Whichever way you look at it, there is little doubt that Nik Turner is something of a musical and counter-cultural talisman in these parts. A founder member of Hawkwind Nik was – and still is – a prolifically colourful, charismatic and controversial figure, an extrovert and creative performer with a seemingly pathological need to entertain. He has over the years been synonymous with his links to the free festival movement in the UK and, wittingly or otherwise as the Hawkwind’s Official Leader of the Opposition, having been viewed by some fans and even fellow ex-members as representing the original spirit of that band.
He has recorded an album of flute playing in the Great Pyramid, fronted at least as many bands as can be counted on a full set of fingers, playing styles ranging from punk to jazz and swing, has fought bitter and costly legal battles over the use of his old band’s name and to this day is an indefatigable musical collaborator and innovator par-excellence who continues to push at the boundaries of artistic expression.
Here, then is, a man with a story to tell, and he graciously imparted some of it to Ian Fraser during the course of two meetings the first of which took place before a recent performance of Space Ritual, the band which features several early Hawkwind members, and which was conducted amidst the noise and bustle of the “home team” dressing room at London’s The Garage; and then again a couple of weeks later in the rather more sedate setting of rural West Wales where Nik has made his home since the late 1970s.
I supposed that Nik would by now be sick and tired talking about Hawkwind’s early days and which, after all, have been well documented, but he would have none of that. “I’ll talk about whatever you want” he says.
So, how then did you come to hook up with the individuals who would form Group X, who quickly morphed into Hawkwind and became one of the darlings of the early 1970s London counter-culture and one of the great “community bands” on the UK scene?
NT: “The band was formed out of a bunch of very disparate people who all came from different musical backgrounds and had different musical tastes. I was brought up on jazz and then I got into rock music, like rock and roll and that scene, and then I got into the psychedelic scene and I went to see Pink Floyd in 1967 and Jimi Hendrix around the same time and a lot of other bands at places like UFO and later Middle Earth. I lived in Margate at the time. I’d been to Berlin and met all these free-jazz musicians who said you didn’t have to be technical in order to express yourself, so I thought because I’d learned to play the saxophone to some degree I thought oh, I’ll play free-jazz in a rock band (laughs!)
“I’d met Dave Brock and Mick Slattery while I was in Holland working at a rock and roll circus – they were in one of the bands who played at the circus. That was back in 1967 and we’d kept in touch. In 1969 they were looking to put a band together but they didn’t have a name and I was going to be their road manager, I had this van and the idea was that I would drive them about and haul all the gear around. One day at rehearsal I happened to mention that I had my saxophone in the van and they said “well get it out” and I made a load of noise and everyone thought it was wonderful and so I was in the band.
“Mick Slattery was a blues based guitarist, Dave Brock was a busker but was probably blues based as well. John Harrison had played bass in Joe Loss’ orchestra so he had a Big Band background. Dik Mik, was there as a sort of electronics whizz kid and was into anything, psychedelic music, speed. Terry Ollis was a primitive drummer who taught himself to play, although he did have one lesson apparently from Phil Seaman who was a jazz drummer of the day who played with Ronnie Scott and all those people. So yes, we were a pretty disparate bunch”.
There is, as legend has it, an interesting story as to how Hawkwind got its name and it very much involves one or two of your idiosyncrasies...
NT: “That’s right, it was due to my prodigious farting and spitting! And also after the Michael Moorcock character Hawkmoon. At the time we didn’t have a name so we called ourselves Group X. One time we were rehearsing at the Royal College of Music because someone had connections there when we heard about some gig at the All Saints Hall on All Saints Road [West London, near the old stamping ground of Ladbroke Grove/Portobello Road] and we gate crashed the gig. Thomas Crimble there [points to the imposing figure of Space Ritual’s keyboard player, one-time Hawkwind bassist and a long-serving member of the Glastonbury Festival organising team] he was there, as was John Peel. We did the gig and we got such a good reaction that John Peel recommended to the promoters, Clearwater Productions that they sign us up. We were like the Sex Pistols really. We made a load of noise. Of course we needed a proper name the inspiration for which seems to have been my bodily functions.
Nik elaborates on what happened next.
NT: “We were offered a record deal with Liberty but in the meantime we would take any gig we could get, really, we were just happy to play anywhere. We had a few connections in the underground scene and we used to play our weird music which was basically jamming. We developed a bit of a reputation, and people used to come to us and ask us to play benefits. We were a bit of a weird, loose-cannon sort of outfit, you know, and nothing else was like it. I always considered our selves the belt and braces Pink Floyd, the “people’s Pink Floyd”.
“Anyway we got this reputation and then my friend Robert Calvert from Ramsgate, who I used to hang out with, moved up to London after his wife had kicked him out because basically he’d have a nervous breakdown every 18 months or so his mother told me, and this was getting too much for his wife what with having three or four kids around. He was a very volatile and unpredictable character. He came to stay with me and he had musical and literary aspirations. He regarded himself as a poet and he turned me on to a lot of science fiction and some very interesting literature.
So was “X In Search of Space” and “Space Ritual” Robert’s idea?
NT: “Yes it was his idea but it really all came about because of who he knew as well. Originally Robert was a fan of Michael Moorcock who at the time was writing in a magazine called Frendz. Robert decided he’d like to write for Frendz as well and so he got a job with them as a literary sub-editor or something. Barney Bubbles, who ended up doing our album covers and designing our stage shows, was the art director of the magazine and was a friend of Mike Moorcock. We got to know Mike when Barney, who I’d met through Robert, brought him along to one of our gigs. Barney and I got on really well. I even slept on his floor at one stage.
“The second album we did when Robert was around, I got Barney to do the album cover which was “X In Search of Space”. Robert and Barney put the Hawkwind Space Log together and Barney did the album design. I insisted that the album cover was used in spite of the price of it and that the record company [United Artists] pay for it, although ultimately we paid for it. The next album [Doremi Fasol Latido] was an idea of Barney and Robert’s, who by this time I’d invited to join the band. He came along with his great concept of the Space Ritual. One of his songs was “Silver Machine” which we recorded and had a great deal of success with which enabled us to mount the Space Ritual as a project, which Barney Bubbles, myself, Doug Smith, Jonathan Smeeton [aka lighting whizz Liquid Len] and Robert put together as a concept as a spectacular stage show to go out on the road with”.
Hawkwind were very much rooted in the Ladbroke Grove community (London’s slightly belated answer to Haight Ashbury) and, much like the Pink Fairies, the Edgar Broughton Band and Quintessence, were viewed as something of a “people’s band”. However mention the name Hawkwind to Mr or Ms Clapham Omnibus and the chances are they will associate the name with the hit single “Silver Machine”. How much, I wondered, changed with the success of “Silver Machine” and the notoriety of its follow-up “Urban Guerrilla”?
