Ex-Hawkwind’s Nik Turner releases new album and tours to wild applause… and not a little controversy

0661-nik-turnerForty years on from the epochal Space Ritual, thirty on from Inner City Unit, and almost twenty since his last visit to these shores, one-time Hawkwind mainstay Nik Turner is back on the road in the United States, and promoting a brand new album as well.

Space Gypsy, recorded with a band that includes former UK Subs guitarist Nicky Garratt, Die Krupps’ Jurgen Engler, bassist Jeff Piccinini and drummer Jason Willer, hits the stores this week.  And, for anyone remembering the days when a new Hawkwind album was as visceral an experience as it was a sonic attack, Space Gypsy is so broad, bold and bristling-bright that it makes the last few Hawkwind albums sound like they were recorded in a barn.

No computers, no short cuts.  No revivals, no rehashes.  No instrumental interludes that meander for no reason. A vinyl incarnation that sprawls across a magnificent gatefold sleeve and bonus 7″ single.  And a soundscape that makes you wonder whether Turner hasn’t simply been sitting on these tapes since 1972, the album Hawkwind should (and could) have made after Doremi Faso Latido, but which they never quite got around to.

The brainstorming riff that bludgeons through the opening “Falling Angel STS-51-L”… the assaultive battery of the succeeding “Joker’s Song”… elsewhere, fellow ex-Hawk Simon House and once-upon-a-Gong-er Steve Hillage pop up to layer their own trademark distinctions across an album that remembers the day when the recording studio was a palace of wonder and a playground for the brilliant, and not just a room full of machines that you got into and out of as swiftly as possible.

So, the Sgt Pepper of Space Rock?

Could be.

All of which is all the more heartening when one considers the state of Hawkwind themselves, these days.  A US tour that was also scheduled for this month was cancelled at very short notice, prompting a wild flurry of rumors and misinformation, but apparently settling down to a choice of two.  One, that Hawkwind frontman Dave Brock succumbed to a stress-related illness serious enough to scupper a coast-to-coast American tour (but not, thankfully, the UK dates scheduled to kick off immediately after the US dates would have ended); and another that the gigs were booked (in early summer) before all the band members’ visas and work permits were in place.

Right now, Hawkwind are promising to make up the lost dates in March 2014.  But if there is any bad taste left in the mouth, it is from the original insistence (since taken up as a gospel truth by the more volatile members of the fan club) that Turner was ultimately responsible for both Brock’s illness and the cancellation because….

Because the last time he toured this country under the Hawks banner, back in 1994, a number of his gigs ran up against a series of legal objections (emanating from the Hawkwind camp) to him actually utilizing the band’s name in any connection with his activities.

A founding member of the band in 1969; the only original member beyond guitarist Dave Brock to have remained onboard for more than the first few albums (he finally departed in 1976, only to return briefly in the early 1980s), Turner was also responsible for some of the band’s most storied classic lyrics, including the epochal “Master of the Universe” and “You Shouldn’t Do That,” and the sole author of the epic “Brainstorm.”  Three songs which, alongside the hit “Silver Machine,” are probably singlehandedly responsible for Hawkwind even lasting out his original membership, let alone marching on for another forty years.

Moving to pre-empt any repetition of the 1990s legalities, Turner prepared this go-round by applying for trademark protection that would at least permit American promoters and venues to mention that he was ex-Hawkwind in their own advertising (“Nik Turner’s Hawkwind” was the chosen tag, following the lead of a number of other heritage acts – Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash, for example).  A right, incidentally, that he has publicly declared will be extended to any other former band members who wish to use it, but who have hitherto been struck down by the mothership’s possessiveness.

Contrary to what a lot of fans seem to believe (at least if the postings on sundry related Facebook/social media pages are to be believed), Turner’s action is not intended to prevent Hawkwind from touring as Hawkwind, or even disputing the current line-up’s right to call themselves Hawkwind.  It is geared towards allowing the band’s other members to let prospective audiences know what kind of show they might expect, by referencing where they played in the past.

All this, of course, is a distinction that the more excitable contributors to sundry Internet forums have been unwilling (or maybe even unable) to wrap their heads around, leaving Turner in the very strange position of having possibly alienated one half of his tour and album’s potential market, at the same time as alerting an even vaster audience to the fact that something very interesting is making its way around the country, and they need to check it out now.

Just a few west coast dates into the tour, gigs are already packed out with acolytes and curiosity-seekers alike, with the merchandise stand testifying to the fact that the latter are as impressed (and hungry for more) as the old fans.  Suddenly, the mothership’s attempts to suppress and denigrate Turner have actually had the opposite effect, and raised his profile even higher than an uncontested “Nik Turner’s Hawkwind” tag could ever have done.

