Reefer Madness – Nik Turner

Fapto – September 1975

HEY KIDS, IT’S NIK TURNER…at dawn too…

It’s different interviewing a band like Hawkwind to an average band: to start with, Hawkwind are not your average band which means you can’t do your average interview with them. That’s undoubtedly a good thing but it can be a bit disconcerting at eleven o’clock on a Wednesday morning when Nik Turner wanders into your office, complete with a lovely dog and friend, to conduct an interview. I’m not sure about you but I am not at my best before noon and maybe that, together with the dope I’d just enjoyed, helped to make this a very confused interview. Whatever, here are the results of an interview conducted in what I once used to describe as the ‘ungodllies’. Hmm… So Nik wandered into the office looking much more together than I felt. At the time of the interview he was about three quarters of the way through the band’s mammoth UK tour which they were latterly forced to cut short due to their own exhaustion.

Our conversation initially turned to the communication side of Hawkwind. I spoke of how when Hawkwind were a new upcoming band they had been very much a community band who associated with their audience. It appeared to me that, through and because of their success since those days, they have grown away from their audiences and become distant in the way that is more usual of more popular bands.

Nik thought that the band had grown away although he felt that this was to a large extent the fault of the media who have created the ‘star’ myth. He said that when they started it was easy to communicate, particularly with their early audiences in Ladbroke Grove.

Do you think that, despite all the star-bit, you are still a freak band at heart?

“I think we are, within ourselves, but we’ve got more general acceptance through the mass media.”

Nik continued that he felt that the hit single had given the band a much wider appeal than they previously had had, resulting in their being more ‘idolised’ than before. On the subject of this, Nik was slightly happy although he obviously found the idolising embarrassing despite its egotistic amusements. Are you idolised more now?

“I think so, yes. Not particularly though.”

Which is good?

“I’m not complaining. I found it bad ‘cos I don’t understand rock’n’roll. It’s not good to idolise.”

Nik reckoned that many of the idolisers envied the way that they supposed that Nik lived which was a myth, because their supposition was so far from the truth. Their envy being based on a life similar to a mixture of the band on stage and dreams of ‘stardom’ which they created in their minds. Nik reckoned that these myths were reinforced by when the band were seen out, they did not look the same as the people who envied them. Nik felt that their idea of how he lived was basically correct, but as he said, correct but in a more down to earth fashion.

The conversation moved back onto the subject of 45s. I asked if the success of ‘Silver Machine’ had changed their attitude to 45s. After all, previous to it, they had been an ‘albums’ band and then suddenly they had been a Top 10 band.

Nik said that the success of the single had changed their views on singles and, as he was keen to point out, the single had been put out specifically to succeed in order to provide much needed money for the very expensive Space Ritual. The extra expense of the props, extra staff, etc. which the ritual had needed had been covered by the single but otherwise would have been very hard for the band to meet.

I can remember seeing the band on film on Top of the Pops when the single was a success and can remember seeing Bob Calvert a while after this and asking his opinion of their appearance on that abominable show, to which he replied that he reckoned that Hawkwind had always wanted to appear on it ‘cos, like every band, it was a sort of aim for them to appear on it. How much Bob’s ideas agreed with Nik and the rest of the band on that I’m not sure, as I only happened to remember them as I was typing this out. I repeat them as I can remember being slightly surprised even if, in retrospect, I can see more logic in them than before. Anyway to go back to the interview with Nik…

‘Urban Guerrilla’ was withdrawn somewhat suddenly by UA. Nik was personally very disappointed by this believing it to be a very good track, however it was largely to do with the record company seeing the band merely as ‘product’ and, what with the supposed bomb connotations of the single, the record company decided to withdraw it, rather than risk further damaging their name through the bad publicity which the record was receiving. On top of this the record was receiving next to no airplay resulting in very few sales, all of which led to UA suddenly withdrawing the single.

Nik said that, apparently because of the single, he received two visits from the bomb squad. “I couldn’t see why.”

When told that the record was still on the juke box of a Westgate pub not far from his home, Nik was quite stunned and thought it was “too much”.

Talking of the new single, Nik said that Michael Moorcock had hoped to put it on his album hut had ended up giving it to Hawkwind due to a lack of space. However there had been confusion over who had written it and just after the band had recorded it, Nik had said to Mick Farren that he had liked Mick’s song, to which Mick had said that he had not written it and he thought that they had…or at least he thought that Lemmy had. I mused that the more recent Hawkwind music was more traditional in its make-up to the music that they previously have been playing.

“We used to only know three chords.”

But was the variation from their previously less traditional style a deliberate move?

“It’s not deliberate. We’ve got a new member in the band, Simon House, and he’s been trained for classical violin. He knows a few more chords and plays lots of other instruments, mellotron, organ, etc.”

Do you think that the band has progressed as you expected it to?

“I never expected anything. I was quite happy to play my sax down by the Clock Tower”.

It is worth pointing out, I think, that Nik is referring to the green by the Clock Tower in Margate where, during the summer months, the local freaky element (eh!) meet and spend much of their time. In the old days before Hawkwind, when Nik sold hats on the seafront in Margate only a few hundred yards from the green, this was his place of rest as well as that of most of the other locals who still go down there. Having thus digressed, I think I’ll mention that the last year I can remember Nik selling hats, a friend told me that when the season was over Nik was meant to have worked out that over the whole season he had made a £50 loss. After that Nik went off to London and I heard he was at Family Dogg, running a hat shop in Kings Road, and one or two other things…until suddenly there was the emergence of Hawkwind, but anyway this is digressing from the interview, so let us return…

Most members of successful bands seem to make solo LPs as well as their usual group ones now, presumably to achieve things which they could not normally do in the confines of their group work. I asked Nik if he had ever considered making a solo album.

