The view, according to Adrian Shaw:
“Bob Calvert was at his peak… and produced some superb lyrics. It’s a shame the Quark line-up didn’t last longer as I think it could have achieved an awful lot more.” (Aural Innovations interview, July 2000).
What they said then:
Despite a generally favourable write-up in Sounds, the production was described as “naff in parts”, though the reviewer went on to declaim the music as “definitive Hawkwind” (“pulsepulsepulse, chantchantchant, dronedronedrone”).
What they say now:
“...there’d always been a minimalist DIY side to Hawkwind… this album was a genuine return to form.” (Record Collector, May 2002)
The view, according to their Peers:
“I wish I’d written this song. This is a song that came out in 1977 and it was completely ignored because it was kind of lost in the tsunami of 1977… but I wish I’d written the lyrics!” J J Burnel (Introducing 'Quark, Strangeness & Charm' at an acoustic set for the 2011 Stranglers Convention)
Tracks and references:
Spirit of the Age
The world’s first test tube baby (Louise Brown) was born in July 1978, a year after the release of this album.
‘oh, for the wings…’ an allusion to the aria ‘For the Wings of a Dove’ by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-47).
The second use of a Roger Zelazny novel as the basis for a Hawkwind song. In a post holocaust North America, a condemned criminal must earn his pardon by delivering a serum to a besieged town. The book was loosely the basis for the film Damnation Alley (Jack Smight, 1977), one of the worst adaptations of an SF novel in Hollywood history.
Dr, Strangelove is a character from Stanley Kubrick’s first SF film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1963). “Strangelove is sexually aroused by the idea of cleansing Holocaust,” notes Peter Nicholls in his Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. The film itself is based on the novel Two Hours to Doom (Peter Bryant, 1958).
Fable of A Failed Race
The imagery is reminiscent of the poem ‘On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer’, wherein John Keats (1795-1821) writes “Then I felt like some watcher of the skies, when a new planet swims into his ken”.
Quark Strangeness & Charm
Albert Einstein (1879-1955) was a German-born physicist and mathematician, noted for his theory of relativity E=MC2. Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) was an early advocate of the theory of the rotation of the Earth around the Sun. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) a founder of modern science, though his views were so heretical to the Catholic Church that the Vatican didn’t absolve him until 1992! Geniuses all, though they had no luck with the opposite sex. Allegedly.
There’s also a reference to Choderlos de Laclo’s novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses about debauchery and sexual morals in 18th century France (filmed, as Dangerous Liaisons in 1959 by Roger Vadim).
'Quark...' 7" Acetate and Picture Sleeve
Hassan I Sahba
Hassan ben Sahba (aka Sheik el Jebel) was exiled from the Persian court in around 1090. Stumbling across the Hassassin Valley he established a fortified encampment. Whipping up his status as a prophet of the True Belief, his band of followers (believed to be the root of the word “assassins”) became feared throughout Asia and Europe. The cult was finally eliminated by the Tartars in 1256.
Black September was the Palestinian terrorist organisation responsible for the killing of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Hassan I Sahba Italian Picture Sleeve and Promo 7"
Forge of Vulcan
Vulcan was the son of Jupiter and Juno in Roman mythology and represented fire and metal working. Vulcan was also the name assigned to a planet believed to exist inside Mercury’s orbit. The name has often been used in science fiction stories, most famously as the home planet of Mr Spock in Star Trek.
Days of the Underground
Che Guevara (1928-1967) was an Argentinian revolutionary who supported Fidel Castro’s invasion of Cuba in 1956. A mythic figure for the political left in the 60s and 70s, “we saw that head held up” refers to the iconic picture of Guevara by Alberto Korda that once appeared on every self-respecting student’s wall.
Real life characters appearing in the song included roadie “John the Bog”, whilst Jeff, noted as being a poet, was a friend of Calvert’s who perished when diving in an outdoor pool.
The song’s title might be a reference to Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground (1864).
The Iron Dream
The title is probably from the SF novel The Iron Dream (Norman Spinrad, 1972). Spinrad’s novel Agent of Chaos is likely to be the inspiration for the name of Brock’s side-project Dave Brock & The Agents of Chaos.
What this author says:
Quark… was Hawkwind’s most cohesive, integrated exploration of modern SF themes to date; indeed, it arguably still has that distinction thirty years later. Like the SF of Moorcock’s New Worlds magazine, it retains an awareness of the threats and challenges of modern society in a scientifically advanced age. Calvert summed it up as being “not quite the age we are in now, but one we are heading for. I always try to write about things that haven’t quite happened yet, but I’m sure will.” Indeed, today its cautionary messages on cloning, the oil-led clash of civilisations and the nuclear weapon debate haven’t dated at all. This author remembers Dave Brock introducing ‘Assassins of Allah’ at Swindon’s Wyvern Theatre by recounting how “Bob Calvert wrote this song years ago and nothing’s changed; the same old problems.” Calvert had written of the petrol-dollar crisis of the 70s, of the Palestinian splinter group Black September, the organisation from within the Palestinian Liberation Organisation that had murdered Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Now it was the 3rd of November 2001; the horrors of 9/11 were less than two months previous. I can still hear the nervous groan of the audience and feel the tension that Bob Calvert, had he lived, could have carved through with the scimitar he’d used as a theatrical prop all those years before. Brock was right; Calvert had achieved his goal back in the day by declaiming an age that was just around the corner, while in this album the band had cut a stone-cold classic that had not only a lyrical relevance but one which in its new wave freshness captured the sonic ‘Spirit of the Age’ as well. In that sense, it probably has a claim to being the reason the band continued onwards: it has a verve that was contemporary and advertised the band’s twisting, changing nature that made them both adaptable and influential.
(Sonic Assassins, 2nd Edition)