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Nik Turner

+ {Nik Turner’s Sphynx} + {Inner City Unit} + {Space Ritual}

HAWKWIND’s third best-known alumni (next to DAVE BROCK and ROBERT CALVERT, saxophonist, flautist and occasional vocalist NIK TURNER has spanned a 40 odd-year career that’s incorporated space-rock, punk, jazz and ambient music. “Performing” a raft of prime HAWKWIND cuts throughout his solo career in the 90s (check out his wigged-out re-interpretation of “Space Ritual”), Hawk-fans have come close to disowning the man for some of his other near bootleg-quality releases.
Born Nicholas Turner, 26 August 1940, Oxford, England, “Nik” grew up in Margate in Kent. After abandoning his Mobile Freakout combo for HAWKWIND, he never looked back, and from 1969 to 1976 and 1982 to 1984, he became an integral member of the ever-evolving prog-rock outfit. Nik and Dave had collaborated on several of the group’s classic rock pieces, including `You Shouldn’t Do That’, `You Know You’re Only Dreaming’ and `Master Of The Universe’ (all from 1971’s “In Search Of Space”), while his lengthy `Brainstorm’ epic (from 1972’s “Doremi Fasol Latido”) and `D-Rider’ (from 1974’s “Hall Of The Mountain Grill”) duly became Hawkfan faves.
During a six-year stint away from the group (the aforementioned BROCK had sacked him with just about everybody else!), TURNER took time out to visit Egypt, where the country’s culture (the pyramids, etc.) was paramount to his re-thinking of his own future.
Returning to England and teaming up with several players from fellow space-cadets, GONG (including gliss guitarist STEVE HILLAGE), Nik Turner’s Sphynx supergroup delivered his debut, post-HAWKWIND album, XITINTODAY (1978) {*7}. Weird and wayward in its stripped-down acoustic mysticism, titles such as `Isis And Nephthys’, `Horus’ and `Thoth’, explained more than mere words (or hieroglyphics) could hope to achieve. Subsequent session work for the likes of MOTHER GONG (on 1979’s “Fairy Tales”), The STRANGLERS, SHAM 69, PSYCHIC TV, STING and old mucker ROBERT CALVERT, gave him a certain degree of clout among the rock underground and beyond, while Nik was able to try his hand at other projects.
Recruiting a new bunch of London-based warriors on the edge of time, he self-financed the INNER CITY UNIT – basically unknowns, Trev Thoms (once of OPAL BUTTERFLY), Dead Fred Reeves, Baz Magento and Mick Stupp; who’d replaced Dave “Dog” Atkins – for the independently-released PASS OUT (1980) {*7}. Freak-punk or freshly-grown, pot-headed psychedelia, there was odd revisit (`Brainstorm’ and `Master Of The Universe’, prime examples), although psi-fi new wavers `Space Invaders’, the similar `Polyethylene’ and `Cars Eat With Auto Face’ drew in fans from the indie/alt genre. While several of the tracks were re-vamped with a revised ICU outfit for independent No.1 set, PUNKADELIC (1982) {*7} – a revisionary thing that Nik would choose to do over the years. Nik and the group combined well for the timely `Blood And Bone’ EP (available as bonus tracks on the aforementioned album); check out covers of RED KRAYOLA’s `Hurricane Fighter Plane’, Vince Taylor’s `Brand New Cadillac’ and The Nightcrawlers’ `Little Black Egg’. At least one further cover version (The SHANGRI-LA’S’ `Remember (Walking In The Sand)’) was available on 1981’s THE MAXIMUM EFFECT {*5}, while “Epitaphs” to various personage/places via “Hippies”, “Skinheads In Leningrad” and “Margate Beach” and “Benidorm” was the order of the day. Without dismissing The Imperial Pompadours/Barney Bubbles (HAWKWIND’s resident artist) and his TURNER/CALVERT-augmented set, ERSATZ (1982) {*5}, the Krautrock-esque NEW ANATOMY (1984) {*6} and THE PRESIDENTS TAPES (1985) {*6}, rounded off Nik’s tenure as head-honcho of INNER CITY UNIT; it’d be several years before the sax player would get back to something of a solo/in band nature.