NT: “Well a lot of it didn’t change although a lot of it did change. We became successful and it was difficult for me to walk down Portobello Road without being accosted by what seemed like 10,000 people all of whom wanted to be put on my guest list for the next gig, which I tended to be very accommodating about, but it meant I tended to feel that I shouldn’t go down Portobello Road because it became a bit of an encumbrance having a guest list of 400 going to a gig. I remember doing a gig at the Rainbow Theatre in London where I’d been down Portobello Road the day before and had this guest list of several hundred people and the promoter, John Curd, said “look, you can’t have all these people on your guest list” and my response was that I wouldn’t go on stage unless he let them all in. So John said “oh alright, then”. It helped that we’d already sold out the venue and it was a gig we were putting on ourselves with him, and for which we supplied free food. I had a mate who worked as a chef at Biba’s and him and his mates who all worked as chefs there came down to the gig and laid on free food, which I paid for, and it was a fantastic thing”.
Lest it be forgotten, Turner had a big hand in writing some of Hawkwind’s most memorable, some might say iconic songs. Which of these was he the most proud of in retrospect and which does he consider to be most fun to play?
NT: “I think “Brainstorm”, really. “Master of the Universe” is another one I’m very pleased with, which I wrote with Dave Brock and Dave Anderson, although each of them lays claim to the riff, but Brainstorm is special because I wrote it myself. What usually happened, though, especially around the time of “X In Search of Space”, was that someone would have a riff and ask me come up with some words, for which I was usually able to oblige and then ended up getting to sing it”.
It’s always seemed ironic that Hawkwind and Man, two of the most very volatile bands of the day and who could never seem to keep the same line up for more than one album, were signed to a label called United Artists Records. What did Nik ascribe to the rapid turnover of band personnel?
NT: “I think all these people fell out with Dave, that’s what happened really. He and I remained friends throughout all that until I became expendable, I guess. The whole thing was very Machiavellian. On the one level it sounds like we were a community band because there were so many people in it, whereas the reality of it was that Dave had his own agenda which didn’t really include anyone but himself (laughs)”
It all sounds very Animal Farm, Brock’s Napoleon to Turner’s Snowball
NT: “That’s probably right, yes. Brian Tawn [the uber fan behind the Hawkfan fanzine] was having some wallets made with the picture off a cover of a rock magazine called Prog of me and Dave sitting each side of the picture and Dave is looking like this (pulls a face depicting a sideways on snarl), and I’m looking like that (beaming straight ahead). It was like chalk and cheese really”.
I was reminded also of a fine article in Mojo magazine by Mick Wall entitled “The Egos Have Landed”, which came out to coincide with plans for Hawkwind’s 30th anniversary celebrations which in the event took place in year 31 and which has gone down in history as the great Hawkestra saga (more of which later). In the article Wall describes Turner as “self-consciously naive, idealistic and easy going...the conscience of Hawkwind, the keeper of the flame”. Did Nik think that was a fair assessment?
NT: “Yeah I’m still all that, and I still have that flame. It’s a good epitaph (laughs)”
Nik’s first departure from Hawkwind came after the Astounding Sounds Amazing Music tour towards the end of 1976. This is right at the time when Punk Rock is about to explode - year zero in musical term - and Nik Turner goes off and records an album playing flute in the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid at Giza. What, I wondered, was all that about?
NT: “Yeah completely whacky. At the time I knew Malcolm McLaren who introduced me to the Sex Pistols and we just hung out together for some time. They said to me “oh we’ve just done a gig with Eddie and the Hot Rods down the Marquee and we smashed all their equipment up before they went on while we were playing’. They thought it was great. I thought, oh well, that not for me at all. So I went off and did something completely the opposite, almost perverse, really”
The result was the weird and very wonderful “Xitintoday” attributed to Nik Turner’s Sphynx, recorded with a stellar cast of Gong and Hawkwind associates, which Nik showcased at something called the Bohemian Love-In at the old Roundhouse (same building but a far cry from the current, rather sterile and in vogue arts and crafts venue) in 1978.
NT: “It was a wonderfully varied bill – Patrik Fitzgerald, John Cooper-Clarke, Michael Moorcock’s Deep Fix, Steve Took’s Horns, Blood Donor, Brian James’ Tanz Der Youth and a whole host of others".
In retrospect, then, was this the last hurrah of the old Ladbroke Grove hippie set?
NT: “I suppose it could be seen to be that, thinking about it, because then punk took over, although there were punks living in Ladbroke Grove and nothing really changed, just the media titling of it. Jonny Rotten and Sid Vicious claimed it was part of their rite of passage to have roadied for Hawkwind and there was a lot of similarity between Hawkwind and the Pistols and all that, they were very much the same in fact.”
Nik then took the Sphynx project on the road with a series of mini-free festivals, at one of which a young and impressionable Yours Truly hooked up and made a nuisance of myself for a couple of days before following them down to West Wales where one of my few claim to fames took place, bashing some percussion dressed in a mummy suit. The sort of inclusiveness is typical of Turner and of the way in which the Sphynx show evolved. [Sadly, there is no photpgraphic evidence to hand of Mr. Fraser dressed in a Mummy suit. Trust me, we tried... PM]
NT: “Barney Bubbles choreographed the original show with students from the Royal Ballet and Sadler’s Wells but as we did the free festivals and ran out of money we recruited people from the free festival scene to play all the characters. So people used to say to me “I’d like to be in your show” and I’d ask them which god they’d see themselves as and then just hand them the costume. So there were all these people who had a calling and identified themselves as various Egyptian gods”
I recall a funky little pyramid stage and a cut out model of a fly agaric mushroom (NT “on top of a cromlech”). There was something very much like it at Stonehenge for some years, was it the same one, I asked?
NT: “No, that wasn’t the same one. It was actually made from some the bits left over from the one we made for Stonehenge”
In the odd idle moment I occasionally wonder what happened to that stage.
NT: “Well I used to lend it out to people to be a “people’s stage” and it was used for several years at loads of free festivals and I also used to put it up at Stonehenge. Eventually I loaned it to a guy called One-Eyed Sam who had a show called Circus Irritant and used to put on raves, and had these huge heads about six-foot high and round with tongues sticking out all piled up on scaffolding and huge ducks such as you might find in a giant bathtub. Anyway he had all of my stage which he kept in his yard and he lunched it out apparently. So one day I asked for my stage and he didn’t have it any more, and that was that. Oh well (laughs)”
Fast forward 12 months to the month after the Sphynx tour and a slightly older but scarcely less impressionable future scribe is holidaying in London and mooching through the racks of the splendid but now sadly defunct branch of Honest Jon’s in Camden (opposite the old Compendium Bookshop for those who remember that as well). In the Hawkwind section is an album entitled “Pass Out” by the Inner City Unit which, courtesy of my avid weekly readership of the UK’s weekly musical equivalent of Pravda, the New Musical Express, I knew to be NT’s latest venture. Mildly disconcerted by the site of silhouetted figures on the cover sporting short spiky hair, I ask the man behind the corner if I could hear a bit. Cue a lot of short, frantic shouty tracks including three minute versions of “Brainstorm” and “Master of the Universe”. The guy behind the counter is non-committal, I was just as unsure but it obviously gave me a taste for one of the best live bands of the next few years, their punk credential clearly underscored by a sense of fun and irony. What, though, explains the remarkable transition from the Egyptian Book of the Dead to monochrome pre-Thatcherite punk rock in just 12 months?
