Hawkwind’s Nik Turner & Nicky Garratt
27/2/2013 - Part I
Growing up in rural Leicestershire, our small group of rebels, that is the long-haired non-bikers, enthusiastically embraced the proto-prog rock scene. Our temple was Leicester's De Montford Hall, and visiting deities were the likes of Curved Air, King Crimson, Wishbone Ash and of course Hawkwind. The default jam tune for home grown budding rock bands back then, and I mean around 1971, if not the Pink Fairies version of 'Walk Don't Run', was the Nik Turner penned epic 'Master Of The Universe'.
Strange that I sit here on a beautiful Tuesday morning in February 2013 sharing a hotel room with the legendary Nik Turner to a sound track of LA traffic. Despite Nik's rather punk orientated Inner City Unit and a short outing with Charlie Harper in the eighties we never crossed paths. In fact the last time I saw Nik was from the audience 40 years ago at the Hawkwind show in the aforementioned De Montford Hall.
A few weeks ago I put together a rhythm section in the bay area for this project. I brought in former Chelsea bass player Geoff Myles who had stood in on a short US Subs tour a couple of years ago, and Jason Willer the 2001-06 Subs drummer. We would be joining producer Jürgen Engler in LA. Jürgen was also to play tone generator and guitar in the line up. In fact a number of my German friends were rather more impressed that I was working with Jürgen than Nik. Well Jürgen is very well known in those parts having fronted the first German punk band MALE and also being the front man for the trail-blazing industrial band Die Krupps. Even the mighty Die Toten Hosen named a song after him... An odd coincidence also is that some would call Geoff Myles' first band, Stormtrooper, the first UK punk band in 1975.
We three worked diligently to capture a reasonably authentic vintage Hawkwind sound then headed south on the 5 freeway in a heavily laden van to meet the vacationing Herr Engler and his wife en route.
I'd talked with Jürgen at length by phone about the project, both of us having written raw material and with he as producer and I as musical director, had much to sort out. We really seemed to hit it off and had a number of traits in common not least of which was that neither of us ever smoked or drank alcohol. We found out as time passed that we were more connected in our musical background and our love for Krautrock. And then last night at the Taco stand we even found out the king of fruit, the Durian, is our favourite!
The rest of the band took to Jürgen immediately as well and it was like we'd known each other for years. Conversations about our backgrounds were light and completely absent of any painful ego-drenched one-up-man-ship bragging about who's done what.
The recording complex in LA is huge. We set up in studio G, one of literally dozens of rehearsal and recording rooms. Augmenting the expected backline was Jürgen's micro Moog synth and my percussion table. As Jason unpacked his tools he shyly remarked "I never thought I'd be setting up a Djembe".
Another coincidence was Jürgen's guitar. He proudly opened the case and pulled out his white Eastwood Breadwinner only to discover that I had brought a white original Ovation Breadwinner.
Nik had flown in from South Wales the day before and walked into the studio, trailed by a documentary film cameraman in perfect time to run through some classic Hawkwind tunes like Born To Go and D Rider.
Nervous glances punctuated the proceedings as Jürgen and I were concerned that we might trespass on another's time during the lengthy solos. However, Nik was most generous with his musical real estate and assured us that we could play as long as we liked. Surprisingly sharp and competent, Nik looked refreshed and appeared to be enjoying things. It all went better than could be hoped for and approving nods from the label head let us know that we were on the right track.
The biggest issue doesn't seem to be getting lost in the music or gelling as a unit, more how do we terminate the extended jams and Nik seemed in no hurry to do so. This is when I coined the phrase 'Hawkwind had no brakes'.
After a midnight snack we retired to the hotel where the ‘Nicks’ roomed together. We had a good time getting to know each other further and found that we both were carrying the same travel version of the jazz fake book. This prompted an impromptu rendition of Black Orpheus and a Chick Corea tune the next morning with Nik on flute and myself on my Gibson SJ200.