Interview: Nik Turner (Hawkwind, Space Ritual, Sphynx, Inner City Unit)

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HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: November 2014. We had the great honour to talk with a legendary musician: Nik Turner. He is best known as saxophonist, flautist and vocalist of space rock pioneers Hawkwind. He has also recorded albums with Sphynx, Inner City Unit, Nik Turner’s Fantastic Allstars, Space Ritual, PinkWind, Galacticos  and as a solo artist. His latest solo album is the amazing “Space Gypsy”, released in 2013 through Cleopatra Records. Recently, he recorded a cover to “Touch Me” for the tribute album, “Light My Fire: A Classic Rock Salute to The Doors”. Read below the very interesting things he told us:


Are you happy with the great reviews you got for your latest solo album, “Space Gypsy”?

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Yes, I ‘m very happy with this album. I just finished a tour and I am going to do another album. I like very much the “Space Gyspy” album. I did vocals for that and wrote some of the lyrics of the songs, and I’m quite happy about that because it’s great space rock and I like space rock.


You recorded a cover to “Touch Me” for the tribute album, “Light My Fire: A Classic Rock Salute to The Doors”, with Robert Gordon, Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater) and Steve Morse (Deep Purple). Was it an interesting experience to record that song with those great musicians?

It was great to work with such great musicians, I played the tenor-sax on the song. The Doors tribute album is very good. I like very much the songs.


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You just finished a North American tour. Did you have a good time there?

Yes, it was very good. I came back about 2 weeks ago. It was great and I’m very happy with that tour. It was very hard work. We played 30 dates in 33 days. And during the three days we had off, two days we were traveling and one day we had problems with our van. It broke down on the road. There was no real time to sit down.  But I’m better now.


What are your future plans? I’ve heard that you have a project with Billy Cobham (Mahavishnu Orchestra, Miles Davis –drums).

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With Billy Cobham, yes. I’m doing an album which is featuring his drumming. I’m very proud about that. I find it a real challenge and I have to do my best. I’m a great fan of Billy Cobham. I like to listen to Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” quite a lot and he is one of the drummers on that. So, I found it a privilege to be here and work on the same album with him. I will be very happy with this when it is finished. And I hope it will work out, though. But it’s very much of a challenge and we have not finished it yet.



How was it like to record flute inside the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid of Giza for “Xitintoday” album in 1978?

Oh, it was quite awesome, you know. It was fantastic. I was just sitting in on the side of the Sarcophagus, playing my flute, visualising the Egyptian pantheon of Gods. I did it spontaneously and I didn’t know what I was going to play. And then I discovered that Paul Horn had done it before me (laughs). I didn’t mind that really. I was a fan of his album called “Inside” (1968), which he recorded inside the Taj Mahal. And when I was in India, I visited the Taj Mahal and heard what a great sound it was, but I couldn’t do any recording at the time, because it was so crowded with tourists. It was absolutely crowded to do it, so I left Taj Mahal and stepped away.  My Pyramid album is very different from Paul Horn’s one. I was doing mine very constructively as I was musically portraying Egyptian Gods and the Pyramids in time and space. It’s about a dude that goes into a Great Pyramid on Venus, and then came out in Egypt. The Egyptian Gods are the crew of the Pyramid/Inter-Dimensional Portal and he’s meeting Anubis, Thoth, Horus, Osiris, Isis and Nephthys. It was an awesome experience to be inside the Great Pyramid, playing my flute and trying to portray the Egyptian Gods musically for myself. Yes, it was fantastic. When I finished the recording of flute, I decided to try to get my record company, which was Charisma Records, to finance me to go into a recording studio with Steve Hillage (Gong, Khan, System 7, solo –guitar), Mike Howlett (ed: Gong –bass), Tim Blake (ed: Gong, Hawkwind –synthesizers), Miquette Giraudy (System 7, Gong –vocals and Synth), Harry Williamson (ed: guitar), the percussionist Morris Pert (ed: Brand X, Kate Bush, Mike Oldfield), Andy Anderson (Steve Hillage band, Cure –drums) and many other friends. And when we finished the album, we had a big launching party at the Roundhouse in London, which is a large venue and can host 3.500 people. It was a big, free concert. We had many players and bands. We had Michael Moorcock’s band, Deep Fix, this was the only show they did, Steve Took’s band Horns, another first and last, a lot of people played there, “Blood Donor”, Brian James’ (ex-Damned) Tanz Der Youth, poets John Cooper Clarke, and Patrick Fitzgerald, plus lots more bands and Performance Artists too numerous to enumerate and remember…  It was a very exciting day, the album cover was designed by my dear friend Barney Bubbles, who also co-ordinated the Event, and choreographed my show. And then after the launching party event, I took the whole thing on the road, playing inside a Pyramid I’d had constructed as a Pyramid Stage, based on the dimensional proportions of the Great Pyramid, and also as an Orgone Accumulator with alternates layers of organic and non-organic materials. I took all that on the road and that was very exciting and awesome experience from the beginning.


