Hawkwind – Levitation (1980)

FrontCover1Hawkwind are an English rock band known as one of the earliest space rock groups. Since their formation in November 1969, Hawkwind have gone through many incarnations and have incorporated many different styles into their music, including hard rock, progressive rock and psychedelic rock. They are also regarded as an influential proto-punk band. Their lyrics favour urban and science fiction themes.

Many musicians, dancers and writers have worked with the band since their inception. Notable musicians who have performed in Hawkwind include Lemmy, Ginger Baker, Robert Calvert, Nik Turner and Huw Lloyd-Langton. However, the band are most closely associated with their founder, singer, songwriter and guitarist Dave Brock, who is the only remaining original member.

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Hawkwind are best known for the song “Silver Machine”, which became a number three UK hit single in 1972, but they scored further hit singles with “Urban Guerrilla” (another Top 40 hit) and “Shot Down in the Night”. The band had a run of twenty-two of their albums charting in the UK from 1971 to 1993.

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Levitation is the tenth studio album by English rock group Hawkwind, released in 1980. It peaked at No. 21 on the UK Albums Chart.

At the time of its release, band leader Dave Brock stated: “with Levitation we’ve come full circle back to the style of our debut album. And that was the record which totally expressed our ideals and what we stood for.” It is their first studio album after the departure of lead vocalist and lyricist Robert Calvert, and lyrics here tend to be cursory and the number of instrumentals is increased. It is also the only studio Hawkwind album to feature ex-Cream drummer Ginger Baker and first for ex-Gong keyboardist Tim Blake, who would later return to the band and play on 2010’s Blood of the Earth.

The band, who consisted of the same personnel that had recorded the previous album Live Seventy Nine, entered The Roundhouse studios in July and August 1980 to record this album. The studio had been newly equipped with a 3M Digital Mastering System by Bronze Records, making this one of the earliest rock albums to be recorded with the burgeoning digital recording technology.

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During the recording, Dave Brock became dissatisfied with drummer Simon King’s inability to keep consistent tempo, claiming that “he couldn’t play his drums properly ‘cos he was taking bad drugs”, although King stated “I simply wanted to get away. I was very heavily into drinking… and [after leaving I was] fixed on getting my family life together”. They considered using a drum machine that was in the studio, but no one knew how to use it. Guitarist Huw Lloyd-Langton’s wife Marion, who was press officer for Ginger Baker’s manager Roy Ward’s company, suggested approaching the drummer to contribute as a session player. He accepted the offer and completed his tracks in two days, surpassing expectations. Lloyd-Langton observed that “he breezed through [“Space Chase”] straight away. I don’t think Simon could have played that… Ginger fitted the band like a glove. His style was just right for it.” The band asked the drummer to remain with them, and despite having previously declared to the press his intentions of joining the newly reformed Atomic Rooster, he “found the atmosphere during the sessions so fantastic that I immediately decided to stay with Hawkwind. For me it’s not just my umpteenth group, I’m determined to give it everything I’ve got. Hawkwind always have made timeless music, but you can definitely still hear the eighties in it.”

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“Levitation” had been played during the band’s previous UK Winter 1979 tour and, although not included on the live album Live Seventy Nine, a bootleg version was later released on the Complete ’79 album. A live version from the Levitation tour was released on the album This is Hawkwind, Do Not Panic. Terry Bickers named his band Levitation after this album.The song was also covered on My Kantele by Amorphis.

The band had wanted “Motorway City” to be released as the album’s single, but the record company preferred “Who’s Gonna Win the War?” instead. The track features lead guitarist Lloyd-Langton using an E-bow. It had been performed on the band’s previous UK Winter 1979 tour and included on the Live Seventy Nine album. A live version of this song from the Levitation tour was later issued in 1983 as a single from the Zones album.

“Psychosis” is an instrumental synthesiser piece by Harvey Bainbridge. It was included on the Levitation tour, a version being included, but not listed, on the album This Is Hawkwind, Do Not Panic.

The title of “World of Tiers” is a reference to the World of Tiers series of science fiction novels by Philip José Farmer. An instrumental, it is reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well”.[8] It is another song that had been performed on the band’s previous UK Winter 1979 tour, a bootleg version was later released on the Complete ’79 album. A live version of this song from the Levitation tour was issued on the Hawkwind Anthology collection.

