The quartet of Jeremy ‘Jaz’ Coleman (vocals/keyboards), Paul Ferguson (ex-Matt Stagger Band - drums), Geordie (Kevin Walker - guitar/synthesizers), and Youth (Martin Glover - ex-Rage - bass/vocals) formed the punk/metal band Killing Joke in the summer of ‘79. Relocating to Notting Hill Gate, the band borrowed enough money to finance the recording of a 3 track EP, released on their own Malicious Damage label in October of ‘79. DJ John Peel picked up on the EP and championed the band’s raw, kinetic rock sound. As a result, the Island label signed the band up and released the single ‘Nervous System’ a month later. The Island association didn’t last much longer, but Killing Joke eventually found another ally in the E.G. label during the summer of 1980, whilst touring regularly in support of the likes of Joy Division and The Ruts. The band quickly gained a reputation for their loud, energetic shows. Frontman Jaz Coleman regularly wearing war paint and bouncing around the stage maniacally in union with his strident vocal style.
In September of ‘80, Killing Joke released the single ‘Requiem’, an advance outing from their eponymous debut album, released a month later and rising to #39 in Britain. The album was considered a pioneering effort, and in his book, ‘The Great Rock Discography’, author Martin C. Strong described the set as containing the “anger of punk with apocalyptic doom-mongering”, and Killing Joke were “akin to a sonically disturbing, industrialised Black Sabbath”. The ‘Killing Joke’ set has subsequently been cited as a seminal influence over the likes of US hardcore acts Metallica, Ministry, and Soundgarden. So far as contemporaries were concerned, Killing Joke were not dissimilar to Bauhaus, and Public Image Ltd., in so far as their attempts to link punk rock with a strong dance beat, lashed with rasping guitar, and driven by martial rhythms.
Killing Joke released their third album, ‘Revelations’, in April of ‘82, a more commercially appealing set (UK#12), yielding the UK#43 hit ‘Empire Song’. And this is where the Killing Joke story becomes a little confusing. Frontman Jaz Coleman had become increasingly obsessed with the notion of imminent world destruction. At the end of a short tour to Iceland, Coleman reasoned that the icy tundra was as safe a place as any to wait out Armageddon, and chose to remain behind after the band had left. Bassist Youth eventually went in search of the band’s missing leader, but couldn’t convince Coleman to return home with him.
Youth arrived back in England and hooked up with drummer Ferguson, and an old friend Paul Raven (ex-Neon Hearts) with a view to forming a new band, Brilliant. Brilliant or not, Ferguson and Raven departed soon after to also explore parts unknown in search of Jaz Coleman. Convinced that the world wasn’t going to end any time soon, Coleman caught the first flight back to England, with Ferguson and Raven (bass) accompanying him. Youth had now departed the Killing Joke scene, and somewhere among the cacophony of events, bassist Guy Pratt also had a brief tenure with the band, before going on to join Icehouse (see separate posts). The single ‘Birds Of A Feather’ (UK#64) and the live EP ‘Ha’ (UK#66) were released to round out a frenetic 1982 for the band.
The band started a brand new day of sorts in January of ‘85, with the release of the powerfully anthemic ‘Love Like Blood’. The single surged to #16 in Britain (OZ#85), helping to push sales of the source album ‘Night Time’ to #11. The band then entered a creative phase that employed a more keyboard oriented sound, evidenced on the 1986 album ‘Brighter Than A Thousand Suns’ (UK#54), and the commercial disappointment of 1988’s ‘Outside The Gate’ (UK#92), the band also finding themselves outside the gate when it came to critical and long term fans appraisal. Coleman called an end to Killing Joke proceedings for all of 1989, leading in to 1990.
Following that period, Killing Joke underwent a major upheaval personnel wise, with Coleman being joined by drummer Martin Atkins (ex-Public Image Ltd.), bassist Taff (not to be confused with the word Taffy) who had replaced Andy Rourke (ex-Smiths), who had in turn replaced Paul Raven - are you keeping up? After a brief period of activity, the band then entered a further sabbatical in 1990, during which time Coleman teamed up with ex-Art Of Noise member Anne Dudley, to record the album ‘Songs From The Victorious City’.
Frontman Jaz Coleman went on to spend much of his time over the ensuing decade in New Zealand, acting as the composer in residence for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. After a seven year hiatus from Killing Joke duties, he returned to front the band on their 2003 album, a second eponymously titled affair. Over the ensuing decade Killing Joke have continued to fight the good fight against all things conventional and establishment, attempting to incite/alarm the world on such albums as the live 2005 set ‘XXV Gathering!’, and ‘Absolute Dissent’ from 2010 (recorded by the original line-up of Coleman, Youth, Geordie, and Ferguson).
Having been such a maverick, and seminal influence on so many artists, the fact that widespread commercial success eluded Killing Joke is no great surprise. Integrity and a determination to adhere to strict stylistic principles in the face of critical and popular opposition, remained the cornerstones to the band’s longevity.