Are you proud of Hawkwind’s “Space Ritual” (1973) album?

Yes, I thought it was a very good record. I mean, I just do things and then move on. I’ve been in America recently doing tours, where I have been performing the “Space Ritual” and that was very good and I really enjoyed it. I tried to make it as magical as possible, really. Yes, I’ve been proud of that album, I really enjoy its music and I’m very happy to be involved in that.


When Hawkwind released the “Urban Guerrilla” single in 1973, Bomb/Anti-Terrorist Police tore up even the floorboards in your apartment! What really happened?

Yes, that’s right (laughs)!! They tore the floorboards up in my house looking for guns and bombs and stuff like that. They didn’t find any of these things. Then, the record company withdrew the single because of unfavourable publicity and because of the situation in Ireland, really. The IRA was letting off bombs and stuff like that. So, the authorities investigated me and investigated the band. When we were on tour we were stopped by Customs, when we went out of Britain and we were kept waiting around for a day or so. It was very inconvenient, really. But the record company was withdrawing the record eventually, because the radio, BBC, wouldn’t play it anyway. They were very silly at the time and we had a lot of problems because of that single as you can imagine.


Was Robert Calvert an easy-going person to work with?

I knew Robert before he joined Hawkwind. We were good friends but he was very delicate. He had a nervous breakdown every 18 months, I took that into consideration when I was with him. Then, he was very easy to work with. I got on very well with him and I looked after him, when I was with him. The other people wouldn’t do that. When I left the band, he wasn’t really treated well. There is a documentary about how Hawkwind members would treat him. Nobody cared about him, or knew how to care for him, or was capable, the tour manager didn’t know how to care for him. I wasn’t in the band then. When I left the band, Robert was beyond himself because of his mental condition and people were afraid of him, I never was. If I were there, I would give him a big hug and take him to the hospital (laughs). They wouldn’t do that, they ran away from him.


Do you consider yourself as a jazz musician?

Yes, I think so. I’m very much into expressionist music. I want to do things that I really want and excite me. I am attributed with having introduced free jazz into the space rock world and I’m quite happy to acknowledge that because I have been influenced by some really great musicians. So, I’m very happy to acknowledge that I’ve been an influence in music business in that respect.


You visited Timothy Leary in Vacaville Psychiatric Prison. Can you describe us that meeting?

I went there with his wife, Joanna Leary who organized that for me. I actually went there on two occasions, because the first time I didn’t have my passport with me and the prison wouldn’t let me in. I had to go away and come back a couple of days later. And then I was allowed to enter because I had my passport. It was quite an awesome experience, really. Because of the electronic doors, the metal detectors and the heavy duty guards and big guns. There was very strict security. It was quite an experience. And when I met Timothy, he had his hands chained to his waist. The prison authorities said they didn’t want him to harm himself. I realized of course he had no intention of harming himself, he didn’t really want to do that. But I had an extremely interesting conversation with him about his ideas, his experiences and his spiritual views of LSD. He thought that in human race everybody is a different element. He supposed that there are that many elements as there are. He thought that the human race is represented by all those elements. So, everybody has a different atomic number. Mine was Mercury (laughs). That’s my astrological menagerie and configuration. Yes, he was a very interesting person to talk about his ideas. His idea was that asteroids would be self-contained and sealed, and with a lot of people living there, growing foods and having their own atmosphere. His Star-Seed Project, I thought it was very interesting and quite feasible, really. I have been reading more about flying saucers lately. There is one book by George Adamski, which I found it quite interesting and is called “Inside the Spaceships”. He says that he was abducted by aliens and the aliens look like human beings, but they are all highly intelligent and they communicate telepathically. They are very highly advanced. They have fantastic technology. Their spaceships can travel at 40,000 miles/hour within the wink of an eye. They had their own gravity, they visit the Earth and power their ships with the electromagnetic energy of the Earth. I find all that very interesting. And George Adamski says that they all come from different planets of our solar system and outside our solar system. And they live on planets, on Venus, Saturn, on Mercury, on the Moon. They don’t need to wear space-suits, to breathe the atmosphere and it’s quite normal there.  Tim Leary writes about asteroids, spaceships, ecology, self-contained planets where people can store their foods. I’m writing an album at the moment about the Annunaki, Nibiru and the Maya people. I’m interested in Mythology and Ancient civilizations. I’m quite excited about this album. I’m doing another album with Ginger Baker (ed: Cream, Blind Faith) at the moment. He plays drums on that. I am still playing with my band Space Ritual and I have another band, Project 9, where I play all my repertoire from Inner City Unit, Sphynx, Space Ritual, Hawkwind, Fantastic AllStars and playing a lot of Funk, Latin Jazz and lots of jazzy Dance music, and Rock and Roll. I call it Space Junk (laughs). I find all these very exciting.


