Christopher Owens revisits heroes from a bygone age. 

As your heroes enter their Indian summers, and the recent deaths of the likes of Lemmy still fresh in the memory, there is an urge among some to see said heroes as often as possible. Sadly, it can often be the case that they're a let down nowadays, strolling through numbers that once were a tour de force of sonic warfare.

But that can't be said about Killing Joke. I can't pretend to be impartial when it comes to Killing Joke.




November 1978 is not regarded as a particularly memorable period in history. Peter Sutcliffe's mother died (halting his murder spree for nearly six months), the British Army revealed their belief that the Provisional IRA would not be defeated militarily, and releases from Siouxsie and the Banshees, Tubeway Army and X Ray Spex were helping to usher in post punk to the charts.

Slightly less documented is the first meeting between Jaz Coleman and Paul Ferguson. Coming to London to form a band, Coleman found himself signing on the dole one day. In the queue was an Indian fellow called Carlos, and him and Jaz became acquainted. When Jaz revealed his intent on starting a band, Carlos replied "I know. And I'm going to introduce you to the drummer who lives in my house."

That one encounter would lead to the formation of Killing Joke. Amazing how little moments in time can drastically open or close paths to anyone.

Initially maligned by an uneducated music press, Killing Joke have produced a body of work which stand as the greatest pieces of music recorded by anyone.

Based around the casually apocalyptic sound of Geordie Walker’s guitar, Coleman’s vocals (which alternate between riot inciting, sneering and heartbreaking) as well as a rhythm section dedicated to getting you to dance while they tear out your internal organs through the low end, this band have been a fixture in the musical consciousness for the past forty years.

John Peel once described The Fall as "the band which all others must be measured up against" and that sums up my thoughts on Killing Joke. Mixing dub, disco, punk, post punk, new wave, goth, metal, electronica and industrial into their sound, they produce the greatest music ever written by anyone.

And, since regrouping in 2003, they've released a steady stream of critically acclaimed albums which has seen their standing grow from post punk pariahs to dignified elder statesmen of alternative rock, crossing over into metal.

So, in recognition of their fortieth anniversary, a mini tour was sorted. One night in Wolverhampton, one night in London and one in Dublin.

I've broken this travelogue into differing sections. I'll let you piece it together.

Setlist Highlights

'Tomorrow's World', on the face of it, is a somewhat odd opener. It's spacious, dub influenced landscape is a moody, atmospheric piece but not one that you would imagine would get the blood pumping on the live front. However, it is these precise qualities that make it such a great beginning as it establishes the barren land that Killing Joke often portray in song, and eases the audience in before the mayhem begins.

'Wardance' is a perpetual favourite which never fails to deliver. Tense, staccato and driving, the implications of violence throughout the music compliment the barked vocals, proclaiming a world gone wrong in the most horrendous fashion.

Played live for the first time since 2003, the apocalyptic 'Seeing Red' is utterly mighty live, with Coleman contrasting his every day thoughts with the impending four minute warning. Geordie's riffing compliments the lyrics perfectly, tethering between controlled tension and all out war.

'Autonomous Zone' which has a little hint of 'Exciter' by Judas Priest in the drumming. Listen to how tight the band are with each chug from Geordie, before Youth throws in a bass lick to denote the oncoming onslaught. Lyrically, Coleman touches upon how freedom from modern living and society produces an ecstasy unlike any other. A cleanser.

Same applies with 'In Excelsis.' A stirring, evocative and passionate defence of freedom of speech and liberty, the music soars into anthemic territory and the contrast between the delivery of the verse and chorus discloses an underlying tension between these ideas.

'Exorcism' is a punishing number due to the relentless riffing and Coleman's shamanic, ritualistic persona coming to the fore as he encourages the audience to discover their inner primal self, allow it to rise to conscience level and then wash it away.

The Gigs


KK's Steel Mill, Wolverhampton (09/08/19)

A fairly unremarkable town, the venue is (like it's title says) an old steel mill on an industrial estate that has been converted into a club/gig venue. It's outer appearance belies it's size (4,500 capacity) and a sold out notice on the door indicates that this opening gig was going to be a scorcher.