“Prelude” is an instrumental synthesiser piece by Tim Blake.

“Who’s Gonna Win The War?” was released as a single from this album backed by the non-album track “Nuclear Toy”. It too had been performed on the band’s previous UK Winter 1979 tour, a bootleg version was later released on the Complete ’79 album.

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“Space Chase” is a fast-paced instrumental. A live version from the Levitation tour was released on the album This is Hawkwind, Do Not Panic.

The title “The 5th Second of Forever” references Robert Calvert’s 1972 Space Ritual poem “The Ten Seconds of Forever”, and it was subtitled “from the film” on the album as a joke by the band, the song not having been used by any film. It features a nylon stringed acoustic guitar intro and outro by Lloyd-Langton. A live version of this song from the Levitation tour was issued on the This is Hawkwind, Do Not Panic album under the title “Circles”. Its lyrics have also been used under the title “Circles”, although with no musical similarity, overdubbed on Hawkwind at Watchfield Festival 1975 (Weird Tape 3) and on Dave Brock demos 1982 (Weird Tape 7).

“Dust of Time” was performed during the Levitation tour, and an edited instrumental version with an intro taken from the outro of “The 5th Second of Forever” was issued on the album Zones under the title “The Island”.(wikipedia)

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An excellent album that thoroughly dismisses any fears that recent personnel upheavals might have damaged Hawkwind in the slightest. Recorded with veteran drummer Ginger Baker as an absolutely astonishing replacement for the departing Simon King and with Huw Lloyd Langton clearly reveling in the guitar hero status accorded by the watching ranks of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, Levitation captures Hawkwind at their most confident and brash. Certainly the mighty “Who’s Gonna Win the War” has few peers within even the classic lineup’s vocabulary, with its drift out of Tim Blake’s brief but beautiful “Prelude,” a transition to be proud of. Feeling ever so slightly churlish, one could point to the absence of Robert Calvert and Nik Turner as a decisive blow in the songwriting departure — there is certainly a hint of style over substance hanging around a few of the lesser numbers (“Space Chase,” “World of Tiers,” “5th Second of Forever”).

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But the relentless crunch that occasionally deputizes for melody has excitement of its own, especially when paired with a Baker/Harvey Bainbridge rhythm section that simply doesn’t know when to quit. Just missing the U.K. Top 20 upon release in November 1980, Levitation has since fallen into a degree of disrepute on account of its contents’ ubiquity in the world of less than stellar Hawkwind compilations. Return to the original disc, however, and that reputation is certainly not deserved. (by Dave Thompson)

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Personnel:
Harvey Bainbridge (bass, keyboards, background vocals)
Ginger Baker (drums)
Tim Blake (keyboards, background vocals)
Dave Brock (vocals, guitar, keyboards)
Huw Lloyd-Langton (guitar, background vocals)
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bonus tracks from the “Hawklords Rockfield Sessions”, 1979:
Keith Hale (keyboards (on 17.)
Simon King (drums)
Mick Smith – drums on 10.)
Steve Swindells (keyboards)

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Tracklist:
01. Levitation (Brock) 5.47
02. Motorway City (Brock) 6.45
03. Psychosis (Bainbridge) 2.25
04. World Of Tiers (Bainbridge/Lloyd-Langton) 3.16
05. Prelude (Blake) 1.41
06. Who’s Gonna Win The War? (Brock) 4.44
07. Space Chase (Lloyd-Langton) 3.11
08. The 5th Second Of Forever (Brock/Lloyd-Langton) 3.27
09. Dust Of Time (Brock(Bainbridge/Lloyd-Langton) 6.24
+
bonus tracks from the “Hawklords Rockfield Sessions”, 1979
10. Valium 10 (full version) (Bainbridge/Brock/Smith/Swindells) 7.52
11. Time Of… (Bainbridge/Brock/King/Swindells) 4.11
12. Who’s Gonna Win The War? (Hawklords version) (Brock) 4.52
13. Douglas In The Jungle (Bainbridge/Brock/King/Swindells) 6.53
14. British Tribal Music (Bainbridge/Brock/King/Swindells) 3.56
15. Nuclear Toy (single B-side) (Brock/Lloyd-Langton) 3.00
16. Who’s Gonna Win The War? (single A-side) (Brock) 3.39
17. Brainstorm (live 1980 (Turner) 5.47

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Dave Brock

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