Robert Calvert

Band members                             Related acts

  line-up (1974-1988)

- Robert Calvert (RIP 1988) -- vocals


  supporting musicians: (1974)

- Twink Adler -- percussion

- Dave Brock -- lead guitar

- Arthur Brown -- vocals

- Jim Capaldi -- spoken word

- Del Dettmar - synthesizers

- Richard Ealing -- spoken word

- Simon King -- drums

- Lemmy Kilmister -- bass

- Tom Mittledorf -- spoken word

- Paul Rudolph -- bass, lead guitar, rhythm guitar

- St John La Baptiste De La Salle (aka Brian Eno) --


- Vivian Stanshall -- spoken word

- Nik Turner -- sax

- Adrian Wagner -- keyboards


  supporting musicians (1975)

- Simon House -- violin

- Sal Maida -- bass 

- Mike Nichols -- drums percussion

- Michael Moorcock -- banjo

- Andy Roberts -- synthesizers, guitar, harmonica, backing vocals,


- Paul Fraser Rudolph -- bass, guitar, backing vocals, percussion
- Nik Turner -- sax
- Brian Turrington  -- bass, piano




- Hawklords (Robert Calvert)

- Hawkwind (Robert Calvert)






Genre: progressive

Rating: 4 stars ****

Title:  Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters

Company: United Artists

Catalog: UAG 29507

Country/State: Pretoria, South Africa

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: gatefold sleeve; with insert

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 5775

Price: $45.00


The late Robert Calvert's best known for his adventures with British progressive/space freaks Hawkind/Hawklords (yes I know he was actually South African by birth).  That said, lots of folks don't know that he recorded quite a few solo sides.


Though he was apparently deeply interested in airplanes, gawd only knows how Calvert came up with the idea for his 1974 solo debut "Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters".  A mixture of music and spoken word segments, the album featured a who's who of Hawkwind alumni including guitarist Dave Brock, Lemmy Kilmister, and Nik Turner.  Offering up a mixture of dark comedy and social commentary, the collection was built around the improbable theme of the West German government's late 1950s decision to rearm its Air Force by purchasing US made Lockheed F-104G Starfighters.  The planes went into service in 1959 and were finally phased out in the mid-1980s, by which time they'd earned the nickname 'widow makers'.  The nickname stemmed from the fact that out of the German fleet of 916 aircraft, some 269 (nearly 30% of the total buy) were lost during the twenty years they were flown in service.  Over 100 German pilots died flying Starfighters.  In case anyone cared, the Canadian military flew a slightly different configuration of the plane and had an even higher rate of losses.  (I'm not a total geek, but my family lived in West Germany during much of the 1960s and 1970s and I have clear memories of seeing German and Canadian Starfighters being flown.)


The narrative segments featured the talents of Calvert, along with Traffic drummer Jim Capaldi, and Bonzo Dog Band cohort Viv Stanshall.  While the narratives were essential to establishing the plotline and kicking it along ('Franz Josef Strauß, Defence Minister, reviews the Luftwaffe in 1958' and 'Aircraft Salesman (A Door in the Foot)'), be forewarned they won't appeal to everyone - in fact if you don't enjoy the Python-esque style of Brit humor you'll probably want to skip this one.  The somewhat obscure subject matter probably also served to limit the collection's appeal.   That said, tracks like 'The Aerospace Inferno', 'The Widow Maker', and 'The Right Stuff' saw Calvert and company turn in some pretty good rockers. 


"Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Franz Josef Strauß, Defence Minister, reviews the Luftwaffe in 1958 (Robert Calvert) - 1:40   rating: * star

With Stanshall turning in his best demented German accent 'Franz Josef Strauß, Defence Minister, reviews the Luftwaffe in 1958' served to explain the desire to rearm the West German air force.  Not particularly funny, but it served as the baseline for the story.