Thankfully, both the album and the live show more than merit the increased attention; indeed, line Space Gypsy up alongside any of its estranged parent band’s last thirty years worth of albums, and you might even find yourself wondering who really offers Hawkwind fans the thrills that they originally got into the band in search of.

Turner, who is still enacting a space ritual of his own, in thought and word and deed?  Or Hawkwind – whose manifold (and, it must be said, often admirable) stylistic changes over the years have rendered them a very different musical experience to that which so many of us grew up with.

UPCOMING DATES

October

16 Salt Lake City, UT at Urban Lounge w/Secret Chiefs 3*
19 St Paul, MN at Turf Club w/Thunderbolt Pagoda
20 Milwaukee, WI at Cactus Club w/Moss Folk
21 Chicago, IL at Reggie’s
24 Pittsburgh, PA at Brillo Box w/The Sicks
25 Toronto, ON at Mod Club w/Sons of Otis
29 Boston, MA at Middle East Upstairs w/Ghost Box Orchestra
30 New Haven, CT at BAR (free show)
31 Easthampton, MA at Flywheel
November
2 Philadelphia, PA at Philamoca w/Stinking Lizaveta
3 Brooklyn, NY at Saint Vitus Bar w/NAAM
5 Charlotte, NC at Tremont Music Hall
7 Atlanta, GA at The Earl
10 Austin, TX at Fun Fun Fun Nites
14 Phoenix, AZ at Rhythm Room
15 San Diego, CA at The Casbah
17 Oakland, CA at The Uptown w/Carlton Melton

A prodigious writer, fierce music lover and longtime record collector, Dave Thompson is the author of over 100 books, including Goldmine’s “Standard Catalog of American Records 1950-1990, 8th Edition” as well as Goldmine’s “Record Album Price Guide 7th Edition , both of which are published via Krause Publications and are available at www.krausebooks.com 

3 thoughts on “Ex-Hawkwind’s Nik Turner releases new album and tours to wild applause… and not a little controversy

  1. Dreadful. This is not a review – it’s a character assassination of Dave Brock and Hawkwind.

    There is no “wild flurry of rumors and misinformation”, unless you count this ‘review’ (which contains no reviews of the music on the album at all – good or bad). The whole article is an exercise in nasty, underhanded propagation of half-baked rumour or misinformation.

    There is *no* rumour about anyone from Hawkwind being denied a visa except from a single Facebook user, and that profile seems (to a casual investigator) highly dubious.

    There is no ‘rumour’ about Dave Brock (who has just won lifetime achievement awards for his stewardship of Hawkwind) is ill. It was announced through the Hawkwind wofficial website and conformed via family and friends.

    Mr. Turner has not been blocked from using ‘Ex-Hawkwind’ when advertising his band or tour. It is the use of the name “Nik Turner’s Hawkwind” that is currently in dispute. It is not him trying to block the official band ‘Hawkwind’ from using the name, but them trying to stop him from hijacking the name they have legally used for 44 years (36 of which were without Mr. Turner, who was last a member 29 or so years ago).

    Furthermore, it’s not mentioned anywhere that Mr. Thompson is not an independent reviewer – not only has he written sleeve notes for Mr. Turner’s albums on Cleopatra Records (who are also promoting Mr. Turner’s US tour), but he also has books published by Cleopatra Records. One look at his entry on Discogs shows his links to Cleopatra, being as it is populated 10:3 by Cleopatra Records.

    If you are going to employ writers who are, effectively, staff writers for record companies then please have the courtesy to inform your readers that this is the case and let us decide on the validity of the review. This is a bad example of bad journalism disguised as an independent record review.

    Shame on you for taking the record company’s dollar and presenting their PR line as journalism.

  2. Thank you for the superb article. It is very well written and full of great information.

    However, as a long time fan of both Nik Turner’s and Hawkwind’s, I must point out a few things which are incorrect; as well as offering a few different opinions on some of the passionate statements made here.

