Nik Turner (of Nik Turner's Space Ritual)

Interviewed by Glenn Milligan

Venue: Sheffield Boardwalk

Date: November 2003

Myself and Nik Turner

Glenn: Hi Nik, Would you say that you named the band after Hawkwind's famous live album, 'Space Ritual Alive'?

Nik: Yeah, that's right, yeah.

Glenn: How do you go about choosing the Hawkwind songs?

Nik: Well a lot of the time we choose the ones that I've written and then we choose songs that Bob Calvert's written and we also choose ones that people in the band have written or that we've written together so we've got quite a few new songs. We want to basically write a completely new set so we're not doing any Hawkwind songs at all and we can do Hawkwind songs if people want them. But maybe people will be quite happy with our new set - that's what we're hoping really. We can play any Hawkwind songs if they wanna hear 'em so we don't mind. We'll play anything really.

Glenn: Do you have plans to do any more of the Inner City Unit stuff?

Nik: Well I'd like to do some Inner City Unit stuff. I'd like to release some of it on CD but am I likely to see any of the stuff? I play in another band, it's called 'Nik Turner's Fantastic All-stars'and I'd like to do some 'Inner City Unit' songs with that band as well. Well we do a couple anyway, we do sometimes do 'The Bones of Elvis'.

Glenn: I gotta ask you this question, Is 'Uncle Sam' still on Mars? (I joke - as in the Inner City Unit Song, 'Uncle Sam's on Mars')

Nik: Yeah, but he might be in Iraq now (laughing). The obvious. (laughs)

Glenn: Do you play on the continent (in Europe) as well?

Nik: Well I haven't played on the continent with this band. I'd like to we may be going over there in March or something like that. There's supposed to be some gigs that somebody has organised for us over there. So we're hoping to do that. We might go to Japan as well - there's talk of that and go to the (United) States as well but, I mean, I believe it when I see it. I went to the States recently and just played with a baggot band who were like fans of mine. Played a lot of there songs and a lot of my songs and did a little tour with them and did some recording with them and did some radio show with them and played a whole hour on one radio show you know - played a whole set. That was really good and I go to Europe - When I go to Europe with other bands quite often I go to Finland and Sweden and Germany. I have been in the past. I'd like to go with this band (Space Ritual). I went to Europe with 'The All-Stars' as well - went to Holland a couple of times and that was very good. So I'm happy just to do lots of things - anything really with any band that I'm involved with.

Glenn: Who would you say are your main influences for Saxophone and why?

Nik: Well probably Charlie Parker or John Coltrane - it's all like the masters and they're the guys that everybody listens to so I only listen to them, I don't listen to other people - I like Dexter Gordon, I listen to a lot of latin music, I listen to a lot of Dizzy Gillespie as well when he played a lot with Charlie Parker so that's quite a natural thing.

Glenn: How did you manage to incorporate your influence of that into a Hawkwind sort of style or The Space Ritual?

Nik: Well I listen to a lot of Modal music as well - Miles Davis and people like that and you find that what we're doing can be seen as modal really. A lot of the time we are playing in a key and we are just switching keys within the same key. Do you know how modes work? It's sort of a different way of looking at music a little bit as well but it's very simple but it's quite interesting. It gives you a lot of freedom as well.

Glenn: Do you see much of the other members of Hawkwind like Dave Brock?

Nik: Well I don't see much of Dave. The last time I saw him was in court really and all that sort of rubbish. (laughs)

Glenn: Yeah, I heard about that.

Nik: So it's not really what I need that sort of thing. So, I mean, I'm quite amenable. I suggested we did a gig to pay for the court costs and he sort of laughed and then we shook hands - well I shook hands with him. He didn't actually proffer a hand to shake hands with me, you know what I mean but I'm not trying to… well what I'm saying is, is that I'm quite open about anything and I'm very easy going and I think what he did is like unfair and unwarranted and I didn't really think he had the right to do that - you know - he didn't have the right to trademark the name (Hawkwind) so that it became exclusive to him. So, you know, it should be available to all the people that were in the original band because they all signed a record contract that's Hawkwind jointly - so they were Hawkwind. You can't say they weren't, you can't say he (Dave Brock) was Hawkwind and he had a band but he did actually eventually sack everybody from the band - that's why there's no original members in it that were originally in (Hawkwind) and a lot of them won't work with him anyway.

Glenn: Hence you started off with the name 'Ex-Hawkwind'.