2.) The Aerospace Inferno (Robert Calvert) - 4:35   rating: **** stars

'The Aerospace Inferno' was a nice rocker showcasing Calvert's surprisingly likeable voice and Paul Rudolph's squalling lead guitar.  One of the album's standout tracks.  

3.) Aircraft Salesman (A Door in the Foot) (Robert Calvert) - 1:41   rating: * star

While it won't leave you rolling on the floor in tears, 'Aircraft Salesman (A Door in the Foot)' served up a funny send-up of an American salesman and a cute closer - put a 'G' on the airplane configuration ('G' for Germany).  

4.) The Widow Maker (Dave Brock - Robert Calvert) - 2:42   rating: **** stars

Co--written with Dave Brock 'The Widow Maker' offered up another slice of molten rock.  Propelled by Rudolph's blazing guitar, Lemmy's hyperactive bass, and Nik Turner's shrill sax it's always made me smile to hear myself humming along to 'widow maker' ...  

5.) Two test pilots discuss the Starfighter's performance (Robert Calvert) - 0:41   rating: * star

Another brief narrative segment, 'Two test pilots discuss the Starfighter's performance' really added little to the narrative.  

6.) The Right Stuff (Robert Calvert) - 4:23   rating: **** stars

Showcasing Rudolph's swirling guitar Turner's discordant sax, and Eno's keyboards ,the pounding 'The Right Stuff'' was literally disconcerting and easily the most ominous song on side one.   

7.) Board meeting (seen through a contract lense) (Robert Calvert) - 0:58   rating: * star

The last narrative segment on side one 'Board meeting (seen through a contract lense)' explained how the two sides agreed on the number of airplanes to purchase. 

8.) The Song of the Gremlin (Part One)  (Arthur Brown - Robert Calvert - Adrian Wagner) - 3:21   rating: **** stars

Featuring Arthur Brown's instantly recognizable lead vocals, 'The Song of the Gremlin (Part One)' featured a downright spooky feel - imagine 'Fire' with a mean-spirited edge.  Perfect for capturing the aura of rhe 'gremlins' who caused so many of the plane to crash.  


(side 2)
1.) Ground Crew (last minute reassembly before take off) (Robert Calvert) – 3:17   rating: * star

I guess 'Ground Crew (last minute reassembly before take off)' was intended to show that maintenance training was a contributing factor to some of the accidents.   

2.) Hero with a Wing   (Robert Calvert) – 3:20   rating: *** stars

Not exactly the most uplifting selection, the ballad 'Hero with a Wing' made you pretty happy not to have been flying a Starfighter.   

3.) Ground Control to Pilot (Robert Calvert) – 0:52   rating: * star

Basically little more than a spoken word list of drugs, I'll admit I'm not sure how 'Ground Control to Pilot' fit into the narrative.   

4.) Ejection (Robert Calvert) – 3:35   rating: **** stars

One of the collections more mainstream rockers 'Ejection' was actually a pretty likeable song.  Nice lead guitar from Brock.   Easy to see why it was tapped as a single in a couple of countries.   Good luck finding a copy.  It'll cost you more than the parent LP.

- 1973's 'Ejection' b/w 'Catch a Falling Starfighter' (United Artists catalog number UA-XW-297-W).

5.) Interview (Robert Calvert) – 3:55   rating: * star

Geez, the 'Interview' segment really started to go off the deep end ...   

6.) I Resign (Robert Calvert) – 0:27   rating: * star

Well 'I Resign' clocked in at 27 seconds so it really didn't make much impression one way or the other.   

8.) The Song of the Gremlin (part two) (Arthur Brown - Robert Calvert - Adrian Wagner) – 3:10   rating: * star

'The Song of the Gremlin (part two)' found Arthur Brown back.  Um, Part 1 wasn't nearly as discordant as this segment.  

9.) Bier Garten (Robert Calvert) – 0:38   rating: * star

Another 30 second segment, 'Bier Garten' seemed there to demonstrate Starfighter pilots weren't a particularly happy crowd.   