NT “By now I was getting very frustrated with the Sphynx show because I thought it was all a bit laid-back. It was a great concept and it was a magic thing but by then I wanted something more energetic, so I got together with some guys, including the late JudgeTrevor Thoms, who had been playing with Steve Took’s band and a drummer, Ermanno Ghizia-Erba, also from Took’s band, and who I later called Dino Ferrari. I invited them to join the Sphynx band, and Trev said that he’d join if he could bring his mate, whose name was Dead Fred. So I said well OK, great. We did a gig at Glastonbury, which was on my stage, not the main stage, and which was financed by the BBC which was doing a programme about reincarnation. Whilst we were doing the free festivals we picked up a lot of people, one of whom was Jeremy Sandford [screenwriter best known for homelessness documentary “Cathy Come Home”], who had a deal with The Sun newspaper writing all sorts of articles about mystical and mumbo-jumbo stuff and who was writing an article about reincarnation. Christmas Humphreys the judge [and famous Buddhist convert whose former house in London is now a Buddhist temple] and a lot of other interesting people were interviewed. Jeremy suggested they include me as I’d been to Egypt and had come up with this show based on the Egyptian Book of the Dead which he saw as a good reason for me having been reincarnated somewhere.
“So the BBC financed us to do a performance of the Sphynx show at Glastonbury. We didn’t have the original cast any longer, and although we had a couple of the people who had been in the original show and which managed to maintain the thread of the thing, we had a band that comprised of some of the guys who would go on to become Inner City Unit and a group of dancers who were culled from the festival site – much less a performance and more something from the heart. We were filmed playing in the afternoon and I was interviewed and asked what made me thought I’d been reincarnated in Egypt, which I’d never actually said, I’d just put this show together having been inspired by spending time in the Great Pyramid and how wonderful it all was.
“Then in the evening I got a bit bored. We had this PA on the stage and this guy was playing stuff, and at one o’clock in the morning we thought, oh fuck this, let’s do something and we got Inner City Unit out and that’s where we did our first gig. It was wild! Michael Eavis came down, storming, with Tony Andrews who was doing the main stage sound, and shouted “NIK TURNER, TURN IT OFF, YOU’VE SPOILED THE WHOLE FESTIVAL FOR EVERYBODY!!” (laughs).
Fred is still very much with us and is co-fronting Krankschaft with Steve Pond. Trev unfortunately is not, having passed away with pancreatic cancer in 2010, and Nik was due to play in a memorial gig in Brighton in early December. Obviously there is quite a sense of loss then.
NT: “Yes, Trevor was a good friend to me, I worked with him a lot and he was a great guy. We had our ups and downs because when I first met Trev he was in a band with Steve Took and they were all taking a lot of heroin. I ended up having to break up Inner City Unit because Trevor was giving the drummer Ermanno a load of drugs which he couldn’t really handle. He and I weren’t getting along well together because I didn’t agree with what he was doing – he was dealing, basically – and so I broke the band up and rejoined Hawkwind. I did a couple of tours with them which was quite a convenient situation really because it enabled me to be very expressive and outrageous”
But before we return to matters Hawkwind, I wanted to ask about the curious case of the single “Nuclear Waste” recorded by the Radio Actors in 1978 and which spawned a most unlikely collaboration.
NT: “Ah that was Sting! It was a song I wrote with Harry Williamson who was playing in the Sphynx band with me and who I was spending a lot of time with. I was also playing with Mike Howlett [Gong bassist and house producer for Virgin] whose girlfriend was working for Virgin Records at the time. Mike was doing production with several bands including that group that did “Echo Beach” [Martha and the Muffins]. Steve Broughton and Davey O’List were also around at this time, a real motley crew of people. We decided to do some recording with Simon Heyworth who’d done Tubular Bells, and I think we got Steve Hillage involved as well as Mike. I think the Police were with Virgin at the time and Mike invited Sting to sing on the record. We tried to make it something which had quite a bit of impact and his name on it was very helpful as the Police were becoming a big name around the time we actually released this. We wanted to donate the thing to Friends of the Earth, but I found them lacking in any spirit. They would only get involved in a demonstration if the police agreed (the Met, not Sting’s band, I should add) which takes the sting out of any protest. So we invited Sting down and he sang the lyrics and was actually very good. It was quite an iconic record in its way and it was Sting putting his money where his mouth was, really. Virgin Records financed it but it was our record and we tried to use it for political purposes to make people aware of the perils of nuclear waste. It was a labour of love and a gesture we hoped would touch a number of people who cared about the planet”.
Nik’s second term with Hawkwind –who by that time had scaled back on the psychedelic weirdness and had reinvented themselves to appeal to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal – was between 1982 and 1984 and is notable for outrageous stage antics involving a bright red cone of hair, roller skates and a suit that could be pulled apart by members of the audience. Turner certainly brought an edge back into Hawkwind’s onstage persona. He was always a visual character but now the image had become even more extreme and with a distinctly punkish sensibility.
NT:(laughing) “All cheap sensationalism, naturally! I saw myself as a sort of clown from space, a bit like a character from Michael Moorcock – an archetypal image of mad lunacy. I was trying to make it into a bit of fun, and not just a bunch of old geezers on stage playing their instruments. I think the music business lends itself to extroverts to exploit themselves and to perform in this way”.
How did that sit with the band and with the audience?
NT: “Oh the band was fine. The only person who objected was Huw Lloyd-Langton. He’d found God when he had a trip of acid at the Isle of Wight festival and never came back. It was sad because I think the drugs had a rather detrimental psychological effect on him. I was involved in taking quite a lot of drugs in the early days, not that I’d advocate taking them. You’d find yourself in a situation where someone would give you a drink of orange juice and then tell you there was LSD in it, and you’d think well, lie back and enjoy it. I had quite a lot of friends who ended up taking drugs inadvertently and having a bad experience with them and I think Huw was like that. Robert Calvert was another who should never have taken acid because he was in a very delicate state to begin with. A lot of people came back differently because of the drugs they took. Anyway apart from Huw who seemed to be offended by it all the band was OK about it. I doubt they loved me but they loved the positive reaction we got.