And it was, kind of.

Despite playing for nearly two hours, sound and monitor issues plagued the band throughout their set. With them being unable to hear themselves, this meant that some songs went in strange directions (Jaz noticeably would come in late, while Geordie and Youth would be all over the place at times). Because of these issues, there was no encore.

A shame, as the sound from where I was standing (barrier, centre front) was enormous. Geordie's guitar overpowered the rest of the band but I wasn't complaining. His sound can be difficult to properly capture on-stage, but tonight it was one of the best I'd heard from him.

Subterania, London (11/08/19)



Located under the infamous Westway (mythologised by The Clash), Subterania is a 600 capacity club located at the top of Portobello Road (not far from the band's original home of Ladbroke Grove). The surrounding area sees a continental food market, an unappealing block of flats (with Grenfell, poignantly, visible in the skyline) and a busy mosque. A metropolitan place at street level.

From walking into the club, I knew it would be a hot one. The air was light on oxygen and heavy on heat. Within two songs, it was obvious that the band were struggling with the heat and Jaz even collapsed halfway through the set. As a result, at least six songs were dropped, but we did get a one song encore with 'Pandemonium.'

Sound and vision wise, the smaller stage brought out a rawer, intimate and human performance. The crowd were very much ready to participate in the ritual, and were they rewarded. Afterwards, whenever I walked out of the venue, my clothes stuck to me and only the fresh, cold air and a long walk to Notting Hill remedied the situation.

The Academy, Dublin (14/08/19)




Off O'Connell St, the Academy can be easy to miss were it not for the marquee style front 'welcoming' whoever is playing on a particular night. Opening in 2008, it has proven to be a welcome addition to Dublin's nightlife culture, especially for us Belfastards who can get the Aircoach back home straight after the gig.

This was the best show of the tour, owing to a few factors:

➧the immense sound.
➧a slightly altered setlist which allowed for two songs in the encore.
➧an enthusiastic Irish crowd who get the band.

Conclusions

Aside from the obvious fact that there isn't a band on earth who can touch Killing Joke on record or in the live arena, what's also obvious is that this incarnation of the band have hit their peak.

Roll on the new album.




⏩  Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.

Killing Joke - Travelogue

Christopher Owens revisits heroes from a bygone age. 

As your heroes enter their Indian summers, and the recent deaths of the likes of Lemmy still fresh in the memory, there is an urge among some to see said heroes as often as possible. Sadly, it can often be the case that they're a let down nowadays, strolling through numbers that once were a tour de force of sonic warfare.

But that can't be said about Killing Joke. I can't pretend to be impartial when it comes to Killing Joke.




November 1978 is not regarded as a particularly memorable period in history. Peter Sutcliffe's mother died (halting his murder spree for nearly six months), the British Army revealed their belief that the Provisional IRA would not be defeated militarily, and releases from Siouxsie and the Banshees, Tubeway Army and X Ray Spex were helping to usher in post punk to the charts.

Slightly less documented is the first meeting between Jaz Coleman and Paul Ferguson. Coming to London to form a band, Coleman found himself signing on the dole one day. In the queue was an Indian fellow called Carlos, and him and Jaz became acquainted. When Jaz revealed his intent on starting a band, Carlos replied "I know. And I'm going to introduce you to the drummer who lives in my house."

That one encounter would lead to the formation of Killing Joke. Amazing how little moments in time can drastically open or close paths to anyone.

Initially maligned by an uneducated music press, Killing Joke have produced a body of work which stand as the greatest pieces of music recorded by anyone.

Based around the casually apocalyptic sound of Geordie Walker’s guitar, Coleman’s vocals (which alternate between riot inciting, sneering and heartbreaking) as well as a rhythm section dedicated to getting you to dance while they tear out your internal organs through the low end, this band have been a fixture in the musical consciousness for the past forty years.

John Peel once described The Fall as "the band which all others must be measured up against" and that sums up my thoughts on Killing Joke. Mixing dub, disco, punk, post punk, new wave, goth, metal, electronica and industrial into their sound, they produce the greatest music ever written by anyone.