“I’ve thought about it, yeah. I might do one with DikMik. He needs to do something…it might be good for me too.”

Apparently Nik has written four numbers already which are not really suitable for working in the group and these might well be used on a solo album or one with DikMik. At present solo albums are only a projected idea and Nik didn’t appear particularly bothered about doing one at the moment.

A lot of new bands seem to be copying Hawkwind’s style and even trying to recreate Hawkwind’s music. Although it seems obvious that new bands must copy established ones to some extent I asked Nik how he felt about being copied.

“Copying is never good. Being influenced is okay though. Everyone is influenced by everything anyway.”

Nik was a bit uncertain at first when asked what his early influences had been. After a while he offered such names as Charlie Parker, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, the Velvet Underground. As to the use of synthesiser which was a real innovation when Hawkwind started to use it, he put this down to an influence from some of the German bands who were using the synthesiser before Hawkwind. Them, and of course the influence of LSD.

Talking of Neu: “I think they’re very good. They just play one chord. I heard one of their albums, the red one, and really liked it.”

I’ve always thought of Hawkwind as symbolic of the alternative way of life and in particularly a band associated very much with those of us who lived through the flower-power and subsequent eras of rebellion against the straight society. This is undoubtedly true to the extent that, if I asked ten people to name a ‘freak’ band, at least nine of them would offer me Hawkwind.

Thinking about this I wondered whether the younger people were able to identify with Hawkwind in the same way that those of us who’ve known them for a while are. I also wondered whether they felt that their audiences are still primarily the ‘old’ hippies who have always been their followers.

“In London you get more of our old audiences.”

Nik said that the older audiences tended to only exist in London and that the provincial audiences tended to be very much younger than the London ones. This, according to Nik, was more to do with living habits than anything else. As the centre of everything is London, as soon as the kids are old enough most of them tend to move away from the provinces and into London, often still pursuing impossible ideals of what they are after. However this leaves only a small number of older people in the provinces and is a primary reason for provincial audiences being younger.

Do you want a cigarette Nik?

“No thanks, I don’t smoke, well not fags anyway.”

Hawkwind have been to the States a lot in the last year. How did Nik feel that the American audiences compared with those in Britain. After all, in Britain the band grew up slowly within the emergent alternative lifestyle in London but was America as open-minded to the band as Britain had initially been?

Nik thought that American audiences were far more willing to accept than they were here. Often they went to see the band at a concert having little, or indeed no, idea of what they were going to see. But despite this, they always appeared to be very friendly and willing to listen to new things. Overall American audiences were very good for Hawkwind.

On the more amusing side Nik said “They think they discovered us. They don’t realise how long we’ve been going.”

What should music be? Should it be a form of escapism into which you get to leave the world around you? Alternatively should it be a form of communication and attempt to convey specific messages? There are many opinions and many bands are categorised by people into being just one of these two categories. Hawkwind’s music does appear to be a form of escapism, but how much does Nik feel music should communicate?

“Music should spread love. It should have a message. The only message is communication and love. It is escapism to an extent, though.”

Nik continued that he felt that Hawkwind’s music did achieve the communication of love and he cited an example of a concert they played in Paris. The concert was attended by what the authorities branded as trouble makers, skinheads etc, and they expected a lot of trouble so that they were really stunned when there was absolutely no trouble and the concert was a great upper for all.

As for television, Nik doesn’t like it at all and wouldn’t want to do it. He certainly would never want to do one of those awful chat shows where the interviewer tries to manipulate the person they’re interviewing to answer the questions the way he would and not the way that they want to. He wouldn’t even want to do Old Grey Whistle Test because they too want to manipulate you to suit their own ideas. He said that when they did Top of the Pops this was the reason that all they did was give them a film of the band doing Silver Machine, avoiding the manipulation bit.

Nik basically does not like the media at all. They alter and edit their work down till it often becomes entirely different to the real thing. He was also actively against the intellectualism which many reviewers apply, particularly to LPs, when all it is is a story of what the person did for the last week accompanied by a few indecipherable phrases about the record, which are only put at the end to justify the egotistic ramblings at the beginning.

I asked Nik if he ever felt there was something that he would like to be asked but that he never was asked. No, Nik could not think of anything that he would like to be asked. Maybe though, he added “why are we here?” Mind you, I thought he was asking himself rather than me.

As to the future, Nik said that he never planned for the future. Although the future does get planned for him but then that’s a different thing. There was another US tour coming up and probably one to Japan. Nik wants to do a tour of India and the Far East.

At this point and the mention of the expression ‘Far East’, we all had the giggles, followed by a lack of co-ordination mentally, at least on my part and the interview seemed to halt. Not surprising really as I had just noticed that the tape was about to run out.

So Nik wished New Fapto good luck and the interview ended much as it had begun with me still feeling a bit shattered, confused, whatever, and Nik off home to have some breakfast.

Maybe the interview should have been full of lots of searching, mind-expanding questions, with intense intellectual reasoning behind them. But than that would have been impossible ‘cos I wouldn’t have got that together very well, you’d have needed a dictionary and a lot of patience to understand it, and most of all it would not have been a true interview with Nik Turner, ‘cos he isn’t a pseudo-intellectual either.

A Plastic Fragment Hawkwind Press Cutting

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