Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Musical Epiphanies #1: Levitated in Paris

The initial expectation on the music scene surrounding the band Levitation was enormous, featuring as they did indie-guitar maestro Terry Bickers fresh from great hopes the House Of Love. There were tales of pharmecutically induced money burning in the back of the tour bus before he was unceremoniously dumped at a train station to make his own way back to reality.

Early solo demos showed a great deal of promise that not only did he have a great singing voice, but that he could write soft appealing songs too. It could almost be the House Of Love continued. The record company guys were drooling with anticipation, waiting to hear more, and queuing up with their chequebooks (in the days when record companies HAD chequebooks ha ha).

However....something profound (and pretty beautiful ?) must have happened to turn this plan off course and instead when Bickers emerged after a year or so blinking into the spotlight, it was with a bunch of self-styled `angry hippies' whose purpose was nothing less than to leave the planet, offer their souls to the cosmos and probably NOT be home in time for tea.

At the tail end of 1990 they played their first gig at The White Horse in Hampstead, a regular haunt of ours. It was likely to be as packed as a box full of bees, so I gave it a was going to be so busy that you couldn't even get tickets for the pavement outside the venue.

They alienated almost everybody instantly ! "Prog Rock" wailed the NME, "write a tune" whined the Melody Maker (...and from later on, Steve Lamacq talking about our other good friends `Eat': "Eat exist at the frontiers of rock, but SENSIBLY so, unlike the orbiting Levitation") Owners of chequebooks expecting House Of Love MkII quietly slunk away...leaving them to begin their career on the `less than major label but with a heart of gold' Ultimate Records. (Oh how Maurice Bacon laughed when they asked him to bike over a copy of the newly pressed `Coppelia' E.P.)

I didn't hear Levitation live until the Honey Smugglers supported them on a couple of dates in April/May 1991 as Ultimate label-mates. The biggest of these dates was at La Locomotive in Paris right underneath the famous Moulin Rouge.

Honey Smugglers Paris May 1991: L-R Steve Cox, Ged Murphy, Steve Dinsdale, Chris Spence

Being in a district where much important business took place, the club had a strange arrangement with the surrounding offices that soundchecking for that night's show would take place BEFORE normal office hours. At 7-9am ! IN THE MORNING. This is something I have never encountered before or since. Imagine the scene, a huge club, tables groaning with coffee, croissants and orange juice, my bandmates barely awake after three hours sleep and unused to rock and rolling at such an ungodly hour, looking upon the ravaged individuals of Levitation, who it seemed had beaten the pain of the early start by simply choosing not to sleep at all.

Towards the end of their soundcheck, they're basically dotting the `i's and crossing the `t's (there are a couple of each in `Levitation') and they play through a tune I later learn to be `Attached'. Then one of them, probably Terry, suggests that they play `Bedlam' and finish up. If `Bedlam' were a three minute pop tune during which the final level checks could be made then fair enough, but no....what I was about to witness was a musical epiphany which had me rooted to the spot, wondering if this was really happening. It is perhaps also the only time I have ever wanted a band to keep soundchecking at the expense of our time.

The piece is based around a slow, spacious, mid-paced bass theme with Terry's trademark soft vocals intoning the instruction "don't question everything".... except that in the middle, there is a section where the song literally takes off into the most controlled, determined, frightening attempt to leave the ground. In that moment I understood why they were called Levitation. A glorious droning cacophony of jet engines, with Dave Francolini one step nearer to demolishing his drum skins at every stroke, getting faster and faster as they hurtle towards the vortex, with Bic Hayes running around frenetically mouthing strange languages to the gods, and Terry B swooping in the centre stage. It took over the whole building which I swear was about to lift off the ground. It was an out of body experience which seemed to last for a glorious eternity, like the best orgasm, before finally returning, spent, back to the relative calm of the song's conclusion.

Such was the intensity that I was speechless for several minutes, I could only shake my head in disbelief. I then had to remind myself that this was a 8 o'clock in the morning.

When the Smugglers finally got their turn to I approached Dave Francolini to pay him the courtesy of thanking him for the use of his kit, which we were sharing. He had about an inch left of a large bottle of Jack Daniels and generously offered me a slug. It was a bit early, even for me.

L'Hotel Du Rock'n'Roll, Paris May 1991:

L-R Terry Bickers, Lawrence O'Keefe (Levitation)
Mark Browning (Belltower), Hungover Road Manager,
Bic Hayes (Levitation)

Check out the fearsome studio version here then go buy their albums if you can get them.

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