|Nik Turner 2000 Interview
Space Trippin' With A Legend - Nik Turner does not live by Hawkwind alone
|This interview is from the Autumn 2000 issue of Progression magazine...
It was one of those Fellini-esque scenarios that's the stuff of restless dreams: here was Nik Turner, with a
big grin on his face, blissfully boogying to the staccato beat of a Mexican mariachi band.
Yes, that Nik Turner - he of the iconoclastic space-rock band Hawkwind; a living legend who, at 59,
continues to seek out and explore adventurously progressive modes of musical expression. At this particular
moment, however -the Baja Prog 2000 festival farewell party in Mexicali, Mexico last March- Nik was just
having fun. His ever-trusty saxophone was cooling in its case. Psychedelic acid jazz and mariachi is one
musical brew that has yet to stir his fertile imagination.
Most everything else has, up to this point. Turner, who parted ways with Hawkwind in 1974 (he continues
to revisit the band from time to time), is now focused on his own group, Nik Turner's Fantastic All-Stars.
He jokingly notes that "it's full of people you never heard of." Their style is another hybrid genre, identified
as Afro-Cuban rave.
"The criteria with my own band is that you must be able to dance to the music. You have a danceable
foundation with interesting music happening over the top of it that's sort of jazzy," explains Turner. "I try to
play jazz you can have fun with and dance to...I call it pseudo- jazz."
The album will be called Kubano Kickasso, on Turner's own NikT Records label. No release date is set.
"My point these days is that I don't want to do music that's beyond people's perceptions," Turner continues,
an acknowledgement of the many progressive, psychedelic and free-jazz projects to which he's contributed.
"To me, it's got to be fun to communicate with the audience. I've come to learn that music is a spiritual
force, and you can heal people with it. It's healing vibrations - a matter of getting people to participate and
heal themselves without realizing it."
Further to the subject of "healing," Turner has come to terms with his long-past ouster from Hawkwind, a
parting attributed to differences with founder Dave Brock. Though he now views the band as a commercial
enterprise that has strayed far from Hawkwind's spiritual essence, Turner still gigs with them occasionally
as special guest.
There's talk of reuniting vintage members Turner, Brock, Lemmy Kilminster, Del Dettmar, Huw Lloyd
Langton and Simon House for an album and tour. "But it seems people can't agree on how to go about this,"
laments Turner. "Lemmy's into it if he gets a first-class ticket [from his home in Los Angeles] to England.
But one sticking point seems to be that Lemmy's agent doesn't trust the promoter who'd be putting this
Meanwhile, Turner is pondering a new project called Spirit of Hawkwind. It wouldn't include Brock or
Kilminster, "but might be a prelude to getting the [reunion] together," he says.
Hawkwind, long considered the prototypical space-rock band, formed in 1969 and earned a reputation for
fierce, free-wheeling performances in the British free festival scene of the early 1970s. The group's
trademark acid jams with spacey electronic embellishments and mindblowing psychedelic visuals served to
define a genre.
In the early days, Hawkwind was often compared to Pink Floyd. Other parallels apply beyond the music:
from the standpoints of group politics and idealism, Brock is to Floyd's David Gilmour what Turner is to
Roger Waters. Both groups also had prodigal-son figures serving as inspirational leaders. In Floyd, it was
Syd Barrett. His Hawkwind counterpart is the late Robert Calvert.
"I view Hawkwind today in a totally different light as others might," says Turner. "I got involved with them
simply to play free jazz in a rock band. Today, the band that goes out as Hawkwind I don't think of as
Hawkwind. A lot of very creative people who put a lot of love and creativity into making the band what it
was have long since gone.
"Hawkwind is now coasting on the success of people who made it what it was, which hit its height in the
'70s. Dave Brock has taken full control of that band, and it was never meant to be the sort of band where
one member had full control and manipulation. I don't think the current Hawkwind has the spirit of musical
invention on which it was founded. If I do go ahead with Spirit of Hawkwind, it will probably be composed
of ex-Hawkwind members who've all been sacked [by Brock] over the years."
At Hawkwind's spiritual core was Calvert, who with science fiction / fantasy writer Michael Moorcock
drew from Teutonic and Nordic mythology in developing Hawkwind's trippy lyrical themes. Another key
contributor was Barney Bubbles, responsible for the band's trademark stage visuals and graphics. "Looking
at this objectively, the people most responsible for giving birth to space rock were Robert Calvert and
Michael Moorcock," Turner says.
