Not since Martin Luther nailed up some truths on an imposing church door has there been such a troubling schism in a monolithic religious organization. Pastoral and visionary, this highly bonded group have worshipped at the altar of the band Hawkwind for nigh on five distinct decades. But what could cause such a rift in this pacifist (minus the home made lager) and like minded group? Nik Turner. Just saying that name in certain circles is a call for public hangings, vitriol, character assassinations and general flame wars. Why does this septuagenarian gentleman get singled out so consistently and what is his publicly offensive crime? Only one thing-playing Hawkwind music. So why do some UK fans get such a bug in their butts about Nik?
Nik was a founding member of the seminal space rock band Hawkwind in 1969. Co founder Dave Brock and Nik pretty much created space rock (Edgar Froese may disagree). To be truthful, several other key components rotated through Hawkwind from the key years of 1969-1976: Lemmy (Motorhead), Robert Calvert, Simon House, the dual electronic maelstroms of DikMik and Del Dettmar. But the foundation sound and vision came from these two twins of space rock-Dave Brock and Nik Turner. Dave was the sound and Nik was the voice, and both came from beyond the edge of the cosmos. Hawkwind came slowly through unending waves of music press criticism, shrugged their shoulders and set the controls for the unknown. One of the few bands to remain mostly relevant throughout their 46 year history, their iconoclast view ended up being correct. Pink Floyd? Gone. Tangerine Dream? Gone. They are name checked by hundreds of known and unknown bands across the planet. Hawkwind showed the early critics who was correct.
The Trouble With Nik
Nik began to have some trouble in the band in the mid 70’s. Dave had sacked more than a few (although it is reported that Nik was tabbed to sack Lemmy on their 1975 tour for getting caught with speed crossing the Canadian border) and the band line up had become fluid. The last one on the chopping block was Nik. He was sent to the wilderness in 1976. This set off a film worthy love/hate relationship between these two stewards of spaceship Hawkwind that has lasted until this day. Like some lingering diseases, the disorder occasionally went dormant (Nik rejoined the band full time in 1983, saving them from their formulaic metal bent and getting them back towards a festival and space rock track) and reconciliations were offered. Nik was shown the door again in 1985, ostensibly for being a stage hog (partly true). Although some debated their likes and dislikes of 15 years of Hawkwind, everyone agreed that this was not only THE band, it was their band. Reunions in the millennium included many former members, and the Hawkwind family was one huge extended clan.
Enter the Hawknerds
Something started to go wrong recently. In 2013, posts on Amazon and Yahoo groups indicated a new breed had arisen–the self appointed Hawkwind police. They trolled the internet looking for mentions of Nik Turner, gathered the troops, and attacked. Where this new strain had come from was a mystery for a while. Somewhere in 2014, something happened on the UK Hawkwind fan site. Known amongst themselves as Hawknerds, the site began to show some troubling signs. ‘Wanted For Treason” and other nasty threats were posted over pictures of Nik Turner. Beheadings, Hangings, stonings were all mentioned. What the hell were these people talking about? Most of the folks on this site are straight shooting music fans, unwilling to be drawn into political discussions of the “schism”. But moderators either tacitly or actively approved of this misbehavior. Posts by members of the band fueled the fires and opinions got very heated. A strong cadre of members were increasingly vociferous about their opinions of Nik Turner. And in sharing these opinions, they were not shy. Like a child in a divorce, they were told to take sides, and poisoned by…..someone. They took to the web (mostly friend face) and screamed the mantra “Nik Turner is the devil!” They started a flame war that was single minded: destroy anyone who disagreed with the party line. You like Nik Turner? You are banned from the site. Did you have your own site? (Nik Turner’s main friend face site and the Hawkwind North America/Canada site are good examples) We show up and attack. When faced with logic or asked questions logically-they descended into name calling, attacks and bans. This happened on the UK site where many US fans questioning the double cancellation were just muted and sent away. They orchestrated a concerted effort to suppress and censor any information on the internet about the Hawkwind failed tour, and shifted all blame on Nik, by any means possible. “They had questioned the integrity of the band”. Why would they say this? Why would they intentionally divide a fan base that was such a global family? That some on the UK site were bothered by US fans complaining about losing two rounds of hotels and flights to go to unplayed shows-and offered a “who cares, they’re playing ten times this fall” attitude only added to an already forming rift.
