Don't quaestion everything…


Volume - May 1992

"I've been waiting for 1992 for a long time. Election year. We're going to go out campaigning here and in America - Abstain! Nobody vote! Ha ha ha ha...."

Is Terry Bickers mad? It depends on who you ask.

"Then they'll all freak out. We.... don't.... like you anymore, they'll say. We'll be like the Pistols in America, they'll be chasing us everywhere but they won't be able to find us..."

Bicker's lips form a broad Satanic grin and his voice drops to a conspiratorial whisper as he says this. It's related with the confidence of someone who knows he can't fail, who's prepared to reclaim the idea of 'progressive' music and refer to "a psychedelic band like us" without reservation or fear of being laughed at. The Americans - or anyone else for that matter - may decide they don't like Levitation, but as Bickers knows only too well, the sweeping force of that vast audacious sound can't be ignored. The group have just finished recording a debut album for their new American record company - 18 startling tracks worth - and, as he jumps up to play a few more rough mixes, it appears that, possibly for the first time in his life, he's contented. Bickers is having fun.

Yet, even when he's like this, buoyant and effusive, I'm sure there's a distraction lurking somewhere behind the dark, remarkably unrevealing eyes. It's hard to put your finger on but, as he's happily juggling fag packets and talking about '60s Buddhists levitating the Pentagon with meditation ("I really believe they did"), the impression is of a man being chased by demons of whom he's only one short step ahead. For now.

Bickers is taller than he looks onstage - easily six foot. That aside, the first thing you notice is that he seldom finishes a sentence. He might start on, say, dance music (which he admires) and end on Gaia theory or the evils of the Health Service being run down. The attention span too, is short.
There's a story to do with Bickers, taken from the sour end of his time with The House Of Love (where he gained recognition as one of the finest guitarists of his generation), about him sitting in the back of the tour bus burning five pound notes and screaming "Breadhead!" at singer Guy Chadwick. Shortly afterwards he was thrown out. Members of the entourage thought he'd finally lost it.

"That was frustration. I just found at the time that I didn't have the same aspirations as the rest of the band. I was more into exploring music than exploring the exploitation of markets around the globe. They were really into crusading. And winning. I wasn't."

In the light of events (where are The House Of Love now?), you'd have to say that, of those present, Bickers was probably the most clear-sighted and sane. Through it all, some sound lessons were learnt.

"Musicians tend to be a bit erratic at times, because you've got all sorts of people giving you all kinds of stories. You can get a funny image of yourself from other people. We'd like to avoid that, remain faceless for as long as possible. Maybe we'll take to wearing masks."

He shows me a test copy of the sleeve to World Around (their latest single) which, of course, pictures a donkey. Can't get much more faceless than that.

"An important part of this band is sharing," he concludes. "We're all as important as each other."

NEVERTHELESS, for all his charm, Terry has in the past had a reputation for being difficult to get on with consistently. Horror stories, from various sources, persist.

"Yeah, I have that reputation in Camberwell. It's only because I used to push love away. It was just fear, really. Fear of my own vulnerability. Fear of rejection maybe, being hurt. It was me doing battle with myself."

His parents split up when he was young.

"Because I was an only child," he continues, "that was my whole life falling down in front of me. The relationship between your parents is how you see the world at that age. You learn not to trust anything. I lived with it 'til The House Of Love started to crumble after I'd put so much work into it, then it all came flooding back. I felt like I'd been cheated.

"You see, I come from a family of big gamblers and card players. I learnt from them how to hold my hand back. They'd all be drinking and because I was only seven, I'd be straight, checking them out and learning from their behaviour. That's a parallel with Levitation now. I feel like we've been holding our hand back and now we're going to lay one down - a nice 18 track flush!"

Does the line 'Don't question everything' (on Bedlam, still perhaps Levitation's finest hour) have anything to do with all this?

"Dave wrote that. It was for me, yeah, because I question everything. He was worried about me because I'd suffer from indecision as a result. I'm getting more sure now, more at peace with myself. Having a child helped (Ella, born January 28th 1991, two weeks before the Gulf War, a confusing time for Bickers). I feel like the whole of last year was spent coming through that. I was still in a lot of pain when we started this album, but I worked through it as we progressed, and the last half was a wonderful experience."

Terry's recording one of the rough mixes, a gentle, mantra-like number which, if I read his writing correctly, is called '4-Bop'. A baby cries at the end.

"This is a Gaian track. Ella has the last word. It contains a message for her and her mother."

When Bickers speaks of Levitation as being a democracy - something all sussed young guitar bands claim to be - it's clear that he's speaking the truth. You only need to see them live to know it: the scale of the drama played out in each song, the number of emotions and textures involved, could never be the product of one imagination. Any one individual attempting something this ambitious would slip into indulgence.

The tunes are written through jamming, each member bringing their own ideas to the collective, which are then combined with others and thrashed out of all recognition. Earlier, Bic, the band's engagingly manic guitarist, had described the wildly differing influences each member brings with him. One of the few things on which they agree is the brilliance of the last Killing Joke LP. After that, it gets messy, and that's why it works. If one ego came to dominate, Levitation wouldn't last a week.

Late last year, the band signed a deal with Capitol Records in the States - a weird experience for them, the USA as a whole representing the antithesis of everything they believe in. Fortunately the president of the company turned out to be a Grateful Dead fan - an instant signal that he was to be trusted.

The other advantage of being in America, apparently, is the interviews.

"It's great, if they start asking you the usual questions, like, what will you be doing in five years’ time, and we get bored, we'll string them a line, like, actually we're the new government, we've got people ready and waiting and it's all been agreed with the European Commission. Didn't you know? They'll believe it. Really? You've got film of real dinosaurs? Yeah, they found them in the Himalayas and we went to see them."

Another favourite is that they plan to buy a boat, put a recording studio in it and learn to speak to dolphins.

"Yeah, if you create your own sonar bleeps, you could develop a kind of dolphin Esperanto and they could tell you all their stories, which will have been passed down from generation to generation, because they go back a lot further than we do..."

The trouble with this last yarn is that, as far as these five particular people go, it doesn't seem so unlikely.

Levitation may not be mad, but they're out there.


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