By Doug Shaver
From Aural Innovations #7 (July 1999)
The U.K. Festival scene of the eighties is renowned for the amount of psychedelic bands that it had introduced to the world. The festivals gave us the likes of the Ozric Tentacles and the Magic Mushroom Band. Along with the Oroonies, Ullulators, Webcore, and Mandragora these bands, and others like them, created mind melting music that is just now growing on us here in America.
Another one of these bands that shared the same stages with the above bands was Nukli. Though they never received the same recognition as the others, due to the fact that they had never released a full length album until two years ago, their music is right up there with them.
Anyone who loves Hawkwind, Here and Now, Gong or any Steve Hillage release from the 70's will like Nukli. Loads of trippy effects, glissando guitar and psychedelic cutups.
On a recent trip to the U.K. I had the privilege to meet up with Kevin Hegan and Mark Huxley. They shared with me the Nukli history and tons of Stonehenge festy stories and the music of many of the bands from the era.
DS: How did Psi Nukli get its start and what does the name mean?
KH: This all happened between 1980-83. It was all started by Psi Steve. Mark was actually involved before me. Psi Steve and a guy called Big Chris (everyone seemed to have a prefix to their names on this particular scene - Mark was Magick Mark, Generator Jon, etc.) were involved with a previous generation band called the Trybe who seemed to hang around the southwest and were amongst the first to travel around on converted buses. The 'y' in the Trybe was actually the Psi symbol and, although Steve never said this, I assumed this had been an influence in choosing the name Psy (and using the Psi symbol in the logo). Also, Steve was very interested in Occult teachings and the whole Psi thing had a pseudo mystical (but tongue in cheek) mythology around it. At least, either it was tongue in cheek or Steve was completely off his trolley (Which some people thought). Steve is a one off eccentric character! Steve used to write using a semi-Germanic spelling... hence Nukli was the way he spelt nuclei. When Psi split in two (with me playing in both bands) we decided to use Nukli to keep the continuity. Unfortunately, it didn't occur to us that nobody would know how to pronounce it! Later, Steve ended up with gigs booked and no band, so we temporarily rejoined but under the name Psi Nukli.
Previous to me joining the band, the lineup was Steve - vocals/guitar, Big Chri s- bass, Eric - synth, Mark and Anthony both playing drums (two kits!). They had their own bus and used to carry Nik Turner's pyramid stage around the festivals. (main stage at Stonehenge.)
Eric, at this point, was only about 17, and had basically run away from home with the travelers! I heard about this on the grapevine and was amazed, as I had known Eric in our early teens as a skate boarder. I didn't know that since I had last seen him he had got into all the same things I had been getting into. (psychedelics, etc.!)
As a teenager I had played in straight rock bands, but I was never totally happy with that kind of music. After a flirtation with folk (I nearly sold my electric guitar) a friend introduced me to Gong, Steve Hillage, Here and Now, etc. and it renewed my enthusiasm for electric music. I bought an echo box and worked out how to get the glissando sounds I heard on these records.
It was this that brought me and Eric together again. When a mutual friend saw me playing glissando he told me his friend Eric also played guitar like this. A jam was arranged and that was the start of my involvement with Psi. Eric basically had an analogue synth and an echo unit, but the sounds he got with that setup were amazing to me. We'd setup the gear and put my guitar through his synth and drop some acid or mushrooms and play through the whole trip. Some of this material is on the first tape.
This was all happening during the lull after the initial Psi breakup. Eric started playing with our band (totally absurd rowout band - which was just a jamming band for squat parties etc.) and then one day brought Steve along. Steve's material didn't work with t.a.r.b. but it was obvious to me that it had something. I decided to join Psi.
During this time Steve had also been playing and sharing a flat with a guy called Cosmic Dave. He was another extremely eccentric character, but that's another story. He's the voice you hear on "Drop The Bomb" on the first tape. He was a speed casualty and would wake up most mornings thinking he'd just heard the five minute warning and looked out the window waiting for the mushroom cloudd! Me and Eric used to go and stay over at their flat in a rundown Victorian tenement building in Wandsworth in the shadow of Battersea Power station (Pink Floyd - Animals). It was a bizarre time. The walls were covered in Steve's occult writings in this pseudo Germanic writing. Some of the first tape was recorded here. We didn't have a drummer so we'd use this cheap drum box and stick it through loads of effects. It was all very low fi! It was here that Eric developed his style of editing, with two tape recorders. I know everybody does it now, but there wasn't much stuff around using voice samples and looped samples. Cosmic Dave used to put these mad tapes together with fast edited bits of random weirdness (dub records playing at 16 rpm, bits of taped conversations etc). We also liked My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts by Eno and David Byrne. When I heard what Eric was doing it reminded me of Spirit's Future Games, which I played to him. He hadn't heard it before. We also used to use tape loops and try and sound like Robert Fripp. Anything that sound weird basically.
