Recorded at shows in Liverpool and London, Hawkwind’s 1972 albumThe Space Ritual Alive in Liverpool and London arguably captures the psychedelic rock band at its peak. Attempting to be “a full audio-visual experience,” those shows featured an elaborate lightshow and poetry readings from honorary band member Robert Calvert. Nik Turner, a founding member of the group who’s no longer affiliated with the current incarnation of Hawkwind but still plays the band’s music, wants to evoke the spirit of those shows on his current tour, which he discussed during this recent phone interview.
Your new studio album has been described as a return to your “intergalactic roots.” What made you want to embark on another space odyssey?
I’m happy to be doing it. I find it very interesting. It’s the style that I was involved in and helped to develop. It’s a new departure. I’m involved in lots of different things. I’ve got about four bands. One is called Space Ritual and plays some Hawkwind stuff and a lot of new stuff. I have another one called Project 9 which plays Latin jazz and funk. And I have another band called Outriders of Apocalypse which is based on Mayan philosophy and plays music based on Spanish classical music. It’s a bit like Miles Davis’ Bitch’s Brew. I have Inner City Unit and do gigs with them as well. I like to diversify. I like to do new stuff and keep stuff quite fresh. This album is influenced by earlier Hawkind stuff. It seems to be going well and we’re getting nice reviews generally. I haven’t seen any bad reviews, though I haven’t read all the reviews. I’m happy to tour with the guys on the album, though we have a different bassist and keyboardist on tour. It’s all very exciting.
The album’s first single was inspired by the space shuttle Challenger disaster. Talk a little about your recollection of that incidence and the decision to write a song about it.
I didn’t actually write the song but I find it very inspiring. It’s written by our drummer. It’s a bit like [the Hawkwind song] “Silver Machine” but more real. That was about Robert Calvert’s bicycle. This is about the Challenger spaceship and a bit more relevant. Bob’s fantasy was an interesting one and got people’s attention.
You’ve also released a video for the tune “Time Crypt.” Talk about your approach to the video, which looks like a clip from a horror movie.
It’s the record company that put it together. That was about evoking Night of the Living Dead. It’s slightly macabre. The record company has a free hand in putting these videos together. It’s quite hilarious in some ways. I find it very humorous.
Talk about what inspired the original Space Ritual show in 1972.
I was in Hawkwind and we had done this album called In Search of Space. It was supposed to be the history of a spaceship. The crew’s log was fascinating. It was all about different philosophies and hypothetical and spiritual things. Robert [Calvert] was involved with that. He had this project which was his space rock opera. We worked on it. I had songs like “Brainstorm” and “Master of the Universe” and “Children of the Sun.” I don’t remember exactly. He had these great ideas and we were working with [sci-fi writer] Michael Moorcock. He was involved to some degree. That piece “Sonic Attack” is one of his compositions. The concept of the album and the performance had a lot to do with astrology and astronomy and space travel. I found it exciting. We had the fabulous Miss Stacia who was a statuesque young lady with 42-inch breasts. She dressed as a ballerina. I did this improvised dancing with her while I was dressed as a frog. The whole thing was visually exciting and enlightening. It was a mixed media of sound and strobes. It was a total trip. People came to the show and were tripped out completely without the use of drugs and I thought that was a lovely thing.
Did the band members do a lot of drugs back then?
You couldn’t avoid it really. If you had a drink of water, you found yourself tripping. It was like, “Oh well. Might as well enjoy it.” It wasn’t something I went out to do but I didn’t get freaked out by it and took it in my stride. It came to a head when we did an Andy Warhol launch in London and the members of the audience turned into skeletons. It didn’t freak me out. I just thought, “I’ll look the other way and they’ll go away.” It wasn’t a really mortifying experience. I tried to help people get off the trip and felt morally responsible for encouraging people to take drugs and then for them to not be strong enough to overcome negative elements. I try to make it a healing experience. Other people in the band had a different attitude. [Former Hawkwind member] Lemmy wanted people to shit their pants and throw up. [Hawkwind leader] Dave [Brock] had the same attitude as well. I thought it was deplorable. I wanted them to have a good time at my gigs and not have negative side effects. I wanted to help them have a good time.
Is there a rivalry between you and Dave Brock?
No rivalry on my part. Dave trademarked the name of the band and he didn’t ask the permission of the people who signed the first recording agreement. We should have owned the title. I was going on with a band called ex-Hawkwind, which was all ex members of Hawkwind. He sued me claiming that I was trying to pass my band off as Hawkwind. It opened a riff. I had to pay a lot of damages. He’s very precious about his ownership of the title to the degree that I was thinking about trademarking Nik Turner’s Hawkwind in America. He claimed it was making him ill and he had to cancel his tour due to me. It transpired that his visa was turned down because of all his drug convictions and gun convictions and GBH convictions. I don’t personally get involved in that and I don’t go on the Internet much. It’s just hearsay. I think it’s crazy. I’m known as the keeper of the flame. It was all supposed to be about peace and love. He shows himself to be the antithesis of that. I just feel sorry for him.
I would like to bury the hatchet and be friends.