An evening with Nik Turner on his "Space Ritual" tour promises to be both a learning and -- according to Nik himself -- a "healing" experience. In fact, Turner told Up on the Sun, "The energy that we're putting into [this tour] sort of transcends what the thing is about. We're trying to make all of the shows into healing experiences, and let people feel good, and hope that they're feeling better at the end of the gigs than they do at the start . . . Trying to help each other is what it is really about."
There are very few people on the planet who can say they've been exploring the musical galaxy as long as Nik Turner. For part of the past six decades, Turner has been traveling the globe -- "rocketing around the United States of America," as he playfully puts it -- performing a genre of music that he not only helped create but continues to perpetuate.
For the uninitiated, Turner was an early member of Hawkwind, one of the progenitors of the "space rock" sound. Originally a roadie for the band ("slogging gear," as Turner remembers it), he was brought into the fold on saxophone, flute, and vocals quite quickly as Hawkwind started to round out its sound, which has influenced everyone from the Sex Pistols to Ministry to Monster Magnet and Rush.
The title of Nik Turner's current tour -- "Space Ritual" -- is also the title of Hawkwind's 1973 double-live album, which featured Ian Kilmister on bass, who you may recognize as the lead misfit behind Motorhead.
"In hindsight, we were doing stuff that nobody else was doing, really," Turner says. "We were doing the whole mixed-media thing with a stage show and lights and dancers. We had a purpose . . . a grand design," For its time, the music was heavy, but it featured an electronic aspect many of their contemporaries did not have. Renowned rock critic Lester Bangs once lovingly described Hawkwind's electronic angle as sounding like "barfing computers." If you are familiar with Bangs' work, that sounds like high praise.
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"The music was groundbreaking, really, although I didn't really think it at the time. We were all a bunch of individual musicians who had our own idea of what we wanted to play, as opposed to what people may have envisioned that we ought to play." Turner has continued to attempt to break ground throughout the years of his impressive career, although often returning to his Hawkwind roots. His current release, Space Gypsy, is reminiscent of Hawkwind's early work, chock-full of pummeling riffs, noisy blasts of saxophone and synthesizer, and, of course, some space-themed lyrics. A conversation with Nik Turner is not unlike looking through his discography, which is vast. He touches on many subjects, just like the myriad bands and collaborative efforts he has jammed or recorded with, all of which he expresses with passion and excitement. In chatting with him, it was hard to believe he's 73 -- except that only musicians of his vintage can possess such a wealth of knowledge and experience. He describes his passions, such as ancient civilizations and healing through music and positive energy, with the zeal that he has obviously had for playing music all of these years.
"I try to play music that touches people in a sort of positive way," he says. "I have this idea about healing. I spent time inside the pyramids in Egypt, recording flute music -- sitting in the sarcophagus of the king's chamber, listening to the fantastic sounds, and when I went back to Britain I went with some friends to the Festival of Mind and Body."
It was at this festival that Turner was told that he had great healing power in his hands, and after being asked by a friend to help with some stomach pain, Turner decided to see if he actually could do it. "I thought, well, here I am, I spent time inside the great Pyramids, and I'm really interested in Egyptology, and I thought about the Egyptian Gods and the elements they represented, and thought about drawing positive energy through my body, and I did that. After about five minutes, [my friend] said the pain was gone. I thought, well, that's cool, really. I didn't go around saying I could heal people . . . but I did try and help other people."
The beauty of all this is that it is completely sincere. Nik Turner strongly believes that "Music is to be enjoyed, not proselytized." Powerful thoughts, really, in a world where popular music is often in the background of the most manipulative messages. "I try to steer away from all of that sort of thing and just have a nice time and give people a nice time," he says.
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Turner, and his current band, which features Nicky Garratt of UK Subs fame and ex-members of Die Krupps and Chelsea, will be playing quite a few Hawkwind songs on Thursday, November 14, at the Rhythm Room. Longtime Hawkwind fans and folks who are down with odd, noisy, saxophone-driven space rock should definitely check this out, since there will not be another show like this any time soon in such an intimate venue. Nik Turner remains current, but he's also an ambassador -- not only another time in music, but perhaps another dimension.