a glimpse of where Calvert was heading artistically and what he might have sounded like if he was still making music today.
Robert Calvert was only 43 when he flew off on his silver machine, without a doubt there was lots lots (lots) more to come from someone who, outside of the large Hawkwind cult following, never really did get the credit he deserved. Some of his music back there really was groundbreaking as was his writing. As someone called Larry said somewhere on line, “A visionary. Simple as. The scope of his writing was extraordinary. I mean, songs about computer hacking in the early 80’s? The personal tragedy aside, the loss to art on his passing was far more considerable than most realise”.
So what of The Last Star Fighter? What of this new album in the strange nw times of 2021? What of this reworked Calvert material, this album of classics and not heard before rarities? Well The KVB mix of Work Song really gets things right, quite a few of the tracks do – it seems to be that the key to much of Robert Calvert’s work, especially at the end of the 70’s and the brilliantly futuristic Hype period, was that less was always so so much more. You do wonder if Mr Calvert shared the same opinion of Roxy Music and their frontman as Tom Mahler? The Die Krupps mix of Ned Ludd stands out, not sure about how Xiu Xiu have taken their working of Over The Moon, although I strongly suspect Bob would have loved it. But then that’s the thing with a remix album and people playing with things held sacred (Rat was on a hiding to nothing taking on the almost untouchable Lord of The Hornets, brave of him to do so really), and a shame no one took on Evil Rock. Of course this is a fine album, of course it is, the prospect of it when news first broke was exciting enough, it probably is wrong to pick out highlights although the Andre Obin Remix of All Machines Are Quiet deserves a mention. Surely Gary Numan was a fan back there? Must have been, wonder if Flock of Seagulls were at the time? or The Associates? Wonder if any of them accidentally saw that mad looking man with the hawk on his arm on Marc Bolan tea-time children’s hour TV show in the late 70’s? Love the Nite mix of Ambitious, it might sound just a little too fat when compared to the original – it impossible no to do so, to not compare with the original versions that these ears know so so well.
Do like the almost orchestral lushness of the Flock of Seagulls working of Over The Moon. Oh look, you have to love this album, you have to love the Love’s not Time’s foolness of it all, you have to love that here at the start of 2020’s Robert Calvert still sounds like the future, that he still points and hints of things yet to come, the potential of brave new worlds, the dark roads ahead? You have to love that there’s a new album, a new collection of Robert Calvert’s art reworked in such an obviously respectful way, remixed in the right way, the right stuff, and yes that does include the Rat Scabies piece that’s starting to fit rather well now we’ve tried it on a few times. The Antoni Maiovvi Remix of The Luminous Green Glow of the Dials of the Dashboard (At Night) indeed glows with just the right tinge to the dials on the dashboard, the nebula city is still sounding like a video coin-game glow
The Last Star Fighter is a very fine album indeed, but then you knew it would be, how could it not be with all that fine material to remix? no one strayed too far from the original pieces of music. It could have gone wrong, a remix so often does, not here though, this sounds like a collective labour of love, a respectful body of work well crafted, remixed for the right reasons and not just because some A&R man (in his Tommy Nutter suit) thought it would be a good idea – this is a very very fine album, but then pretty much everything the late great Robert Calvert was involved in was. Highly recommended. (sw)
Robert Calvert – The Last Star Fighter (Cleopatra Records) is out on February 15th 2021, more details via the Bandcamp page
And while you’re waiting here;s some history, that interview at the end is rather good…
Did you know Robert Calvert once entered a poetry competition on London’s Capital Radio and won? 1975 it was, “Calvert began his career in earnest by writing poetry. In 1967 he formed the street theatre group Street Dada Nihilismus. At the end of the 1960s he returned to London and joined the city’s flourishing psychedelic subculture. He soon became one of its most active members; joining, amongst other activities, Frendz, one of the leading underground magazines of the time”, which in turm made us particularly happy when he bought early copies of Organ whenever we bumped into him.
The Strangers knew it….
Hey ma take a look at your boy….
And back in 74 irt was sideways through sound
And way back in 1975 with Brian Eno and….
And in 1979…
And way before anyone else thought Dreamland would be cool and Margate the place