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Do Not Waste Time Blocking Your Ears

June 30, 2018

Do Not Panic!!

It was billed as Nik Turner’s Hawkwind, which the angry internet ensured I knew was controversial, legally speaking.  But if leveraging his old band’s name really was the cynical cash grab that the indignation enthusiasts claimed, it can’t have been an especially successful one.  On 6 November 2017 at The Rebel Lounge in Phoenix, Arizona, there were no more than 35 of us contributing funds to Nik’s coffers to the tune of just US$13.00 a head.  And, truth be told, the actual paying number may have been less as the venue issued each ticket buyer an additional free pass “to give to a friend” a few days before the gig in an attempt to bulk up attendance.

What those of us that turned up that Monday night received in return for our modest financial outlay was the opportunity to watch and hear an animated, eccentric, and contagiously happy man play and sing songs that irrefutably carried his DNA in their genes.  Backed as he has been for some years now by prog-psych rockers Hedersleben, Nik performed a set of Hawkwind masterworks from albums dating to his epic time in that epic band.  ‘Sonic Attack,’ ‘Orgone Accumulator,’ ‘Master of the Universe,’ ‘Brainstorm,’ ‘Time We left This World Today,’ and even ‘Silver Machine’ all got served up, along with six or seven additional Hawkwind tunes and a couple of new songs from Nik’s 2017 solo album Life in Space.

 

Having commendably achieved “elderly gentleman” status now, Nik nonetheless was a ball of cosmic energy up there on stage, albeit a relatively stationary one.  (Maybe more a “column” of cosmic energy then?)  He handled all the vocals himself, dynamically singing or speaking each song’s trippy lyrics as warranted.  More thrillingly, he unleashed those signature saxophone blasts, bleats, and squonks as if he’d been grooming them for decades, while also enticing melody and radiance out of both that instrument and his loyal flute whenever the flight path demanded.  For their part, the Hederslebeners demonstrated both their talent and their affection for the legacy.  This was neither a Hawkwind nor a Hawkwind-tribute show; it was a Nik Turner show.  The band soared and shined impressively – and extended interstellar journeys were most definitely taken – but always in a way that subtly and lovingly kept the focus on the venerable hero out front.

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An aside on Hedersleben:  Led by UK Subs founding guitarist Nicky Garratt, the group emerged as a touring/recording entity out of the band that backed Nik Turner on his 2013 album Space Gypsy.  It has gone through many members since, but always with Garratt serving as the center post around which the others revolve.  They played a progtastic instrumental-heavy opening set prior to Turner coming on stage that successfully bobbed heads and temporarily freed minds from earthly worries.  Introducing one suite of songs from 2015’s The Fall of Chronopolis, Garratt called the album “all you could possibly want from an epic progressive rock record.”  Based on what I heard live, I added the digital LP to my Spotify library shortly after the show, and have enjoyed it occasionally a few times since.  Whether the relatively polite album – inspired by the 1974 sci-fi novel of the same name by Barrington J. Bayley — is all I could want is debatable.  It is without doubt, however, a pleasant way to spend 40 minutes with headphones in a darkened room.

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Despite playing for an audience of less than three dozen, Nik showed no signs of disillusion or disappointment.  I think we all got our individual share of smiling eye contact with him over the course of the night.  I’ll also admit, sincerely and without shame, to being truly moved at the way Nik repeatedly turned to Garratt with almost childlike pleading in his eyes to seek permission to keep going each time the small crowd yelled for more at every attempt to finish the show.  Once Garratt finally exercised parental authority and the band started packing up, Nik still continued, blowing extended solo sax versions of ‘Tequila’ and ‘The Pink Panther Theme’ to the hunkered-down crowd.  Even after that, he simply put down his instrument and stepped off the front of the stage to enjoy excited back-slapping and round-buying with the congregation.

As I departed the venue, I happily plunked down $30 additional for a concert tee and a CD copy of Life in Space.  I am a Hawkwind fan, but I am no Hawkwind expert.  That said, I cannot imagine any but the most Brock-blind fanatics not enjoying this Nik Turner solo offering on its own merits.  Ignore the over-stated marketing nonsense about “guest appearances by Hawkwind alumni” and the nothing-wrong-with-it ‘Master of the Universe” re-recording.  Instead, seek out this album for the great new songs played by all-in musinauts who are willing and able, if you’ll simply allow them, to merrily teleport you out to where your beloved Space Rock is no longer bound by the constraints of time, whether past, present, or future.

From → Music

14 Comments
  1. As I once heard said before, you can’t beat the intimacy of a small club gig. This sounds like a treat!

  2. I like these artists that, whether for 30 or 3000 people, a show is a show and they play their hearts out for the crowd

    • Exactly! And shows are always better when you can tell the performers are doing it for the joy of it as well, as seems to have been the case at that Arkells show you recently attended.

  3. Man, that sounds great. Dude was all for playing his heart out when many, especially when they played to crowds of many many back in the day, would have wanted to get it over with as quick as possible. I don’t know much Hawkwind, but I’ll make sure to look for his name when I’m looking at LPs or whatever.

    • Yeah man, I kept thinking how wonderful it will be if I manage to be doing something, whatever it is, that brings me as much joy as playing seemed to bring Nik when I am (further) into my golden years.

  4. How can a concert review be both brilliant and sad simultaneously? Guess my wry smile is about how bloated behemoths still turn out for $200 a seat while hard-gigging outfits like Nik and his crew can’t fill a school room. But the joy of playing is what really counts and if I’d been within a hundred km of the venue I’d have taken that ticket and bought both the provider and Mr Turner a large tankard.

    Regarding the digression, I only read one Barrington Bayley back in my sf/fantasy obsessed 20s. It was called ‘Soul of the robot’ I think, and I recall really enjoying it.

    In the VC music room lives a CD of Nik Turner, [Past or Future] that has one of those covers where the illustration moves when you move the casing. It’s a spaceman shooting a ray gun. Of course.

    • Just looked up Mr. Bayley’s Wikipedia; 12 novels and dozens of short stories. I think sci-fi paperbacks and CDs with lenticular spacemen may be just what the world needs now.

      • I suspect you are absolutely correct. And more Dungeons and Dragons. (I’m working on the latter right now in the hope of a game with the boy and co.)
        And perhaps more generous concerts by non-greedy elder statespersons playing space rock?

      • Oh, and thanks for ‘lenticular’. I knew I had the wrong word but it was late and I couldn’t be arsed. It’s a very good word.

  5. Brilliant. He’s often to be found busking around my hometown – my mum knows him well enough to say hello to.

    The only time I ever saw him play was with his excellent boppy rock and roll band, playing 50s and 60s tunes about 20 years ago now. It was excellent.

    • Hearing of him busking would seem sad at first nod, but having witnessed him (space) bop in person now, I think ol’ St. Nik just loves to play. Please ask your mum to pass along my greets when she next has the chance. He’ll know me as that gawky, lurchy dork with the Uriah Heep shirt and the big smile just to his left front.

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