Band members Related acts
- Robert Calvert (RIP 1988) -- vocals
- 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
- Hawklords (Robert Calvert)
- Hawkwind (Robert Calvert)
Rating: 4 stars ****
Title: Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters
Country/State: Pretoria, South Africa
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Comments: gatefold sleeve; 1990 reissue; small tear on front cover
Catalog ID: 5775
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.
Lockheed and the Starfighters" track listing:
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.
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.
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