"Space rock has a lot of appeal for me because it's got unlimited scope, really. It allows people to exercise
their imaginations as far as they can - it gives the imagination free rein. I'm talking about inner space as well
as outer space."
In recent years Turner has become somewhat of a space-rock guru, sought out by young bands hoping to
capture the Hawkwind essence in their own work. Turner, consequently, has engaged in some interesting if
far-flung collaborations. He recently has recorded with European groups Dark Sun, Babylon Whores,
Pseudo Sun and Five Fifteen. Finland's Five Fifteen brought Turner along to guest on four songs at their
Baja Prog performance, highlighted by a spirited rendition of Hawkwind's classic "Silver Machine."
Turner is a tall man with a commanding yet friendly presence. The triumphs and frustrations of years as a
musical vagabond can be traced in his craggy face, which spreads to an easy grin at the slightest hint of
whimsy. He maintained a high profile through the festival's extended weekend, playing solo sax in the
theater's lobby during intermissions and busking for coins on the front steps afterward. Contributions left in
his open instrument case by appreciative passers-by were received by Turner uttering a politically correct
but very British "muchas gracias."
His impromptu repertoire was wide-ranging, from pop standards to show tunes. "I like all sorts of music. I
don't like to get stuck in any particular rut," Turner says. "I just enjoy playing period, and playing with
different bands. I've got a lot of freedom playing with Five Fifteen, for instance. They're not too loud,
either; you lose the dynamics when a band is too loud."
Asked to address the thorny subject of what is and what is not "progressive," Turner offered some
interesting and rather pointed observations. The Baja Prog festival, it turned out, provided plenty of fodder.
Suffice to say that Turner didn't like a lot of what he saw and heard, particularly regarding audience
involvement and appeal to the fairer sex.
Might there be some kernels of wisdom here from which diehard proggers can draw?
"Hawkwind used to be a progressive rock band, but I don't know what progressive is, really. To a large
extent, a lot of it seems to be a rock band playing classical music with a lot of clever changes, etc.," he
suggests. "My criteria of whether it's good these days is if you can dance to it.
"I don't see why progressive necessarily has to be music you can't dance to. It most certainly should have
more feminine appeal to it. When I came out [onstage] playing the saxophone, I could see what few women
there were in the audience sort of come alive. Their faces lit up and they were boppin' around and feeling
good. I think that's a good thing.
"My opinion is that a lot of progressive bands are not giving their audiences what they need, which is a bit
broader appeal, perhaps. It's all about communication, really, isn't it? I think people should be breaking new
ground, and there seems to be a lack of confidence among the musicians. A lot of this music is
self-indulgent and doesn't make any concession to the audience. The prevailing attitude seems to be, 'It's
my music and if you don't like it, fuck off!'
"Perhaps a lot of these bands lack a sense of humor and take themselves too seriously. A lot of it boils
down to masturbation onstage. You've got to make it accessible to a broader audience. A lot of the time,
the prog-rock thing seems to appeal to the schoolboy in men. They'd all love to be up there onstage because
they want to be loved and wanted by all the girls. But you've got to know how to reach [female listeners]
and draw them in to what you're doing. A lot of these [musicians] are ignorant of how to go about this."
Ignorance of anything musical is certainly not a problem for the well-traveled Nik Turner, circa 2000. In
recent times he also played in the ska band Ska Stars; a soul band, Morris Traveller and the Starting Handles;
big band Janet Juve and the Red Hot Daddies; jazz-funk band Blue Houdinis, traditional jazz/blues group
Grey Jay Blues Band; Wishbone Ash for a gig last year; and Ghanan reggae band The Utopians. He last
toured the United States extensively in 1994 as Nik Turner's Space Ritual, joining up with industrial psych
Anyone interested in checking out Turner's recent work in the progressive/space realm might best be
encouraged to seek out several titles on the Cleopatra label - Space Ritual 1994 (1995), Past Or Future
(1996), and three releases under the Anubian Lights moniker, The Eternal Sky (1995), The Jackal And Nine
(1996) and Let Not The Flame Die Out (1998). Some of the Anubian Lights material features solo flute
recorded by Turner in the Great Pyramid of Egypt.
Whatever lies ahead and wherever his journeys take him, Turner ultimately touches base with his home in
Wales. "I don't feel responsible, necessarily, for spreading the space-rock doctrine," he says. "I just think
it's great that Hawkwind has stimulated a lot of young bands to be creative in a sort of space-rock direction.
I'm just grateful for the opportunity to go out and play."
And how much longer might that be? "That," he says, "is like asking, 'When do you expect to die?'"