“The crowds loved it and the reaction was fantastic. I used to organise dance competitions on the stage for women only because the men were too rough – they’d jump around very exuberantly and wreck the equipment. I used to devise all these things as I went along. The road crew were very helpful - they were really into it and thought it was a real laugh. I met our lighting guy from those days, Colin Jones, at a gig recently and he reckoned that the most enjoyable band he ever was worked with was when I was with Hawkwind during this time, and I get that reaction a lot. I had a good laugh with the road crew. They’d make things for me, such as a light that would go in the end of my saxophone that would go on and off when I played - and another time one of the crew made me a light sabre made from a strip light. I came up with the idea of the Silver Machine being an iron lung in which I was wheeled out on stage. Then I’d be pulled off this operating table on a flying wire with plastic bags under my shirt and attached to a compressed air line. I’d suddenly get hugely fat and start flying into the air. It was only places like Hammersmith Odeon which had the facilities to allow you to do things like that. Another time the road crew found a coffin in one of the venues and put it in the van and from then on I used to be carried on stage in a coffin”
At this time, Nik Turner continued to work with Barney Bubbles, In fact throughout our conversation Nik frequently referenced Barney his friend and in many respects his mentor, someone who exerted a strong artistic influence over him and numerous others. In 1982 they worked together on “Ersatz” the album by Imperial Pompadours, one of their last collaborations before Barney took his own life in 1983.
NT: “Imperial Pompadours” was Barney’s idea of sound on a visual basis and I was its co-producer. An important thing for Barney was placement of the instruments – you’d have the snare drum on the extreme right, the vocals on the extreme right, the guitar in the middle, the bass somewhere else and it was all very extreme but very visual. The album was Barney’s concept and it was about King Ludwig of Bavaria, the Dream King, who was responsible for patronising Wagner, enabling him to mount his fantastic operas based on Teutonic mythology. Ludwig lived in this dream world where he was Lohengrin the swan knight and had all these fantastic castles built in Bavaria based on features from Wagner’s stories. Barney’s idea was to do this story of Ludwig which would also feature Hitler and Wagner as well as Ludwig, and the fourth person was the woman in all of their lives, a sort of an archetype. Inner City Unit came down here [Nik’s house] and we recorded about two hours of basic rhythm track where we’d all take turns playing different instruments and we created a rhythm track for this side of the album entitled “Insolence Across The Nation” tracing Hitler’s life and referencing the German philosophers and the influence they had on Hitler’s time. So we put this thing together in my flat in Belsize Park in London. Anyone who came around I’d give them a microphone and ask them to read things and then record them. The outcome was a mix of all this very bizarre stuff. It was very psychedelic but with frightening political overtones. The other side of the album was a different animal, Barney was working with Jake Riviera for F-Beat Records. Andrew Lauder was the A and R guy, he was the same guy who signed Hawkwind for Liberty Records, and Barney told him about this project, so Andrew gave Barney all these tapes of bands, most of whom were pretty obscure to me and whose names I can’t remember. We went into the studio, Me, Barney, Trevor Thoms, Dino Ferrari, and put down some silly rock and roll tracks with Andrew producing – titles like “There’s A Fungus Among Us”, “See You Soon Baboon”, “Don’t Mess With Fu Manchu” and loads of off the wall stuff. Barney gave us these tapes to listen to, long enough to write the words to and then we never heard them again, they just disappeared. We had to do it all from memory! That’s how Barney worked a lot. He was into object trouve [found art] and cut-ups. He’d throw things up in the air and wherever they landed that’s how he would assemble things, he did some album covers that way. There was one of the tracks which we recorded on quarter-inch tape and we took it and cut into yard strips, threw it all up in the air and then picked them up as they came and stuck them all together and that’s how the record came out, some of it goes backwards and some of it forwards.
A bit like William Burroughs, then
NT: “Yes very much so, and Mike Moorcock does that as well, “The Condition of Muzak”, for example is like that, going backwards and forwards into his multiverse. Barney was the same. I lived with him for many years and he turned me on to a lot of art. We went to Picasso exhibitions, Dada, new realism German expression and all that stuff, all very interesting and cutting edge. Barney was taking a lot of this stuff and pillaging them. Some of the Picasso ideas turned up on the Elvis Costello album “Imperial Bedroom”.
Nik also recalls Barney’s tragic and untimely demise.
NT: “Barney’s input, creativity and support was particularly important both to the development of Hawkwind and to me personally. It was particularly sad when he committed suicide. One of the reasons I’m told is that I’d invited him down to Dave’s place when I was with Hawkwind the second time, to be involved in the production of an album as we’d worked so well together on the Imperial Pompadours album (see side panel). By this time, though, it was all getting too much for Barney. He’d just come back from Australia where he’d gone walkabout with the Aborigines and I invited him down to Dave’s place to help us with the album because I thought he had a really good idea about recording and stuff. Anyway we were rehearing down there and then Dave came to me and said that Barney had phoned but that he had told him not to bother to come down because we don’t need him. Next I heard that Barney had committed suicide. I spoke to his girlfriend afterwards and she was there when Barney had phoned to arrange to come down to Dave’s place and she said that Dave had basically told him to fuck off. This was the last straw for Barney who by that time was clearly very unwell and beset with so many problems. It was all very sad”.
With everything seemingly going so well with Hawkwind what prompted Turner’s departure a second time in late 1984?
NT: “Well I was sacked, basically. I was manipulated out of the band by Dave. I was involved with working on producing an album “The Chronicles of the Black Sword” based on Michael Moorcock’s Elric character and I’d read all the books pertaining to that. No-one else had. I’d set up this management deal with Jim White who’d managed Nazareth and all that. I was heavily involved in organising the band and in writing songs and working with the management so I wasn’t just some session musician. We were rehearsing at Rockfield Studio and I was reading the Elric books and writing songs based upon these. I came home for a bit of a break and then I received a call and was told I’d been sacked from the band. I asked why I’d been sacked and was told that the band and the management had decided that I was out, which I thought was a load of bullshit, frankly. I went to see them and had a meeting with them to get to the bottom of it all. Dave said “well it’s not me, it’s everybody else”. So I asked everyone else and they all started passing the buck around a bit. Harvey Bainbridge said he didn’t mind me being in the band, so I asked Alan Davey, who hadn’t been in the band that long, and he said that his mates didn’t think I was what Hawkwind was all about! Then Huw Lloyd-Langton said he thought I was turning Hawkwind into a punk band and I said, oh do you really. So then I asked the drummer and he said he didn’t mind me being in the band, in fact he really enjoyed having me in the band, but that Dave had phoned him up and told him he ought to say that I shouldn’t be in the band but he wasn’t prepared to do that, because he thought I was the spirit of the band. Dave had manipulated it all. He’d phoned everyone up and told them what to say and then he comes on like it’s nothing to do with him. So I thought well if that’s the way you want it then quite honestly, I don’t want to be involved”.
