Strap on your asteroid belts, psychedelic space cadets of New Orleans: Nik Turner’s Hawkwind is passing back through the atmosphere.
Turner, a flute and saxophone player, joined the expansive British space-rock group Hawkwind in its earliest days, the late 1960s, contributing free and freaky sonic explorations to the group’s sound during its defining era. The band was spacey and strange even for a cultural moment that hit epic heights of strange spaciness; themes of science fiction, fantasy, mythology and the occult pervaded its crashing waves of distorted guitar, tense and echoey spoken word and burbling, hypnotic electronic effects. There were nude, painted dancers and light shows. Seminal sci-fi and fantasy writer Michael Moorcock has several Hawkwind songwriting credits from the early 1970s, when the author also occasionally appeared onstage with the band.
Hawkwind had a high attrition rate. Many players cycled in and out of the group over the decades (including Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister and Cream cofounder Ginger Baker) and Turner himself was out by 1976, returning for a short and reportedly unhappy period in the early ‘80s.
Bandleader and primary songwriter Dave Brock, the only member to have consistently remained in the group since its inception, has retained the trademark to the name, which is why Turner performs Hawkwind material these days under the modified title Nik Turner’s Hawkwind. It performs Thursday, Dec. 3 at Siberia.
Over the years, Turner has remained vocally interested in the arcana, mythology and weird tales of ancient civilizations both here on Earth, and beyond, with a free jazz improviser’s willingness to modify and tweak the narrative.
In an interview earlier this month with the Chicago Tribune (which described the septuagenarian Turner as “cheerfully insane”) Turner talked about his interest in ancient Egypt, and his theories on the possible roots of ancient technologies:
“I think they have the involvement of intergalactic people from another world and another dimension,” he told the paper. “I’ve spent my whole life trying to investigate it. I don’t know if you know anything about Mayan mythology, but it’s all about Quetzalcoatl and all those other sort of mythical characters that are several thousand years old. I think Quetzalcoatl came to Atlantis, and when Atlantis sank, all his people went to other parts of the world, to different cultures, and gave them astronomy, astrology, science, mathematics, agriculture. Civilization was almost created instantaneously — they could somehow access a huge amount of knowledge.”
Post-Hawkwind, Turner had a fruitful and peripatetic creative career, collaborating with rock and roll outliers and oddities like Jello Biafra, Genesis P-Orridge and guitarist Helios Creed, of the influential noise-rock group Chrome. In October, he released “Space Fusion Odyssey,” a well-received pastiche of noise, light psychedelic folk, jazz riffs and cosmic funk that employed an eclectic lineup of collaborators including the Doors’ Robby Krieger, jazz drummer Billy Cobham and former members of Soft Machine, Megadeth and Amon Düül II.
The current version of Nik Turner’s Hawkwind — the same one that blasted New Orleans with a hallucinatory onslaught of lights, noise and flute in late 2014 — is Hedersleben, a heavy ensemble that features former members of British punk band UK Subs and serves as opening act.