Don't question everything…


Select – Apr 1991


An unwilling guitar god in The House Of Love - the adulation almost killed him - TERRY BICKERS' star is in the ascendant again with his new band LEVITATION. This time he won't be compromised...

Terry Bickers is a man plugged into one serious electricity supply. It's nudging tomorrow morning in a haunted South London studio ("the ghost of a German World War pilot," he explains) and he's facing a mixing desk all-nighter to bash the debut EP from his new band Levitation into shape.

Bic Hayes, the band's other guitarist, is there, as is keyboard man Bob White. But it's inevitably the nervous, hyperactive Bickers whom the eyes follow; Terry Bickers, the man who got so screwed up playing lead guitar for The House Of Love that it almost cost him his life.

He holed out in West London, a failed suicide and utter emotional wreck, piecing his life back together after the split.
As the industry wondered whether this was a real retreat into the abyss in the Syd Barrett tradition, Terry went about his recovery in a slow but thorough way. He severed relations with the Creation/ House Of Love axis. He got married, and has recently had a daughter. He surrounded himself with little-known musicians prepared to bear with him, work hard and see what kind of music could be made when the studio was deserted, the pressure was off and the money didn't matter.
And, piece by piece, he formed Levitation.

If Levitation are a band wildly removed from The House Of Love, Bickers is totally unrecognisable from the thoughtful bloke in the sweater who peered out of The House Of Love's debut album. Now, looser and much more flamboyant, he comes on like a bizarre, pony-tailed, saucer-pupilled collision between snooker deity Jimmy White and the great Bryan Ferry.

He explains with contagious enthusiasm that he's been absorbing everything he can from - you name it - religions, cultures, music, art forms, relationships. He's turned, while no one has been watching, from a reluctant guitar hero living in the shadows of Guy Chadwick into an extraordinary young artist soaring on a great wave of mid-20's energy.

He's trying to incorporate (he explains breathlessly) Afrocentric and Aboriginal rhythms in his music; he's writing lyrics by associating ideas suggested by names in his telephone book; he and Levitation are putting together a techno score for FilmFair to use in future adventures of The Herbs (true!); he's learning kendo in order to have a better cultural relationship with the Japanese boss of the company who've just bought his publishers, MCA; he and Levitation will be moving to Holland as soon as some personal details are resolved, because they are convinced Britain as a nation is anti-music; and they promise a "circus" approach to live work, turning up to play only after a number of artistic friends have performed.

Bickers, meanwhile, has recently made peace with his father, whose alcoholism split the family when Terry was a kid. That has made him feel a whole lot more centred.

And, as the conversation touches on nothing less than the future of the world, Bickers opines that this war is merely the final ingredient in the deadly Revelations quartet of war, famine, pestilence and death; that furthermore Nostradamus was a real rock 'n' roll prophet; and that the world will quite likely die and be reborn a safer, calmer place for our children.

In such a massive worldview, what price a 26-year-old ex-House Of Love guitarist?

"Outside forces are at work," he says with typical, nervous sincerity. "With me, I mean, I personally feel like I'm being instructed. I'm an antenna. Listening to inner voices. Listening to my heart centre."

How would this affect Levitation's music?

"We're a head group," he shrugs. "We're a group of the mind, the way The Shamen are. Openness of outlook and inward exploration without inward examination. Accept what you are and you'll be a star to yourself."

This is daunting rhetoric, and if it looks like aimless sloganeering written down, it certainly doesn't come out like that. Bickers talks like someone perched on the cusp of great wisdom. Even Bic Hayes, a much more earthbound individual, admits to only following "up to a point".

Bickers' New Age polemic might all be so much day-dreaming were not Levitation such a lethal, inexplicable musical force.

Where do five comparative strangers find those weird harmonies and strange, strange songs? Bob White explains it as "writing music exactly the same way as we interact as people". Touch and feel, in other words. They're still green enough with each other for drummer Dave Francolini to leap at Bickers snarling, "Get off my fucking case", after an argument; still friendly enough for the pair to hug and apologise five minutes later.

Their art can appear to the outside a complex matter. Francolini claims it's just a question of taking "loads and loads of drugs" before playing. Bic Hayes mutters that "it's just bloody hard work". Bickers sees the music as a natural by-product of the philosophies of the people involved.

"We have a kind of pacifist, Buddhist monk attitude," he says. "We're not in competition with anyone. We're not jealous of anyone. We're not greedy. We're quite humble. And this is the best way to be. Because I've had the rest of it - the adulation, everyone saying I'm brilliant, and that's not it.

"You've got to be a star to yourself and be as humble and as kind as possible. In spite," he smiles, "of the music business being the second nastiest business after the arms trade."

Bickers admits he got royally screwed up in The House Of Love. He was singled out early on for press adulation, everyone agreeing that here was a guitarist with an incredible soul-to-finger touch, and a moody stage operator to boot. Many started going to House Of Love gigs to see Terry play.

But Bickers didn't want to be a guitar hero - he'd grown up a "thief and tearaway" in Fulham, the son of an escort agency manager who took his boy drinking in East End boxing dens and didn't bother hiding the sordid sight of prostitutes touting for Arab business back at the office.

An increasingly insecure only child, he joined an emigre Belfast band called Colenso Parade mainly "to meet some brothers and sisters". By the time he was unleashed as The House Of Love's unwilling guitar god in his early 20s he had only just been introduced to The Velvet Underground, courtesy of a Guy Chadwick C-90.

Marketed as a callow, uncouth foil to Guy Chadwick's more sophisticated English cool, Bickers (a good decade younger than the singer) had no say in The House Of Love's songwriting and little interest in fame. With the band's star getting higher as 1989 went on, he had a nervous breakdown. Stuck for somewhere to hide, he slashed his wrists.

A year passes. Wounds heal. Songs are written. Bickers discovers that - hey! - his singing voice is quite terrific in a crooning sort of way. Levitation play a short Euro-tour supporting good friends Ride. A deal with MCA Publishing is sorted. Ideas just keep on coming.

Levitation played one London gig just before Christmas, just to taste the water ( they play another at the end of this month - see Nightlife). They proved they are nothing like The House Of Love. They're very loud, very powerful, with lots of tempo changes, soft, ghostly singing and occasional Stooges-like flourishes. The playing gets downright virtuoso in places (from Hayes and Francolini especially), and the looks of glee zipping from musician to musician suggests that they are improvising madly.

"We're musos," grins Bickers. "We're not a guitar band, we're a musical band. Levitation is like a club, really, where we can go to work together. We all like being busy and working hard, otherwise we tend to go a bit mad."

You don't say.

"I'm happy at the moment," he smiles. "I'm really happy to, like, get by and to push this no compromise thing with Levitation as far as it can go. Because this (he looks fondly at his fellow misfit band members) is definitely gonna happen. There's so much at stake. I live on borrowed time, I admit it, and I take chances and I'm pretty fuckin'...I'm a desperate man.

"Y'know, like that scene in Boys From The Blackstuff: I'm desperate, Dan. Ha! That's me. I'm the Yosser Hughes of the music business!"

David Cavanah

top | next