Interview with Nik Turner

International Times – June 1975

MAYA : I heard Hawkwind’s last American tour wasn’t very successful, and you had a lot of tax hassles –

NIK : The tour was successful enough in a P.R. way but not in a financial way. I don’t think it was planned to be successful financially, really, unless we played to absolutely sell-out audiences everywhere which we didn’t. Some of the places were not all that full, and in the ones that were we were playing to about 3 or 4,000 people.

nik smokesWith regard to the Inland Revenue, they came along and impounded all our equipment. They arrived at the end of the show actually, and just said, “Stop! Hold everything! Don’t move! We want this money or we’ll throw you all in jail!” They reckoned we owed them some income tax – they probably taxed us on gross earnings in the States, that’s aside from expenses and things like that. Working expenses were quite high in terms of publicity and such, and American overheads are high by virtue of the fact that you’ve got to fly everywhere, and we had to hire a P.A. and a big tractor and driver and a P.A. mixer and had to pay all their expenses as well. Tax people aren’t interested in where the money’s gone to or things like that. They want it now – in this case they wanted it there and then – and talk later.

They wouldn’t let us have our equipment back until all the
money had been paid off. We had to convince our English record
company that the only way we’d get our equipment back was if they put the money up for us, which meant rather putting ourselves in their debt, which is a real drag as we’re trying to get out of that sort of situation.

It’s supposed to be being sorted out by our agents in New York who set the whole thing up

What kind of amount’s involved?

I think it’s about 10,000. They reckoned there was $1,000 for every member of the band – I presume that’s every member of the working crew.

What’s the progressive music scene like in the States compared with over here? You said something about small capacity audiences, and then you’re talking about 4,000 – I hardly know a venue in England that could hold 4,000 and’s indoors.

You gotta understand that America is such a big place, it’s like 50 Englands stuck together, so a small capacity audience in the States is like 3-4,000, and normal capacity is 10-15,000, a sort of small sports stadium.

And yet London is still one of the biggest cities in the world…

Well an average capacity by American standards would be the Empire Pool in Wembley and a large one would be like the Wembley football Stadium which holds about fifty to sixty thousand.


Here you get one-off venues like that perhaps half-a-dozen times in a whole year. Over there it would be regular would it?

Yeah, you could do them every day I should think. Every city’s got a large venue in it, its own sort of football stadium or baseball stadium, and they’ve also got their small concert halls and theatres.

Is that then that American kids are far more into music?

I think they’re more into music, yeah.

How were you received?

Very well, yeah really well. It was really nice.

How did it compare to English gigs?

I think in England everybody knows us; they’re into sort of the whole thing from the start, before they go to the concert even. They’re there because they know us. In the States, people just go to concerts regularly irrespective of whoever’s on, not really knowing what to expect in a lot of cases. That’s what was nice about it; audiences a lot of the time didn’t know who we were, but really dug it and we really enjoyed them which was pretty refreshing. They were quite willing to accept us and to dig it without any preconceptions.

What’s the average age of your fans over here?

I should say now it’s about 17, which is very young. Probably not as young as Slade or T-Rex, but when we play in places like Liverpool it’s really amazing ’cause the age of the audience is so young.

How do you feel about being treated as pop stars?

I don’t like it actually – I don’t think it’s good for me at all, or for anybody. It gives you a false sense of your own importance really … a sort of nebulous situation.

What do you think of the band’s image as presented through the straight media, such as the Melody Maker?

I don’t really know ’cause I don’t read it. I used to read it avidly before I was living in London, to keep in touch with what was happening on the music scene. But since being involved with music I’ve realised what a lot of bullshit there is going down, and what a lot of bullshit the Melody Maker is perpetrating.

But what is the image actually – oh, you don’t know. You don’t read them either.

I don’t even read Maya!

You want to, though. There’s some good things in it. How about your independent management scene? Does it work pretty well?

Yes it does, I think so – you mean as opposed to a sort of management organisation handling rock groups and having lots of fingers in different pies?

I’ve always sort of assumed that managers are very good businessmen and great hustlers who often don’t understand their musicians, but certainly understand how to get every penny out of both sides, whereas when a band takes over its own management it find-it gets left behind. Arthur Brown is a classic example of somebody who tried to handle his own management and failed. You seem to be succeeding.