“I ended up feeling quite disgusted with them all, because I think I generated quite a lot of success for the band in the two or three years I was in it then, making it fresh, exciting and a bit unpredictable. I wasn’t going to miss the dressing room situation, mind. That was all terribly depressing. You went in there at the beginning of the night and there would be all this wine and beer and other stuff, you’d go in there half an hour later and it would be all gone. It would all disappear into Dave Brock’s flight case. People would tell me what a nice guy Dave was, that you’d go to his house and he offers you all sorts of nice things like Tequila and wine and you knew it was all stuff from the gigs (laughs). Dave was so transparent doing all these nasty things and thinking he had everybody fooled when in fact everybody could see right through him. He comes across a real pathetic control freak at the end of the day which is sad for me because I used to know Dave in the early days and we got on really well. We spent a lot time together and had a lot of fun together. It was never this agenda of power, control and greed which manifested itself later. Somebody told me that he has this terrible cocaine habit. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I can quite believe it because that would seemingly explain how he has appeared in later years. Dave always claims to be ripped off at the same time as he’s ripping everybody else off including the band”.
In terms of Nik’s departure(s) from Hawkwind, there are claims that he used to play indiscriminately and not always tunefully over other people’s parts. Did Nik think that his playing has been unfairly maligned over the years?
NT: “I think so, yes. I go busking sometimes, I go busking at the Brecon Jazz Festival and I do well. I have a whole raft of John Coltrane and Charlie Parker songs and a load of other stuff as well. I can play anything really”
So would he be able to make a better living from busking than the many band projects with which he is involved, all of which are extremely worthy but none of which are particularly strong commercial propositions?
NT: “I probably could. I go busking in Cardiff on Saturday night on occasions and will make two or three hundred quid. One time I made £450 just in one night”.
Bearing in mind that Nik had a lot of success in the 1970s and early 80s – a hit single, big selling albums, US tours and selling out three nights at the old Hammersmith Odeon (no mean feat for a band even now), how did he come to terms with the loss of major label backing, a drop in earnings and less adulation?
NT: “I came to the point of thinking what do I want to do now? I really love playing music and I feel really privileged and lucky that people liked to hear what I do and that it’s had a positive effect on people. I was famous and it was all heady days, with plenty of flattery, sycophancy, people giving you anything you want and girls throwing themselves at you. Well it was part of the life, really, and I was quite happy to be involved with all that and enjoy it but I never let it go to my head. I’m just a regular guy who likes to play music and looking to improve his technique and I never had much of a problem adjusting to being out of Hawkwind”.
Nik reformed Inner City Unit after leaving Hawkwind a second time, without Trev who was still having issues with drugs, and who was replaced by Steve Pond. Every free festival at that time seemed to feature Nik Turner popping up in one guise or other. Did he see this scene as a logical successor to those heady Ladborke Grove days of the late 196os and early 70s?
NT: “Yes it was to me. I was very happy to contribute my energy towards the free festival scene and the spirituality of it. It was bigger than just being a pop star or being on Top Of The Pops. Being at Glastonbury, Stonehenge and other events was something I really enjoyed being involved with and felt I was doing something worthwhile and fun at the same time. It was my life”.
It’s a shame that scene isn’t nearly so vibrant nowadays, undermined as it was from without and within.
NT: “Unfortunately people, whether they’re governments, organisations or individuals see opportunities to exploit situations. It’s like the music business, full of exploitative, manipulative greedy bastards. The whole music business in this country has degenerated into some sort of controlled thing. I’m told it’s all controlled by Christian fundamentalist multi-nationals, it’s bizarre.
Although maybe no more bizarre than The Mormon association with Las Vegas?
NT: “Yes, it’s all quite incongruous isn’t it”
The ICU line-up at that time also featured another character, who for better or worse, has played a key role in Nik’s life over the past 40 years...
NT: “Initially we had Dave Anderson [ex-Hawkwind and Amon Duul II] playing bass. I was just watching a film of us the other day in fact. We did an album in his studio and he stitched us up basically. He’s done this to me ever since I’ve known him. We have this love/hate relationship. I’ve worked with him a lot and I don’t bear grudges, but over the years he has ripped me off wholesale. For instance he put out a lot of albums by Hawkwind without accounting to me, I never got any money from them – stuff like “Uri Gagarin” and “Text of Festival” which he released on Demi-Monde. To think I even gave him the name for his label! He just carried on doing that as though nothing was happening and acting very innocent about it all. We were involved with him with Inner City Unit and we did an album in his studio, which we called “New Anatomy”. He demanded that we sign a contract with him, it was all a bit wheels within wheels, you know. We ended up paying for studio time and then he took the album on his record label and third-party licensed it to somebody. So we never got any benefit from the album, we never got paid for it or received any royalties from it or were accounted to for it or for any of the Hawkwind albums he released with Dave Brock, and it just got buried. We then did a tour with the band and the band sacked him, basically. They all felt so strongly about him being a total rip-off that they wouldn’t work with him anymore. Fred, who was a very good bass player, took over on bass”.
From there ICU ran its course and in the late 1980s and through the 1990s Nik pursued a number of different projects including re-recording the Sphynx album with American band Pressurehead and touring with them and other luminaries such as Helios Creed, Genesis P Orridge and various ex-members of Hawkwind as Nik Turner’s Space Ritual, from which a live DVD and CD were recorded in 1994. But Turner was obviously keen to explore different musical directions
NT: “At the time I was doing other stuff as well. I vary what I do. ICU broke up and I formed another band called Nik Turner’s Fantastic All-Stars, playing jazzy sorts of music, but we carried on the same things we were doing such as playing Glastonbury and the other festivals and anywhere we could and where people wanted to hear us. We played Oxford [University] Summer Ball and developed in a direction that was completely unpredictable. I was always interested in jazz which is a more highly developed form of music with more freedom in it and is more exciting than rock and roll. I could make a career out of playing “Brainstorm” but I’d rather do something else, something different”.
However, the Mother Ship Hawkwind exerts a strong gravitational pull and so it was in 2000 Nik became drawn again to his former colleagues on the occasion of the belated 30th anniversary gig at London’s Brixton Academy at which band members past and present were due to mass and perform as the “The Hawkestra”. Nik takes up the story...
NT: “The Hawkestra was a great idea that was instigated by [ex-manager and key Hawkwind figure] Doug Smith, who thought it would be good to have a concert that featured everybody who had ever been in the band, which I thought was a great idea as well. Doug called me in because nobody trusted Dave with the money. The agency handling it was very happy to deal with me, the promoter didn’t trust Dave - nobody did. He has a terrible reputation in the music business”.
Is it true that Nik has the tapes/footage of the Hawkestra gig?
NT: “Yeah I organised the filming and the recording on a 48 track mobile digital recording studio which Motorhead had used the night before. I think Dave wanted to a deal with a German record label that would give us ten grand up front and that would be the end of it. I thought why do that when, for next to nothing we could record the thing ourselves on this high quality equipment and release it at some point? So we did it and yes, it’s still in the vaults”
Obviously us old Hawk-heads would beg, steal, kill and probably pimp our first born to be able to experience that.
NT: “Ultimately it would be a fantastic thing. It was an iconic event really”.
So what are the prospects of it ever being released?
NT: “Oh it will, definitely. We have to sort things out with the record company”
The event has become regarded as something of an organisational debacle due to the fall-out between some of the leading protagonists and the general chaos which saw some old members of the band standing around on stage with their gear unplugged. What are Nik’s memories of the gig? Did he enjoy himself and what did he think was the overall impression?