The Non Tour Saga and the Blaming of Nik
Although this is detailed here earlier, a quick recap: Hawkwind had a tour of America booked in fall 2013. Three days before the tour was to commence, they canceled the whole thing. The reason? Dave Brock had been stricken ill over stress by the fact that Nik was suing to use the Hawkwind name in America, and was unable to tour. Whether this was the idea of Nik or Cleopatra Records is to be determined. But given this excuse, people were sad and regrouped. Online,the complaints were solidified. It was stressed that a concurrent tour as Nik Turner’s Hawkwind would be confusing to prospective fans. Ignoring the fact that all US (and Canadian) fans know the difference, and would attend both bands no matter what, the claim of a single Hawkwind was a rallying cry to many UK fans. A larger problem developed in the spring. The rescheduled tour in 2014 was once again canceled two weeks before it began with the band citing some fairly implausible excuses-they had nowhere to sleep (tour buses are where bands sleep), they had no food plans (venues feed bands), promoters would not put up the cash (they had done enough in October to satisfy the band), renting a back line would be expensive (many US tours from 1990 to 1997 prove they know this isn’t a problem). When mentioning visas and airfare, the explanation gets into a twilight zone of logic. People started to doubt this story, and by proxy, the October story. (Hawkwind had gone on a short UK tour near the proposed US tour dates in October). Was there something else out there that kept them from coming? Nik? Certainly not a real excuse. (All of Nik Turner’s shows in cities that Hawkwind were scheduled to play were after Hawkwind had done a show, precluding any supposed confusion). Another troubling question was: Were Hawkwind legally prevented from coming to North America by the legal kerfuffle? This would go a loooong way to explaining the fairly unconvincing and contradictory claims regarding the spring 2014 tour. The fact that they couldn’t legally come would explain not touring and not telling anyone at the same time. ( a good article that chronicles this and quotes the reasons from Hawkwind’s main website can be read here )
What’s In A Name?
Now let’s set some history straight. Two Hawkwinds? Is that possible? A quick perusal of rock history can show us some things. Multiple Wishbone Ash, Queensryche, Foghat units populate a dwindling rock god gene pool. Steve Hackett’s Genesis just toured. Collins, Banks and Rutheford toured in 2007, are planning a tour now, and own the name-no problem. Yes? Well there’s Yes, and uh Yes featuring Anderson, Wakeman, Rabin (as of April 2017). Hawkwind’s space rock contemporaries, Gong are an even better example. Gong, Paragong, New York Gong, Gnog, Gong Maison, Mother Gong, Pierre Moerlen’s Gong? For better or worse, this band of UK and French stoners managed to get along and share…after all, wasn’t that the vibe of the sixties? Free shows and Portobello Road communes were the order of the day. Money? That’s for fat cats, the man, the establishment. Although it is sure that the Gong family squabbled about many things PHP, they never took their family fights public, and gave the illusion of getting along. And so did their fans.
