Killing Joke Biography

This immensely powerful post-punk UK band made their name through the combination of a furious rhythm section with near-psychotic performances from Jaz Coleman (Jeremy Coleman, 26 February 1960, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England; vocals/keyboards). The band came about when Coleman, of Egyptian descent, was introduced to Paul Ferguson, then drumming for the Matt Stagger Band. Coleman joined as a keyboard player, before they both left to form their own group. This first incarnation added Geordie (b. Kevin Walker, 18 December 1958, Chester-le-Street, County Durham, England; guitar) and Youth (b. Martin Glover, 27 December 1960, Africa; bass), who had made his first public appearance at the Vortex in 1977 with forgotten punk band the Rage. After relocating to Notting Hill Gate they paid for a rehearsal studio and borrowed money from Coleman’s girlfriend to release the Almost Red EP. Picked up by UK disc jockey John Peel, the band provided a session that would become the most frequently requested of the thousands he has commissioned. Via Island Records the band was able to set up their own Malicious Damage label, on which they released ‘Wardance’ in February 1980, notable for its remarkably savage b-side, ‘Psyche’. A succession of fine, aggressive singles followed, alongside live appearances with Joy Division.

By now Killing Joke was in a strong enough position to negotiate a three-album contract with EG, which allowed them to keep the name Malicious Damage for their records. After the release of a typically harsh debut album in 1980, the band was banned from a Glasgow gig when council officials took exception to posters depicting Pope Pius giving his blessing to two columns of Hitler’s Brown Shirts (a genuine photograph). It was typical of the black humour that pervaded the band, especially on their record sleeves and graphics. After the recording of the third album was completed, the band disintegrated when Coleman’s fascination with the occult led him to the conclusion that the apocalypse was imminent, and he fled to Iceland. He was followed later by Youth. When Youth returned it was to begin work with Ferguson on a new project, Brilliant. However, having second thoughts, Ferguson became the third member of Killing Joke to flee to Iceland, taking new bass player Paul Raven (b. 16 January 1961, Wolverhampton, England, d. 20 October 2007, Geneva, Switzerland; ex-Neon Hearts) with him. Brilliant continued with Youth as the only original member.

The Killing Joke output from then on lacks something of the menace that had made them so vital. However, 1985’s Night Time combined commercial elements better than most, proffering the UK number 16 hit single ‘Love Like Blood’. While Outside The Gate was basically a Coleman solo album wrongly credited to the band, they returned with their best album for years with 1990’s Extremities, Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions, which saw the drumming debut of Martin Atkins (b. 3 August 1959, Coventry, England; ex-Public Image Limited). Regardless, the band broke up once more with bitter acrimony flying across the pages of the press the same year.

While his former co-conspirators pronounced Killing Joke dead, Coleman pledged to continue under the name. He did just that after a brief sojourn into classical/ethnic music via a collaborative project with Anne Dudley which resulted in Songs From The Victorious City released on China Records. 1994’s Pandemonium saw Youth return to join Geordie and Coleman, with the addition of new drummer Geoff Dugmore. This saw a revitalized Killing Joke, notably on ‘Exorcism’, recorded in the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid in Cairo. They were welcomed back by a wide cross-section of critics (or at least, those whom Coleman had not physically assaulted at some point) and friends. Indeed, bands claiming Killing Joke as a direct influence ranged from the Cult, Ministry and Skinny Puppy to Metallica and Soundgarden, while many noticed an uncanny similarity between the band’s ‘Eighties’ and Nirvana’s ‘Come As You Are’. Pandemonium yielded two UK Top 40 singles, ‘Millennium’ and the title track, and sold in excess of 100, 000 copies in the USA where they signed to Zoo Records.

The next Killing Joke album, 1996’s Democracy, took a cynical snipe at the build-up to election year in the UK. Meanwhile, Coleman’s secondary career had evolved. In addition to scoring a second symphony alongside Youth and arranging classical interpretations of the music of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and the Who, he became composer in residence for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (the country where he spends most of his time). It led to him being hailed by conductor Klaus Tennstedt as ‘the new Mahler’. In 1999, he collaborated with poet Hinewehi Mohi as Oceania, a project inspired by New Zealand’s native Maori culture. Youth, meanwhile, had gone on to become one of the UK’s top dance music remixers and producers, recording with acts as diverse as Bananarama and Crowded House.

Coleman, Youth and Geordie reunited in the new millennium to record under the Killing Joke moniker. Hiring ex-Gang Of Four guitarist Andy Gill and enlisting the services of the ubiquitous Dave Grohl, they completed an excellent collection of new material which was released as the Killing Joke album in July 2003.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.