Levitation (band)

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Levitation
Levitation Capitol.jpg
Levitation, 1991
Background information
Origin London, England
Genres Alternative rock
Indie rock
Psychedelic rock
Years active 1989–1994
Labels Chrysalis Records
Rough Trade Records
Capitol Records
Associated acts Dark Star
The House of Love
Cardiacs
Dragons
Zag and the Coloured Beads
Ring
The Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra
Past members Terry Bickers
Christian Hayes
David Francolini
Laurence O'Keefe
Robert White

Levitation were an English rock band fronted by ex-House of Love guitarist Terry Bickers. Levitation's music and attitude challenged an early 1990s UK alternative music scene dominated by shoegazing and Madchester.

Levitation had a strong psychedelic element and a tendency towards complex music and unusual public pronouncements, which meant that the band were often credited - or accused - by the music press with attempting to rehabilitate progressive rock. In fact, Levitation's influences were diverse and included Cardiacs, Krautrock, Television, XTC, Killing Joke, Wire, Zappa, Swans, Devo, Gentle Giant, Faust, Public Image Limited, Echo & the Bunnymen and Julian Cope.[citation needed]

History[edit]

Origins and first lineup[edit]

After an acrimonious departure from the House of Love in 1989, guitarist Terry Bickers teamed up with former Something Pretty Beautiful drummer David Francolini.[1] Based in London, they formed Levitation with a group of like-minded and established musicians - second guitarist Christian Hayes (formerly with Ring, Cardiacs, and The Dave Howard Singers), keyboard player/occasional guitarist Robert White (ex-Zag and the Coloured Beads, Ring), Johnny T (a violinist from The Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra), and bass player Joe Allen. The band soon set off to tour France supporting Ride, and Belgium supporting Galaxie 500.[2]

Upon returning from Europe, Levitation signed to the small independent label Ultimate records, and in February 1991 released their first single, "Nadine", issued with additional tracks as the Coppelia EP, making "single of the week" in Melody Maker, only to be scorned in the New Musical Express by journalist Barbara Ellen.

Initially, Levitation received a lot of publicity from the music press because of Terry Bickers' reputation as an eccentric talent,[3] and his fondness of various conspiracy theories.[citation needed] His career in the House of Love, and standing as guitar hero to a generation of Indie fans, put Levitation in the media spotlight from the start. The band were dropped from a tour supporting Transvision Vamp, supposedly because their equipment required too much stage space, but other reports suggested that the headliners were worried about being overshadowed by Levitation.[3] The band persisted in prioritising their music before their image. In an interview with Andrew Smith in Volume magazine, Bickers explained that the band would like to "remain faceless for as long as possible. Maybe we'll take to wearing masks." [4]

After the release of Coppelia the band underwent its first line-up change when both Johnny T and Joe Allen left. Laurence O'Keefe (ex-Jazz Butcher) was drafted in to play bass.

Second lineup (Coterie and Need For Not)[edit]

Through 1991, Levitation supported bands such as Pere Ubu, All About Eve, the Psychedelic Furs, Hawkwind, and in 1992 The Sugarcubes, and earned a reputation as a hard-working live act with energetic performances. Levitations's live set usually kicked off with an adrenaline-fueled cover of Zag and the Coloured Beads' "Sweaty Thing", which in later gigs would be replaced by the band's own breakneck opener "Twice".

Levitation's second EP on Ultimate, After Ever, was released in August 1991 to more critical acclaim, and again the band made single of the week in Melody Maker where it was described as "blessed genius." The video for "Firefly", the first track on the EP, pictured the band levitating over a golden field.

In September 1991, two more tracks, "Squirrel" and "It's Time", were released on 7" via the new Rough Trade mail-order singles club. In November a taster compilation album, Coterie, was released on Capitol Records in the US. It included some of the tracks from the first two EPs and the Squirrel 7". The band also crossed the Atlantic for the first time for a mini-tour of the USA, playing in Los Angeles and New York.

At the end of the year, Levitation left Ultimate and signed a deal with Rough Trade, and released their third EP, World Around (a homophone for "whirled around"), in February 1992. World Around reached the top five in the UK Indie Chart.