Was it a right decision by Hawkwind to fire Lemmy in 1975?

It wasn’t my decision, everybody decided that, but I was the only one who had the courage to go to Lemmy and announce it. But I don’t want to claim a credit for it, though. I worked a lot with Lemmy, but I thought it was very hard to work with him. I was into playing music, not into taking drugs. Lemmy was arrested at the Canadian/US border with amphetamines in his pockets. Initially the authorities thought it was cocaine. He was in prison for several days. In the meantime, we had some gigs, so we had to get another bass player. We got Paul Rudolph, who played guitar in The Pink Fairies, a band who we played a lot with. We got him to play the bass and Lemmy got very upset. It wasn’t actually my decision to fire Lemmy. I just was the one who had the balls to tell it. Unfortunately, I did. I’m still in touch with Lemmy. I see him when he comes to England. I spoke to him in Los Angeles with his son, Paul, last year. I am still on good terms with Lemmy. I don’t have any problems with Lemmy.


Can you tell us a few words about your friendship with Michael Moorcock (famous science fiction author)?

I first met Michael when he worked on Frendz Magazine in Portobello Road, Ladbroke Grove, Notting Hill Gate, London. He was a science fiction editor and had been organizing free concerts under the Flyover in Portobello Road, Barney Bubbles had introduced me to him. When I invited Robert Calvert to join Hawkwind and read his poems with the band at the time. Barney was the Art Director of the magazine and he would devise and design all the lighting for Hawkwind’s Space Ritual and all the graphic design work for the band, publicity and artwork. He designed his own city on the tour at the time (laughs). He was doing all the design work and he designed all the album covers. He started with the “In Search of Space” album cover. Michael Moorcock did further reading with the band when Robert (ed: Calvert) wasn’t well. In other words, when he was having his own breakdowns, really. So, Michael sat in. And then Michael, was involved with putting a book together called “The Time of the Hawklords” (1976). All members of Hawkwind were depicted as different characters. I was the Thunder Rider, Barney Bubbles gave me that name. I think Dave Brock was “Baron Brass” and I think Lemmy was “Count Motorhead”, something like that and Simon King (ed: Hawkwind –drums) was the “Hound Master”. Michael was involved in advising and working with, Barney Bubbles. He dedicated several books to me. He also mentioned Hawkwind in his book about Jerry Cornelius. Hawkwind was Jerry’s choice of music for inter-dimensional travel. I love all his stories about outer space and alternative time. Michael still is a very good friend of mine. I saw him last year when I toured in the United States. He lives in Austin, Texas. I visited him also, when I was in Austin. I was in touch with him lately because I wanted to include some of his poetry on my next studio album. Recently, I recorded an album in San Francisco and I wanted to put some of his poetry on the album. I asked him to recite anything he wished, and he said he would be happy to.  and he let me put anything I like. He is a very good friend of mine and he’s a very good pal.


In the late ‘60s when you were in Berlin, you hung out with Edgar Froese of Tangerine Dream. Were you impressed by his music?

Yes, I met Edgar in Berlin in 1968. He had a blues band at the time called Tangerine Dream and he supported The Pretty Things in a club in Berlin, called My Beautiful Balloon. And Tangerine Dream were supporting The Pretty Things and The Pretty Things were performing their album “S.F. Sorrow”, which featured Twink as a drummer, and theatrical performer. Later, Twink played in The Pink Fairies. Twink and I, became good friends and we formed PinkWind in the ‘90s. Twink, now he has become a Muslim, Abdullah Mohammed. I did a conference in London with Twink about psychedelic drugs at Greenwich University. There was a whole weekend where we talked and there were a lot of people there. A lot of notable, interesting people and… me and Twink (laughs)! We had fun.


Do you think live shows are more important than studio recordings?

