Sometime back in the mists of psychedelia, Nik Turner embarked upon a journey into outer space, via a psychotropic journey into inner space, from which he’s never quite returned. Countless acid-fuelled excursions into the interstellar void, grooving free jazz in the engine room of the good ship Hawkwind, marked the man. Dave Brock might rage impotently in the face of Turner’s continuing mission to explore strange new worlds, but while the stately, 77-year old saxophonist might be just as comfortable improvising alongside post-punk sonic explorers Jah Wobble and Youth or extemporising jazz rock fusion with Billy Cobham or Flame Tree, Brock’s got as much chance of keeping the Thunder Rider away from space rock as Canute had with keeping waves off the beach.
It’s also damnably hard to own the Hawkwind brand in the eyes of their bedazzled fanbase. As with Floyd there was never any single identifiable focal point. Squinting into the spiralling maelstrom of the live ’Wind experience at their Space Ritual peak, who’s the frontman? Bob Calvert? Lemmy? Stacia? Hawkwind were a collective force, Brock and Turner mere elements in a tumultuous audio-visual mind-fuck. Who owned it? Who cared? It was a beautiful thing, and to scrap over its legacy only seems petty. The antithesis of all that it was. Turner, meanwhile, isn’t without charm. He’s an accommodating, approachable, cool dude, indeed. He busks, hangs out after shows, works social media without even appearing to try. It’s clearly a charm that extends to the studio, for there are Hawkwind alumni more than willing to hitch a ride on Turner’s latest sonic excursion into space.
Introspective introductory track End Of The World (touched by an engaging fin-de-siècle fragility) features Astounding Sounds-era ex-Hawkwind and Pink Fairies guitarist Paul Rudolph, while wah-wah-driven Why Are You? irresistibly recalls Warrior On The Edge Of Time being the first selection to feature Simon House’s evocative violin. Back To Earth chimes acoustically, rich with a flute-accentuated melancholia peculiar to so many first-person sky pilots in Hawkwind lore, before Secrets Of The Galaxy hurtles the listener into the swirling blackness of a downer-driven sci-fi riff-storm. As Universal Mind unfolds it’s all too easy to slip down the back of the sofa into 1972, such is the accuracy of its period trippiness before Approaching The Unknown and As You Were intensify the otherwordly ambience in preparation for a triumphal closing assault on Turner’s classic Master Of The Universe which, while brilliant, is surplus to requirements in such excellent, career-topping company.