10.) Catch a Falling Starfighter(Robert Calvert) – 2:54   rating: **** stars

The album closed out with the spare and martial 'Catch a Falling Starfighter'  - quite a haunting way to end the story.


Having listened to the album dozens of times I'm still at a loss to decide whether it was meant to be a slice of dark British humor (imagine Monty Python binging on downers), or a serious piece of investigative research and political commentary.  In a way it doesn't really matter given the end results were so weird, but in a truly beguiling fashion.  


Critics were quite kind to the album, but outside of Hawkwind faithful (and surviving Starfighter pilots), it did little commercially.



The album's been reissued at least twice:  once in 1990 by the British BGO label and then on CD by the Eclectic label (Eclectic catalog number ECLCD1056).  The Eclectic reissue included three bonus tracks:


1.) The Right Stuff (extended version)   ( Robert Calvert) - 8.07

2.) Ejection (single version)   ( Robert Calvert) - 3.47

3.) Catch A Falling Starfighter (single version)   ( Robert Calvert) - 3.00



Sadly Calvert suffered a terminal heart attack in August 1988.  He was only 43 years old. 







Genre: progressive

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Lucky Lief and the Longships

Company: United Artists

Catalog: UAG 29852

Country/State: Pretoria, South Africa

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: gatefold sleeve; UK pressing

Available: 1

Catalog ID: --

Price: $50.00


Robert Calvert followed up 1974's "Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters" with another concept piece.  Produced by Brian Eno, 1975's "Lucky Lief and the Longships" sported a plotline that was equally obscure to the debut, seemingly built on imagining North America had the Vikings succeeded in colonizing the continent.  Goodbye European influences; welcome Viking influences.  I'll let the liner notes do the talking:


"Lief the Lucky, son of Eirik the Red, discovered America five centuries before Christopher Columbus.  The sagas tell how he bought a ship from a merchant named Bjarni Herjolfseson who had been blown wildly off course on his way to Greenland and had signed unknown lands.  But lacked the curiosity to explore them.  Leif set sail in this ship, with a crew of thirty five men and fiund what he called "Vinland."  The land of wine.  Of grapes, and goodness.  America.  Other Vikings made the journey to this land of plenty but their attempt to colonise it were unsuccessful.  Mainly due to hostile natives. (Indians, or "Skraelings" as the Norsemen called them.)  Had the Viking's lines of communication with their home bases been stronger world history might have developed differently in several ways."


Calvert certainly gathered an impressive collection of guests, including Brian Eno, sci-fi writer Michael Moorcock, multi-instrumentalist Andy Roberts, Pink Fairies' Paul Rudolph on bass, and Hawkwind's Nik Turner on sax.  And as much as I wanted to like this set, in spite of repeated efforts, it just didn't strike the same chords as "Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters."  Several of the songs were highly commercial - check out the Beach Boys inspired 'The Lay of the Surfers', the Bo Diddley beat powered 'Magical Potion', or the closing AOR rocker 'Ragna Rock.'  Still, as a complete package the concept was hard to follow-along with.   I've listened to the album repeatedly over the years and I'm still trying to figure out the true plotline.  Parts of the plot I understood, but then the inclusion of the Prohibition-themed  reggae tune 'Volstead O Vodeo Do', the hillbilly track 'Moonshine In the Mountains', or the sound collage 'Phase Locked Loop' leave me shaking my head.  Ultimately as the album bounces through a wide range of musical styles I was left with the impression Calvert didn't see history being all that different had the Vikings colonized North America ... 





Always liked Tony Hyde's album cover featuring a revamped Statute of Liberty in a Viking costume.








"Lucky Lief and the Longships" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) unnamed track (instrumental) (Robert Calvert) - 0:17  rating: * star

I guess the first seventeen seconds constituted a song; well a song fragment - in this case nothing more than what sounded like some hunting horns.