Yes, I think so, in many ways. Live shows are more expressive. In studio albums it takes time to do all these bits of tunes technologically. I quite like the live thing, especially when I toured with the pyramid and all. You have the good and the bad, and all is part of the big picture. Yes, I’m very happy to do live shows.


You recorded the song “Nuclear Waste” with Sting in 1978. Do you remember that session?

That is a song I co-wrote with Harry Williamson, the guitarist I was writing with at the time. We were working on my pyramid, Sphynx album. We had Simon Heyworth who co-produced (ed: Mike Oldfield’s) “Tubular Bells” and Harry was a friend of Simon. Mike Howlett, the bassist who played with Gong, he plays on my Sphynx album. He was working with a lot of people who worked for Virgin Records at the time. He was producing stuff with The Police and he was in touch with Sting. And he told Sting to come down and sing the song.


On 27 January 1972, Syd Barrett joined the Last Minute Put Together Boogie Band, when they opened for Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies at the Cambridge Corn Exchange. Did you meet Syd?

Yes, that’s right. At the Cambridge Corn Exchange. I think I might have played with him there. I don’t remember exactly. They all are a bit hazy now. We were taking a lot of hallucinogenics and stuff like that. We had a lot of fun. Syd was in all these things and he ended up having a nervous breakdown. A little bit like Robert Calvert, really. He didn’t have anybody to look after him. I think he ended up in at home with his mum and got really fat. He was on medication. I think he was the best thing about the Pink Floyd. They are just very commercial now. That’s my opinion (laughs).


Do you have any contact with Dave Brock nowadays?

No, not really. He’s not very friendly. He definitely didn’t want to be my friend. I would like to be friends with him. Dave is into a situation where he owns exclusively the name of Hawkwind now and deprives everybody else, all the people who were on the first album, that Dave should co-own the name of Hawkwind with. He should co-own the name with me, Michael Slattery (guitar, vocals), John Harrison (bass, vocals), Dik Mik (synthesizer) and Terry Ollis (drums). We all own the name, we were all on the first Hawkwind album contract. Dave sacked everybody from the band and then trademarked the name. So, nobody else could have it. And he wouldn’t let anybody else have it. He wouldn’t let people who were in the band to use the name. It’s sad, but that’s life.


Are you surprised that you are still alive?

Yes, I think so. Probably, yes. Now, I live quite a healthy life. I don’t do drugs. I eat healthy foods, mostly organic nutrition, I don’t drink any alcohol, I don’t smoke cigarettes or take any drugs. Maybe, I would smoke some pot sometimes. But otherwise, I don’t have any bad habit. I try to be healthy and live a healthy life. I’m not like Pete Townshend who hopes to die before he gets old (laughs)!!


Do you feel lucky that you got to know people like Frank Zappa and Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead)?

I did meet Frank Zappa a couple of times. I didn’t like him very much. I was having a concert where Hawkwind were playing there and The Grand Wazoo were playing there and they hadn’t sold many tickets. Jeff Beck Group were playing at the concert too. It was at the Oval Cricket Ground in South London (ed: 16th September 1972). He had a concert there, Hawkwind were headlining as special guests, Frank Zappa & The Grand Wazoo were playing there, and as I walked in about backstage, there was a young kid come running fast and Frank Zappa was standing near me, I think I was talking to him and as this young kid came up running fast, one of Frank Zappa’s gorillas –you know, the big, fat men- said: “Oh, where is your ticket?” and the kid said: “I don’t know, I lost it” or something and they beat him up.  One of them had the hammer handle and he stabbed him in the stomach with the hammer handle. He fell on the floor and they started kicking him in head and Frank Zappa was standing there quite calmly, watching it and I thought it was very sad, I thought they might beat me up, if I intervened.

On another note, I met Jerry Garcia at the Bickershaw Festival where the Grateful Dead were playing, he was a very nice man, I spent some time with him, just chatting.


Wow! In front of Frank Zappa?!

Yes. Frank Zappa was standing there, watching. Frank Zappa has been pushed off the stage at the Rainbow Theatre about a year before by the boyfriend of a girl who has been in love with him or something. He fell off the stage and broke his leg. So, he was starting to be really touchy about people being near him. But I have met all these people: Alice Cooper, Stevie Wonder, Captain Beefheart, Doctor John, Canned Heat  and lots people like that. I hope to see you when I come to Greece. Perhaps you could help me organize some concerts there, that would be great, thank-you.


A huge “THANK YOU” to Nik Turner for his time and to Billy James for his valuable help.

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