Here at Niche Appeal we will be covering our top 50 weirdest, trippiest, wildest, and woolliest records ever laid down on wax. Today we kick things off with a gift from Hawkwind sax man Nik Turner straight from the cursed heart of The Great Pyramid.
Nik Turner’s Sphynx, Xitintoday, Charisma, 1978
Photo by David Degner
Esoteric-minded bands from The Grateful Dead to Slayer have performed at the mystical stone monoliths modern day individuals like to call “The Pyramids” in both concert and videos over the past five decades. But can you name a single record that was actually recorded inside one of The Pyramids? No? Well, we’ve got one for you with Xitintoday which was conceived not only inside a Pyramid but inside the Great Pyramid itself. Yes, you heard that right. This record was recorded inside King Khufu’s actual tomb, maaaaan. And if that isn’t enough to make this one of the strangest and most magical records of all time then there’s never been a strange record made.
Unleashed like a Pharaoh’s curse in 1977, Xitintoday was masterminded by silver-painted Hawkwind saxophonist Nik Turner. If you love Hawkwind’s classic, cosmic, Lemmy-helmed Space Ritual period (which you absolutely should) then you’re already more than familiar with Mr. Turner. Acid-fried but ambitious, Turner was a classic outsider musician (let’s face it he cold barely play that sax) who somehow found himself in a massively popular English psych band Silver Machine-ing onto The Top Of The Pops and worldwide tours. What he lacked in chops he made up for in sheer psychedelic showmanship. It says a lot that a guy in a band with Lemmy in his speed freak prime, a little troll synth player who would crank the oscillator until people in the crowd vomited, and a six-foot-two naked dancer with swinging double Ds could still shine through as a key visual point. Jimi Hendrix sure took notice, dedicating a song at the Isle Of Wight Festival to “the cat with the silver face.” It was most likely this up-front visibility that played a role in Turner’s shunning by the rest of his Hawklords bandmates, who booted Nik in the late 70s due to “honking something awful over top of all of our solos, man.”
You wouldn’t have expected much of Turner as a solo artist. Dude always seemed more suited to a traveling circus or street busking than the Devil’s realm of the established music business. Although he eventually delved headlong into the psych nostalgia circuit, he did manage one truly bent mystical treasure with Xitintoda. The story behind the making of this now rare and much sought-after piece of vinyl is the stuff legends are made of. After being cast from Hawkwind, Turner took the hippie trail and ended up in Egypt. Ever the scam artist, Turner somehow blagged his way into being left alone for three hours locked inside the King’s Chamber. Even theorizing about how he pulled this off is completely mind-blowing. Did he bribe the guards with some sweet hash? Did he pass himself off as some sort of silver Egyptologist? Did he actually fake some documents? Or, more plausibly, did those who guarded King Khufu’s resting place recognize in Nik Turner a gold-aura’d illuminated being who fully had the right to three hours locked in the chamber which once held the Great Pharaoh’s earthly remains? Whatever the case, Nik made it inside the chamber and, like all Egyptian tourists, just so happened to have a flute and some state-of-the-art recording equipment on him, utilizing those precious hours in the heart of the ancient world to lay down the basic woodwind tracks that make up Xitintoda.
Back in Blighty, the Holy Fool rounded up a gnarly cross-section of lumpen hippie allstars including Mike Howlette from Gong and Alan Powell from his old band, forming a group called, appropriately, Nik Turner’s Sphynx. This freak scene Egyptology crew augmented the original tomb flute tracks in one long marathon session no doubt fueled by lungfulls of smuggled kief and, judging by the results, some really mellow acid. The fact that NT got this contender for Most Hippie Album Of All Time released on Charisma Records around the time that punk was breaking is testament to the mad, swirling powers of this wandering woodwind mystic.
