Although often described as “overlooked” or “neglected”, Hawkwind’s sometime frontman Bob Calvert’s first solo album actually scraped the album charts and was – along with an afghan coat, a quid deal of red leb and a Mayflower paperback edition of one of Michael Moorcock’s Elric books – an essential possession for the mid 70s adolescent Brit stoner, filed there alongside Warrior On The Edge Of Time, Fish Rising and something pre-Virgin by Tangerine Dream.
It’s a Hawkwind album in all but name, the line-up augmented by various Pink Fairies, Viv Stanshall, Jim Capaldi, Arthur Brown and (uncredited) Brian Eno. It’s popularity with the ‘heads’ can be put down to the Pythonesque sketches that link the songs – surreal skits about Luftwaffe pilots wearing make-up and dodgy Yank jet salesmen that are even funnier when herbally enhanced – but also to four absolute killer space metal songs The Aerospaceage Inferno, The Widowmaker, The Right Stuff and Ejection. It was everything that Hawkwind promised on Silver Machine and Urban Guerilla.
It’s more straight ahead punk rock before there was punk rock metal, alluding to other Calvert songs and stories, moving “sideways through time”, that sort of thing. Calvert, as a boy wanted to be a fighter pilot but a perforated eardrum put paid to that dream. With Hawkwind he lived out his fantasies – a few years later he appeared onstage dressed as some glam rock combination of Biggles and Lawrence Of Arabia. And in these songs he seems to be flying with an afterburner.
The concept is about the Lockheed Starfighter, sold to the revitalised West German Luftwaffe in the 50s to help build the Federal Republic as a bulwark against the commies at the height of the cold war. The crashed and burned in alarming numbers as poorly trained pilots and ground crews earned them the nickname Flying Coffins and The Widowmaker.
Calvert’s songs have an almost JG Ballard-like fascination with the crashing aircraft, eliciting an almost sexual thrill from the disaster. You sense that he didn’t so much want to fly a starfighter as crash it into the ground.
Of all the songs on the album, the greatest is the masterful Ejection, probably the best song ever written about bailing out of a fighter plane. Legendary rock hack Nick Kent, a longtime champion of Calvert and Hawkwind, described Ejection as having the best riff since (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction and although he was no stranger to hyperbole, in this case he was bang on.
The remastering on this edition gives the sound a much needed punch. The only disappointment is the additional tracks: a more complete collection might have included The Widow’s Song, planned for inclusion with Nico on vocals, though eventually recorded by Calvert and his girlfriend just before his untimely death.
That’s a petty quibble though: a brilliant monument to the great psychedelic warrior poet of the English underground.