Thursday, May 03, 2007

Spaced Out, We're Spacing In

The Isle of Wight Festival, 1970 - Jimi Hendrix, in his last performance on U.K. soil, dedicates a number to "the cat with the silver face", a character at the front of the stage ... said cat was none over than Hawkwind's Nik Turner. Unlike Hendrix, Hawkwind had a good festival, playing a number of free gigs outside the festival proper and cementing their reputation as the people's band. Turner, in fact, wandering around with his silver countenance, flute and star spangled trousers actually made the pages of Vogue (including the front cover) and Paris Match. Not bad for a stoned space rocking hippy peacenik. The Nik Turner case - or, he's a bit of a case, that Nik Turner, isn't he?
Once dubbed the 'conscience of Hawkwind', due to his propensity for agreeing to free and benefit gigs, and his adherence to the peace and love hippy ethic, Nik Turner remains, for me at least, the very heart and soul of Hawkwind - part of the magic of that band during their glory years springing precisely from the very fertile dichotomy between Turner's acidhead hippy ethos (frog costumes, Egyptian drag, make-up and all), Lemmy's speedfreak biker heaviness (iron crosses and Nazi eagles), Calvert's manic personas and of course, Dave Brock's s(t)olid stage presence.

There was obviously something in the water in Margate in the mid-sixties - Turner, Robert Calvert, Dik Mik, there they all were, sniffing the air, sensing a wave about to crest. Turner had a job selling kiss-me-quick-hats and suchlike to the tourists, as well as joss sticks and psychedelic posters and whatnot to whatever passed as hipsters down on the South Coast. Didn't Calvert work as a deckchair attendant? What a bunch.
A bit of a one off, Turner - some kind of glam-hippy-psychedelic whatever, full of positive vibes and a desire to play free jazz sax in a rock band ... that's 'rock band' as in freewheeling acid experimental science fiction spectacularly unstable counter-cultural rock band. With a sideline in serious speedfreaks, rather well-endowed naked dancers and head-bending light shows.

The cat with the silver face, Isle of Wight, 1970.

Turner's first, er, ejection from Spaceship Hawkwind - as Julian Cope pointed out ... it's 1977, punk is gathering pace and you've just been booted out of your band, so what do you do? Simple, if you're of a Nik Turner cast of mind - you head off to Egypt, inveigle yourself into the Great Pyramid at Giza and record yourself playing flute while sprawled out in a stone sarcophagus in the King's Chamber. Just to make sure the whole project sticks out in the contemporary pop landscape very like that crashed spaceship on the front cover of Hall Of The Mountain Grill, you then bring the tapes home and enlist various members of Gong to create a musical backdrop for your flute sounds ... and if that wasn't perverse enough, you then read sections from The Book of Coming Forth By Day over that.

Heavy metal psychedelic fighter pilot. Or something. Circa 1973?

I love the classic Hawkwind template - open-ended riff-heavy jamming with added electronic noise, Brock's rhythm guitar, Lemmy's thunderous bass and Turner's vocals and sax and flute; some of the most exhilarating music of the Seventies can be found here - classic songs/improv frameworks (albeit a very monomaniacal idea of improvisation ... something akin to the Velvet's live workouts) such as 'Master Of The Universe' and 'Brainstorm', more acoustic-based songs such as 'We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago' or the proto-punk noise and Turner's sax riffs of 'Urban Guerrilla' and 'Brainbox Pollution'. Witness the way the heavy-folk of 'Space Is Deep' shifts into Krautrock motorik - so good, that.

The Magus, 1978.

What I like, very much, about Turner is his willingness to have a go - he keeps active and, just as importantly, keeps engaged; busking, playing with younger musicians, guesting with a multitude of bands (most of a pronounced space rock bent) as well as keeping a number of his own outfits together ... jazzy combos such as Galaktikos or the Hawkwind revisited that is Space Ritual ... and if the latter outfit ("more original Hawkwind members than Hawkwind!") is something of a autotribute band, well, various ex-Beatles and The Rolling Stones have been doing just that for over three decades.

I like this photo a lot - Turner and Moorcock, 1975.

Credit where credit is due - right at the almost-very-beginning of the story, it's not everyone who would have cast an appraising eye over the unlikely lads Turner (likes:acid, pot, Eastern religions, messing around with saxophones) and Dik Mik (likes:speed, not going to bed for a week, messing around with circuit boards) and saw them as suitable bandmate material ... but Dave Brock had the genius to do just that. God bless'im.


Anonymous Mollsky said...

I love the pics you used in this. Your writing seems to slip straight off the tongue when you write about things that you are passionate about. I still like the 'Needle Gun' phase. I suppose that links to certain memories of past experiences. Also, I really like 'Hurry on Sundown'. I think the beanster's rendition of 'Silver Machine' is quite superb really.

However, not at 5am.

9:58 AM  
Anonymous Grandma's Grammar Book said...

Can writing slip off the tongue? I think I meant words.

9:58 AM  
Blogger St. Anthony said...

Slips straight off the metaphorical tongue?
Good old Turner - someone once dubbed him Hawkwind's Mr Ben due to his fondness for dressing up - what a high old freak show the Hawks were in their prime.

12:05 PM  
Blogger Alistair Livingston said...

Nik Turner and Jimi Hendrix at Isle of Wight... found your blog whilst searching for the actual words by Jimi. Needed them for a piece I was writing for my blog on links from Isle of Wight 1970 to Stonehenge Free Festival to Castlemorton 1992.

Ended up too long - 5500 words - so just used some aerial pics instead.

All kinda confusing for me.Fell in love with 'In Search of Space' and Hawkwind when I heard it aged 13 in 1972. Then I became a punk. Although in summer 1976 I spent a cpuple of days wandering around west London looking for Hawkwind and Pink Fairies places. Then a few years later all my (anarcho) punk friends went to Stonehenge and became 'hippy travellers' and some lasted through til Castlemorton in 1992.

Now I find it was all connected anyway - through west London squatting scene, through ATV playing Stonehenge in 1978 with Here and Now. And... well, if you have a look at greengalloway recent posts are making the links.


10:39 PM  
Blogger St. Anthony said...

Yes, hippydom,the punk thing, Hawkwind - so many connections.

7:35 AM  

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