NT: “I thought it was great and I think the crowd did, too. I look at things from the point of view of the fans. I do things for the fans. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be there. I wouldn’t have been in a position of being in a relatively successful band with a following of enthusiastic people who like what I do. I think I’m privileged really. Music is a healing thing and making people happy is part of the way towards healing them”.
Unfortunately the event helped create a schism between what have since become clearly delineated and mutually exclusive camps – those who play with Brock and those aligned with Turner. Nik put on another “Hawkestra” show (minus the current Hawkwind and its camp) at the London Astoria the following year.
NT: “I wanted my Hawkestra to be a different animal from the one at the Brixton Academy. I wanted everyone to get on stage and then choose which songs they played on at random as the show went on and decide among themselves who was going to play what in a very democratic way”
However the scene was now set for a showdown between Nik Turner and Dave Brock over the use of the Hawkwind name, leading to an acrimonious legal battle which Dave ultimately won.
NT: “I had a band called x-Hawkwind because we were all ex-members of Hawkwind, but he claimed I was trying to pass myself off as his Hawkwind, because unbeknown to me and the other people who owned the name and who were on the first album and who signed the album deal both jointly and severally as Hawkwind, Dave had trademarked the name and then sued me for using it. It was all rather sad and shabby”.
What, then, was the current state of affairs between the two and dare an old Hawk fan hope of at least a musical reconciliation?
NT: “Well there isn’t a relationship really. I would work with Dave again, but who knows”.
At this time x-Hawkwind became “Space Ritual” with whom Turner still gigs and records and which features original Hawkwind members Mick Slattery and Terry Ollis as well as another early member, Thomas Crimble, and occasional involvement from other ex-members notably Del Dettmar (on Axe Synthesizer no less). Space Ritual also rekindled Nik’s on/off working relationship with Dave Anderson.
NT: “I worked with Dave Anderson again with Space Ritual. I’d invited him along to the Hawkestra gig which I don’t think he came to, because him and Dave Brock, well they’re two of a kind really but they can’t stand each other, although they seem to work together to the bring about the downfall of the rest of the world (laughs). I put on another Hawkestra gig at the London Astoria a year later and I got involved with Dave [Anderson] again through that. Then I invited him to join Space Ritual. I’m a forgiving soul, I’m not a materialistic person and I think everyone’s got their problems, most of which seem to stem from a traumatic upbringing and I seem to be luckier than most people in that respect. Things went really well, we recorded an album in his studio and the arrangement was that we would pay for the album and studio time once we had a deal for it. However Dave’s a very manipulative person. He controlled the website and wouldn’t let anyone have any input into it. He was backed up by the keyboard player, John Greves, We’d have meetings where I’d be pushing for access to the website and for things to be completely transparent, and John would say that he thought Dave was doing a really good job and didn’t see why anyone else needed to be involved. The choice and freedom would have been nice, though, because it was supposed to be democratic and we jointly owned everything. However Dave was selling product via the website and not accounting to the band for it. He also fell out with our manager [Chris Hewitt] and became very insulting over the website. It was all very embarrassing, really. None of us really liked that. I wasn’t interested in being involved in some personal vendetta”.
So what brought about the split from Hewitt who had toured and recorded Space Ritual under the resurrected Greasy Truckers banner with Tractor and who seemed to be doing a reasonably good job with them?
NT: “I think Dave Anderson fell out with Chris Hewitt, it was a personal thing. Again they’re very similar, very much two of a kind. The falling out was bad and there was a lot of flack flying around. I called a meeting of the band because I wanted to sort things out, but because John Greves was such a toady and was always backing up Dave and because I considered that he was only brought in temporarily to sit in for Del Dettmar, who was living in Canada, I didn’t invite him to it. I wanted everyone to think freely and make their own decisions and not feel like they were being coerced. Well, we had the meeting and Dave turned round and announced he was leaving and was taking the van with him (which the band had just bought] and the website and the album, which he wouldn’t let us have until we’d paid for the studio! We were in a hole. We had an album to get out, we didn’t have the money to pay for the studio time which we never thought we had to until such time as we had the money from the album deal, so we ended up having to borrow a lot of money to pay Dave off. Thomas, Mick, me, even Chris Mekon who wasn’t on the album and a mate of his and the drummer I was working with [Meurig Griffiths, who is now playing drums with Space Ritual] put together the money.
“We then got a deal with Esoteric Records [who are in the process of reissuing re-masters of Hawkwind’s post United Artists records back catalogue] who put out the album and who were OK to deal with at first, but then they organised a tour which lost money and then we had all our equipment stolen. They suddenly became more difficult to work with.”
The band’s gear was never recovered and I have this image of someone somewhere sitting in a lock-up wearing Nik’s famous old lizard suit and playing Terry Ollis’ drums.
NT: “I have my suspicions about various people who felt they had reasons, the list is quite obvious when you think about it, in view of all the stuff that had gone down previously and who might think that Space Ritual were a threat to their dominance. However, I’ve got a sense of humour so I just carry on, find new projects and move on from there”.
The album to which Nik refers is called “Otherworld”, released in 2007, and a glance at the Amazon website reveals a highly creditable score of 4.5 stars from a possible 5 from 23 reviews. This would indicate that either Nik has been remarkably organised in mobilising his fan base to plug the album or, more likely, that it has struck a chord with a lot of people who really like it. Some of the comments are about how the album sounds more Hawkwind than Hawkwind. Would Nik agree with that assessment?
NT: “I guess I would, really. Hawkwind is what I was involved with back in the early days. It’s not what Dave Brock has now, which is more like Dave Brock-wind. It doesn’t have the spirit or the ethos, the freedom or the imagination that Hawkwind had. What Dave hasnow is a very stereotyped entity which he’s controlling and which is limited by his imagination. He hasn’t really got an imagination in my opinion otherwise he wouldn’t put out albums that sound like all the other albums or like old tracks rehashed with meaningless lyrics. I listen to their albums and I’m really saddened because Hawkwind were fantastic and should be fantastic now. To me it’s very mediocre, it’s bland and there’s no excitement. The upshot of it all is that Dave is Hawkwind and Hawkwind is Dave with a bunch of yes men. Dibs and all these other guys, Richard Chadwick as well, they’re just happy to be in a band. They don’t care about all the other ramifications or anything else that’s going down. Hawkwind was a band they idolised, when we were creating the spirit of the thing. Me, Robert Calvert, Barney Bubbles, Jonathon Smeeton and Michael Moorcock”.
Nik is currently working on a new project called Outriders of the Apocalypse. I’ve seen the You Tube clip and it features what’s become a trademark bit of Turner stage-craft over the years. The band is on stage, you can hear a saxophone blaring but you can’t see anyone playing it, and all of a sudden you’re aware of Nik walking through the crowd from the back of the room to the stage. Where did that idea come from?