And, since regrouping in 2003, they've released a steady stream of critically acclaimed albums which has seen their standing grow from post punk pariahs to dignified elder statesmen of alternative rock, crossing over into metal.

So, in recognition of their fortieth anniversary, a mini tour was sorted. One night in Wolverhampton, one night in London and one in Dublin.

I've broken this travelogue into differing sections. I'll let you piece it together.

Setlist Highlights

'Tomorrow's World', on the face of it, is a somewhat odd opener. It's spacious, dub influenced landscape is a moody, atmospheric piece but not one that you would imagine would get the blood pumping on the live front. However, it is these precise qualities that make it such a great beginning as it establishes the barren land that Killing Joke often portray in song, and eases the audience in before the mayhem begins.

'Wardance' is a perpetual favourite which never fails to deliver. Tense, staccato and driving, the implications of violence throughout the music compliment the barked vocals, proclaiming a world gone wrong in the most horrendous fashion.

Played live for the first time since 2003, the apocalyptic 'Seeing Red' is utterly mighty live, with Coleman contrasting his every day thoughts with the impending four minute warning. Geordie's riffing compliments the lyrics perfectly, tethering between controlled tension and all out war.

'Autonomous Zone' which has a little hint of 'Exciter' by Judas Priest in the drumming. Listen to how tight the band are with each chug from Geordie, before Youth throws in a bass lick to denote the oncoming onslaught. Lyrically, Coleman touches upon how freedom from modern living and society produces an ecstasy unlike any other. A cleanser.

Same applies with 'In Excelsis.' A stirring, evocative and passionate defence of freedom of speech and liberty, the music soars into anthemic territory and the contrast between the delivery of the verse and chorus discloses an underlying tension between these ideas.

'Exorcism' is a punishing number due to the relentless riffing and Coleman's shamanic, ritualistic persona coming to the fore as he encourages the audience to discover their inner primal self, allow it to rise to conscience level and then wash it away.

The Gigs


KK's Steel Mill, Wolverhampton (09/08/19)

A fairly unremarkable town, the venue is (like it's title says) an old steel mill on an industrial estate that has been converted into a club/gig venue. It's outer appearance belies it's size (4,500 capacity) and a sold out notice on the door indicates that this opening gig was going to be a scorcher.

And it was, kind of.

Despite playing for nearly two hours, sound and monitor issues plagued the band throughout their set. With them being unable to hear themselves, this meant that some songs went in strange directions (Jaz noticeably would come in late, while Geordie and Youth would be all over the place at times). Because of these issues, there was no encore.

A shame, as the sound from where I was standing (barrier, centre front) was enormous. Geordie's guitar overpowered the rest of the band but I wasn't complaining. His sound can be difficult to properly capture on-stage, but tonight it was one of the best I'd heard from him.

Subterania, London (11/08/19)



Located under the infamous Westway (mythologised by The Clash), Subterania is a 600 capacity club located at the top of Portobello Road (not far from the band's original home of Ladbroke Grove). The surrounding area sees a continental food market, an unappealing block of flats (with Grenfell, poignantly, visible in the skyline) and a busy mosque. A metropolitan place at street level.

From walking into the club, I knew it would be a hot one. The air was light on oxygen and heavy on heat. Within two songs, it was obvious that the band were struggling with the heat and Jaz even collapsed halfway through the set. As a result, at least six songs were dropped, but we did get a one song encore with 'Pandemonium.'

Sound and vision wise, the smaller stage brought out a rawer, intimate and human performance. The crowd were very much ready to participate in the ritual, and were they rewarded. Afterwards, whenever I walked out of the venue, my clothes stuck to me and only the fresh, cold air and a long walk to Notting Hill remedied the situation.

The Academy, Dublin (14/08/19)




Off O'Connell St, the Academy can be easy to miss were it not for the marquee style front 'welcoming' whoever is playing on a particular night. Opening in 2008, it has proven to be a welcome addition to Dublin's nightlife culture, especially for us Belfastards who can get the Aircoach back home straight after the gig.

