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Interviews

Nik Turner: Bringing the Music to the People

By Published: February 24, 2010
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 Hawkwind—I was in the band for about nine or ten years—I 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.

And then I worked on my technique and got a bit frustrated with my playing. I went to Egypt for a time, at one point, in 1976 or '77, did some recorded flute music inside the Great Pyramid, then I came back to Britain. I was sitting in the king's chamber and it had fantastic awesome sound, and I was just doodling around thinking about the Egyptian gods.

I came back to Britain and I had a recording deal to fulfill. I had left Hawkwind at this time. I got bored with it, really. I had a recording contract to fulfill and talked my record company into letting me make an album out of this music that I'd recorded in the Great Pyramid. They went with that, and it was produced by Steve Hillage. It was a real cult album.

I was musically progressing, I guess, all the time, playing with different people, some very competent people—Mike Howlett the bassist, and Steve Broughton the drummer, Steve Hillage the guitarist, and other people as well. I got a band called Sphynx, which we performed at all the festivals around Britain.

We had this sort of mystical show. It was choreographed by my friend Barney Bubbles who we have recently done a memorial benefit concert for. He died in 1983, I think. We did this really wacky, wild show, appearing in the middle of the night [laughs] and doing this mystical thing.

And then that developed into a band called Inner City Unit playing satirical, sort of political hard-edged punk music, but very musical. It's all very musically constructed but very free as well. I was playing really wild saxophone in that sort of context and had quite a lot of success with that band.

And then out of that developed another band. My interest in jazz had always been going on. I'd started playing with some guys in the band which I formed called Nik Turner's Fantastic all Stars. I had moved to the country by this time. When I was in London I had Inner City Unit and I recorded an album and a couple of singles on my own label, Riddle Records—riddle of the sphynx, you know, riddled with bullet holes, it became a bit of an ambiguous sort of thing—and moved to Wales and formed a band called Nik Turner's Fantastic All Stars.

I found a keyboard player that had used to play with the Small Faces and he'd played with various people. I think he had played with Roy Orbison or somebody like that, or Ray Charles

Ray Charles
Ray Charles
1930 - 2004
piano
or someone. He had this sort of very vague background. He did a lot of work with Grace Jones and Marianne Faithful. His name was Mike Vaughan- Jones.

We formed this band playing all this stuff that we had in common, things like "Watermelon Man" and a lot of other bits and pieces of stuff, and we developed a repertoire. He played Hammond organ so he had all of this Jack McDuff

Jack McDuff
Jack McDuff
1926 - 2001
organ, Hammond B3
and Jimmy McGriff
Jimmy McGriff
Jimmy McGriff
1936 - 2008
organ, Hammond B3
stuff that we played together. I learned songs from him, he learned a lot of stuff from me. We played a bit of Ray Charles sort of stuff. We played just stuff that we liked, you know, getting into playing Art Blakey, Lee Morgan
Lee Morgan
Lee Morgan
1938 - 1972
trumpet
playing "Sidewinder," and just stuff that we liked, common ground that we found. Had a bassist and drummer who had been playing rock and roll previously and now were learning to play this sort of neo-jazz stuff that we were playing and I was learning to improvise.

I got bored with my musical technique and I had a music lesson from a guy called Alan Holmes. He played baritone saxophone for the Kinks, but he was also the woodwind correspondent for a magazine called International Musician. He got together a sort of round table of all these jazz musicians and people that were in London. I was, at that time, doing a tour with a punk band called Sham 69 with my band, Inner City Unit, supporting them, and I played on several of Sham 69's albums and singles.

At this time I was offered deals by Rosetti Music to buy Yanagisawa saxophones cheaply, and at the same time this guy Alan Holmes gave me a music lesson, which was like, normally he would charge 25 pounds for it and he gave me a free lesson and said, "Go away and learn it and come back in six months time." [laughs] Well, I learned the lesson but I never went back, in fact. I developed in my own way with a few books that he'd sort of directed me towards like "Patterns For Jazz" by Jerry Coker, and a lot of play-along stuff—these sort of Jamey Abersold's "music minus one" stuff—and I started getting into all sorts of developments where I could see going in the direction that I liked.

I was listening to a lot of jazz. I was listening to a lot of Miles Davis, a lot of Dizzy Gillespie

Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
1917 - 1993
trumpet
and Charlie Parker, and a lot of trumpet players, Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard
1938 - 2008
trumpet
, a lot of Art Blakey stuff, sort of developing in that direction and aspiring to play jazz, really. What I was trying to do was play what I termed as "accessible jazz," so it wasn't intellectual. It was the sort of jazz that I imagined jazz stemmed from originally, which was people like having a party, like the black slaves having a party and playing their music, which was derived a lot from African music.

We were playing jazz, and jazzing was fucking, at that time. That's how it was originally supposed to be. It was party music and people had a party and fucked each other [laughs] and played a lot of music and had a good time. This is what jazz was to me. It wasn't this intellectual thing that people put on a pedestal.



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