Whether hippie, metal, punk, or ambient, if there’s a cosmic force binding experimental music together, it’s Hawkwind. London’s pioneering space rockers have staked that claim since 1969.
“I eternally meet people who say, ‘Oh, yeah, Hawkwind, that was the first band I ever went to see,’” recalled original Hawklord Nik Turner before an ear-bleeding sonic attack during South by Southwest last year. “I was talking to a guy who plays bass who said, ‘I saw Hawkwind when I was 14, and I really wanted to be a bass player.’”
That kid was future Turner cohort Captain Sensible of the Damned. Turner collaborates with anyone who’ll play with him, from former band alumnus and Motörhead hoover Lemmy Kilmister to Steel Pulse. It’s a habit inspired by the musical lawlessness of free jazz.
“They were saying you don’t need to be technical to express yourself,” he snorted. “I thought, well, I’ll play free jazz in a rock band.”
The SXSW show was a black-hole-heavy performance of Hawkwind’s seminal 1973 live disc Space Ritual by the septuagenarian flautist under the moniker Nik Turner (ex-Hawkwind). That’s not to be confused with Hawkwind, the rival crew headed up by his old friend and bitter enemy Dave Brock. Now, one legal battle later, the Thunder Rider returns to Austin heading up Nik Turner’s Hawkwind.
The renaming is just another metamorphosis in Turner’s multistage evolution and eclecticism, reflected in the current multigenerational lineup: UK Subs guitarist Nicky Garratt, drummer Jason Willer of Alternative Tentacles punks Cross Stitched Eyes, Bryce Shelton pulling double-bass duties with post-space rock openers Hedersleben, and keyboardist Kephera Moon. That’s the immortality of the unkillable Hawkwind.
“Rather than rejecting this as being yesterday’s music, they embraced it as being very influential,” enthused Turner. “It’s quite cool, really. You take the good things and dump the things they had problems relating to.”– Richard Whittaker