Leviation's first studio album, Need For Not, appeared on 4 May 1992 (the adverts for the album proclaiming "May the Fourth be with you"). "The Chain With No Name" independent record stores sold the album along with a limited edition 7" featuring the track "Cutwater" on one side and an etching of a heart by David Francolini and Joanna Peacock on the other.[2] The album featured a guest appearance from former Magazine guitarist John McGeoch.[1] Throughout the summer the band toured with Cardiacs,[2] including playing at Reading Festival.

Leviation were sacked from their slot supporting The Fall after three gigs, supposedly after Mark E Smith took exception to the amount of time and dry ice that Levitation took in their sound check. Smith allegedly called the band "a bunch of fucking poofs".[5]

Following the collapse of Rough Trade, Levitation signed to Chrysalis, and in April 1993 released their fourth EP, Even When Your Eyes Are Open. A second album, Meanwhile Gardens, was planned to be released in two parts, the first installment in summer, the second in autumn.[2]

Terry Bickers quits[edit]

After playing a bad-tempered fifty-minute set at Tufnell Park Dome in north London on May 14, 1993, where the band were co-headlining with Eat, Terry Bickers surprised the audience and the rest of the band by announcing his intentions to leave. Among his onstage comments and announcements were "No corporation is going to stop us, gas is our business, cars are our business, the music business is our business.." (paraphrasing Killing Joke's 1990 track Age Of Greed); "This is the last time you'll see me for a bit"; and (most infamously) "Levitation are a lost cause as far as I can tell. We've completely lost it haven't we? Haven't we?" [2][3]

A letter to the fan club from Christian Hayes described Bickers' departure as "an unfortunate but necessary stick in the spokes... Terry no longer wishes to be in Levitation, feeling no excitement for the material and therefore uncomfortable within the band." [2] The band maintained that Bickers' departure was positive for all involved. A later statement on 1 June read, "Terry Bickers (the one who stood in the middle) has parted company with Levitation... We believe the circumstances in which we now find ourselves presents us with the oil to lubricate our gears."

Years later, Bickers would speak about his departure with regret and shame, but claim that his mounting depression had had much to do with the manner of his departure. "It was a crap thing to do. It was unfair on the people that came to see us and on everyone in the band ... The reason I left the way I did was because I didn't want to give anyone the opportunity to talk me round."[6]

The third lineup (with Steve Ludwin) and final split[edit]

In the aftermath of Bickers' abrupt departure the Meanwhile Gardens LP was temporarily shelved, and scheduled appearances, including the Phoenix Festival (headlining the Powerhaus stage), and a support slot at The Cure's Great Expectations Finsbury Park concert, were cancelled.[2]

Despite rumours that the band had asked Julianne Regan from All About Eve to take over the front spot,[2] the band eventually selected Steve Ludwin (from the band Some Have Fins) as the new frontman in August 1993. The new line-up played a series of gigs at the Splash Club (at the Water Rats in King's Cross) during May and June 1994.[2] A subsequent letter to the fan club stated, "The storm has passed and the voyage may begin again." The reception for Ludwin and the new-look band was mixed, but most fans were glad to have Levitation back and playing.[2]

Back in the studio, Ludwin recorded new lead vocals for much of the Meanwhile Gardens material and it seemed that the band were back on track. However, despite a promising start the new line-up were plagued by continuing and escalating rows in the studio and rehearsal rooms. This ultimately and fatally undermined the band, and (to the dismay of their devout fans) Levitation finally split up for good in October 1994.

Plans were announced in winter 1995 to mix the second half of Meanwhile Gardens and release it with the first half as originally planned. These never came to fruition. A nine-track version of the album (featuring Ludwin on lead vocals, but with plenty of Terry Bickers' vocals and guitar parts retained in the mix) was eventually released through Festival Records in Australia and was followed by two EPs. However, much of the band's material has remained unreleased.

