Nik Turner interview about Hawkwind
Nik Turner is founding member of space rock pioneers Hawkwind. Turner plays saxophones, flute, sings and is a composer. While with Hawkwind, Turner was known for his experimental free jazz style. We spoke about the past and also about some of his latest projects.
When did you begin playing music?
Hello Klemen, nice to meet you. Well talking about sax playing, I learnt to play clarinet to start with, then graduated to saxophone when I was about 17. I had lessons from a dude up the street, learnt a couple of Charlie Parker, Gerry Mulligan and other groovy sax players tunes, played on and off for a couple of years, then didn’t practise very much, then hardly ever played, a problem disturbing the neighbours. I worked in Holland in 1967 on a rock and roll circus, where I met Mick Slattery and Dave Brock, who had a band, The Famous Cure, which played in the Circus, and kept in touch with them when they went back to Britain. In 1968 I spent time in Berlin, hanging out in psychedelic clubs with Edgar Froese from Tangerine Dream, and other current psychedelic musicians, and at the Bue Note Jazz Club with a lot of free jazz players, who convinced me you didn’t need to be technical to express yourself musically. So I had this vision of playing free jazz in a rock band. When I came back to Britain, and hooked up with Mick and Dave, they were getting a band together. By now I had a van, (I was living in it), and thought I could be the Road Manager.
You offered a van to freshly formed Hawkwind. What happened next?
I went to a rehearsal of the band, ‘Group X’, which Mick and Dave were putting together with Terry Ollis, the drummer, and John Harrison, (may he be blessed and rest in peace), the bass player, and mentioned that I had my saxophone in my van. The guys suggested I bring it in, and have a blow, and they were impressed enough to invite me to join the band, as well as be the Road Manager. Someone had heard about a gig going on down the road, in Notting Hill Gate at the All-Saints Hall, and we decided to try to gate-crash it, and play a song. We all got pretty wasted, climbed in the van with the equipment, drove to the venue, made our request, and were given 15 minutes to play our song. We played ‘Sunshine Special’, a song based on a John Coltrane riff, ‘Africa India’, (that was used on the Byrds’ song ‘8 Miles High’). It was very well received, the organizers of the ultimately offering us a record deal, air-play and work.
You played on some of the most legendary albums.
The First album, ‘Hawkwind Live’ was an awesome experience, going into one of the top studios in London, an enormous place, (I’d never been in any studio before), with Dick Taylor, the lead guitarist from the band ‘The Pretty Things’ producing us, recording the whole thing live, twice, and then tidying up the best bits to produce the album, with Dick playing lead guitar on it, truly amazing, all totally psychedelic. (I’d seen Dick playing in Berlin with the Prettys, with Edgar’s Tanges supporting them, Wow!!!) and finding myself singing a science-fictional song I made up at the time about flying saucers coming to take us all away, going into some sort of orgasmic climax, unnggghh!!!!
The second album, ‘Xin Search Of Space’, with Dave Anderson on bass, who I’d seen playing in Berlin with ‘Amon Duul’, again with Edgar, in ‘Kommune 1’, and met in the United Artists Record company, and invited to join the band, in an even bigger studio, and being thrust into the position of being the singer, on songs I had written, ‘Master of the Universe’, and ‘Children of the Sun’, as well as incidental weird sound effects, and now playing my sax through a wah/fuzz/volume/distortion/Doppler/echo+effects pedal and my flute similarly, creating a sound of total mad mayhem, the cover designed by my fantastic cutting-edge creative friend, Mr Barney Bubbles, at my invitation, based upon the Space-Ship that crashed on earth, and became 2-dimensional, it’s adventures being described in the log-book conceived by Barney, and the soon to be Hawkwind’s Space Poet, Mr. Robert Calvert, whom I also later invited to join the band. (He’d been a friend of mine in Margate where I lived before joining the band, we used to get wasted together all the time).
