Nik Turner, co-founding saxophonist, flutist and vocalist of the pioneering English space-rock band Hawkwind, has died at the age of 82.
“We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of Nik Turner — The [Mighty] Thunder Rider, who passed away peacefully at home on Thursday evening,” Turner’s family wrote on his personal Facebook profile. “He has moved onto the next phase of his Cosmic Journey, guided by the love of his family, friends and fans. Watch this space for his arrangements.”
Born in 1940 in Oxford, England, Turner took two years of saxophone and clarinet lessons in the early ’60s. He took an interest in free jazz, which emerged in the late ’50s and early ’60s, and sought to incorporate these improvisational stylings into the context of a rock band. He got his chance in 1969 when he began working as a roadie for a new band comprising Dave Brock, Mick Slattery and John Harrison. Turner and fellow roadie Michael “Dik Mik” Davies were soon promoted to band members, and the quintet adopted the name Group X, which soon changed to Hawkwind Zoo and, ultimately, Hawkwind.
Turner first played with Hawkwind from 1969 to 1976. This marked the band’s most successful period, including a run of four consecutive Top 20 albums in their native U.K., beginning with 1971’s In Search of Space and ending with 1975’s Warrior on the Edge of Time. Turner briefly returned to the band from 1982-84, lending a saxophone solo to “Void City” on 1982’s Choose Your Masques and participating on several live albums and compilations.
Between his two Hawkwind stints, Turner founded the psychedelic-punk hybrid band Inner City Unit, which released four albums between 1980 and 1985. Shortly after his dismissal from Hawkwind, Turner also vacationed in Egypt and recorded himself playing flute in the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid of Giza. These recordings were later incorporated into a full album, recorded with a plethora of musicians under the moniker Sphynx. The resulting album, Xitintoday, was released in 1978 and featured lyrics Turner had adapted from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Many of the Sphynx musicians also appeared on the 1978 protest single “Nuclear Waste,” featuring lead vocals from Sting.
In his later years, Turner continued to tour with various Hawkwind and Sphynx alumni. He formed Space Ritual, named after Hawkwind’s 1973 live album The Space Ritual Alive in Liverpool and London, in 2000. The band featured several principal ex-Hawkwind members and released several live albums, as well as two studio LPs, over the next decade.
Hawkwind has featured an enormous revolving door of musicians over the past half-century, one of its highest-profile players being late Motorhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister, whose 1971-75 tenure overlapped with Turner’s. “We lost Lemmy’s old bandmate Nik Turner today,” Motorhead tweeted on Friday. “Play some Hawkwind nice and loud! ‘Brainstorm’ here we go!”
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