NT: “I was in Berlin back in 1969 at the independent Blue Note Club. I was hanging out with all these free jazz musicians and the drummer was doing that, he’d start his aspect of the show by walking through the audience playing a drum. Then I knew the New York Dolls and they had a sax player who I saw do that at the Gramercy Art Club back in about 1972. I was just taken by this idea of drawing the audience in, being part of the audience and then getting up on stage and blowing them away”.
So what does the Outriders concept involve?
NT: “It’s all based upon Mayan mythology. I have this theory that the Toltecs came from Africa, there’s these huge heads in Mexico about 12 ft high and about 10,000 years old depicting people with African features. I have this idea that when Atlantis sank – whether you believe in Atlantis or not – that Quezacoatl and a lot of other people left and went to all different places around the world and took their knowledge of astronomy, astrology and mathematics and so on to cultures such as Sumaria, India, Egypt, Mexico. On Easter Island, for example, you have these bizarre anomalies of statuary and carving. Quezacoatl went to Central America where he was dealing with the Toltecs and gave them his knowledge. I’m just very interesting in Mayan mythology and am fascinated with these pyramids and cities in the jungle and how these cultures develop and where they went to. I went to Mexico to play in a progressive rock festival and spent a lot of time in Mexico City playing with the mariachi players and visiting a lot of Mayan ruins. I figured that the Toltecs had taken Arabic music with them from Africa which in time became Spanish music, so then I thought the key to that is Spanish classical music and flamenco, so I devised an idea of music based on Spanish classical music but delivered like Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” and that’s what I wanted the Outriders of the Apocalypse to be. I was just listening to all this Spanish Classical music and got these bass lines from it, and I recorded these with Gary [Smart] the bass player I play with which I sent to everybody in the band with this sample drum track behind it. I then went on tour with the drummer Meurig [Griffiths] as part of the Hawklords in September of this year. This coincided with a date at the Alchemy Festival the day after the Hawklords tour finished. I had to catch a ‘plane from Berlin to Luton Airport that morning and drive up to the gig in Lincoln, somewhere and got there two hours before the gig. We’d not rehearsed and all we had were the bass lines, so we played over that. It involved throwing everybody in at the deep end and giving them the freedom to improvise. I’d worked on the bass lines with Gary and Meurig so we had a starting point and I was reading quotations from this book [produces from collection of books nearby] “Burning Water” a quite fascinating book about Mayan mythology and history written by this girl [Laurette Sejourne] who went to Teotihuacan where the Pyramid of the Sun, Pyramid of the Moon and the Temple of Quezacoatl are and who discovered all these wall paintings while excavating there”.
I’m struck by Nik’s knowledge of and obvious enthusiasm for this relatively obscure and esoteric branch of history, something which he is clearly happy to expound upon. He expounds about Quezacoatl’s philosophy of non-violence and vegetarianism, how the Toltecs were usurped (alright, killed) by the Aztecs who hijacked their knowledge, whilst retaining a respect for Quezacoatl and a fear of the end of the Fifth Sun, which is meant to be ending on Winter Solstice 2012 (something to look forward to, then) and had the idea that in order to allay the ending of the Fifth Sun the gods wanted blood, so they initiated blood sacrifice. This is what the Spanish found when they went there in the 16th century and which led them to condemn the Aztecs as savages and devil worshipers. The Aztecs thought they were Quezacoatl and allowed themselves to be slaughtered.
NT:“It was probably no big deal, because they were into this blood sacrifice and thought it a privilege if their son or daughter were sacrificed so they didn’t think it was that unusual when the Spaniards came along and killed them all. The Spaniards were driven by the Church and there was a priest there called Friar Bernardino De Sahagun who documented the history of the Aztecs in the 12-volume Florentine Codex written in 1532 and which I have been studying. It’s a bit sad in a way but I’ve been taking stuff from it, such as talk of certain rituals like where someone who is going to be sacrificed is given everything they can imagine for two years and two weeks before sacrifice they are taken away and put in isolation in the temple and prepared for sacrifice. During the sacrifice they play a flute. There are thirteen steps and on each step they have to play a flute, smash the flute and go on to the next step and repeat the process for all thirteen steps. I thought that was quite interesting as there are thirteen semi-tones in a scale, so I could use that as a musical device which I’m going to do as part of a ritualistic thing”
This has evidently grabbed Nik’s imagination and is clearly the current big project.
NT: “Yes, this is what I’m working on right now. I think I’d like to break away from anything Hawkwind related. I’m writing lyrics based on Popol Vuh, the Mayan spiritual history about the gods and how man was created. It’s all fascinating stuff.
Although Nik has signalled his intention to move away from Hawkwind, mention of the recent Hawklords tour prompted me to ask whether it was safe for him and his fellow ex-Hawkwind members to trade under this banner given the bitter legal argument over use of the Hawkwind name a few years back. I was surprised and more than a little amused to learn that Turner has trademarked the name, ironically given that Hawklords was the moniker used by Dave Brock and Bob Calvert after Turner had departed Hawkwind the first time around. Touche, and all that.
NT: “Although the original Hawklords had other people playing in it, it was Robert Calvert and Dave Brock’s way of getting out of a record contract, but the name was based on a book by Michael Butterworth, inspired by Michael Moorcock – “Time of the Hawklords”. I’m the only one in the Hawklords who was in the book! I was the Thunder Rider. None of the others were in the book, even though they played in the original band. I put the Hawklords together because I’d been invited by John Curd, the promoter, to put together a show at the Roundhouse featuring the Hawklords performing the original Space Ritual. I put it together as a Barney Bubbles tribute. After all, he’d designed the Space Ritual and the original Hawklords show. Unfortunately it didn’t sell enough tickets and so the original promoter pulled out. I then decided to do it myself and put it on at the 229 Club [in October 2009]. The band had been put together for a Robert Calvert memorial concert at Herne Bay on the 20th anniversary of Robert’s death (2008), so I thought I may as well get the three other Hawklords [Harvey Bainbridge, Martin Griffin and Steve Swindells] involved as they had been in Herne Bay and invited people who had worked with Robert. I don’t know if Alan Davey worked with Robert at all but he imposed himself on the situation”.
I had to admit that this seemed a most unlikely alliance given the fact that for so long Davey was Dave Brock’s trusted lieutenant and had not always expressed the kindest of sentiments towards Nik
NT: “You mean he had his head firmly ensconced up Dave’s arse (laughs)”
Perhaps a kinder analogy would be to draw comparison with Dad’s Army’s Verger and the Reverend, or perhaps ARP Warden Hodges.
NT: “I’m quite a forgiving soul but ultimately I wouldn’t have chosen him to be in the band. I’ve nothing against him, I just think he is a sad person”.
In fact Nik seems to be the rallying flag for those pissed off with the Mother Ship. There are some real characters in the Hawklords from different eras and inceptions of Hawkwind. One who really intrigues me is Ron Tree as he is probably the closest thing Hawkwind came to having a Calvert-style front man since Turner himself left in 1984.
