Don't quaestion everything…


Melody Maker – 2 May 1992


While everyone else worries about trouser lengths and hemlines, LEVITATION are screaming about the end of the world. STEVE SUTHERLAND meets TERRY BICKERS and his merry men to discuss the global crisis that prompted their debut album, “Need For Not”.

TERRY BICKERS IS SITTING IN THE STALLS, WAITING FOR the show to start. He is 10 years old. The show is a theatrical recreation of “The Avengers”, the pop art Sixties TV spy spoof. The one with the dapper John Steed and the delicious Emma Peel and a lot of poisonous umbrellas and exploding bowler hats and karate blows in cat suits.

A man sits next to Bickers. The man says not to worry if he suddenly falls from his chair. The man says he’s about to be shot. It’s a stunt, the man explains, so Bickers needn’t be scared.

Sure enough, the curtains part and two shots ring out. The man next to Bickers slumps to the floor,blood spurting from his mouth and chest. Blood from blood capsules. People are screaming. Some start to run up the aisles. Bickers smirks. He thinks this is truly excellent. They don’t know it’s a stunt. He’s the only one who does.

“That inspired me. At that moment I realised the power of the theatrical event.”

How we got onto this anecdote is a story in itself. I’d gone over to Camden to talk to Bickers about “Need For Not”, Levitation’s debut LP proper. But there was something else nagging at me. I was pissed off that a band with so much going for them, with so much energy and enthusiasm and intensity and with such a willingness to explore, was being constantly belittled by the press who only ever took one angle on them: that Bickers was bonkers.

Even more worrying was that the last couple of times I’d seen Levitation live, Bickers himself seemed to have settled for that option. He ranted and raved, rolled his eyes, spewed paranoia, screamed stuff about the captain’s table and frazzled the living daylights out of the set. From perversity or weariness or even sheer laziness, had he decided that, if he couldn’t beat ‘em, he’d join ‘em? Has he consigned himself to bedlam?

What I got by way of an answer was some stuff about how Steven Berkoff and Ian McKellen are inspirational in their extremity, how Bickers has fun with theatricals and the anecdote about “The Avengers”.

Then I got Bic, who has flu, saying: “The bonkers thing’s a media gambit. When Hole came over, all the papers did was publicise the fact that Courtney Love was completely insane. Daisy Chainsaw’s Katie Jane – she’s totally insane. Doesn’t everyone want to be insane? Let’s put them all on a stage like a freak show and that’ll alleviate the banality of our lives by watching the insane people. That singer from Nymphs as well. It’s a media thing at the moment – insanity sells. But it’s a load of bollocks. It’s just suffering, y’know?”

I SHOULD come clean about the bonkers thing. When we were discussing this feature at the Maker, it was decided that maybe we should do something a little different with Levitation than just another interview. Bickers is bonkers, we decided, so let’s try to find out who he thinks he was in previous lives. It was partly with this in mind that I went to Camden to meet him.

But then I thought: this stinks. This is just more cheap “Bickers is bonkers” laughs. This isn’t right. And I got to thinking about what Levitation are – how they’re so far and away the most extraordinary, compelling and, yeah, brave band we’ve got in this country at the moment. And it occurred to me that maybe Bickers was using the bonkers bit, using theatre to impart a greater truth than all the so-called honest bands – the Carters and the Braggs and all the kitchen sink merchants – who just mirror what’s around them. That’s just one dimension. That’s, yawn, just what is. Levitation show you what is and then go further. On a grim night, they show you what could be if things go wrong. On a good night, they show you what could be if things go right. And on a great night – of which they have more than most – they show you both.

Listen to “Need For Not” and you’ll discover it’s a passionate, fascinating, crazy yet compelling Luddite manifesto. Levitation are about power. Our power over our fate. Our power over the future. They may not have all the answers but, f***, at least they’re trying. And maybe the “Bickers is bonkers” bit is all part of it. It draws you in and yet there’s a down side – it probably means you don’t take them seriously.

BICKERS is aware of all this. He says he wants to confront audiences with their own apathy, and to make them realise that their reluctance to dance, to cut loose, to listen to other music than their mates’, is symptomatic of a country that can vote the Conservatives back in for another term. Then again, he says, with a characteristic conversational leap, he doesn’t want to encourage people to go completely nuts or they’ll start stage-diving and then they’ll maybe hurt themselves and then maybe their parents won’t let them come to see Levitation any more.

