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.
'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.
KK's Steel Mill, Wolverhampton (09/08/19)
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.
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.
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
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.
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'.ReplyDelete
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.
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.ReplyDelete
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!
I always thought The Mean Fiddler was a better bar..Vince owned both bars..(he had a few others).ReplyDelete
I think 'Pandemonium' is unique in the Killing Joke discography because you would not have to be a KJ fan to like it.ReplyDelete
Chrissie Hynde has said she came to live in London in 1973 because she loved british pop music in the 60s but the scene she hoped to find had long gone. Even though she was well in time for punk and right at the centre of it when it happened she has said she would much rather have lived in the London of 10 years previous.
One of the magazines I used to work for referred to Alexander Walker a ‘right wing film critic‘ but he refused to accept the term unless the overwhelmingly left wing journalists in the media could be referred to as such when they were mentioned. I thought he was a superb writer and his view that in writing biographies the writer does not have to make the subject likeable but does have to make them understandable was spot on.
History happens when no one is looking. I was captivated by Siouxsie and the Banshees on the Old Grey Whistle Test in Nov 78 but love that fact that at the same time unknown to me and everyone else Killing Joke were assembling in Ladbroke Grove unnoticed. On that same episode of the OGWT Martin Hannett was playing bass for John Cooper Clarke having just produced his first two tracks with Joy Division who had not even had a Peel session yet nor even played live in London.
frankie - Mean Fiddler was very out of the way in Harlesden. Despite that it seemed to be popular with music biz people midweek.
I used to live in Harlesden in the early 90's and I had younger brother who worked in the Fiddler..Vince Power's other bar's like the Sub. or the Jazz Cafe didn't turn me on. I seen the Highway men in Wembley, got to see Chuck Berry, rockabilly icons like Charlie Feathers in Hammersmith,Terry Noland and Ronnie Hawkins Camden, the Stray Cats in Brixton Academy,...
Some of the household names to play the Fiddler include Johnny Cash, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Roy Orbison, Christy Moore, Paul Brady, The Pogues, The Men They Couldn’t Hang and Lloyd Cole & The Commotions …........
Fiddler had good music and I never had any problems in the place..
I think you can also add 'KJ2003' to that list as well. For me, the better album out of the two. Interestingly enough, I find myself returning more and more to 'Democracy.' At the height of Britpop and Cool Britannia, the band put out a record influenced by the fledgling eco-warriors and highlight a darker side to the positivity of the era.ReplyDelete
Quite a common theme of people fetishising a period they were too young to have experienced. Tessa Pollitt talks about this phenomenon in Zoe Street Howe's book on the Slits, as she romanticises the 50's jazz period.
Walker was indeed a great writer with a genuine passion for film and not afraid to speak his mind. However, his attitudes towards Irish republicanism (not a surprise considering his background) and the 'Crash' controversy did not endear him to me. Seems that he's been forgotten about, while Mark Kermode (entertaining, but nowhere near as thought provoking) is routinely venerated. Kermode did reveal that Walker was involved with one of the main unionist parties here.
You are quite right on that. Another OGWT anecdote I like is that OMD were on performing 'Electricity', with McCluskey performing his trademark "dance." ZZ Top were on the same show, and were impressed enough to incorporate part of the "dance" into their act, as well as play the first OMD album over the PA before concerts!
You are lucky to have seen the Highwaymen. I saw Johnny Cash and have seen Willie Nelson a few times, though not for a long time. I saw Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana at the Mean Fiddler. And Bo Diddley at the Clapham Grand, one of Vince Powers venues at the time. And The Pogues at Finsbury Park in 1987 - the first Fleadh, another VP promotion I think. Phillip Chevron was bitten by one of the security guard dogs on the day. I was only ever in The Fiddler twice and Shane McGowan was resting at the bar both times. I would love to have seen Roy Orbison.
The only Killing Joke 21st C album I know is ‘Absolute Dissent’. I need to reinvestigate ‘Democracy’. I was dismissive of it at the time, it sounded somewhat generic to my ears but anything that tramples over mid 90s Brit Pop is fine by me then and now. I love the early KJ photo you posted on your Twitter. I had my hair like Geordie back in 1982.
I think the appeal of an imagined past is very strong especially to a creative mind. As I get older looking back on my own life I wonder if I am even recalling events accurately. I suppose
Alexander Walker got himself some publicity from his opinion of ‘Hidden Agenda’ and ‘Crash’ but he didn’t provide any enlightenment about either and it didn’t reflect too well on him. In England Irish Republicanism (along with Ulster Loyalism) is incomprehensible to most people.
I love when musicians who are worlds apart sonically and geographically collide with each other. Danny Baker used to say that the best music is mongrel - a bit of this and this and this…
I am green with envy, you got to see Scotty and DJ...Quiilers, Scotty Moore is the guitar that changed the world. He was Presley's first guitarist from Sun Records..DJ joined the trio (Elvis, Scotty and Bill) a few months after Sun 209 came out . He sat in a few shows on the Louisiana Hayride and became Presley's drummer.. I almost got to see Carl Perkins once but he pulled out due to health reasons. Seen Jerry Lee Lewis a few times...
The Highway men was a great concert. It was four friends on stage singing each others songs and some of their own. That night the Provisional's blew up the Baltic Exchange (10th April 1992). The first concert I seen was when I was 11 and my daddy took me to see Waylon Jenning's, still remember it. He walked out in his while tele guitar and played almost 2hrs. Next concert few yrs after I went to a 'day in the park'in Dublin seen Sabbath (Dio was the lead singer then), Twisted Sister played and several other.. Next weekend going to The Empire to see Restless and a host of other rockabilly groups for a three dayer aswell as local groups like Saberjets, Misfits and the Culprits...
I saw Carl Perkins a couple on times, once in The Forum ( another Vince Power venue) and another time on a bill with The Crickets. Jerry Lee I have seen few times but only because he was on a bill with Little Richard and Chuck Berry every time I saw them. I saw The Comets at the Tennessee RnR Club in north London and they were brilliant. The same year I got to shake hands with Sam Phillips on his only visit to London. But for me Bo Diddley is The Man! Great that you saw Waylon Jennings live because with all those legends that is what they were about. I saw Sabbath with Ozzy, the original line up but I am not their biggest fan.
That means you seen three of the four who made up the MDQ...which is probably the best jam session ever..Story goes Car Perkins was cutting Matchbox ', Jerry lee was playing piano, when the session ended Johnny and Elvis walked in to say hello, they all started singing and Jack Clements or Sam at Sun hit the record button...the tapes lay in a vault for almost 30yes..I think that was more to do with copyright after Presley went to RCA..Some people call the MDQ a trio..I will let Jerry Lee explain why Johnny Cash's voice couldn't be heard..I wouldn't argue with The Killer..(fast forward to 20mins 34 seconds) and listen to the the last man standing tell his version...
Bo Diddley..love him if this isn't heavy metal, I don't what is (imagine Quillers same track with distortion peddles, feedback and the rest). Tennessee RnR Club in north London (Tottenham)...been there a few times myself. When you seen the Comets, did they break away and let the Joidmars play now dig this?