Not the End But a Denouement
How this will play out isn’t easy to predict. As noted before, the band of Hawkwind fans was one of the strongest and longest lived underground and nearly religious cadres in rock behind Deadheads. But this divide in the following weakens a group that has never seen strife as fans. Nik Turner’s Hawkwind and Hawkwind? US fans don’t care. Bring ’em both. This US refusal to recognize any conflict drew vociferous attacks via the UK. The Hawknerds are partially guilty of inciting this schism in a fan base that was solid for decades. Not reining in wayward factions and tolerating or encouraging childlike internet behavior has gone a long way to creating ill will that never existed before. This campaign seems to have the quiet backing of the official band as well. Airing of dirty laundry in public is not a smart way to solve problems. There is no evidence of squabbling between Hawkwind factions, hell there were no Hawkwind factions before this recent flame war started. They have advised to be patient and wait until the legal battle is settled, yet actively promote a squabble over a conflict, a conflict between two band members, not fans. This is irresponsible, and uses age old smear and censorship tactics, spreading the hate that they gleefully accuse folks who honestly voice any opposing opinions of, and silencing and deleting whenever possible. But this article is not intended to be an apology for Nik Turner, it is a plea for reconciliation, and to get everyone back together, fans (and band members). Some will disagree. I know that few of the hardened hatchet men will be moved by this message, but I feel sorry for them. “Cutting off one’s nose to spite their face” comes to mind as these people miss out on some amazing music to fight a battle, a battle that is not even theirs to fight. If a band splits, then either a limb dies off, or it roots and regrows. The obvious solution is to get the original band back together. (Nik had openly said on his 2013 tour that he had no problem with Dave and wanted to play at any time, and that he had contacted Lemmy’s son about a full on reunion…(sadly no longer possible). But this is not always possible. So when a long lived band has two incarnations, it actually is double the fun for the crowd. Two Hawkwinds? Two Hawkwinds touring America at once? Hallelujah! Two space rock gods fighting-not something that has any winners. Two 70 year old guys fighting over a band name? It makes one shake a head and think…”why can’t stoner grandpas just get along?”
For verification of any of the above, the sources are the closed groups of Hawkwind UK fans, Hawkwind US/Canada, and the Nik Turner group, all friend face locations.
Update June 29, 2017-Out of the Woods
The trademark dispute ended in the US this week with the board finding for Dave Brock and Hawkwind, barring use of “Nik Turner’s Hawkwind” as a billing moniker. He still can play as “Nik Turner formerly of Hawkwind” on the bill, which seems as if two words were the cause of four years of strife in the Hawkwind fanbase. The result was pretty much expected by everyone when the complaint is read closely. (Brock has been the only constant member since 1969). The 22 page finding can be read here.
The confusion part of the case as argued relied on an early 1970’s trademark dispute between du Pont owning an automotive cleaning agent called Rally vs a smaller company who held the trademark for a detergent called Rally. Du Pont was originally refused a trademark for Rally, took the smaller company to court, and the original company was forced to share the name with du Pont. The argument that there would be confusion as to which was which was disputed by the board. That angle seemed unclear as to how this was so influential when the conclusions between this and the Hawkwind dispute were diametrically opposed viz a viz sharing. I would have thought the now forgotten Bay Area 80’s supergroup Dinosaur suing punk rock from Massachusetts Dinosaur (eventually settling on Dinosaur Jr to get out of it) would have been more relevant. Nik touring as Hawkwind Jr is probably not going to bring folks through the door though.
So who won? Obviously Brock will be happy to get Nik off his back. (reading the board decision, it is hard to tell who was the motivating power in this dispute, Nik or Cleopatra Records. From reading the 22 pages, my guess would point towards Cleo.) Beyond that…?
Who lost? On paper, Nik loses the battle to be called Nik Turner’s Hawkwind, though as pointed out above, touring as ‘Nik Turner formerly of Hawkwind’ isn’t that much of a change. The general public is unaware of this squabble, so his following in North America will likely stay unaffected. He comes out mostly a wash. Cleopatra certainly is out lawyer’s fees for pressing the issue, so they’d be in the loss column. The real loss falls to the Hawkfans who have been polarized (even when not choosing sides) into some real rabble rousing hate camps. (see: Hawknerdz). Hawkwind, as the extended family, was once a mobile free festival- a moveable cosmic feast that spread across all of the continents, friends all whenever we met. We knew a secret. The rifts caused by elements of coordinated online social media fanning flames of dissent and causing an unnecessary UK vs North America, us vs. them fan squabble lasting years and something that will take years to heal. Some folks should take time to reflect on what they’ve done to this pretty damn cool planet-wide fan base. Time for an Earth Ritual folks.
“oh yeah, only the stones remain…” the Soft Boys