Robert Calvert was the mercurial, charismatic frontman for Hawkwind during much of the 1970s, appearing on classic albums such as Space Ritual and Quark, Strangeness And Charm. A self-styled poet of the space age, he conceptualised the band as cosmic warriors in a never-ending battle against the forces of oppression, an image that the band has run with throughout its 53 years.
But before he moved to Ladbroke Grove, epicentre of London’s 60s counterculture, Calvert grew up and spent his formative years in Margate, a seaside town in Kent on England’s south-east coast.
Now, to commemorate one of the town’s most famous sons, local residents have come together to have a blue plaque erected on the side of Arlington House, the brutalist tower block that dominates Margate’s skyline, where Calvert lived with his parents and siblings in the late 60s.
As the man who wrote the words to Silver Machine and turned Hawkwind into the ultimate sci-fi rock band, it’s fitting that this initial staging post in Calvert’s journey into space is immortalised on the plaque as the “Birthplace of Space Rock”.
Calvert’s experience of living in Arlington House directly inspired the Hawkwind song High Rise. With his lyrics describing the tower block as “a human zoo” and “a suicide machine”, it’s fair to say that his time there wasn’t entirely a happy one.
Margate has reinvented itself in recent years as an urbane alternative to Brighton, yet the town was a traditional seaside resort during the post-war period, with its main attraction being Dreamland, the amusement hall and venue where Calvert worked in his youth, and where Hawkwind played on the Space Ritual tour. Also local to the area, the band’s future saxophonist Nik Turner could often be found selling kiss-me-quick hats on the seafront, while electronics man DikMik recalled encountering Calvert on the local buses, loudly declaiming his poetry from the back seat.
After leaving Hawkwind in 1979, Calvert returned to live in the area, settling in nearby Ramsgate. It was from this base that he wrote his last two solo albums Freq and Test-Tube Conceived, before dying from a heart attack in 1988 at the tragically early age of 43. He is buried in Minster cemetery, not far from the old RAF airfields where the fighter jets that used to fill Margate’s skies and Calvert’s boyhood imagination once flew.
The blue plaque will be officially unveiled on Friday 25 November at 1.30pm. In celebration of the event, the Hawklords will later that day play a special one-off show in Margate at Olby's Soul Café, with support coming from tribute band Motorheadz, plus Superheads. Tickets are available for the show here.