NT: “I’ve known Ron a long time. We met when I was doing a gig at the Duchess in Leeds with the Nik Turner Fantastic All-Stars band and we had him on stage with us because he was a fan. His band Bastard was supporting us. He wasn’t a junkie then, he was quite straight. He had a nice girlfriend who was a school teacher and he was quite cool. I bumped into him again when I was doing a gig at Glastonbury with the Nik Turner Space Ritual, which was a bunch of people from Pressurehead like Tommy Grenas, [guitar] and, Paul Fox[bass] plus a local drummer called Joe Blake, Trev Thoms on guitar, Commander Jim Hawkman on synths and the late Rick “Baby-Face” Welsh on trumpet. It was a very impromptu gig, although I was also due to appear there with the Fantastic All-Stars. Anyway Ron Tree was in the audience and he came up to me afterwards and said he thought it was fantastic and that’s what Hawkwind ought to be doing, and that they needed a front man like me. So I asked Ron if he would like to be their front man and of course he did. I suggested he write to Dave Brock and ask him because that’s how people become the front man. So Ron wrote to Dave Brock and sometime later I heard he was in the band and touring America. I thought that was great, I really did, although later he became a heroin addict and now I find him rather pathetic. I mean he’s a nice guy and I get on very well with him but he’s having problems with drugs and he won’t allow himself to get away from the people who keep him in that position”.
He lives the rock n’ roll lifestyle doesn’t he?
NT: “Well I don’t know. He’s always broke! I don’t know if it is the rock n’roll lifestyle or a very sad lifestyle. Lemmy tends to personify more the rock and roll lifestyle, although he’s a really sad guy as well, he’s diabetic, he’s a lonely person. You go to his dressing room and he’s sitting there on his own, with his own fruit machine, nobody’s allowed in, he’s very cocooned”.
I ask Nik whether or not he’s seen the film “Lemmy”, in which the subject is depicted as a feted individual around whom there is a definite buzz and an aura, but one who you sense leads a solitary existence away from the public glare.
NT: “I haven’t seen the film, although I’m in it a little bit, I believe. I spent time with him when the film was being made. I took my kids there actually, two of my boys who were quite thrilled to meet Lemmy and I did the interview for Wes Orshoski one of the directors which told my side of the Lemmy story (laughs)”
The Hawklords gig at the 229 Club was also notable for a rare sighting in Hawk circles of ex “Classic Era” drummer Simon King, probably their archetypal sticksman, albeit not in a playing capacity. To fans that must have seemed like a welcome reintroduction into impolite society. What was Nik’s take on seeing this blast from the past?
NT: “Well I hadn’t seen him for a very long time, that’s right. After he left Hawkwind he went on to play in a band with Jackie [Leven, recently deceased] from Doll by Doll and then he had a chainsaw business with Jackie I believe. I think Simon had a problem when he was in Hawkwind and was a victim of drugs, honestly. He left the band because of that and I think he then gave up the music business and did a bit of antique dealing – his dad was an antique dealer. Then he had a straight job as the head of the waste department at Middlesex County Council and that’s what I think he does now. I don’t think he wants to be involved in the music business because of the dangers of the slippery slope. I think that’s probably very wise from his standpoint although I never fell victim of the slippery slope. I’ve had friends who have died from heroin addiction and I’ve seen the errors of their ways and I think it’s very sad. Ultimately, though, people make their own choices”.
As well the Outriders of the Apocalypse, Nik continues to work with Space Ritual and frequently guests with other acts, most recently with the amazing Acid Mothers Temple, and has another musical project entitled Project 9.
NT: “Yes Project 9 will be playing a benefit memorial concert for my son-in-law’s brother, a guy called Gary who had a band called 2000 DS, which stands for Dirty Squatters (laughs). They were all fans of mine – they grew up listening to Inner City Unit and now their children know all the words to “Maximum Effect”. I’ve got this little boy of four singing the words of “Sid’s Song” at me.
Not content with busying himself with a plethora of musical projects, though, Nik Turner is currently working on what might loosely be described as his autobiography, although this being Nik, you can bet that this will be no straightforward time-honoured memoire.
NT: “I want it to be an amusing and satirical psychedelic sc-fi fantasy, interweaving space travel with snapshots from my career. I’m drawing on newsletters written when I was travelling in Egypt and Mexico, trips that have helped spawn some of my most creative and interesting work. I also intend the book to be written from the perspective of my alter-ego, “The Thunder Rider”, as I think that writing in the third person gives me more artistic freedom. The plot will also involve a number of fictional characters inspired by my love of Raymond Chandler and who I refer to as “The Usual Suspects” and who all live at my place (laughs). One of the sub-plots I’m working on is about Hawkwind and is entitled “Nothing But The Truth – Only The Names Have Been Changed To Protect The Guilty”. It deals with some of the bacchanalian excess surrounding the band – it is the sort of thing people want to read about us. I am currently seeking a publishing deal and am in discussion with one or two potential co-conspirators to help me bring this all to fruition”
I’ve often been struck by how people warm to Nik when they see him. It’s more than the usual reverence reserved for an artist or performer, there’s more warmth, affection, even intimacy. What does he attribute this to?
NT: “I think I’m a man of the people really. I’ve always tried to be inclusive of people and to make myself accessible. To me it is part of the job. I don’t say that in a mercenary or calculated way, I’m a musician, I’m relatively successful I have got a following and I’m very happy to meet people that have put me where I am. I think I owe it to them really and am very happy to accommodate them by signing autographs, having my picture taken, shaking their hands and kissing their girlfriends (laughs)”.
And do interviews with strange men from online music publications, seemingly. Nik has surpassed the biblical three score and ten in years, but has a work ethic that would shame someone half his age. What keeps him going?
NT: “Well I don’t know. I’m quite healthy, I don’t drink or take drugs or anything destructive. I just love life and I enjoy playing music. I did a gig the other day with a guy from Cuba whose band I play in sometimes and I do a lot of different things and play with lots of different people. I’m doing a gig in February with a Hawkwind tribute band called Hoaxwind and they’re going to play their version of the “X In Search of Space” album and so I’m looking forward to that.
With reference, or maybe that should be in deference to Xitintoday, in the fullness of time when Nik’s time comes to depart this world and he is buried pharaoh style with his worldly goods, but could take only one piece of his music with him into the afterlife, what would it be?
NT: “I think perhaps some of my Egyptian music would be quite nice. It’s quite spiritual and rather apt for that sort of thing. However I’m not precious about anything I’ve done. I just think well that’s what I did then and that’s what I’m doing now. I prefer going forward, looking to the future, have a positive attitude and I want to spread happiness and good health and want people to have a good time”
For further information about Nik’s many and varied musical projects including forthcoming events, visit www.nikturner.com
Feature, interview, Photographs: Ian Fraser. Artwork & layout: Phil McMullen © Terrascope Online 2012