My first interview with a bona fide "Rock Star" also proved to be one of the best of my life. Nik Turner of the legendary Hawkwind was kind enough to sit down with me for half an hour and talk to me about his career, his stories, and most importantly the spiritual aspects of his music. If nothing else, it's certainly interesting to see what a man who has been involved in the industry for more than fifty years has to say about how music impacts the soul. Interview by Matt Bacon From October 2014 Vandala Magazine READ MORE ARTICLES
How’ve you been Nik?
Nik: I’ve been really well. I’ve been enjoying this tour. I’ve had my boy Elfin here with me. He’s been helping me because I’m getting old and feeble! (Laughter) I’m not really feeble. I’m just enjoying being here, the shows, and meeting the people. It’s been very good and having a lot of fun. Never a dull moment! (Laughter)
Will Hawkwind ever die?
Nik: My feeling is that everybody who has been touched by Hawkwind is Hawkwind. All the fans of Hawkwind are the band. They’re into that spirit of what the band was about. I wouldn’t say the band is about that spirit anymore particularly. I’m more about that spirit than Hawkwind. I sort of perpetuate that vibe and that alternative attitude, that’s what Hawkwind was and what we stood for, and I was part of it and I think I still am.
So what’s the band about then and now?
Nik: A lot of people were touched by Hawkwind in the 70s, we did tours in America and people just loved it. We had silly gags going, fancy dress competitions and mask competitions on the tour. It was very exciting and a lot of fun. It brought people in and included them. It was great. A lot of people saw those shows, it’s legendary now. I came over here in the 90s and did some gigs, I did a couple of tours. I get people coming up to me now saying “That tour you did in the 90s was great, I really love Hawkwind” and they see me as the personification of Hawkwind. I don’t know if Dave Brock is going to come over here. I don’t know if he’s capable of coming over here. He’s got a lot of legal problems and stuff like that. I don’t know anything about him really, I worked with the guy and we were good friends and it was great but we went our own ways really for whatever reason.
I’m just still carrying on, I’m just trying to make good music that people like and that I like. We’re playing some of the early Hawkwind stuff that we played in the 70s. We’re playing some new material as well. We’re playing songs from our new album Space Gypsy we’re not playing exactly what we played last tour we did. We’re doing some of the same stuff. A lot of songs I wrote… I like singing my songs. People love it. I think it’s great. I love it.
Talk to me about Space Gypsy, what went in to the creation of that record. I feel like it’s a very cool forward step.
Nik: When I was invited to come over here I had already done some work with Cleopatra Records. I had done live albums with them and two or three other albums of samplers and stuff like that. They put out some Inner City Unit material which was another band I had in the 80s after Hawkwind. They invited me initially to play on some progressive rock fusion albums that were being together by a guy called Billy Sherwood from Yes. I’ve never been a listener of Yes, but he’s a nice guy. I did some stuff with him. I played on William Shatner’s album. (Laughter)
The band had already started working together, so Cleopatra Records invited me over and already had the band for me. We had a different bass player though and a different synthesizer and keyboard player. That was the album. It was put together by the record company. I wrote four songs really. I like it, people like it, it’s been put together as a sort of Hawkwind oriented sound using different sounds and rhythms that Hawkwind would have used. That sort of music is in the air, it’s everywhere, you can’t really say “That’s mine”
It’s almost more of a vibe, a feeling, than a musical experience. How do you create that?
Nik: I let the band have total freedom to do what they’re doing. I’m just happy to let them do their thing, they’ve all got their own ideas, I’m happy for them to express them. Then I write lyrics and try to incorporate the vibe of what I believe in and things I’m interested in to make it science fictionally plausible to me. I thought the album was rather like a book of science fiction stories. Each one is a sort of entity in itself. I like that. I was invited to come and tour last year, and now this is another tour, so I’ve been doing that.
I enjoy playing music, I play all different styles, this isn’t the only music I play. I was headlining a jazz festival about a week and a half ago in England, playing a lot of Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard and that sort of stuff. I just like good music. I have a band that plays my whole repertoire, the whole Space Gypsy album, the Space Ritual album, stuff from all the bands I’ve had. All that material. I’m not only playing space rock, I’m going into other fields. I’m doing an album at the moment with Billy Cobham where he’s doing drums. That’s quite fun. I like doing different things really.
What kind of music is that record going to be?
Nik: It’s probably going to be a space rock sort of thing. I like dance music, so I’m going to make it dancey. I hope that’s acceptable to people. It’s got a lot of different aspects really. It’s space rock but if you can dance to it then…
What name will that be under?
Nik: I’m not actually sure at the moment, probably my name stuck on the front of it.