I think we are in very much of a long-term way, yeah. We just get wages, we don’t get more than that. Things seem to run quite efficiently. We have quite a good understanding with our management, but then it’s the situation of us having a manager rather than managing ourselves. I tried to manage the band for a while and it really screwed me up, you know, trying to keep the figures together and keep the music together, and I can understand how Arthur Brown got mixed up on it because it really is a hassle.

Is it so unusual for managements in these sorts of situations to work? I don’t know – you see I don’t really know so much about the music business; this is the first band I was ever in.

We seem to be collectively in debt, but not to the same extent that other bands seem to be. We’re only minorly in debt over short terms, because we in some ways are too ambitious for our position in that we would like to put on really spectacular shows, which require a lot of planning and quite a lot of bread.

– Like the 1999 Party?

1999 was supposed to be the year that the world was ending, according to Nostradamus – and I thought it would be a nice occasion for a party!

How many people are immediately involved in Hawkwind?

There’s all of our road crew, which numbers about 7 people, there’s the office staff here which is 6 or 7, and there’s the band and the dancer.

Do any of the band have families?

I don’t, but Dave has a couple of kids. Simon House does as well – he’s got a little boy.

Do they come along on gigs and tours?

They bring them along to those that are near to home, but we have a rule generally that we shan’t have any passengers on gigs which are a long way away, so that we’ve got room to stretch out and not get too tired. So they don’t come on long-distance trips with us.

You often hear bands complaining about their management and how they are tied. I will ring a band up and hustle them for something, be it bread or be it to do a benefit for some political/freak thing, and they say “Oh, we’d love to do it but our management won’t allow it.”

I think in a lot of cases that is true. A lot of times management’s put money into bands and practically own them really, in terms of where they should play and how should be presented. They have a stake in it, and the controlling interest virtually.

It’s interesting your saying you continually seem to find yourselves in debt, but one always gets the idea that once a group is well known, and especially once it’s done a couple of American tours, it’s well on it’s way to the first million. I’m sure this was pretty true a few years ago. Do you think now you’re going to be a working band for a long time, or is there still room to make money and get out fairly young?

Yeah. I think there is still room. I would hope that one isn’t forced into work on the road and doing one night stands ’til one’s 50, because if I felt that was the case I don’t think I would want to continue really, ’cause it’s too much like hard work. I man the music itself isn’t hard work, it’s the travelling that’s tiring. It makes it very much like just a regular job, travelling to work, that same old boring trip.

What are your interests outside music?

I do a lot of reading – science fantasy mostly, and I’m very into medieval writing and Arthurian legends, things like that. Sometime I’d like to do an album based on the Arthurian legends.



What music do you listen to?

I like all sorts of different music. Grateful Dead, medieval music, a lot of modern jazz, Chinese, Indian, Moroccan music…

(This is the heavy question now!) What do you think are the influences of Hawkwind on popular consciousness?

I suppose, I would hope at least, that what we are projecting is assimilated by the people that dig what we’re doing, and I think what we’re projecting is what we feel ourselves. The feedback at least indicates that that is what is happening, ’cause we get quite a lot of letters from people.

You get into a really tight spot, I do, and it really makes me want to give up sometimes, being torn between the business of being in a band and wanting to play music and do it for nothing – turn people on – but when you get to the kind of size that we are it involves so many people and such an organisation that it’s just not down to me anymore. I’m told that our financial situation is what governs that sort of decision and that’s what really pisses me off about having to be involved in the business – having to come to terms with the fact that it is a business.

A case in point was the Roundhouse, which was supposed to be a benefit for the Radical Alternatives to Prisons, which I had originally agreed that the band would do and some members of the band had agreed to it as well. But when it came to it – I think what happened was that some of our equipment had been stolen and we were faced with the problem about having to buy a new set drums and things like that. Subsequently the equipment was found but that still didn’t alter the fact in some people’s mind that we were in a financial state. Consequently it was not eventually set as a benefit for RAP, although I and Douglas both donated our share of the gig to that. But the rest were just into it being another gig to help the band to get by, which I understand as well, but I think it’s a drag ’cause in spite of our financial state we’re a lot better off than a lot of people and I think one gig doesn’t make that much difference, especially a gig like the Roundhouse where the publicity for the benefit and not least of all to us is of far more value than any of the money that would have come out of it.