The third album, ‘Doremi Farsol Latido’ by now with Lemmy in the band, recorded at Rockfield Studio in Wales, with my throw-away song, ‘Brainstorn’ on it, (suddenly I’m a singer/song-writer,writing seminal songs with strong social overtones), and getting serious, being voted foremost saxophonist in Britain, and no. 2 in the world.
The fourth album, (a double), ‘Space Ritual’, the brain-child of Robert Calvert, of which the hit single ‘Silver Machine’, was a part, (though never used on the live album of the event), was recorded live on the road at Liverpool Stadium, and Brixton and Edmonton Sundowns, in London. Live performances featured the Fabulous Miss Stacia, 6’2” tall, Statuesque Goddess, with 42” bust, (every school-boys dream), dressed only in body paint, and the occasional tutu, Miss Renee, the American modern dancer/acrobat/contortionist and Mr Tony Crerar, the amazing mime artist, psychedelic lighting astronomicaly/astrologically designed by Barney, Liquid Len and the Lensmen, choreographed by Barney, myself, and the dancers, (Robert was resting in hospital from a nervous breakdown) we took the audience/country/world, by storm. Gigs could be compared with those of the Grateful Dead at their height, for psychedelic substances of all forms, and mayhem and madness. The follow-up single of the band, ‘Urban Guerilla’, had the effect of bringing the band to the attention of the Bomb/Anti-Terrorist Police, and caused them to tear up my floorboards in my apartment, looking for guns and bombs, not a wise subject for a record.
The fifth album, ‘Warrior on the Edge of Time’, was inspired by the writings of Mr. Michael Moorcock, the science fiction/fantasy writer, who also featured on the album, reading some of his poetry, (he also came on the road with us and read various of his poems when Robert couldn’t make it, was indisposed) and Lemmy wrote songs, cool.
The sixth album, ‘The Hall of the Mountain Grill’, was notable for featuring Mr Simon House, the fabulous violinist, (later to play with David Bowie), and giving the band a different dynamic, changing the sound, nice!!
The seventh album, (the last I worked on at that time), ‘Amazing Music and Astounding Sounds’, was very interesting for its democracy, (however short-lived), because of the involvement of everyone in the band in composing songs, so the flavours were all very different, and the whole direction changed. I liked it!!
How about touring?
Touring was indeed wild, it had always been very casual, and a lot of fun, and the band, (most of them were very accessible), so we maintained a very good relationship with the supporters, lots of droogs were flying around, (or was it the band flying around), high times, and bizarre occurrences, many hallucinations, (or was it real??), many confrontations with the police, road-blocks and raids and fun and games. Doing gigs in prisons, many benefits supporting worthwhile causes, getting badly electrocuted, working with Mr Michael Moorcock, truly psychedelic.. Touring U.S.A. was very exciting, having fancy-dress competitions at every gig on one tour, mask competitions on another, visiting Timothy Leary, the L.S.D. guru, in high security Vacaville Psychiatric Prison was an awesome experience, and doing a benefit for him, setting fire to myself on stage, being in a tornado in Nashville, wow!! Freaked me out.
“Last night, I dreamt of Charles Mingus and Miles Davis jamming with collapsing neutron stars to summon the mythical Mayan feathered serpent…”
What currently occupies your life?
At the mo’ I have 2 new projects, PROJEKT 9, a band playing the repertoire of all my bands, past present and future, (Hawkwind, Sphynx, Inner City Unit, Fantastic Allstars, Nik Turner Band, Galaktikos, Space Ritual, Hawklords), and Outriders of Apocalypse, based around Mayan Mythology, and the end of the 5th sun, music based on my ideas of what the Mayans danced to, and their rituals, included some info and links about it.
