I can`t tell you how disappointed I was when Hawkwind postponed their North American tour. I found out literally just hours before my flight was leaving for Toronto. I had built up so much expectation for this that it was a huge, inflating letdown. But I had one thing to console me. One week after Hawkwind had been scheduled to play in Toronto, Nik Turner was coming to Calgary, and I already had my tickets. My expectations were doubly high now, and I have to say, Nik did not let me down.
My wife and I left Edmonton in the afternoon for the road trip down to Calgary. Nik was playing at the Palomino Smokehouse and BBQ, and yes, it was both a restaurant and a nightclub. We decided to grab a bite to eat there before the show. Our waitress was very cool and the food was great. We heard music coming from downstairs, so we went down there a bit early to check it out and I caught of glimpse of Nik and his band as they were doing their soundcheck. I recognized the song instantly as D-Rider. My excitement just went up a few notches.
You have to understand. I’ve been a fan of Hawkwind for over 30 years, and having never seen them or any member of the band live before, I had been waiting a long, long time for this show. And fortunately it wasn’t long before they opened the doors and started letting people in downstairs. Once into the club, I gravitated to the merch table. There were lots of cool T-shirts (I bought two!) and some CDs. I already had Nik’s new album, having reviewed it a few weeks before here in AI, but there were a few others I had my eye on. I got talking to a guy by the table who turned out to be Nicky Garratt, who was the guitarist of Nik’s touring band but had also played on the Space Gypsy album (in fact, as he told me, it was he who put that band together for Nik). Although having begun his music career in the punk world with UK Subs, Nicky was now deeply into psych/space and especially Krautrock. His own band, Hedersleben, was not only the opening band, but also Nik’s touring band. Anyway, I had a good chat with Nicky and he turned out to be a really cool guy. I saw Nik himself walking around too, but didn’t get a chance to talk to him before Hedersleben took to the stage.
Hedersleben put on a short but quite awesome show. Kephera Moon on synths and keyboards, Bryce Shelton on bass, Jason Willer drums (he was also part of Nik’s recording band) and Nicky Garratt on guitar. Before the show, Nicky had told me that Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma had been a big influence on their sound. That being one of my favourite Floyd albums, I was looking forward to hearing them. With the spacey atmospheres and Kephara’s dreamy, sometimes dissonant organ sounds, I could definitely hear the Floyd in their sound, but that was simply the launch point as they took off and went in amazing directions with motorik and tribal rhythms, seriously cool grooves and some very freaky soloing. One song they did really stood out for me, The Fall of Chronopolis. After the show, Nicky told me it was set to appear on their third album. So far they only have one album out. Talk about planning ahead!
Next band up was a local band called Witchstone. These guys played in a serious early Black Sabbath style, all deep, plodding riffs and lyrics about witches and demons and souls being dragged to Hell, but they had a guy on keyboards who injected the music with all sorts of freaky drones and electronic squalls, which I guess is why they were chosen to open for Nik. Let’s face it, Alberta is probably one of the least psychedelic places you could visit, so this was about as close as they could get to spacerock, I imagine.
Just a short time after Witchstone, Nik finally took to the stage. When I heard those first swirls of cosmic sounds and Nik beginning to chant, “This is Earth calling…this is Earth calling…” I felt like I was about to explode with excitement. Then the band launched into a scorching version of Born to Go and I just let the sound wash over and through me. After 30 years of waiting, this was like finding the Holy Grail. I was here at last!
Against a backdrop of ever changing, trippy images, Nik and the band enthusiastically rocked through many of the Hawkwind classics: Time We Left This World Today, Orgone Accumulator, Master of the Universe, Brainstorm, and of course the aforementioned D-Rider. He gave a couple of nods to his latest album, Space Gypsy in the form of the lead single from album, Fallen Angel STS-51-L and the lovely, acoustic Galaxy Rise, which saw him set down his sax and bring out his flute. It was nice to see that the night was not all about rocking and there were some nice mellow moments as well. And of course there was the poetry. Nik did powerful recitations of Sonic Attack and The Black Corridor while the band provided spooky atmospherics. Honestly, I`d never really gotten into Sonic Attack before, until this very night when Nik made me a believer.
There were a couple of surprises. The acoustic Children of the Sun was a real lovely hippie moment. Keyboardist Kephara Moon had re-emerged after the Hedersleben performance in a dramatic transformation, from the jeans and plaid shirt she’d worn, to an exotic purple and gold dress, complete with mystical symbols and space tribe markings on her face. She left the keyboards during Children of the Sun to play tambourine, and dance around Nik, eventually joining him at his mic as the whole band chimed in, singing the title phrase over and over in a soft musical chant as coloured lights swirled into a beautiful, hazy yellow glow, almost like a sunset. It was one of the most striking moments of the show. Another surprise was when Nik played Ejection, a song from his former band mate Robert Calvert’s album Captain Locheed and the Starfighters, verbally acknowledging it in a nice a little tribute to his fallen comrade.
The evening came to its grand finale with a ripping version of Silver Machine that just kicked all sorts of major ass and had everyone in the audience singing along. Throughout the show, Nik looked like he was just having the time of his life. The 73 year old can still rock with the best of them. He had barely left the stage when he was suddenly back for the encore of You Shouldn’t Do That, which had some of the young women from the audience (including our waitress from earlier in the night!), jumping up on the stage and dancing with the band. It was an awesome close to an awesome night!
It was too bad I didn’t get a chance to talk to Nik, but I did go up and briefly meet him after the show while he was still on stage. As he shook my hand, there was this huge grin on his face, which said it all. You could tell just how much Nik loved his fans and loved performing for them. And his fans loved him too. It was a small, but very enthusiastic crowd that came out and I was glad to have been a part of it.
Check for other tour dates on Nik’s web site at http://www.nikturner.com
Reviewed by Jeff Fitzgerald