Without warning (I didn’t see it coming, honest, and I was there) Bickers launches into this, which I guess was inspired by the notion of parental concern: “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – we’re not a drug band. We’re not about drugs, we’re about people enjoying themselves. Drugs usually don’t come first in the list of long term life fulfilment and enjoyment. They cloud you up, they cloud your mind. But they can be a pastime that people go for because, in this high stress age, people want to unwind. And I find smoking is a quick way to a meditative way of thinking.”

He diverges into an anecdote about Nepalese monks and temple balls which makes his compatriots laugh riotously, even Laurence who has chicken pox. Then he says: “I see the difference between drugs. With hashish I see a smiling, happy, kinda munchy buddha figure, y’know, sitting there with a big stomach after eating all the crisps and all the tortilla chips. But I’ve been into houses when I used to live in squats and things, and I could feel the (makes sucking sound). It’s there. Death comes out of the cracks of the walls. It’s there. You can smell heroin. You can smell death. You can smell that spirit, the spirit of the plant. It’s there.”

“Hang on! How did we get onto this?” shouts Bic, who is becoming increasingly excited, pint by pint.
“I’m just getting it out the way now. Clearing the way for something else”, says Bickers.
I wasn’t going to mention drugs actually.

THE next 15 minutes are like sprinting through a maze, and every time you stop to catch your breath, you see something different – some animal or plant or sculpture or something – which you sense is connected to the last thing you saw but you can’t remember how and you can’t retrace your steps back because, y’know, it’s a maze and you’re lost. So you plunge on.

With all five members of Levitation laughing and shouting and drinking at once, here’s what we hit on: Mark E Smith is the Caligula of Pop. He threw them off The Fall tour but they never came to blows. Ryneck, Daisy Chainsaw, Pinhead Nation and Bark Psychosis are f***ing ace. L7 are a crap metal band who only get publicity because they’re American and how sick it is that all these American bands are lauded over here while great bands like Jacob’s Mouse are ignore because they come from Bury St Edmunds which, incidentally, is far better than LA because at least in Bury St Edmunds you get seasons. Rain is beautiful. Dave wants to live in a cottage in the country. Bic says he doesn’t; he’d get bored. Dave says you can only feel the essence if you can hug trees. Bic says that’s bollocks because, “they don’t talk and they don’t insult you and you can’t tie ‘em down and…sorry!”

When Dave talks about eh essence, he’s talking about religion. Which is Nature. Which is God. Which, according to Bickers, could be extraterrestrial and could be breeding on the dark side of the moon for all we know. People have lost their sense of religion. Bickers says people would do better to read The Bible than The Sun or The Daily Sport which makes them ignorant and leads them into corruption. Everything is corruptible. The human nature is, by (and in harmony with) nature, pure and loving. A child is born pure and then corrupted by bad parents and harsh schooling. Bad parents buy their children toy guns which makes them join the army when they grow up. All war is evil. The Arts Council spends, according to Bickers, 66 million quid annually on equipping military bands. Music doesn’t belong to anybody. Levitation are just interpreters of the notes. “We’re in the business of moving air,” says Bickers.

“What happens when they privatise the air?” says Bic.

“You buy a lot of shares,” says Rob.

Bickers is working on a side project called UV Ray. Dave’s new green suit is great. Levitation are like Crass used to be, too extreme for most people who are happy to settle for the new, jargon-toting Sex Pistolalikes. Ken Kesey gets a mention. So does Bill Hicks. Bickers is off to Mexico tomorrow on holiday. Positive is better than negative. “Need For Not” is brilliant but it’s not as experimental as the next album will be but, then again, Levitation will always say that because they’re always searching. As Dave says: “Isn’t that the way it should be? You don’t make love to your girlfriend and wake up and think that’s the be all and end all. You’re looking forward to the next day when it’s gonna be BETTER!”
Suddenly, we reach a clearing. I think it’s because I said “Need For Not” is a political album. I think I pointed out that the title is a statement about the state of the world and that “World Around”, their last single, was full of images of greed, decay and despair (with an uplifting chorus, of course, to maintain the karmic balance). All of this drives Bic mad.

“We’re apolitical!” he screams. “Totally apolitical!”

That’s a political statement in itself.