As a Star Trek fan I need to know, what was it like working with William Shatner?
Nik: I didn’t actually go in the studio with him. I ended up meeting him at the studio where he was making a promotional film for his album. I met him there. I used to be a fan of Star Trek and stuff like that. We sort of embraced and he said “I’ve always been a fan of yours” and I said “I’ve been a fan of yours as well” and it was fun.
He was making a commercial for his album where he was inviting people who had photographs of rainbows to send their rainbows to him so he could use them in the albums sleeve design or something like that. I was there while he was making this film, we had a chat, it was quite cool really.
You’ve been doing this for 50 years roughly right? Has there been some sort of big lesson that you learned from that?
Nik: I’ve been managing myself for 40 years and I’ve been my own agent. I’ve been very free in what I’ve been doing. I haven’t really been involved in business management and companies. I have a bit but I sort of became more wary because of that. I play music for pleasure really. I don’t try to be too ambitious or play very commercial music, I just like music to be fun. That’s what I try to do all the time. Making things spiritual as well. I just want people to be really healthy and vibrant and have a good time.
So the music has a spiritual aspect for you?
Nik: I think that music is a spiritual thing. I think it’s a harmonizing thing, you can touch people with it, with emotion, with your expression, it’s exciting.
Does that manifest itself in what you believe in?
Nik: I have my own convictions about things and I’m a very spiritual person. I was brought up Roman Catholic but I’m not a Roman Catholic. I’m more likely to be a Buddhist, because Buddhism acknowledges all religions whereas none of the other ones do. I like music as a healing thing and I like to heal people if I can. I like everybody to be healthy and happy.
Has that idea of having everybody be “healthy and happy” been a driving force in your career?
Nik: I think so yeah. I do heal people. I spent time inside the Great Pyramid in Egypt, I was meditating and putting on music. When I came back to Britain I found out I had great healing powers in my hands. So I heal people when I can. People are happy for me to try, I do it if they ask me, I don’t make a thing of it. I was invited to talk and have a question and answer session at a showing for a movie about Hawkwind called Do Not Panic. It was a showing on BBC television. I did it, it was in Brighton. Then people were asking about my experiences in Egypt and I told them about this healing power. Then this woman in the audience said “I have this really bad pain in my back, can you heal me?” and I said “I can try!”
So I put my hands on her and thought about the Egyptian gods and the mumbo jumbo and the power of the elements and tried to take the pain away. Breathing positive energy into her and drawing out negative energy all the while thinking about the elements and the Egyptian gods. Then the pain went away. It all confirms my belief in the harmonizing of music with other things.
Is that a gift anyone can tap into?
Nik: I think everybody has the power. I think people give you that power, I didn’t know I could heal anybody. Somebody said to me “I have this amoeba in my stomach, can you heal me?” and I said “I’ll try” and I put my hands on him and it worked. I went to this festival of mind and body they have in Britain for alternative healing and stuff like that. The people there took a special photograph of my hands and they said “You’ve got great healing hands, join our group!” I said “No, I don’t really join groups, I form them.”
I think everybody has it, people give it to you. I helped one guy with a terrible migraine and he said my fingers felt like ice. Another guy had a terrible pain in his stomach and wanted me to take him to the hospital and I said “Well I’ll try and help you without taking you to the hospital” I put my hands on him and took the pain away.
How long have you been aware of this power?
Nik: Ever since I went to Egypt which was in 1977 around then I guess. I don’t make a thing of it or anything. I try to make the gigs I do into healing experiences for Ever since I went to Egypt which was in 1977 around then I guess. I don’t make a thing of it or anything. I try to make the gigs I do into healing experiences for people, not even touching them, just giving them that vibe. I don’t understand anything about this sort of thing.
Have you been back to Egypt since 1977?
Nik: No I haven’t. Instead I went to Mexico. I was playing at a progressive rock festival in Mexicali. While I was there we sort of stole the show and I got bored after our show. So I ended up busking outside the big theater that the festival was in to make a buck. The following year who put the festival on invited me to go there just to busk. So I was busking in the lobby of this big theater, playing all these bossa novas. I’ve got a huge repertoire of music I can play.
Then I went down to the city and played with all these mariachi musicians. I was playing with them. When I went to Mexico City I met this guitarist and we had all these tunes we knew together and we’d play Latin jazz like Chick Corea’s stuff from when he was in Spain. I got him to come up to the lobby of the theater and we did a gig there, it was great. They gave me some phone numbers of jazz people in Mexico City. I met these people, one of them had a restaurant and invited me to have a meal, then a keyboard player showed up and we had a lot of stuff in common so we played together. Then he said to me “I’ve got another gig in a cantina, would you like to come and play with me?” and I said “All right.” Then these really beautiful Mexican singers turned up and they were all singing all this romantic traditional Mexican music. It was great! I was staying in a brothel by the side of Garibaldi which is the square dedicated to mariachi music. I was playing there with my tenor saxophone, busking with these mariachi trumpet players.