DS: What was it like being part of the eighties Festival scene?
KH: It sounds corny, but going to the Stonehenge Festival changed my life. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw it. It really was anarchy in action. This thing didn't happen in the U.K.! Right in the middle of Thatchers reign - an alternative state existing outside of the law of this country. A free festival has such a different atmosphere to a paying festival. I had already been to Glastonbury, which had given me a taste of this kind of life, but Stonehenge hit me over the head like a mallet.
It was so different to anything I had seen before. It had the feel of a medieval encampment. There was so much going on - stages on every corner - stalls - and people providing weird tripping environments. It was like an activity camp for trippers! And everyone was doing it because they wanted to - not because they wanted to earn money (although it did degenerate into a drug dealers convention towards the end).
The first year I went with Psi we didn't have a drummer, but it didn't matter - we always seemed to find drummers (it was our first hookup with Generator Jon). Again, some of the jams are on the first tape. After being seemingly in a vacuum as far as our musical style, suddenly everyone's band you heard were playing trippy improvised music with echo guitar. I felt I had found my spiritual home.
DS: Many people don't realize that Nukli shared many a stage with the likes of Treatment, Magic Mushroom Band, Oroonies, Ullulators, Webcore and the Ozrics. Do you feel that each of these groups influenced each other and were part of one big family?
KH: These are all bands I first heard at Stonehenge or on the squat circuit that supported the festival scene. We were on the fringes of the Ozrics scene for many years. Roly played with Psi in the mid-eighties and later I played with Roly, Seaweed and Tig in an amazing Psi lineup. Steve had got Generator Jon the drum seat with the Ullulators. Many of the bands you mention and others - Spannerman, Thunderdogs etc - were a fairly small group of musicians in various combinations. We often ended up on the same bill as the bands you mention because we were playing within the same genre.
DS: At one point in Nukli history you have had past and present members of Ozric Tentacles in the group. What was it like with them?
KH: Roly played with us in the mid-eighties for a couple years. The lineup of Psi had the most Ozric connections. Roly and Tig were a superb rhythm section. They seemed to have a psychic connection (they had known each other since they were kids I believe). I had great hopes for that lineup, but sadly Roly went through one of his regular brainstorms just as we were starting to gig and became too ill to play in the band. We did one gig without him but Tig was only really interested in the band if Roly was the bass player. Psi struggled on for a couple more years with other drummers and bass players but then Seaweed (who was also playing in the Thunderdogs) went on tour with Archaoas, a mad French circus. The Thunderdogs were the house band.
DS: What was Psi Steve's reason for leaving the group? Wasn't it around this time that Mark rejoined the group?
KH: Ooooh its much more complicated than that. There were comings and goings, and as I mentioned earlier, Mark had actually been the drummer in a very early incarnation of Psi so he goes back longer than I do. I think I have been the most consistent member as I even played in both Psi and Nukli after the split.
Generator Jon played with us for a while in the early eighties (after our initial jam at Stonehenge) and then that kind of fell apart. In the mid eighties Nukli Base One was started in the basement of Mark's coop house (like a legal squat) and he played drums at first. For a couple years the lineup was Steve, me, Eric, Mark and Roly on the bass. Then Steve wanted to bring in Generator Jon again (whom I'm sure Mark would agree was the better drummer). That left us rehearsing in Mark's basement although he'd just been effectively given the sack by Steve! It didn't go down too well. Also, we'd been recording in the Studio where Rick worked, but Steve didn't take to the studio recording well. He hated it and that frustrated Eric, who is very into that way of working. Some of the stuff on No. 9 was from these studio sessions. Steve opened a squat to become the new base for Psi (Steve, Roly, and Generator Jon) and Nukli operated out of Mark's basement. I don't know what happened, but a little while after the split Steve found himself without a band and we played a few gigs together as Psi Nukli (early Club Dog gigs and we ran free parties at a ramshackled old pub in Stoke Newington, The Golden Lady).
DS: What had been Mark's background prior to Nukli?
KH: Psi! I'm not so sure actually. He has played with quite a few bands over the years.
DS: One of these being with Dean Carter and the High Commission with Colin. Was there any question as to the continuance of Nukli?
KH: I think Dean would like to have thought so, but their allegiance was always with Nukli. They treated Dean's band more like session work. After all, they had no input into the song writing whereas Nukli was always a joint effort.
