Nik Turner: "Acid created Hawkwind's reputation"
Maverick saxophonist and flute player Nik Turner discusses his long and colourful career featuring numerous bands and collaborations
Nik Turner is a man for whom the phrase “force of nature” could have been invented. He might now be in his late 70s, but he shows no sign of slowing down any time soon. Prog catches up with him as he travels to the Space Mountain festival in Granada, Spain, before then flying to the US to begin a tour in support of his latest album, Life In Space.
It’s clear that he still lives for the opportunity to play music to a crowd, with a question about Erich von Däniken leading to a lengthy anecdote about falling in with a troupe of Chick Corea-loving jazz musicians in Mexico City, and finding himself playing romantic Latin music in a transvestite strip joint.
It’s also clear that he’s a man who both lives in and for the moment – when asked about his new album, he admits that he was happily surprised to discover he had one coming out, and says, “I haven’t heard it since we recorded it – I’m very intrigued by it!”
Turner has collaborated with numerous bands, both live and on record, over the past 40 years, but it’s still the time he spent as Hawkwind’s sax and flute player, and de facto frontman, during the group’s classic early-70s period that still defines him in most people’s eyes.
While the progressive bands of the time were creating rock that aspired to the complexity and virtuosity of classical and jazz music, Hawkwind were travelling in the opposite direction, playing a new type of deep space psychedelia that valued rhythmic intensity and miasmic noise over technical perfection. Turner was central to both, conjuring and channelling the sonic chaos of the Hawkwind sound, his squalling, free-form sax often indistinguishable from the band’s barrage of electronics.
With flame-red hair and beard, and standing at well over six feet tall, he transformed into the Mighty Thunder Rider on stage, a persona midway between master of the universe and cosmic clown prince.
While Life In Space contains plenty of the driving, mind‑expanding music he’s best known for, it also finds Turner in a more reflective mood on tracks such as End Of The World and Back To Earth. The album also features guest spots from ex-Hawks Paul Rudolph and Simon House. “I never fell out with anybody really,” he says. “I’ve always remained friends with people. The only person I haven’t remained friends with is Dave Brock…”