    First, as to the new album Space Gypsy. While I agree that it is a superb album, and harkens to the days of truly exciting and interesting Hawkwind material, I must protest the statement that it makes the last few Hawkwind albums sound as if they were recorded in a barn. On the contrary, I must say. The album Space Gypsy, is, in my opinion a mixture of great tunes; some of which are nicely mixed, while others bury Nik’s vocals so deeply in the mix as to almost entirely make them unintelligible. Some may argue that this is for “effect”, but I don’t believe so. Particularly if you compare this album to the full album recorded by Nik’s English band “Space Ritual”, entitled Otherworld. Now there is a magnificently recorded and mixed album. Every single song has phenomenal production quality and the vocals are clear, sharp and quite audible and eminently intelligible and understandable. On at least three songs on Space Gypsy, it sounds as if Nik is singing in a muffled tunnel or even, if you will, in a barn. And no lyric sheet is included with the album, so unless one is proficient in the decoding of lost ancient languages or other dimensional tongues which sound as if they were literally recorded underground, one would be very hard pressed to decipher the lyrics regardless of how many listening attempts were made. As for Hawkwind’s “last few albums”, these are gems. Blood of the Earth and Onward both contain many excellent compositions, and both albums have very nice production quality indeed. Certainly they sound more professionally recorded to me, on the exact set of equipment that I listen to the new fabulous Space Gypsy album. And 2012′s “Stellar Variations”, released as Hawkwind Light Orchestra is truly magnificent. Give a listen to the track “It’s All Lies” and you’ll see what I mean. A great sound throughout the album, and very interesting and relevant lyrics, particularly on the aforementioned track.

    Secondly, Nik’s last tour of the states was not 1994, but 1995. In 1994 he toured the U.S. under the name “Nik Turner’s Hawkwind Space Ritual” which got him the initial harassment from Sir Brock and Company. The following year, he toured playing a double bill of Nik Turner and Hawkwind classics as well as mind blowing renditions of much of his Anubian Lights material. I saw both tours and they were both absolutely stunning. While Hawkwind blew minds and were most definitely superlative on their U.S. tours of Space Bandits and Alien 4, these two Nik Turner shows were even better, and much like the comparisons drawn in this article they did indeed “out Hawkwind” Hawkwind. The 1994 tour was almost a heavy metal version of Hawkwind, with a tremendous dose of psychedelic energy on top. The 1995 tour included material rarely if ever played live by Hawkwind, including the amazing track “Dying Seas”, and also gifted audiences with “Soul Herder” and other deeply mystical and profoundly psychedelic Anubian Lights tracks.

    One final comment on the excellent article presented here. While Space Gypsy does indeed deliver, and does contain tracks which could definitely be argued to offer more of the authentic thrills and excitement than some of the past three decades of Hawkwind recordings, I feel that the statement made to that effect is unfair, and really quite unreasonable. However, regarding the Space Ritual album “Otherworld” and indeed, dozens upon dozens of truly astounding live videos of Nik Turner’s still active English band Space Ritual available currently on YouTube do fall into the category of packing more punch and delivering more of the authentic Hawkwind sound than Hawkwind themselves has produced on many of their albums since Nik’s departure. The raw energy, the passion and the honesty and authenticity, to say nothing of the blindingly psychedelic sounds and visuals on the youtube videos; and the incredibly well produced and truly mind boggling songs on Otherworld are much more true to the original Hawkwind sound than just about anything Hawkwind has produced in quite some time. It’s a shame that the record company didn’t put the kind of time and money into producing Space Gypsy as was quite obviously dedicated to Otherworld. If they had, Space Gypsy might be the true masterpiece that I’m sure Nik would have intended it to be. Long live Hawkwind and Nik Turner and all the permutations thereof!

  3. I couldn’t believe this load of rubbish when I read it. It is disgraceful.

    It is an attack on the official band Hawkwind, not a review. If this record is the “new Sgt. Peppers” then why hasn’t the reviewer got more than a couple of sentences actually telling the reader about the music?

    The ‘rumour’ that Dave Brock (leader of Hawkwind for 44 years and recent receiver of a Lifetime Achievement Award, Mojo Award, etc.) was denied a visa originates from a single Facebook source. That Facebook source, who said they were prepared to post confidential documents from the US immigration service, has a Facebook profile that posts directly to a music promotion website, and is suspected of being someone associated with the tour promoters.

    ‘Coincidentally’, the tour promoters themselves have posted the rumour to the same websites, just minutes later. Saying that they ‘knew’ this all along.

    Your reviewer should also get their facts correct – no one is blocking Mr. Turner from performing as an ‘ex-Hawkwind’ musician – he’s been doing this for years. It is the use of the Hawkwind brand that is objected to. Mr. Turner is promoting himself as Nik Turner’s Hawkwind, something he has not earned, nor is he yet entitled to (he has applied for a trademark but this has not yet been granted).

    This record and the tour are released on Cleopatra Records. Your reviewer wrote books released by Cleopatra Records. He also wrote sleeve notes for Mr. Turner’s CDs on Cleopatra Records. One look at his entry on Discogs and we see that 75% of his selection are….. Cleopatra releases.

    Please remove this disgraceful excuse for journalism at once.

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