I think, even as a political stand, it would have been a very good idea, and I was very pissed off about that. That’s the sort of situation that I very often find myself in, torn between what I really believe in and what is the reality of the situation, and the realities of other people that are involved in that situation.

How heavy is that for you? I’ve known you since the band started. In those days you were as free as I still am. Now it’s obvious that you’ re responsible for the weekly wages of about 20 people, with their kids and all sorts of other scenes. So you’re almost a slave now on one level –

It really is heavy. I feel like quitting a lot of the time and starting another band, or sometimes not quitting and starting another band as well, which I think would be the best thing – sort of getting a band together on the side to do benefits or just do nice gigs that everybody that’s involved wants to do.

I was thinking of those gigs 8 years back in St George’s Hall on the Britwell Estate in Slough at 5 quid a night …

Yeah, that’s what I think about quite a lot lately

… we had a band up on stage and a lightshow at the back of the hall. It was so little hassle, and now it’s all hassle.

I know it is. That’s the drag of it actually. It’s sort of getting away from the original idea, and getting into business, and becoming a part of the established musical scene, which I think is a drag.

One of the best gigs I can remember was that one you did at Trentishoe with some of the Pink Fairies and Magic Muscle. I picked up on the fact that you were really digging it – really enjoying yourself.

Yeah, I was. There was me and Dave down there from the band, Lemmy as well, but I would have liked the whole band to have been there, ’cause it was really nice – nice up there and a nice festival.

After the Roundhouse, you cancelled most of the remaining gigs of the British tour. Why was that?

The main reason was because we were also tired. We needed to rest before working on the new album and our tour of the States.

We’ve been negotiating with the Home Office for an alternative site for the Windsor Festival . What we’ve been virtually saying to them is give us a stopgap site for this year, and then start hunting for a permanent free festival site where, say, once or twice in summer, we could put on a fairly large free festival. How does that go down with you?

I’m into it. I love it. I think it’s a very good idea.

Do you think that such a thing, when commercial festivals are all but on the way out, will help bands and help music in this country?

I think so, yeah. It’ll help the people as well. Actually, I felt last year’s Windsor Festival was getting slightly over-organised – days delegated to Virgin Records’ bands and days dedicated to other agencies bands, and it sort of seemed as if the music business had caught on to the fact that this was a good way of getting free publicity, and they were taking it over.

I think the energy should come from the musicians rather than from their organisations. I don’t know what happened – whether the managements turned round and said “Right! All our bands are going to do it, ’cause it’s gonna be a lot of good publicity for us, so we’ll make them do it,” or something like that – I felt that was the situation, rather than the bands saying “Oh, that’s a good idea. We’d like to do that, not for anything else than the fact of doing it and enjoying it and turning a lot of people on.”

What’s the band’s future plans?

Well, we’re just about to start work on the new album. That’ll be out at the beginning of May. Then we do another tour of the States and we’ll probably do a British tour in late summer.

Also Douglas is trying to get a publishing company together, with possibly me and some other people in the band. We’d like to do maybe some of Michael (Moorcock)’s work as well.

Almost tasteful’: a remark that can be taken two ways, to two different extremes: either complimentary, or derogatory.  ‘Wind are taking it as a compliment, and seem well pleased with their new album which has been called, as I’ve said, ‘almost tasteful’.

“The album’s called ‘Warriors At The Edge Of Time’, remarks drummer Simon King. “Or is it ‘Warriors on The Edge Of Time’?”.

“I believe it’s just called ‘Warrior’,” counters co-percussionist Alan Powell.

“No, no, no,” says Simon, “I’m sure it isn’t. I did the layout for the sleeve, after all…”

Typical Hawkwind vagueness and uncertainty – but, given the events surrounding the recording of the album (the title eventually being resolved to ‘Warriors On The Edge Of Time’), quite forgivable.

