Nik Turner Interview

NME – July 1972

Somebody once said that Hawkwind are the only psychedelic band left. It was probably meant as an insult, the word “psychedelic” having become much devalued these days, but in some ways there is a certain truth in the statement since not only their music but their ideals have more than a few links with what was going down, back in ’67.

Hawkwind’s special connections with what’s left of the so-called alternative society, their readiness to play free benefit gigs, their general aura of untogetherness and their very basic dislike of the music business long ago made them the country’s number one alternative band; a community band, the nearest thing we ever produced to the early Grateful Dead that used to play in the streets.

And now, even after three years of heavy gigging, Hawkwind have managed to somehow stay closer to the people than to the music business.  That’s part of their attraction.  As saxophonist Nick Turner puts it:

“I think people can identify with us because they can see we’re the same as they are.  We’re just people from the Grove and those areas of London who happen to have got some music together”.

It’s rather strange, though, to suddenly see a Hawkwind single, “Silver Machine”, shooting up the charts and the band appearing, on film, on “Top Of The Pops”. They are hardly standard top twenty fare.  But it has forced their many critics to take them a little more seriously.  Up till now, partly due to their uncompromising attitude, the band have either been ignored by the Press, radio and television or treated as something of a joke.

Even though they pack nearly every hall they play, their drawing power has hardly been fully recognised.  Appearances on radio have been few and far between and even when they did eventually manage to get on “Sounds Of The Seventies”, in true Hawkwind style, they managed to balls it up.

“We hired a roadie for the day who turned out to be a notorious rip-off artist,” explained Turner. “He came along and ripped off two BBC microphones and we got the credit for it.  We got one of the mikes back for
them but they never really liked us after that.  Maybe we’ve been ignored by the Press and radio but then we’ve rather ignored them as well.  It hasn’t bothered us too much because we rely on live performances.  People have bought our records because they’ve seen us, not because they’ve read an article or heard us on the radio.  I would hope that’s the case anyway.  Really it’s the only genuine method of getting across, far better than being hyped up.  And also, as far as television is concerned, there aren’t many outlets to put yourself across in the right way.

“We weren’t going to do ‘Top Of The Pops’ at all, unless it was a film or we could get a whole load of tickets laid on us so all our friends could come down.  In fact I enjoy the programme as entertainment, but to actually be part of it is a different matter.  To actually be one of the bands that has to mime to its own backing tracks in front of a studio full of plastic people must be a bit of a downer.”

The beginnings of Hawkwind can be traced to a West London outfit.  Group X, formed by the only surviving original member, guitarist Dave Brock.  This became Hawkwind Zoo and then plain Hawkwind around the time Turner joined as a roadie, before actually starting to play.  Since then the band have been through an enormous number of personnel changes, especially on the bass-guitar until the present line-up eventually evolved.

Because, as Turner puts it, “Everybody has been too untogether to be together enough to be part of the music business” nobody in Hawkwind ever played in a band before and, ever since the early days they’ve never been too hung up on musical technique.

“I personally had been in Berlin for six months before joining the band,” said Turner, explaining his position, “and met a lot of free-jazz musicians.  Their philosophy was that anybody could play free-jazz, you didn’t have to be a musician and I dug it for that.  None of those people had any pretensions about what they were doing or about the value of it.  It was just a means of expression.  When I came to London the philosophy of the group was much the same.  Nobody was a particularly good musician but we seemed to go quite well together and that was how it was.  I couldn’t really play saxophone, I don’t really consider I can now.  All I used to do was just freak around and make a lot of noises.  It was enough.

“As a group we’ve never had any pretensions about being great musicians.  We all know our limitations.  What we’re basically trying to do is have a good time.  If people see you’re enjoying yourself they can’t help enjoy themselves as well.”

Gradually though as the group progressed each of them has taken the band’s music more seriously with the whole act’s emphasis now concerned with a form of science-fiction and space travel.

“That’s just the way we’re turned on,” said Turner.  “I think everybody is concerned with space even if they don’t realize it.  It has a lot to do with down to earth realities.”

But although their single gives little idea of the concept of their stage act, its success is not unwelcome.  As Turner points out:

“I think our music is more suited to albums but it’d be silly to release a single and then hope it doesn’t sell.  We’ve become involved in the singles market by choice because we want to get a few things moving.  For
instance, lately we’ve been hassling our record company for money because since we lost all our equipment there have been a number of financial difficulties.  We calculated that a good single would put us in a strong bargaining position because as a rule they don’t give us a great deal of support.  We have to work hard to get things out of them.  They’re not very forthcoming otherwise.”  Also, we don’t make too many recordings, so we thought it’d be nice to use the single as a kind of stop-gap between the last album and the next.

“Hopefully it will turn people on more to what we’re doing generally.  Maybe they’ll hear it on a juke-box or something, think ‘that’s nice,’ come to a gig and dig what’s going on – not us necessarily – but dig that we’re putting across a message about ecology, harmony, getting stoned together, turning on to people and all those kind of things.  People come to-our gigs for a number of reasons.  There’s always a lot of drugs there for instance.  I can’t imagine why that should be, but perhaps they come for those.  There are always a lot of nice people.  Perhaps they come to see the nice people or perhaps they’re nice people themselves.”

As things stand, Turner feels Hawkwind are likely to become even more involved with gigs as the money becomes available to carry out some of their latest ideas.

“We’d like to take the show on the road in an inflatable, maybe even eventually in horse-drawn caravans or something,” he said. “Maybe we could then do one gig a week every hundred miles up the road.  All that’s
needed is to get the people’s heads together enough to organise it. I don’t see why it shouldn’t come off.  Then there’s the Space Opera we want to put on the road shortly, plus a number of total-environment things.”

Although Turner would admit that Hawkwind’s act, with the use of slides, lights and special effects, owes a certain amount to theatricals, overall he wouldn’t like to see the band becoming restricted by them.

“I like people like Alice Cooper and Arthur Brown but I wouldn’t like to be part of a rock band that does this kind of thing all the time unless it’s spontaneous.  We paint our faces sometimes and do various odd things but it’s never planned.  I wouldn’t want to work to a set pattern.  To me if you did the same thing every night it would get boring and tiring.  Like, I’ve seen Alice Cooper a couple of times and it’s very freaky-and very way-out but it’s always the same.”

Meanwhile, the band hope to shortly produce a live double album and then at the beginning of next year an album of the Space Opera they’ve written.

Also, words-man Bob Calvert, who is shortly to rejoin the group after a nervous breakdown, is to release his own album “Captain Lockheed and The Starfighters” which, apart from featuring Hawkwind, may also have contributions from Nico, Arthur Brown and Viv Stanshall.

Meanwhile Hawkwind will carry on gigging, playing to the people, just as they always have in the past.

James Johnson

A Plastic Fragment Hawkwind Press Cutting

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