Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Levitation - Tracks & References

The view according to Harvey Bainbridge:

“I think the final result was quite classy, almost Hawklords-ish. The thing about rock music is that it works on analogue, because there is lots of noise, but when you put it on a digital machine it’s so clean that the tones have to be good. In that sense, Levitation does well, it’s a pioneering album.” (Interviewed for Sonic Assassins)

What they said then:

“Bronze informed me that this was the best Hawkwind album EVER,” wrote Malcolm Dome. Whilst he considered this somewhat overstated, Dome heard “a return to the style of the early 70s… blistering sci-fi imagery [used] as an angry searchlight.’ Particularly praising the “agoraphobic wilderness of ‘Motorway City’,’ and “the desolate synthesisers of the J.G. Ballard-esque ‘Dust of Time’,” Dome rated Levitation as “an album of the year.”

What they say now:

“The album is filled with excellent riffs and melodies,” says SavageHippie.com, reserving its criticism for the lyrics. “I’m not saying these are bad lyrics, mind you,” they say, having quoted from ‘Who’s Gonna Win The War’. “They just aren’t as clever as when Calvert was in the band.”

Tracks and references:


Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable notes the ability of floating unaided in mid-air as a not uncommon attribute of Roman Catholic Saints and recounts the legend of Joseph of Cupertino (1603-63) who levitated so frequently that he was banned from the choir and had to practice his devotions in private. 

Motorway City

“Where you exit on the right”. Not a song about driving in England, then?

In the early 80s, during live performances of this song the light show would include slides of flying dragons. A possible link to Roger Zelazny’s novel Roadmarks (1979), which includes a metaphysical highway that has routes off into the past and future, patrolled by such creatures.


Psychosis is defined as severe mental derangement involving the whole personality.

World of Tiers

The collective title for a series of five novels by Philip Jose Farmer, commencing with The Maker of the Universe (1965); they are set in pocket universes created by God-like beings with unimaginably advanced technological abilities. 

“Harvey was playing a riff and Huw & Ginger came out with the rest of the music spontaneously.” (Marion Lloyd-Langton)


Who’s Gonna Win the War

‘Already weeds are writing…’ is cannibalised from Brock’s earlier song ‘We Took the Wrong Step Years Ago’, though without the busking!

Space Chase

“Huw was inspired to write ‘Space Chase’ from the ambiance of Bronze Studios, Chalk Farm.’ (ML-L)

The Fifth Second of Forever

Noted as being from the film of the same name, but don’t spend time searching your copy of Halliwells, this was fictitious. 

In the Calvert poem “The Ten Seconds of Forever”, the protagonist spends the fifth second thinking of “The vermilion deserts of Mars, the jeweled forests of Venus”, common imagery in 1930s SF. This track is also known as ‘Circles’.

Dust of Time

The middle, instrumental, section of this track has often been played live as a stand-alone number entitled ‘The Island’, possibly named after a collection of poems by Francis Brett Young.

From the same era:

Nuclear Toy

B-side to 7" release of ‘Who’s Gonna Win The War’. The lyrics allude to nuclear plants such as Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, site of the Three Mile Island nuclear facility which, in March 1979 had a bit of ‘Meltdown’ trouble, and also Windscale, the name of Sellafield before they realized that public relations could be a good thing. ‘Strontium 90’ is a by-product of the fission of uranium and plutonium in nuclear reactors.

Heard on the tour:

Shot Down in the Night

“It’s a lot more personal than you’d think – it’s about rejection (rejecting, not being rejected). It’s also political, about the cultural big brother – and clones, people who just subscribe to something so they’ll belong.” (Steve Swindells)

New Jerusalem

Alludes directly to William Blake’s Preface to Milton (1778) which was set to music a century later by Charles Parry and subsequently became a standard part of The Last Night of the Proms. 

Dangerous Visions

Written by Tim Blake’s mid-tour replacement Keith Hale, for his band Blood Donor, for whom he'd also written ‘It’s A Mystery’, later to appear on Toyah’s Four From Toyah EP. “Dave heard a tape of Keith Hale’s stuff,” Huw Lloyd Langton told Simon Veness during an interview at the Lewisham Odeon “He particularly liked this track, ‘Dangerous Visions’, and suggested we have a go at it.”

Dangerous Visions is a 1967 new wave science fiction anthology edited by Harlan Ellison and coincidentally featuring work by SF authors who would have an influence on Hawkwind songs (J G Ballard, Roger Zelazny, Philip Jose Farmer). Again Dangerous Visions appeared in 1972, while a final volume, The Last Dangerous Visions, much-mooted but never published, possibly ranks as the greatest lost title in science fiction history.

Around the same time...

It wasn’t just Hawkwind who were preoccupied with the dangers of nuclear radiation (see ‘Who’s Gonna Win the Win’ and ‘Nuclear Toy’). Hawk-refugee Nik Turner was also warning of its risks in a 1979 7” single with some interesting bedfellows, as I noted in a space-rock collectables feature for Record Collector a few years back…

RADIO ACTORS Nuclear Waste / Digital Love (Charly Records CYS 1058, 1979) 

Space-rock supergroup! Nik Turner! Steve Broughton! Steve Hillage! Gilli Smyth! Mike Howlett! And, err, Sting. Prices are all over the place on this item, probably because of Sting’s involvement. Turner: “We had some studio time in London. Mike Howlett had been working with Sting and the Police and brought him down to sing on it. For the b-side we used this old compressor that was outside the studio to create the rhythm track. We felt really strongly about the nuclear thing and tried to align ourselves with Friends of the Earth. We wanted them to organise a demonstration but they said, ‘We can’t have demonstrations unless we agree it with the police,’ which I thought was a bit limp.” ‘Do you find it attractive to be radioactive / emitting killing rays?’ Well, put like that, probably not.

1 comment:

  1. Great piece Ian. This particular release has always had a very special place in my heart. Gleaned some new info on the release from this blog. thanks.