So what does Xitintoday sound like? Well, it sounds exactly like a record that was recorded by a silver-painted modern shaman in the cursed and echoing sacred tomb of the Great Pharaoh. Turner doesn’t fall into the scholarly trap that takes down many studies of The Ancients, where tripped-out material is stripped of its wonder and filtered through a series of exceedingly dull facts and timelines. You get the sense that perhaps Turner didn’t know all that much about ancient Egypt when he stumbled upon the ruins, and the shock and awe of discovery is fully apparent in the sound. You can actually hear the echoes of his flute lines as they ricocheted off the tomb walls. Eerie and isolated, but sprinkled with a sense of “I’ve crossed over now” calm, the flute is the anchor of this record whether floating alone in the dusty dark or augmented by searching synth lines beamed in from the netherworld.
The Awakening (Life On Venus) kicks things off with the sound of a tomb door closing which would be a pretty cheesy effect if it wasn’t actually the sound of the door of the Great Pyramid tomb closing, which it very much is. Once the flute kicks in the track takes off, riding a gentle groove made up of only flute, economical synth lines, a honking sax way in the background, and Turner’s chanting which, of course, is translated from The Egyptian Book Of the Dead. Things really get cooking with “The Pyramid Spell” where some insistent tribal drums kick in and Turner builds layers upon layers of magic flute over his distorted dead language spells and afterlife chants. “The Hall Of Double Truth” is simply immortal, leaving the listener enchanted with an unnamed primeval energy through its swirling esoteric ramblings. You are unlikely to hear a freakier track than “Anubis” anytime soon, where a single note bass slap builds tension, a barking dog disorients, and Turner’s voice goes straight-up metal in his unhinged preachings, speaking through a voice filter that sounds like a psilocybin ransom note from beyond the threshold. Shards of guitar histrionics slash through “Thoth” while Turner’s flute sounds like it’s been swept up in a desert sandstorm. “I am the lord of light,” the silver serpent screams as spacey synths provide a soft astral bed for the aural chaos. Any song named after the God of All Magic is going to need to come correct, and Turner certainly brings the right noise to the surface.
The same goes for “Horus”, named after The Great Hawk God, where actual guitar solos provide an off-kilter feel that can only be described as “soaring”. Turner’s religious hectoring does wear thin after a while, which is why “Isis and Nephthys” comes as such a treat, with ethereal female vocals swooping in to coo an unintelligible but alluring tale of jealousy amongst ancient Gods, with Turner anchoring the whole soaring mess with some of his prettiest flute playing on record.
One of the most bonkers things about this record is its specificity in the face of what would otherwise be seen as a ride right off the rails of rational thought. If Nik Turner is going to title a song “Osirus” then you better believe it will damn well be about The God Of The Dead, and it’s fun to have Wikipedia up as a companion piece to the record. Reading about Osirus Himself perfectly compliments the track and gives the listener an appreciation of the real-world adventure Turner is bringing to the table here. This is a man who actually tripped in the Great Pyramid, and every note of this track drips with the experience.
Those in search of a traditional Hawkwind banger would be advised to check out album closer God Rock (The Awakening) where The Turned One locks into the closest thing to a traditional rock groove to be found on Xitintoday. The Book Of The Dead vocals are less hectoring here, with Turner vocalizing his chants over a dusted-over rhythm section and the return of the psychedelic sax. There’s a guitar solo that sounds like it’s choking on ancient sediment and a fade-out like an unidentified aircraft crash landing on top of an ancient funerary march.
Unlike acid-damaged outsider brethren like Roky or Skip, the world has never gotten around to heaping past-due praise on Nik Turner, who is still somehow alive and upright and touring bars near you as we speak. The unbelievable fact of the matter is that Xitintoday is far stranger than Oar or Piper or The Psychedelic Sounds Of…, all of which sound mired in tradition next to this heap of outsider world music. From its cover depicting the stars atop the tomb of Senenmut to its unscholarly but completely knowledgeable unrolling of ancient scrolls to its overall vibe of untold spells and keys to the afterlife, Xitintoday is by far one of the strangest, trippiest records of all time with one of the strangest trippiest backstories to go with it.
Illustration by Ignatius Rake using original images by Jim Summaria