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Nik Turner: Bringing the Music to the People

By Published: February 24, 2010
I mean, I see music as a language and I practice every day now. I have been practicing for quite awhile and I find you have to learn the language, you have to learn the vocabulary in order to express yourself, and I find that the vocabulary is achieved by practice and developing one's technique to be able to play anything in any key, and just play what you feel like playing, and just feel it.

AAJ: How do you feel about where you are now as an artist?

NT: Well, I'm just me, you know. I listen to John Coltrane and I think, "Wow, What fantastic technique!" But then, he used to practice for 12 hours a day. I don't practice for 12 hours a day, but I find, for myself, I'm quite happy with where I am. I'm quite happy with the development I'm making. I am developing and I aspire to improve my technique to be able to express myself better. I'm not really an ambitious person, I'm just quite a hard worker and I try to develop my musical technique for my own satisfaction, and I find it's a personal thing, really. So I'm quite happy with how I am and what I'm doing.

I went busking in Mexico City. I've played with bands all over the world, you know. I've got backing bands all over the place. I've got about three or four backing bands in America. I've played in Seattle a few times. I had some guys from some famous bands coming down to see me while I was there. I've got backing bands in Sweden, Finland, Germany.

One of the bands I was with in Finland, a band called Five Fifteen, they told me they had a gig in Mexico playing in a progressive rock festival, and I said I'd like to go there, and they said, "Well, you can come with us if you get us a gig in America." So I got them a gig in L.A. with a band that I play with there sometimes, a band called Farflung. They're from L.A.. Pressurehed, as well, they're called—a guy called Tommy Grenas.

I arranged the gig with him, with me sort of headlining with his band at Spaceland, and I arranged for this band Five Fifteen to be special guests there, and Five Fifteen took me to Mexicali where there was a progressive rock festival. I played with them there, and after we had done our act and we stole the show, I got a bit bored and ended up busking in the lobby, sort of entertaining all the girlies in the lobby while all the guys in the heavy metal and progressive rock festival hall were playing air guitars. Subsequently, I was invited to go back and play at the festival just doing my busking act.

I took a bit of time out. I booked a ticket for three or four weeks so that I could go to Mexico City, and there I met a lot of jazz musicians. There was one guy called McGough, he was one of the top jazz guys in Mexico City, and I played with him, and I met a couple of other guys. I was staying in Garibaldi, which is a red light district area. I was living in a brothel playing Mariachi music every night with these Mariachi players and doing three gigs a day with this keyboard player who I met, with all of these really beautiful Mexican girl singers playing all of this really romantic Mexican music that I never heard before.

The guy was saying, "Oh, this key, this one's in F, one-two-three-four," bang! And I'm playing the intro, and the girl sings, then I do a solo, and then he says, "Oh, it finishes in a minute. Yeah, one- two-three, stop!" [Laughs] And it was going on like this, I was doing three gigs a day with this guy in all of these sort of seedy cantinas, transvestite strip joints and extremely up-market hotel lounges [laughter], and then playing Mariachi music all night with all these really top players.

They are all playing this sort of concert orchestra and the Philharmonic, and stuff like that. They are all playing Mariachi music, and busking as well. They all wanted to hear "The Pink Panther." "Play el toco 'Pantera Rosa,'" they all say [laughter], and I was playing all my bossa novas, you know, "Girl From Ipanema," and all that stuff.

Because I've got a lot of play-along records, I learned a lot of stuff like that. I've got all of these Charlie Parker records that I do play-alongs to. You know, I'm teaching myself, really, and I'm learning. I give music lessons to people that want to learn to play like me. When I was in London playing in Hawkwind in the early days, I used to go to the music shops and one of the guys said, "Oh, you can have anything you want cheap, if you want." And I'd say, "Oh, why is that?" This is about 1973 or '74, and he said, "Well, 90 percent of the people that come in the shop who want to play the saxophone say they want to play like you." [Laughter] And I thought, "Wow, that's very flattering." But I didn't think I was very good, even then [laughs].

Busking at the Brecon Jazz Festival

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