Nik: Yeah, we had 'Ex-Hawkwind' and he (Dave Brock) put an injunction on us to stop us calling ourselves that because he claimed that he owned the name. I certainly laughed at him. I thought, 'he can't be serious' so then I ended up going to court over it because… well I was a bit foolish really because I should have realised that if it's trademarked then I've got to sort of devise a way of proving that he hasn't got the right to the trademark rather than just contesting it on the basis that I feel that I have as much right to it as him. I mean, this is the problem about law really. You know, it's not reasonable really. I heard about somebody that was trading as themselves but somebody else trademarked their name - suddenly they couldn't trade as themselves.

Glenn: You sign a contract and then it's all law and they own whatever it states in that contract.

Nik: Yeah, it's b*llsh*tt*n' isn't it?

Glenn: Yeah.

Nik: Yeah, they should be flexible and you know applicable to certain cases type of thing but there you go.

Glenn: In your entire career, what would you say has really stood out to you? Musically or…

Nik: In my entire career? I dunno really. I've seen many people that I admire. I've seen Horace Silver and Elvin Jones, Del Fayo and Brancib Massalis playing and I thought that was very interesting. I mean, I just get inspired by hearing good people really and think, 'wow that's great' and there's lots of people that I've seen and heard and a lot of people that aren't well known that I've found very interesting. It's like that really, I play with anybody really. I just play, I go busking and tour off.

Glenn: Do many people recognise you when you are busking?

Nik: Sometimes, people say, "Wow, Nik Turner, what are you doing here?" and I say, "Hey good question, I'm taking the music to the people man. I'm making a buck." They say, "that gig you did in Barry Memorial Hall in 1971 (Nov. 11th to be exact) changed my life, I never got over it" (Laughing) and I was like, "gosh, hope you're alright" and they are like, "yeah, great thank you, I wanna thank you" - thought filling, you know.

Glenn: Have certain gigs stood out and why have they stood out?

Nik: Certain gigs. Well certain gigs have been interesting, I mean other sorts of things have happened. A long time ago I was electrocuted at a gig and nearly got killed and another time I nearly burnt my hand off and other times I've played with The Grateful Dead and Dr. John and Captain Beefheart and people like that in a huge festival in Bigshaw and that was quite impressive and then I did tours in America with Hawkwind where we.. we had fancy dress parties at every gig.. a fancy dress competition and some of those were fantastic. We played in Detroit on Halloween night and these people were dressed up as ghouls (we laugh) and we had sort of mask making competitions, you know, people would come in the most bizarre masks, you know, really nice sort of things. I like audience participation things really because it's about communication. It's not about, "Oh, I'm a big pop star and I'm on a big stage and you're down there buying my records and giving me your money and admiring me and saying how wonderful I am". You know, that's all rubbish to me - it's not real.

Glenn: What sort of stuff can we expect from the new Space Ritual album?

Nik: Well some of the stuff is stuff that I've written. That's stuff that I've been working on for quite a long time and some of it's sort of loosely based on a sort of science fictional ideas but sort of inspired by Celtic mythology which I've been interested in for quite a long time. There's a song that's inspired by Mike Moorecock, 'The Sonic Savages' that we do and we just thought we'd try to put some sort of a war into musical terms like exploding morning stars and electric axes and stuff like that - Just images really and these other ones that are sort of based around Celtic Mythology around these ancient sorts of poems.

I sort of like written analogies of male prose that are sort of minor and sort of futuristic sci-fi speak whilst savouring medieval imagery. Things like that are another thing that's inspired by a visit I paid to Timothy Leary while he was in Rackerville Psychiatric Prison - he was being held for having possessed two seeds of marijuana in his car and being of accused of possession and being a menace to society. He was in this top security prison with all these steel electric barred doors and metal detectors and you have to take everything out of your pockets. There's all light and we went into this room to visit him and he's in there with his hands chained to his waist and they said, "This is for his protection" and it's all bullsh*t but it inspired me and I have written a song around that and it's called 'Time Crime' and it's about visiting my friend in jail and it's saying that it doesn't get him down basically because he's inside his head and it's inside out to him, inside him - time-travelling basically. He's doing time - he's time to travel - it's all that sort of thing really. I like things to be a bit fairly light and not really heavy.

I mean 'Sonic Attack' is quite heavy - we do that but other songs that we're doing on the album, (for example), Thomas (Crimble) has got a song which is written which we didn't perform tonight - it's called 'It's alright' and Mick Flattery has got a song which is written - I can't remember what it's called - it's called 'Coming back from the edge of time' or something like that which he's got lyrics for - it's very interesting. I'm helping - we are all contributing - we are trying to do a lot of things fairly collectively. I mean, I just want credit for my lyrics that's all. I don't mind helping other people, I don't at all - to just have their lyrical credit is not really what I'm like. I help people for the sake of helping them really. I'm not submersive or anything like that. I like helping people.