DS: What music or people do you feel was influences on the band?
KH: As Psi, Psi Steve was the main influence, and I don't know where he got his influences. He had a weird twist on anything he did. Myself and Eric were very into early underground psychedelic bands such as Gong, Here and Now and anything a bit experimental like Fripp and Eno etc.
When we split from Steve, more of the Krautrock influences came out. We were into bands like Can and Kraan. Mark's room was next to the rehearsal room and he had hundreds of obscure albums that we would listen to during breaks. No wonder we never got much done, we were too busy enjoying ourselves, jamming, listening to records, getting stoned!
DS: Did you know that some people compare your guitar playing style to that of Steve Hillage. Was he one of your influences?
KH: Definitely. I love the sound of his guitar and the scales he uses. It sounds so different to any other guitarist to me (other than those who have been very influenced by him such as Steffi from Here and Now, Ed from the Ozrics and Gavin from the Ullulatores). I try and steer away from the blatant Hillage sound these days because I'd rather be original. I have a friend who has spent his whole life trying to sound like Hendrix, and he does sound remarkably like him, but it seems a very weird ambition for a musician to have... to sound like someone else.
DS: Some of Nukli's releases are very unique in the fact that you have taken music recorded form various times in Nukli history and melded them together into one song in which you can hear no difference. How do you decide on what to use when composing this way? Is there a lot of Nukli material that has never been used?
KH: Yes, loads, but mostly of inferior quality unfortunately. We were never driven by pursuit of excellence but were just having a good time. Some of it worked but a lot of it didn't. Also, we didn't arrange anything until quite late in the history of the band. It was all jammed around a basic theme. It wasn't a band that were working hard at the music for years, hence people drifting in and out and tapes that spanned several years. It was only towards the end of the eighties that we became more like a normal band. The festivals were dying and the scene was being driven into the cities. Gig venues were opening that catered for our kind of music... the Crypt, Club Dog. Suddenly it seemed viable to get more serious about the music.
DS: What has become of the other members of the band? Sue, Julian, Colin and Jamie?
KH: Sue went on to form Wise Wound, where she could have space for her creative ideas. Her style was always at odds with Nukli, although the combination had its moments (I like Dance 'til You Drop On At Last!). I haven't seen her for a few years now so I don't have any recent info. Julian has played with jazz bands since leaving Nukli. Colin left with Jamie and they had a band for a while. When it fell apart he moved down to the South Coast where he grew up. We still keep in touch. Jamie, I haven't heard from in years, although he has spoken to Mark relatively recently. I don't think he is doing anything musically.
DS: What does Eric do now? Didn't he move to Canada when all of his gear was stolen?
KH: He worked for Saved by Technology, in Toronto for many years, selling hi-tech music gear. He has recently changed jobs and when I last heard he was getting into web design and programming.
DS: How did you and Mark go about forming Hex Projeckta?
KH: Andy Bull played in Nukli for about a year. We were all getting into the rave sound and started trying to incorporate it into the band sound. He left to concentrate on building up his studio. This is when our second theft disaster occurred and my gear was stolen (including the master tapes to side two of Mushroom Bungalow). He helped us out by rescuing a rough mix we had and adding the vocals. We also did some cutups on his computer as segues on the tapes, trying to emulate what Eric used to do with two tape recorders. These sessions led directly onto the Hex Projecta sessions. We did it in parallel with the band for a couple of years but then the band fell apart (yet again!).
DS: Hex Projecta has a nice ambient ravish feel to it. Similar to heavier System 7. What does the future hold for Hex Projecta? Do you plan on releasing any CD's?
KH: We'd love to. Unfortunately, it feels like it's all happened a bit late for us. Our lives are all too complicated now - we've all got families to support blah blah blah... We can only get together once a week, and just for a precious few hours. Its very frustrating as I am very pleased with the material we are producing. We did some blinding gigs that I really enjoyed, but Andy is not keen on gigging, and he owns most of the equipment so our hands are tied. But still, you never know what's around the next corner.
Psi Steve - vocals, bass guitar
Kev Hegan - guitar, vocals, flute, sax
Eric Pavlyak - bass, keyboards
Sue - vocals
Julian - sax
Colin Wareham - drums
Jamie Bezer - vocals, guitar
Compact Disc releases:
The Time Factory (Delerium Records, DELEC CD 030) 1997 (Delerium Records; PO Box 1288; Gerrards Cross; Bucks; SL9 9YB; U.K.)
Psychelehtra Trip Projeckta
Mushroom Bungalow Musick
Book Of Changes
Stuff The Neighbours E.P. (one track w/booklet - Sickle And The Hourglass)