Nik Turner's Hawkwind will be at the Lion's Lair tonight, performing with the progressive-rock outfit Hedersleben in a show that combines music and mythology for a space-rock extravaganza. Turner is perhaps best known as a founding member of the legendary U.K.-based psychedelic-rock band Hawkwind. From 1969 to 1976, and then again from 1982 to 1984, Turner helped his bandmates in Hawkwind explore common ground between folk and psychedelic rock and his own affinity for science fiction, mythology and high-fantasy literature.
Turner brought a free-jazz element to the band with his masterful and endlessly creative use of flute and saxophone, which synched well with the other strangeness that Hawkwind's members introduced. The band's sound was so out of step with the mainstream music scene that its rich and unusual mix of sound proved an inspiration for English and American punk acts. Hawkwind also inspired more sonically adventurous metal bands, and even a current psychedelic-rock visionary like Ty Segall cites the band as an influence. It also connected on a grassroots level with fans.
Turner grew up in a creative family. His mother played piano, his father directed for the screen and stage, and his aunt was the late Margery Mason, who had a long career with the Royal Shakespeare Company and small parts in Love Actually and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. At a young age, Turner was subjected to endless playings of Miles Davis's 1958 classic, Milestones. “Then I bought a Cannonball Adderley record just to have something to listen to, an album called Somethin' Else,” recalls Turner.
Turner latched on to the saxophone after listening to an early jazz single named “Flamingo,” by Earl Bostic, who was a bit of a mentor to and influence on John Coltrane. By the early '60s, Turner had met some musicians who introduced him to free jazz, a form of music that allowed him to improvise even more freely than he had previously. At the same time he was experimenting with music, Turner maintained an avid interest in the mythologies of ancient civilizations; he has used his knowledge of mythology to creatively explore themes and ideas in his music, both before, during and after his involvement with Hawkwind proper.
“I feel like I can learn something from ancient people,” explains Turner. “They seem to have known a lot that we don't know and had technology that was very advanced or pure somehow. But things get cloudy if you try to remember things in the past, and it gets distorted and turns into superstition.”
Turner once spent the night in the Great Pyramid of Egypt; he feels it gave him great insight into an ancient civilization that existed prior to Egypt, evidence of which exists in the mythological accounts of other civilizations. “When I studied Egyptology, I couldn't figure out how you suddenly had this instantaneous, fully formed civilization without any predecessor,” says Turner. “I didn't find out how the civilization developed without any guesses. So I made up my own mythology, in which Quetzalcoatl came from Atlantis — and when Atlantis sank, he and other people went to the social centers of the world like Egypt, Sumeria and, I guess, India, and took all his knowledge of astronomy, astrology, mathematics, science, civility and agriculture with him.”
As he explored these theories, Turner enjoyed quite a diverse and artistically respectable career. His numerous collaborations include other figures in experimental music like Genesis P-Orridge, Jello Biafra and Chrome guitarist Helios Creed. For Turner's 2015 album, Space Fusion Odyssey, his collaborators stretched to embrace jazz-fusion legend Billy Cobham, Steve Hillage and Gillie Smyth of Gong; former Megadeth guitarist Chris Poland; John Weinzierl of Amon Düül II and Nicky Garrett of Hedersleben and UK Subs. The result sounds like what might happen if especially talented players were able to make an unusual and fascinating hybrid of free jazz and fluid psychedelic rock.
“It's the most inventive and adventurous musical project I've been involved with,” enthuses Turner. But that doesn't mean it will be the focus of his performance tonight. “I'll try to get the band to play some of those tracks," he adds, "but they're pointing in the direction of the Hawkwind material —which is fine, because that's part of my musical heritage.”
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
Though Hawkwind has rebuffed Turner's olive branch, he's still open to a reconnection. In the meantime, he has released a book telling his version of his involvement with Hawkwind,The Spirit of Hawkwind 1969-1976, and launched the Nick Turner's Nighthawk tour.
At the Lion's Lair show, the band will play some older Hawkwind material from the times whenTurner was involved, as well as material from Turner's 2013 album Space Gypsy and perhaps a modified version of the new material in Space Fusion Odyssey. And with the weaving together of ancient mythology, modern UFO mythology and science fiction, Turner will use his entrancing, spirit-stirring music to tap directly into the collective subconscious.
Nik Turner's Hawkwind performs with Hedersleben on Monday, November 16, at the Lion's Lair for a 21-and-over event; doors open at 8 p.m.. Tickets are $15 at the Brown Paper Tickets website.