“Yeah, we did it in about a week,” says Simon. “That was totally insane – but at the same time I enjoyed it. We had just one track -Simon House’s- laid down before we went into the recording studios at Rockfield. There, we laid all the backing tracks down in about three and a half days. Then, after we had a couple of days off, we went down to Olympic and added bits here and there, dubbed over vocals and mixed it all. That took about three days, and it was finished.


Short

“We had to do it in such a short space of time because we’re soon to tour America. Atlantic, our recording company over there, needed an album to coincide with our visit. It was just fortunate that we had the numbers written and that we managed to get it ready. Still, we got it together and now we’re just sitting here waiting to go over to the States.”

The new album, released in Britain within the next few weeks, as the introduction to this piece suggests, features a much more mature and varied band. While not totally devoid of archetypal Hawkwind numbers, at the same time there’s a fine 6/8 track written by Simon House (“Just to prove that we can do some things that aren’t 4/4”) and a mellow acoustic contribution from Dave Brock (a la ‘The Watcher’). ‘Space Ritual’ type narratives also make their return, with Nik Turner and Michael Moorcock handling the spoken parts, and both Alan and Simon contributing the atmospheric backing.

The album is broadly based around sci-fi author and on-off Hawkwind member Michael Moorcock’s character Erekose, the Eternal Champion.

“It links up with a lot of Moorcock’s books,” says Alan. “We’ll probably do some more work with him for the next album. Not a lot, just bits here and there. ‘Warriors’ was originally going to be some sort of concept thing between us and Moorcock, but it never really came together except for a few of the tracks – the poems, and the lyrics for some of the songs.”

Are you looking forward to returning to America?

“I really can’t wait,” replies Simon. “The first time I went I didn’t like it at all, but now that I’ve got to know some people over there I’m really looking forward to it. It’s only going to be a short tour and we’re going to play familiar places, so it should be perfectly all right.”

Will you be playing numbers from the new album on the tour?

“Yeah – but actually it won’t be the first time we’ll have played them live,” Simon says. “We gave them their debut on two British gigs at Yeovil and Dunstable a short while ago – which we kept quiet about. We just wanted to try them out, you know.”

“I expect you can remember the saga at the end of our last British tour – we had to blow out a number of the final dates, because everyone was physically and mentally wiped out, retarded. It was unavoidable.”

“We’ve only partially recovered now,” he jokes, “but what with doing the album and having to have a break, we’ve only had the chance to do two of the cancelled gigs. We did virtually the whole of the new album on those dates together with a few of the old numbers. It worked really well – we were so enthusiastic about doing new numbers that the old ones sounded fresher as well.”

Bombs

Hawkwind have so far been unable to equal Silver Machine’s singles chart success. You may remember the band voluntarily withdrew their follow up single ‘Urban Guerilla’ from the shops just as it was about to break into the charts because of political implications – bombs were being planted all around the country at the time. A noble gesture, but one that in the end proved harmful for the band: the newest single, ‘Kings Of Speed’, seems to have flopped rather badly.

“Never mind, I didn’t like the number anyway.” admits Simon. “Apparently, we had to do a single to fulfil our record contract, but really we don’t know how to make them. A band like Sweet, for example, can go into a studio and turn out great three minute singles. I’m not a Sweet fan, but give credit where credit’s due, most of their singles work well.”

“We’re not singles minded, we can’t do things in their way. If Sweet had done ‘Kings Of Speed’ then maybe it would have been a hit – but when we laid the number down we felt like, well, we had to do it, so let’s get it out of the way as soon as possible.”

Last time 1 talked to Simon, he seemed quite enthusiastic about the single. Why the change of heart?

Speed

“Well at one point I was quite into doing the number. I was quite into getting a few things done. ‘Kings Of Speed’ could have been okay, I suppose, but really it was a case of ‘too many cooks’. People kept on saying to us that it had to have this, had to have that. In the end the band didn’t want to know. It got released, and it just got overlooked. I wasn’t bothered at all, you know?”

I thought the single did fairly well – it may even still be a breaker.

“Maybe, I don’t know. I wasn’t even aware it had been released for some time. A lot of people say to you that the band could really do with another hit single, and all the rest of it. Well okay, maybe we do. I don’t think we do, but I might be wrong. I probably am. After all, Chelsea got relegated and I thought they were going to win the league…”

A Plastic Fragment Hawkwind Press Cutting

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