Post-Levitation[edit]

Terry Bickers (Cradle, Monkey 7, etc)[edit]

Immediately after leaving Levitation in 1993, Bickers teamed up with guitarist Clive Giblin to form Paradise Estate. Although the project did not last and Giblin would depart, it interested Warner Brothers enough to offer Bickers a new record deal. Bickers would later reunite with Giblin in a new band project, Cradle (which would also feature Bickers' partner Caroline Tree). Although Cradle recorded most of an album for Warner Brothers during 1994, various problems split the band and the album was abandoned. Bickers and Tree revived Cradle (with a new third partner, guitarist Ian Mundwyler) long enough to record and release the Baba Yaga album in 1996, but the band had dissolved again before the end of the year.

By 1999, Bickers was recording with another project, the Brighton-based Monkey 7. In 2003, he reformed The House of Love with Guy Chadwick, touring and releasing a comeback album called Days Run Away.[3]

The reformed House Of Love released the album 'She Paints Words In Red' in 2013, playing a number of UK shows.

Christian Hayes, Laurence O'Keefe, David Francolini (Dark Star, Mikrokosmos & Dragons)[edit]

Circa 1998, after a spell working with Heather Nova, Christian Hayes, David Francolini and Laurence O'Keefe formed a new band called Dark Star.[1] They released a number of EPs and the 1999 album Twenty Twenty Sound on EMI. Despite some success and critical acclaim, they split up in 2001. O'Keefe then embarked on a session career, while Hayes briefly played guitar in the Pet Shop Boys live band and subsequently released two solo albums under the name Mikrokosmos. Francolini re-surfaced in 2007 with a new band, Dragons.

Robert White (The Milk And Honey Band)[edit]

Robert White went on to front the Brighton-based The Milk And Honey Band. Several independent albums have been released and currently the band is releasing new material through Andy Partridge's APE label.

Steve Ludwin (Pura Vida, Carrie, Little Hell etc.)[edit]

Steve Ludwin went on to form the band Pura Vida, which released several EPs on Org Records and subsequently evolved into Carrie (which featured EMF's Zac Foley on bass and released one album, Fear of Sound, on Island in 1998). Foley returned to EMF in 2001, and Ludwin and Carrie guitarist Dennis Dicker then formed Little Hell which in turn released the Demonic Advisory Centre album on Double Dragon Records in 2002. While Ludwin was still with Little Hell, he auditioned unsuccessfully to be the lead singer for Velvet Revolver.

Following Little Hell's split in 2004, Ludwin moved into songwriting and production. He has been heavily involved in the careers of recent rock acts Betty Curse, The Crimea and Good Shoes, as well as producing an MTV Europe show called "Annoying Americans". (He also wrote a song called "Warmer Than Fire" which later became a hit for Ash.)[7]

Reissues[edit]

In 2007, David Francolini mentioned the possibility of a Levitation re-issue program on Rough Trade (including the original, never released, version of Meanwhile Gardens). However in 2009, David explained that Rough Trade was bought by Beggars Banquet who weren't interested in doing the re-release.

Members[edit]

  • Joe Allen - bass (1990–1991)
  • Terry Bickers - vocals, guitar (1990–1993)
  • David Francolini - drums (1990–1994)
  • Christian Hayes (aka Bic) - guitar, backing vocals (1990–1994)
  • Laurence O'Keefe - bass (1990–1994)
  • Steve Ludwin - vocals, guitar (1993–1994)
  • Johnny T - violin (1990–1991)
  • Robert White - keyboards, bass, backing vocals (1990–1994)

Quotes from the band[edit]

"You can be progressive without being pompous. It sounds like a cliché but I don't care - we are a progressive band and we're in the here and now." - Terry Bickers interviewed by Steve Sutherland Melody Maker April 27, 1991.

"Mark E Smith punched his sound engineer in the face and told him to turn our fucking power off. The guy is a rotten cunt. I can't imagine how someone so bitter as he is has retained so much credibility. He really is the Caligula of Pop." - on Mark E Smith of The Fall

"If people are tenacious enough they can dance to anything." - Christian Hayes interviewed by Steve Sutherland Melody Maker April 27, 1991.

