Forty 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?
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.
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
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