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Nik Turner, Hawkwind Saxophonist/Flutist, Dies at 82

He also steered projects Sphynx, Inner City Unit, Space Ritual, and Nik Turner’s Fantastic All Stars
Nik Turner
(Credit: Linda D. Robbins/Getty Images)

Nik Turner, the multi-instrumentalist and original co-founding member of British space rock band Hawkwind, died Thursday (Nov. 10) at the age of 82. No immediate cause was provided in the statement posted to Turner’s personal Facebook page.

It reads, “We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of Nik Turner – The Mighty Thunder Rider, who passed away peacefully at home on Thursday evening. 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.”

Turner was born in 1940 in Oxford, England. When he was 13, his family moved to the seaside town of Margate, where Turner worked in a summer fair every weekend and was first introduced to rock music. He did a short stint in the Merchant Navy and then traveled around Europe before joining a traveling music circus in 1967. A pivotal trip to Berlin introduced Turner to the free jazz style, which would become instrumental in his own playing, supported by traditional lessons in clarinet and saxophone.

In 1969, learning his old friend Dave Brock was putting together a band with John Harrison, Terry Ollis, and Mick Slattery that would eventually become Hawkwind, Turner offered to be the band’s roadie. Turner’s music abilities quickly came to the surface, particularly on the saxophone that would become instrumental to band’s experimental sound, and he became an official member that same year.

In addition to saxophone, Turner contributed flute and vocals to Hawkwind. He is also credited with co-writing some of its most significant songs, including “Brainstorm” and “Master of the Universe.” His time with Hawkwind included the four years that the late Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister was a member in the early ’70s before he left to form Motörhead. The official Motörhead Twitter account also paid homage to Turner on Friday, posting, “We lost Lemmy’s old bandmate Nik Turner today. Play some Hawkwind nice and loud! Brainstorm here we go!”

Turner had several stops and starts with Hawkwind in the ’70s and early ’80s, when he was either kicked out or left voluntarily, and officially left for good in 1984. In between stints with Hawkind and after fully departing, he formed a number of other musical projects, including Sphynx (inspired by a trip to Egypt, where he recorded music inside the Great Pyramid of Giza), Inner City Unit, Space Ritual, and Nik Turner’s Fantastic All Stars. Throughout, he further experimented with prog rock, electric jazz, and psych rock styles.

Turner’s final release was 2019’s The Final Frontier, a collaboration with UK Subs’ Nicky Garratt. During his six-decade career, he also appeared with such artists as Psychic TV, Mother Gong, and Sting.