2.) Ship of Fools (Robert Calvert) - 4:17   rating: *** stars

'Ship of Fools' opened up with some unexpectedly heavy metal guitars against the sound of breaking waves. 

3.) The Lay of the Surfers (Robert Calvert) - 3:04   rating: **** stars

Wow, melding a Beach Boys melody to a tale of Viking raiding parties wreaking havoc throughout North America was certainly different.  Who would have thought it was possible to replaced the class Beacg Boys "Barbara-Ann" refrain with "bar bar Barbarians"?  Somehow Calvert came up with the concept and actually pulled it off.  Extra star for just being so odd.

4.) Voyaging To Vinland (Robert Calvert) - 4:14   rating: **** stars

Musically 'Voyaging To Vinland ' found Calvert and company furthering the plotline via a stab at English folk-rock - kind of a Fairport Convention vibe going on.  Sweet vocals as Lief Erickson and company find their ways to Newfoundland a full five centuries before Columbus and other Europeans.  

5.) The Making of Midgard (Robert Calvert) - 2:21  rating: ** stars

A spoken word segment delving in Norse mythology more than I cared about ...  

6.) Brave New World (Robert Calvert) - 3:58   rating: **** stars

Sporting one of the album's prettiest melodies, 'Brave New World' ended side one with a bouncy, keyboard powered tune seemingly celebrating Viking life in Newfoundland ...  Welcome to America.  


(side 2)

1.) Magical Potion (Robert Calvert) - 3:06   rating: **** stars

Maybe I'm over-thinking the concept, but every time I hear the Bo Diddley beat that kicks along 'Magical Potion' I can't help but wonder how it fits into Calvert's narrative of a Norse-dominated American culture.  Like anything else powered by a Bo Diddley beat, this was one of the album's standout performances. 

2.) Moonshine In the Mountains (Robert Calvert) - 2:38  rating: * star

Faux hillbilly music is never a go thing and 'Moonshine In the Mountains' is not an exception to the rule.  Sci-fi writer Michael Moorcock on banjo.

3.) Storm Chant of the Skraelings (Robert Calvert) - 4:52   rating: *** stars

"Skraelings" was apparently a Norse word for the Innuit people and then native American Indians the Vikings encountered when they landed in Newfoundland.  In this age of political correctness there are folks who would point to 'Storm Chant of the Skraelings' as being an example of cultural appropriation - white, South African Calvert borrowing an Indian chant for his own benefit.  Yes, the song was clearly inspired by native American war chants, but it featured a killer guitar solo, even if the rest of the tune was middling.

4.) Volstead O Vodeo Do (Robert Calvert) - 4:13  rating: ** stars

Opening up with some discordant Nik Turner sax, 'Volstead O Vodeo Do' was a reggae tune with Calvert's vocals sounding like they'd been recorded at the bottom of a well.  The liner notes included the following statement: "as performed by Whispering "Rude-Buy" Broomfield and the Anti-Prohibition Jazz Sinfonia of Chicago on the night of their assassination, April 17, 1928'.   Well, that certainly clearly up the narrative for me ...  The Vikings lose the cultural wars to heavy drinking?

5.) Phase Locked Loop (Robert Calvert) - 1:56  rating: * stars

As most folks will have guess from the title, 'Phase Locked Loop' was a sound collage, pulling together various sound effects, snippets from commercial, films and the phrase "flextime."   (Believe it or not, someone on YouTube actually recognized the car commercial as being a real  early-'80s radio commercial from the Southern California-based Cal Worthington Ford dealership.)   The role in furthering the plotline was a mystery to me.  

6.) Ranga Rock (Robert Calvert) - 5:42   rating: *** stars

I was curious and "Ragna" translates to something like "warrior, or Goddess" in Norse ...  'Ragna Rock' was the album's most conventional and commercial tune.  Perhaps the influence of producer Brian Eno, the tune sounded like a slice of Roxy Music-styled funk-rock that would not have sounded out of place on late-'70s radio.