“Yeah, well, we’re into progression,” says Bic. “We want our music to progress, which is the exact opposite of politics which is about maintaining the status quo. And that won’t do any more! That’s not enough! We’ve got to have progress. I think politics should be shot like the lame horse that it is. But, basically, the people on this planet are not ready for anarchy, they’re not peaceful enough. People can be autonomous. That’s what I’m talking about – autonomy. But people aren’t ready – they still want to put power into other people’s hands. But autonomy’s what we need – the art of self-government.”

“People are too lazy to try and think about how they can make things better than they already are,” says Bickers. “People just say, “Oh no, leave it up to them because they know what they’re doing, they know best”. But governments all around the world are just wholesale terrorists. Look at all the BCCI bank branches that are being dismantled really quickly at the moment to take it out of people’s minds.

“And did you notice how, two weeks before the election, they planted market garden flowers on all the motorway hedges to make it look like they were ecologically conscious? And people actually go, “Ah, flowers!” They don’t think about what’s gonna happen when all the flowers have wilted.”

We are all depressed by the non-showing of the Green Party in the general election. Bic decides Green policies have been absorbed by the main parties as another selling point, just like punk was absorbed by the record industry. Bickers says that, if we all concentrated hard enough, we could disarm all the nuclear warheads because they’re crimes against nature. This is not just the brandy talking. Levitation aren’t claiming they can change Fate, they just believe Fate can be changed and are hoping to make people realise that it can be done.

“We really do want to move mountains, y’know?” says Bickers. “It’s kicking against apathy. Apathy has to be destroyed otherwise the human race is never gonna achieve any of the things it’s possible to achieve. But human life is not sacrosanct. What is sacrosanct is the planet itself because, without the planet, there is no human life. Even football hooligans realise, “Oh, there’s a hole in the ozone layer. I am going to get my head burnt. I think I ought to buy sunglasses, to do something”. But d’you know what’s gonna happen? We’re gonna have mutant locusts and insects like giant wasps that have the power to kill you when they sting, they’re gonna swarm and just wipe out all the humans. Then the planet will continue. The planet will sort itself out.

“After all, in its 65 million year history, there’s already been three or four extinctions of major life forms – y’know, the Ice Age, volcanic eruptions, all those sorts of things. What I feel approaching is the revenge of Nature for what we’ve done to it. No, not revenge. Righteousness.”
Can anything save us?

“It comes down to common sense, yeah? If you listen to “Arcs Of Light And Dew” on the album, it’s just saying, strip away all your preconceptions of what you are, stop being so self-obsessed and just look around you and feel,” says Dave. Common sense. Just getting back to basics. That’s what it’s about, y’know?”

“Just think about how, when the internal combustion engine is transcended by something else, it will change the whole landscape of everything,” says Bic. “Basically, we revolve around streets and roads because we have cars with internal combustion engines. Now that status quo is gonna be maintained because of politics and money and science. But what happens inside an internal combustion engine is hell, basically. It’s brimstone, fire and eternal damnation in there! There’s an explosion happening every millionth of a second. But, aside from that, do a bit of a mental leap and consider the idea of some sort of electrical vehicle or, beyond that, some form of teleportation, how it will change everyone’s lives so bigly!”

“The idea is that every motorway becomes a rainproof canopy of tall trees, a greenhouse, a garden that you walk through like Kew Gardens,” says Bickers. “You don’t drive at breakneck speed into danger up the M1, you walk, or cycle, or ride a cycle car or a horse.”

“I think that would be lovely,” says Bic.

And very unlikely.

“Why? asks Bic. “Solar energy, wave energy…they could be realities today but we’ve chosen not to do that, we’ve pursued another avenue. We’ve chosen to pursue an avenue that absolutely f***s the earth, f***s everyone in it and makes it a horrible place to live in. We didn’t necessarily have to do that but it was easy, and the human race always takes the easiest and cheapest option. And education can transcend that.”

Bickers maintains that we were made aware of all this by several ecology conscious scientist in the Seventies, but the politicians chose economics over ecology because all they were interested in was political power and maintaining the status quo. “It makes me think that they’re maybe susceptible to some kind of darker influence. Look how wizened they are and how twisted they look. Have you ever thought that they might be unaware that there is a spiritual life, which leaves them open to dark influences?”

Remember kids, paranoia is just an overdose of good old common sense.

UH, if you were reincarnated, what would you come back as, Terry?

“Oh, I might like to come back as an otter or something,” he says, and he starts to snaffle at imaginary whiskers. Then they all do it. All five of them. They’re sitting right there in this pub in Camden, snaffling at their imaginary whiskers, pretending to be otters.

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