Nik Turner: Bringing the Music to the People
I practiced a bit for quite a while and I learned a few tunes, and never played in a band though, really. I started getting into playing "Intersection" with a band very briefly with my music teacher, then I sort of gave up playing for some time. In about 1968, I went to Berlin and met all of these free jazz musicians that hung out in the Blue Note. I think that's where Eric Dolphy and John Coltrane had played, and I think some of these people had played with them. They turned me on to the fact that you didn't have to be technical to express yourself. I realized then I'd met some guys who played in a band and talked about getting involved in a band with them, and then it just sort of struck me that I could play free jazz in a rock band. That's how I became involved in Hawkwind.
Prior to that I'd played in a couple of bands. When in a college band, my brother played the trumpet. He was at Art College studying architecture. I was in college studying engineering at the same time, and I played in a band with him. We did a couple of gigs. He played trumpet, he had a trombone player, there was a bassist and a drummer. We did a couple of gigs just playing four or five numbers. We were playing stuff like "Foggy Day In London Town" and "My Funny Valentine."
I listened to a lot of Gerry Mulligan and then my brother turned me on to Miles Davis with Milestones (Columbia, 1958). I bought a Cannonball Adderley record, Something Else (Blue Note, 1958)," and I thought I really was into jazz. I read a lot about it and listened to it a lot, and I really found it very exciting but quite difficult to play.
While I was in Holland I was road managing for a black guy who did a James Brown look-alike actor sound-alike or stage act. I was his road manager and we used to hang out all night in bars in Amsterdam with all of these black guys on the run from the Army [laughter] listening to all this old jazz. He turned me on to John Coltrane's Olé Coltrane (Atlantic, 1961). He was writing a book about black hip-speak at that time.
This was probably about 1967. Psychedelia was happening and everybody was taking LSD and stuff like that. I later discovered John Coltrane took LSD as well. And then I got involved with these free jazz people in Berlin in 1968, I think it was. I listened to Jimi Hendrix when I was in Amsterdam and I thought that was really cool music. I think it was quite influential to me. Miles Davis playing his wah-wah, as well.
I got quite influenced by those things and got involved in this band Hawkwind. The guys in the band were all friends of mine, I had met them in Amsterdam. They had played in a bandI was working on a rock and roll circus as a roustabout and a barman. I wasn't playing music at the time but these guys played in one of the bands that featured there. I eventually got this band together with them, a guy called Dave Brock and another one called Mick Slattery. Incidentally, I work with Mick Slattery still today.
We got this band together, I was going to be their road manager. I happened to have my saxophone in my van, in my car, and brought it into rehearsal and banged away at it playing all of this sort of expressionist music that I learned about in Berlin, and then I was invited to be involved in the band.
They didn't have a name at the time, but we later called ourselves Hawkwind as a result of my hawkingclearing my nasal passages, and my windmy sort of volume of flatulence [laughs], you might call it. So, we were Hawkwind, then, and I was playing free jazz in a rock band. Then my friend Robert Calvert got involved in the band and we turned into a space rock band. He was a poet, a space poet.
And all of this time I had been listening. I listened to jazz all of that time. It was the main music I listened to, really, so I was always interested in jazz. But while I was in HawkwindI was in the band for about nine or ten yearsI didn't really practice very much because I found I could get away with just, the band, the blending of guitar keys, and I think they even tuned down sometimes.
So I was actually playing in the key of C on my alto and then I was playing in the key of F on my tenor, and so it was quite simple stuff. You know, they were playing in E flat, so it was sort of quite easy for me to play that stuff. It was only when I left the band, I realized how inadequate my playing was, and determined to improve my technique because I was embarrassed to find that I couldn't play with other musicians who didn't play in E or A [laughs]. I was playing in E and A quite a lot in Hawkwind, as well as E flat and A flat.