NIK TURNER’S OUTRIDERS OF APOCALYPSE FEATURING THE HORNS OF QUETZALCOATL (THE FULL MONTEZUMA)
Last night, I dreamt of Charles Mingus and Miles Davis jamming with collapsing neutron stars to summon the mythical Mayan feathered serpent…
Nik Turner’s Outriders of Apocalypse show takes its musical inspiration from South American culture dating from 10,000 BC to 2,012 AD and relates aspects of this culture to the typical themes and characters of world mythology.
Like Darth Vader orchestrated by Gil Evans, the Space Jazz Funk of the Outriders pulls together the music that has inspired Nik over the years, further shaped by his journeys to ancient sites in Mexico, Egypt, and the lands of the Celts.
The Outriders brings together a core group of musicians drawn from bands that Nik has formed over the years including Hawkwind, Inner City Unit and The Nik Turner Bands. This group is augmented by an array of performers bringing an eclectic mix of instrumentation to the music, including brass, strings and percussion. Dancers bring to life stories from across space and time.
How about your solo album from 1978 ‘Xitintoday’?
Sphynx’ ‘Xitintoday‘ was a very interesting album. I went to Egypt to spend Xmas with a buddy, on the day I was to go, he got deported for visa probs, but I went anyway, and had a fantastic time. Whilst there I recorded flute music inside the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid, for my own amusement, and on my return to Britain, I realised I had a contractual obligation, so I convinced Charisma Records to let me go into a studio with Steve Hillage, and a load of friends, and basing it around my Egyptian flute recordings, create a science-fiction album, based on the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Pyramid Texts, about a dude that goes into a pyramid on Venus, meets the crew, (the Egyptian Gods), has all the right passwords and spells, passes through, and comes out of the Great Pyramid in Egypt, January 1977. Egypt was fascinating, visiting all the awesome places, Tutankhamun’s tomb and all the temples, huge everythings, playing my flute everywhere I went, on buses, in the street, in taxis, I got adopted by the Bedouins, they thought I was mad, and treated me so well. Then touring the album, playing all the free festivals, really wild stuff.
In the 1980s you experimented a lot with Inner City Unit.
Inner City Unit was a very exciting band, coming after the chilled out Sphynx, It was high energy, satirical, political, intelligent, musical punk, exciting, awesome, completely mad, doing all the same things I ever did, confrontational political protests and benefits, objet trouve attitude, with a keen sense of humour, and clever lyrics and outrageous gigs, hanging severed body parts from the gantries, mock bomb scares, giving away thousands of pounds of forged money, having dead flower fights with the audiences, recording 5 albums, putting up my Pyramid Stage, and playing every year at Stonehenge Festival, and much, much more.
In 1990s you recorded Sphynx with Helious Creed.
Helios is great, a great musician, very creative, a lot of fun, an awesome dude. I wasn’t there when they recorded the album, but we spent a lot of time together, did a 45 date tour all over the U.S.A. with the band Sleep (heavy heavy), in sub-zero conditions sometimes, had a lot of fun, awesome stuff.
In the past years you had two projects, Space Ritual and Nik Turner Band…
‘Space Ritual’ is a cool band, all ex-members of Hawkwind, playing songs I wrote with Hawkwind, some Robert Calvert material, and my newer material, which we recorded on the Space Ritual ‘Otherworld’ album.
Nik Turner Band is cool jazz, latino jazz, and a lot of funk, music I grew up on, Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Herbie Hancock, Maceo Parker, music with a sense of class, like a guy gotta have, that knows how to treat a dame, and much more.
Who are your major influences?
A lot of Jazz, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Sun Ra, Jimi Hendrix, Roland Kirk, Charlie Mingus, Earl Bostic, Stockhausen, James Brown, and more.
Thanks for taking your time, Nik! Would you like to send a message to your fans and It’s Psychedelic Baby readers?
Keep taking the tablets (L.S.D.), and all the natural psychedelics, communicate with the Gods, help each other to get high in a positive way, help each other generally, raise your consciousness, don’t harm yourself or others, love one another, have funnnnnn!!?!
– Klemen Breznikar