If SPHYNX (1993) {*4} marked a fresh start for the solo NIK TURNER, then more fool moi, indeed it was a thinly-disguised sequel to “Xitintoday”, with the addition of HELIOS CREED (ex-CHROME) plus Len Del Rio and Grenas (of The ANUBIAN LIGHTS) and Paul Fox. PROPHETS OF TIME (1994) {*5} and the retro-scopic double-disc, SPACE RITUAL (1995) {*6}, maintained similar personnel, albeit sharing space with HAWKWIND men Simon House and Del Dettmar; “You Shouldn’t Do That” just might’ve been the cry from Hawk-fans everywhere. Still, if one wanted to hear a 12-minute rendition of `Silver Machine’, well, the set was worth exploring to the end. The infuriatingly irritating and similarly retro-fied PAST OR FUTURE? (1996) {*5} was probably a trip too far, although the inclusion of supporters JELLO BIAFRA, MICHAEL MOORCOCK & DEEP FIX explored new ways to skin a space cat.
1996, was also the year Nik became part of The Moor, a Swedish prog-rock outfit who invited the man on to their “Flux” set, released on Bishop Garden Records. An on/off member of The ANUBIAN NIGHTS (for “Live” set in 1999 and the one in 2009), Nik continued on his galactic challenge to produce the ultimate, cosmic album; 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (2002) {*6}. Featuring past members (HUW LLOYD-LANGTON, Terry Ollis and Thomas Crimble) and a raft of HAWKWIND classics recorded in 2000 in Ystalyfera, Wales and Birkenhead, England, TURNER’s “Space Ritual” was becoming rather repetitive and languid.
Thankfully, Latino jazz was his next port of call, NIK TURNER’s KUBANNO KICKASSO (2003) {*5} – recorded with his “Fantastic Allstars” – resurrected the saxman’s fave dirges from the likes of MILES DAVIS, HERBIE HANCOCK and er… The ETHIOPIANS.
Drawn to the flame of the HAWKWIND candle, offshoot/tribute act, SPACE RITUAL, saw Nik re-group alongside former cohorts, Dave Anderson, Terry Ollis, Mick Slattery and Thomas Crimble, plus turntablist Sam Ollis and keyboardist John Greves; HAWKWIND’s Del Dettmar joined up for 2007’s OTHERWORLD {*6} set. The ensemble performed HAWKWIND cuts live and a handful of Inner City Unit stuff, while MICHAEL MOORCOCK’s poetry (`Utopia’ and `Planet’ included) on the album itself.
Of late, Nik’s featured on Sky Burial (aka Michael Page’s) 2012 set, `Aegri Somnia’, while a solo-billed regeneration came into being on 2013’s SPACE GYPSY {*6} and 2015’s equally-cosmic SPACE FUSION ODYSSEY {*6}. While it’s hard to believe the visionary Nik could be getting a free TV licence for turning 75, like rivals HAWKLORDS, the musician was keeping his interstellar rituals alive and kicking. Hawkfans, GONG and prog-rock acolytes would be happy to see guest and session spots for both STEVE HILLAGE and violinist Simon House on the first of these sets (best bits: `Fallen Angel STS-51-L’, `Time Crypt’ and `Anti-Matter’), while the second set included a gamut of jazz/prog-rock space cadets, GILLI SMYTH, Chris Poland, ROBBY KRIEGER, BRAINTICKET, AMON DUUL II’s John Weinzieri, BILLY COBHAM, John Etheridge and HILLAGE; check out `Pulsar’, `A Beautiful Vision In Science Forgotten’ and `Spiritual Machines’.
© MC Strong/MCS Nov2012-Jan2016

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