"I'd like to come back as an otter." - Terry Bickers

"We're into positive negativism. You have to be aware of all the negative things that are going on, all the grimness, and then turn it all around... It's like John Lydon said, 'Anger is an energy.'" - Terry Bickers interviewed by Steve Sutherland, Melody Maker, April 27, 1991.

Quotes from the press[edit]

"Levitation are all the bands you ever wished for.." - Andy O'Reilly in Lime Lizard March 1992

"This is speeding, hallucinating, rampaging, brilliance. You can take your Loops, Spacemen and AR Kanes and drop them in the river like an armful of unwanted kittens." - Melody Maker on the Coppelia EP (single of the week)

"If we're going to be serious about the Nineties then Levitation are the sort of group we should be exalting." - David Stubbs in Melody Maker reviewing Need For Not

"Are Levitation too far out? While other bands take it one step at a time, have they leapt into space and severed the umbilical cord?" - Melody Maker

"There's a chorus of sorts, and stuff about animals turning blue in your stomach, but it's Dave's ludricously-athletic drumming that ultimately blows your mind. It's gloriously frenetic, and so fucking quick off the mark it'll take a few plays just to tame the blur into some kind of image." - Melody Maker on World Around

"Bunch of hippies. Write a song next time." - Melody Maker on Squirrel

Discography[edit]

Singles and EPs[edit]

  • "Nadine" / "Smile" ltd. (1000) 7" Ultimate (February 1991)
  • Coppelia EP 12" and CD Ultimate (February 1991)
  • After Ever EP 12" and CD Ultimate (August 1991)
  • "Firefly" / "Attached" ltd. (1000) 7" Ultimate (August 1991)
  • "Squirrel" / "It's Time" 7" Rough Trade singles club (September 1991) (some mispressed with Mercury Rev track on b-side)
  • World Around EP 7", 12", CD, Rough trade in UK (February 1992)
  • World Around 12", CD, cassette Capitol in USA, (February 1992) EMI in Germany (February 1992) {Capitol cassette existence is unconfirmed}
  • "Cloudshine" on Volume CD magazine No.3 (May 1992)
  • Even When Your Eyes Are Open EP (April 1993) Chrysalis UK, Capitol USA
  • King of Mice EP EMI, Germany (1994)
  • Chain by Day EP Festival Records, Australia (1994)

Albums[edit]

  • Coterie - CD (50,000 pressed) only on Capitol Records, USA (November 1991) a taster compilation of the first two EPs and the "Squirrel" single.
  • Coterie LP, CD (ltd. 5000) Ultimate (March 1992)
  • Need For Not LP (May 1992) Rough Trade/Capitol (came with CWNN ltd. 7" Cutwater and etching) (UK No. 45)[8]
  • Meanwhile Gardens - Festival Records, Australia only (1994)

Cassette albums[edit]

  • Demos 1989-1991, fanclub cassette (ltd. run of 800).
  • Live at Reading University 29 February 1992, (fanclub cassette ltd. run of 800).

Radio Sessions[edit]

  • Radio 1, Mark Goodier's Evening Session May 1992 "Resist", "Pieces of Mary", "Evergreen", "Hangnail"
  • Radio 1, Mark Goodier's Evening Session July 1992 "Sacred Lover", "Hieronymous Bop" (Terry and Bob playing acoustically).

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Strong, Martin C. (2003) The Great Indie Discography, Canongate, ISBN 1-84195-335-0
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Biography on Levitation fanpage
  3. ^ a b c d Larkin, Colin (1998) The Virgin Encyclopedia of Indie & New Wave, Virgin Books, ISBN 0-7535-0231-3, p. 245
  4. ^ Volume No. 3 interview with Levitation (February, 1991) - archived on Levitation fanpage
  5. ^ [1], Spin Magazine Aug 1992
  6. ^ "The House of Love: Bless this house" article in The Independent by Fiona Sturges, April 14, 2005 - retrieved October 28, 2008
  7. ^ Steve Ludwin biography on Nuxx homepage, retrieved October 27, 2008
  8. ^ Levitation, Chart Stats

External links[edit]