Don't quaestion everything…


NME – 16 May 1992


He’s not insane, honest! But he is worried about the government taming lions by computer, can bring bees back to life and wants to build a landing pad for aliens. Welcome to Terry “Bonkers” Bickers’ world of LEVITATION; check in your brain with the girl at the door. MARY ANNE HOBBS meets the “vibes controlled” extraordinaire.

Two pm. Steve Double’s photographic studio. Terry Bickers dons a haemorrhage red, crushed velvet poncho: “I was never really insane. I just had to pretend I was bonkers to get out of The House Of Love. It was necessary at the time.”

Two am. Hunched in a dim corner of a south London recording studio, Terry Bickers is sucking on a lychee: “If Levitation make money I’m going to set up a platform for extra terrestrials to land on. I don’t want a mansion…never have…I want a submarine to travel inner space.”

WHEN PEOPLE ask, “How is Terry?” they don’t mean, “Has he got over that nasty spot of catarrh?” The fact is, Terry Bickers is believed to have toasted marshmallow “up top”.
The remainder of his band Levitation are inflamed at these allegations: “The press are Victorian,

encouraging their readers to “stare at the freaks”. It’s like putting a dunce hat on someone, and standing them in a corner, and it’s extremely unhealthy. The same thing is happening to Katie Jane Garside.”

Bickers’ actual speech patterns are bizarre – he floats personal philosophies like plastic cups on a North Sea-deep melee of hippy ideology. Terry is well aware that he is a tricky blighter to follow: “I do have a great many ideas going on at once.”

And Levitation’s music is similarly busy.

There are two schools of opinion about the band. Their critics will squirm at the wretched notion of glutinous free-form rock in 1992. Elsewhere, souls like me believe Levitation’s outer-limits adventure serial to be quite sensational.

To label Levitation’s super-sensory sonic blast “prog rock” is as inadequate as explaining Polly Harvey away as “a witch”.

One person that would disagree, though, is Mark E Smith, who demanded Levitation vacate their recent support slot on The Fall tour after just three dates, deeming them “crusty poofs”.

Terry tells me: “I think it was this garment (aforementioned poncho) that Mark E Smith took so much offence to – my gown rivalling his Armani. Mark E Smith is a great writer and a great reader. But he’s no performer. He should consider delivering his work in a more sedate atmosphere.”

The band are not nearly as charitable: “On the third night of the tour we were playing away, la la-la la-la, rocking, rocking, rocking. And Mark E Smith punched his own sound engineer in the face and told him to turn our f***ing power off. We should have torn him apart and sent the pieces to his relatives. If THEY CARE! The guy is a rotten c***. I can’t imagine how someone as bitter as he is has retained so much credibility. He really is the Caligula of pop.”

BACK AT Double’s studio, Terry suddenly declares that he is leaving to help a friend in need of a publishing deal. He offers perhaps the most aesthetically marvellous of a billion queer theories I will hear over the next 12 hours: “Musical notes don’t belong to anyone. We didn’t invent them. And they’re not really ours to sell. They’re just like…moisture in the atmosphere.”

Drummer Dave Francolini, evidently extremely moved, chases Terry to the door, kisses him full on the mouth and gasps, “I love you”. With that, the guitar “guru” is gone.

After they’ve made a flying visit to discuss their thundering debut album, “Need For Not”, with London’s top alternative station XFM, I find myself in a Soho pub with the remainder of Levitation – Rough Trade’s “most important long term investment since The Smiths”; a tag which the band appear to interpret literally.

“I think Morrissey was great. But I think he also contrived a lot of what he did. He saw the white boy indie ghetto and said, “I want to be there and I want to be king of it”, offers Francolini. “I know we do nothing of the sort. We just get in a room. The sun comes up. And we go, “Wow! I wonder what will happen today”.”

Levitation are frequently patronised for precisely this type of quote, yet they’re bright, honest and furiously funny. Frankly, Levitation are robbed of the type of fond media tolerance that vacant space rock combo Spiritualized enjoy so freely. Do they worry that many bystanders are laughing at them, and not with them?

“No. Because I think we have humour,” says bass player Laurence O’Keefe, who is suffering from chicken pox and currently resembles mid-metamorphosis Jeff Goldblum in The Fly.

“I disagree. We do take it all really seriously,” says keyboard player Bob White. “I was listening to the album the other day and there aren’t a lot of laughs on it.”

“Well, we’re not the bloody Banana Splits, are we?” snaps Francolini.

“I read this quote from Richey of the Manic Street Preachers,” muses elfin guitarist Bic Hayes. “It was such a brilliant quote. He said, “I woke up in the middle of the night the other night and thought, Oh my God, I’m in the most terrible band in the world”. I get neurotic like that.”

“But you know, why the f*** should we defend ourselves?” interjects Francolini. “I don’t want to sound soppy, but we’ve just succeeded in being friends for a year and we’re celebrating that. Did you see our New Cross Venue show last month? You should have been there. Geoff Travis left in tears. My girlfriend’s brother came to see us for the first time and he had yellow pus coming out of his ears for a week after the gig!”

MUCH LATER, south of the Thames, I locate the recording studio to which Terry eloped mid-way through the NME photo shoot. Inside I meet Cyrung, a seven-foot tall Antidopean didgeridoo player who uses his instrument to heal autistic children. Cyrung can, allegedly, transmit full details of his experiences in London to the Aborigines back home by simply exhaling into a hollow tree branch. I am fascinated.

Terry, who is “vibes controller” at the session, will need a further three hours to prepare for his interview – highlights of which are as follows:

“Levitation’s music is like the seal on the envelope of reality…For example, there was a bee stuck in my carpet the other day. And I thought it had completely copped it. Its legs had got caught in the fibres and it was rooted to the spot, like being stranded in the desert. So I intervened. I put it on a saucer with some water and a little honey, and I watched it come to life. It was like a total recreation of the scene in our “Firefly” video. That was a perfect day.”

Do you accept the criticism that Levitation’s music is indulgent and retrospective?

“I think those things are just coined for lack of other vocabulary. Maybe I’m being aloof about how grand what we do is, but it’s grand to us. And we work very hard. Dave and Bic, they will record for 48 hours and have nothing to eat, as a protest against greed. Like the title of the album, “Need For Not”; it’s against the capitalist spirit of the age. The time has come to vocalise your testimony…to choose between consumerism and waste, or returning to a barter system. Technology is getting out of hand and it’s very frightening – it’s becoming tech-authority. The government want to tame lions via computer.

“I’m interested in unity. Everybody needs to join in the dance. I am The Lord Of The Dance. Jesus Christ said that. I never thought I was going to be religious but, in some ways, Levitation proves that I have received. My grandmother was a Christian medium in Scotland. Both me and my mother have got really dark eyes like her. It’s passed through the bloodline. I feel like an interpreter, perhaps for people from other worlds. I’m just praying that the ancient South American prophesy will come true and we’re going to be revisited by extra terrestrials.”

Are you confident they will pop in on you personally?

“Of course, I’m going to build the landing pad.”

From deep in the bowels of the studio somebody calls for Terry’s assistance. Quite suddenly he leaps to his feet, bolts like a cartoon cat toward the door and spins round just before disappearing: “I’d like Levitation to be The Marx Brothers. But, you know…really…if there are five pillars trying to support a roof, they have to be spaced out.”

top | next