Then I visited some Mayan ruins in the Yucatan which was very interesting. I visited the tomb of the Lord Pakal. He was supposed to be a feathered serpent like Quetzalcoatl. All these characters, I think a lot of them came from Atlantis. I’m really interested in extraterrestrials. These people, the Mayans had all this knowledge that we don’t even have. They knew a lot of stuff that we don’t know. They had science and astronomy, astrology, mathematics, agriculture. All of this stuff I think came from Atlantis, or another planet. I wonder about this sort of thing. I think all of these people went out from Atlantis to Mexico, Egypt and Sumeria, and all those other places, those power centers really, like Stonehenge.
Where did your belief in this kind of thing originate?
Nik: I’ve always been interested in mythology. I grew up on mythology with stories like Jason and the Golden Fleece. I’ve always been interested in ancient ruins. To me it’s all very fascinating. When I went to Egypt I didn’t know much about Egyptian mythology. I went there, recorded flute music inside the Great Pyramid. I also learned all about the Egyptian Book of the Dead and their rituals and then concocted my own idea of it.
It was about this character who is on Venus and he goes into a pyramid there and he meets the crew of this inter-dimensional machine. Then the crew is actually Egyptian gods. The guy goes in there and he has to know all these spells and the gods names and stuffs. He comes through and he has his heart weighed and he meets all the gods.
He comes out in Egypt in 1977 and that’s me. I concocted that sort of story out of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. I musically characterized all of the gods while I was playing my flute in the pyramid. I personified what I knew about them. I sort of then had all this information about the gods and wrote songs about them quoting all of their powers, abilities and what they do and how they work together. I thought it sounded very poetic so I put it all together. I had this guy called Steve Hillage produce the album. He use to play in a band called Gong. He’s a nice guy.
These are sort of things I do… Just through interest in something I’ll investigate it, then I come out of it with all these strange beliefs. They say that people who spend a night inside the Great Pyramid come out a genius or an imbecile. Interesting things really. I was offered the keys to the pyramid when I first went there by these Bedouins. The whole area around the pyramid is owned by these Bedouins, they were nomadic before they settled there. They opened shops. They own all the shops around there. These people adopted me when I was there. I would just go anywhere playing the flute wherever I went. Then they said “Oh come over here, play your flute and have some tea” Then they took me out to the desert and gave me a feast, they got me really stoned on this hookah and hashish.
Do psychedelics still play a large part in your life?
Nik: Not really. I smoke a little bit of pot, but not very much. I do occasionally take magic mushrooms. I don’t think I’d take LSD again really. I took a lot of it at one time. It didn’t really have a detrimental effect upon me. I probably took it every day for about two years. It was only in the latter part of that time that I started having bad trips ad I realized I’d had enough. I’d go and do a gig for this Andy Warhol thing with Hawkwind and then all the audience turned into skeletons. I thought “Oh that’s not funny,” so I looked the other way and they went away. I thought, “I’m a bit frazzled and need to focus myself” so I stopped taking LSD.
I took it when I went to America when I visited Timothy Leary in psychiatric prison. We put on a gig as a benefit for him. I was involved with his wife at that time. She was taking me around meeting all the members of Jefferson Airplane and stuff around San Francisco. She took me to meet him in the psychiatric prison, he was a very interesting guy. I spent a couple of hours talking to him. He said that we were all elements, and everybody was a different element, however many elements there are in the periodic table. That’s what he reckoned. I don’t necessarily agree but I find it fascinating. I think we’re all part of the same thing ultimately.
What do you love so much about music?
Nik: It’s like a meditation really? It makes me happy playing it. The spin off for me is the joy it gives for other people. It gives me joy having other people enjoy themselves. It’s sort of an exchange of energy really. One thing I’ve formulated lately is that it’s a sort of sexual thing. With the reed and the tongue. I sort of focus my saxophone on the clitorises of the women in the audience, to give them maximum pleasure from the music.
Do you have any final words of wisdom?
Nik: I don’t know, I’m not very wise! I just want to encourage everybody to play music and to have it in their lives. People say “I was told I was tone deaf so I can’t play anything” and I think you just need to have an open mind, you can at least dance. People say “I have no sense of rhythm” and I say “You have got a heartbeat, so just attach your concentration to that” Everybody should have music and dance in their lives.