This was the best show of the tour, owing to a few factors:

➧the immense sound.
➧a slightly altered setlist which allowed for two songs in the encore.
➧an enthusiastic Irish crowd who get the band.

Conclusions

Aside from the obvious fact that there isn't a band on earth who can touch Killing Joke on record or in the live arena, what's also obvious is that this incarnation of the band have hit their peak.

Roll on the new album.




⏩  Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.

4 comments:

  1. Christopher, thanks for this. I was at the Ladbroke Grove show on Saturday. Last time I was there was also to see KJ, 25 years ago when they did a warm up for a festival. I forgot how small the venue is. It did seem a short set for them and 1994 was a better performance but I still enjoyed the night despite the heat. It is very long time since I have left a venue feeling warm and soggy and grateful for the chilly breeze hitting me outside. Geordie and Youth were already outside the stage door smoking and chatting to fans as I left. I had a good wander around the area before and after seeing KJ. It is an area full of history and ‘ghosts’ - ‘Performance’, Rillington Place, Basing Street Studios, Oswald Mosley, Joe Strummer - and great architecture despite the destruction of so much in that area by the town hall planners. You mention Lemmy - I have just rediscovered the ‘Overkill’ album. John Peel played Motorhead on his show back in 1979 but not much after maybe due to going off them or that they became Tommy Vance Friday Rock Show staples.

    ReplyDelete
  2. PaulJPMN,

    Yes it was unbearable at times. However, I've read that the 94 show was just as bad, made worse by the firebreather. From what I've seen on YouTube, the show certainly was flat out. But then they were about to release the 'Pandemonium' album, their biggest commercial success (especially in America) so it makes sense.

    It was strange (but not unexpected) to see how much Portobello Road/Notting Hill has become so gentrified, making the late 70's seem like it was 200 odd years ago. And I wonder how many tourists seek out that area because of the Clash connection?

    'Overkill' is a classic Motorhead album. The drumming on the song 'Overkill'? That and 'Exciter' by Judas Priest set a new standard for metal drumming which wasn't met until Dave Lombardo from Slayer came onto the scene.

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  3. I don‘t remember it being hot in the venue in 94 but I was near enough to feel the heat from the fire breather‘s flames and they were big flames! Jaz Coleman had a lot of energy that night and the band and the crowd synced and went for it. It is rare for a band to restart itself with an album as good as 'Pandemonium'.

    In the late 80s in London I met young europeans who had moved to W11 because of The Clash. They were usually Spanish and drawn to the area by something which had long dissipated. The bands in the locality then were BAD, Transvision Vamp and Sigue Sigue Sputnik, though Strummer, Jones and Simonon still lived in the area. On my way to Subterranea I passed the Windsor Castle where Strummer played regularly with the 101ers. It is derelict and in a bad state, a sad sight.

    If I had to think of the moment in retrospect when the sound of the NWOBHM was introduced to my ears it would be when I heard ‘Exciter’ on the radio and it may even be Peel who played it.

    PS. There was one very shocking world news story in Nov 78 and it was the mass suicide/poisonings of Jim Jones Peoples Temple at Jonestown in Guyana. Also in November 78 the Winter of Discontent was beginning and Jim Callaghan’s time was nearly up.

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  4. I think the timing for 'Pandemonium' was just perfect. Although 'Extremities...' had done well and aligned them with the burgeoning industrial metal scene, 'Pandemonium' took that and mixed it with the rave/techno music of the time (something the likes of Ministry and NiN weren't doing). The end result was a thoroughly modern alternative rock album with enough of the band's personality to ensure their enduring influence. It wouldn't be the first album of theirs that I'd reach for (that would still be the first five), but it still gets blasted on a regular basis.

    It's always depressing visiting a legendary spot after what made it exciting has died off. The amount of people I still see in Camden dressing like Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse? C'mon, get with the times!

    It could very well have been as a copy of 'Stained Class' was found in his collection by Shane Embury (Napalm Death). Such a record, and the drums were played by a Portadown man (Les Binks). Portadown's most famous export after Alexander Walker!

    Very true, hadn't thought of those. All in all, the perfect atmosphere for the band to congregate!

    ReplyDelete