Glenn: Yeah, you don't strike me as being one of those guys with a massive ego or anything.

Nik: I'm not really. I'm fairly humble with my feet and I went to Mexico a couple of times playing in a progressive rock festival - I was a big star. Then I went down to Mexico City and I was busking in a big square where it's all dedicated to mariachi music - you know, all these trumpeters and they all got me playing with them. Then I met our keyboard player and I was doing gigs in nightclubs and sleazy bars - 3 gigs a day with these really beautiful girl singers singing all this Mexican music. It was fantastic and it's nice to go somewhere where people don't know who I am and I can just be me as I am and as they find me and I have a really lovely time. So it doesn't make any difference - I don't need to be known to have a good time because that's all sort of phony - sort of knowing that 'being famous' (thing) and you're a celebrity - all that's crap really. You're just as good as what you are really.

Glenn: Exactly. Where did the idea behind that pink you wear come from that you wore when you came out into the crowd?

Nik: Well it's a mate of mine who made all that stuff. He lent it to me, (shows me the stage clothes) like this spiky sort of rubber jacket. His name is Craig Morrison and he lives down in West Wales and he had this factory making all this stuff - these spiky rubber bags which he was quite successful with - they became fashion accessories and then he stopped doing it. He's a really nice geezer and he's a mate of mine and I went to visit him one day and I said to him, "Do you make any clothes?", and he said, "I've got loads of clothes." And he's got this whole wardrobe of all these f*cking weird clothes - he's got all these spiky weird rubber suits- you know this is like an alien and stuff like this. He says, "Oh yeah, you can borrow them, what do you want?". I thought, "Well I'll just take one for the moment". I borrowed 'em one at a time because otherwise I get a bit clogged up with them and I don't really wanna hold onto them all - I'd sorta feel like I'm taking the p*ss really. So I'm quite respectful about them and I try to look after them. I borrowed some really big overcoats at one time with all great spikes and big fur collars that looked down to the ground. They are for effect really. If I get too hot I take 'em off. If I don't get too hot I'll leave it on but it was quite warm in there tonight.

Glenn: Does it weigh quite a lot?

Nik: Not really no. The trousers do, the leather trousers - but they are not really leather - well maybe they are leather, I don't know. The jacket looks heavy but it's not really - it's got this big steel metal plate down the front -it's just bizarre really. Like that film that was on tv last night - was it 'Escape from LA' - it's that sort of slightly futuristic really and quite interesting designs. So I borrow that stuff and he lend me anytime I want really. The pink mask is known as 'The Pink Gimp'.

Glenn: When you've got 'Miss. Debbie' on-stage was that because you used to have Miss. Stacia in Hawkwind?

Nik: Not really. It's all pretty much of a 'free-for-all' really and if people want to come and dance with us and they are happy to come on-stage and, you know be as exhibitionistic as they want to be - fine, you know. They are all contributing to the sort of spectacle of the show really and I'm not gonna stop them and she's a nice girl and she feels that she's being very creative and that's great you know because if she thinks she is, then she is. (laughs) If she's enjoying herself and people get off on it … it's just nice really. I think that I've got a really free and easy attitude about those sorts of things and when I've got another band - Nik Turner's 'Fantastic All-Stars' I am open to people coming and playing with us - if they've got balls to come on stage and play in keys that aren't E and A - playing in all different other keys then they are very welcome to play with us. I'm sort of quite accommodating about that and try to encourage people to be creative really and lose their inibitions. My attitude to performance is have a good time and don't give a f*ck.

Glenn: Yeah, you might as well make the most of it while you are here.

Nik: Well it's self expression - really it's a personal thing and if you are having a good time then everybody else will have a good time because it's just infectious really. Well you're not gonna have a good time if you are playing a load of bum notes and it sort of sounds really discorded because it matters as well to the audience. You try and make it as pleasant and nice to yourself as possible and if you like it yourself, then people do like it. If you're having a good time then they're having a good time.

Glenn: If you had chance would you go and play 'Stonehenge' again?

Nik: Oh yeah I'd love to. I was at a lot of Stonehenge Festivals - I went to nearly all of them actually. I did the stage at a lot of them. I used to put the stage up in the middle of the night and we'd have that big pyramid stage I had and that was quite awesome really. I really would enjoy that. I'd arrive there in the middle of the night and by the morning it would be up - ha!! It used to be really cool.

Glenn: Nice One. What would you say, in your career, the things that you are most proud of?

Nik: Well I think musically, I think music is a very personal thing and for my own personal satisfaction what I feel proud of is that I've achieved some sort of technique on the musical instrument that I play that gives me satisfaction - that's really what I'm proud of. I'm not proud of, "oh I did this gig or that gig" because to me it's a gig and it's really fun and I suppose there's certain things like meeting Timothy Leary and doing a gig with 'The Stranglers' at The Rainbow Theatre or meeting Jerry Garcia and taking acid with him and smoking his pot you know!! (laughing)

Glenn: Not many people can say that. (laughing)

Nik: So I think, you know it's just things you do innit?

Glenn: Yeah.

Nik: So it's all part of life and it's all fun and it's very nice in the pleasure aspect. You know, I'm very proud of having played in Pentonville Prison really and Chelmsford Prison.

Glenn: How did that come about?

Nik: I just wanted to do it. We knew some of our friends were in prison and we thought it would be nice to do that. We approached the prison and arranged it. It was just a nice gesture really and I don't know if many bands play in prisons.

Glenn: I know Metallica did it a while ago and Johnny Cash.

Nik: Yeah Johnny Cash did that. I mean, we weren't trying to copy him - we just sort we'd do something and I think Mike Moorcock came with us as well - he was really into it - so it was like being a bit of a social thing as well. Breaking down barriers and sort of acknowledging that the people in prison are human beings. They've got feelings too and a lot of them shouldn't be in there to start with. So I think the prison system is really wrong.

Glenn: Do you see much of Lemmy?

Nik: I haven't seen him for a while. I saw him at the gig at the Brixton Academy that we did and I got on, well I thought I got on quite well with him 'til I read his book (White Line Fever) and then I get the impression that I'm a total f*ck*n' idiot which is not very flattering really and he calls me 'a sanctimonious a***h*le'. So I think well I thought, "You don't really need to say things like that in a book and try to get milage out of something that's so cheap and so stupid. I thought I always got on well with Lemmy and I was still in with him and for him to turn round and say insulting things about me when it's not the sort of thing I would say in a book - it's cheap. I don't think he's an arsehole or anything I just feel sorry for him really.

I read up some of his book and I thought he had such a disasterous childhood and I felt so sorry for him about that.

When he was in Hawkwind I sort of rather objected to the fact that he just took speed all the time and was really boring because he was a speed freak and he used to be really hard to work with. He used to take loads of speed and he was always right - you couldn't argue with him about anything - he was quite an infuriating sort of character but aside I thought I got on quite well with him. You know I never though myself to be a 'sanctimonious a***h*le'. I think that if I said anything it was only for his own good. The only thing I had him on was his own health - there was a motive really. Not only was he creating… you know doing himself damage but he was creating detrimental relations with people because of the speed - not because of anybody's personalities or because they were a***h*les. (It was) because he took the speed and it just f*ck*n' created bad relationships with people - it was everybody to their own choice really.

Glenn: You don't seem to strike me as the sort of guy who's been into the drug scene or anything else - you come across more as a lover of music and musicians in general.

Nik: Well I am really yeah. I'm not really into… I do take a little bit of pot and smoke a bit but I don't drink alcohol at all. I lead a fairly clean life. I eat organic food and I'm generally vegetarian and I try to keep myself healthy really because you know (he jokes) I ain't getting any younger and so I sort of get older, you know and older and older and older if I can - sort of like everybody else really.

Glenn: This is a hard question and you've probably been asked it many times but what would you say your favourite songs are that you have written or Hawkwind songs you have been part of?

Nik: Hmm - Certain Songs - I like 'Masters of the Universe'. I like 'Brainstorm' as well. I like 'Watching the Grass' - I like quite a lot of 'Inner City Unit' songs and I like things like 'Fallout'. There's quite a lot of Inner City Unit songs that I wrote that I really like. I like my songs because I don't write things I don't like if you know what I mean. I like to write about things that I care about and things which are interesting for me basically - I put them all in one bag and so consequently I can't write pop songs off the top of my head. I have to sort of really care about what I write about.

Glenn: How do you write your songs, do you start with lyrics or do you work with piano, saxophone or guitar?

Nik: I get a lyric, that's all really and then I sort of sometimes get a tune with them and quite often it doesn't come very quickly. It might take a year to write a song because I'll get an idea one day and I used to drive along writing lyrics down all the time. They were just odd lyrics and then after a while I'd get them all and make either one song or two or three songs out of them because they were basically good song ideas really. I found that I could write like that and I just get a few lines and then a rhythm with it and then it sort of forms itself into a tune or something like that. You sort of make the tune out of the lyrics really. I quite often write lyrics where I'll write the lyric and it has a tune already so I just have to orchestrate it.

Is that OK? (he asks of the Interview)

Glenn: Yeah, thanks a lot Nik.

A scary pic of me with Nik Turner

Special thanks to Martin Bellamy (Boardwalk Security) for arranging the Interview