Artist Spotlight: Killing Joke (or; How to Compose the Soundtrack to Every Apocalypse) [Part 2 of 7]

Part 1 here.

What’s THIS for…! (1981)

Six months after the release of Killing Joke, the band showed up at the studio to record the follow up. Singer/keyboardist Jaz Coleman, drummer Paul Ferguson, guitarist Geordie Walker, and Walker’s guitar cabinet (which was a literal wardrobe stuffed with amps) … but no bassist. Martin “Youth” Glover was a now show.  The band has already demoed material, so they began working on their parts. That first night, the receptionist calls to tell the band that they have to come to the front desk immediately. They get to the lobby, and there is Youth in a strait jacket, accompanied by the police. He had been discharged from an institution, and he needed to be released into the custody of the band.

As it turned out, Youth was becoming more and more paranoid when someone slipped him some bad acid. He was convinced the Freemasons were involved in a conspiracy of some sort, which led to him breaking into the Masonic Headquarters. He later was apprehended wearing only a bathing suit and a kimono at a local grocery store. The final straw, however, was when he was in his underwear outside the bank where a Freemason was the manager, burning five-pound notes in the street. After a regimen of drugs and electrotherapy, Youth tried to escape and injured his hand, convincing himself that he had stigmata and was now Jesus Christ. Thankfully, the band’s fucking wizard went to the hospital and convinced them it was just a bad acid trip.

To summarize, a wizard (who may or may not be on the band payroll) convinced health care professionals to release a man who thinks he is Jesus Christ and was arrested burning money in the street to his band who recently told a crowd they deserved to be bombed with nukes.

You won’t see that shit in Harry Potter.

Youth said of the experience, “Somebody slipped me the acid. I wouldn’t have taken it myself if I had known what would happen… but the mental home was great. I went crazy, sure, but then I began to see the funny side of life.”

The band was working on a song, and Youth immediately went to sleep on the couch in the studio. The band left for the night, returned the next day, Youth was still asleep. The band was working on the next song, Youth is still sleeping.  Coleman gets frustrated, he wakes Youth up by spraying him with a fire extinguisher while yelling at him “You’re still in the band! Go fucking play bass!” Youth gets up, nails his bass parts in one take for each song, then goes back to sleep on the couch.

The band continued on working, but Youth was in and out, but mostly out. He was largely absent for the sessions, showing up long enough to do his parts. At any rate, the next few weeks the group would complete What’s THIS For… !, which of course received mixed reviews.  Some praised the album for its sparse efficiency, but many reviews were downright hostile, like Melody Maker’s which called it a collection of “noisy rip-offs” and “unlistenable … apart from the spaces between the tracks.”

The album opens with “The Fall of Because”, which was actually a leftover from Killing Joke, and recorded during those sessions. While it is far from my favorite Killing Joke album, it is exciting in its primitiveness and urgent in its delivery, and has long time fan favorites “Follow the Leaders”, “Madness”, and “Unspeakable”.

There was some further issue with the album, however. When the album was released Producer Nick Launay’s name was left off of the album’s credits. The band maintains that he was just an engineer (whose name was still left off the album), while Launay said he did some production, but the lines between engineer and producer are blurred anyway. Launay says that the band did this to “wind him up”, but other speculate that Launay was left off of the credits because he had produced Public Image Ltd’s The Flowers of Romance. At the time, there was a rivalry between to two bands spurred on by the press, so it’s possible Killing Joke was trying not to draw comparisons between the two groups. Even though his name was left off, Launay’s involvement was an open secret, and it gained him a lot of work over the years, including from The Slits, Gang of Four, Nick Cave, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and IDLES.

Revelations (1982)

The band reconvened in Cologne, West Germany, but things were not going well. Coleman was beginning to lose interest in the band, and wanted to write a book and do a solo album of just vocal and drums.

Released ahead of the album, the first single “Empire Song”, caused quite a controversy.  Written about the Falkland War, which was the 10-week undeclared war between Britain and Argentina over the possession of The Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The favorable outcome for Britain ensured a political victory for the right wing in the next election. The line in the song “Back to square one, another empire backfires” was lifted directly from a British tabloid, and caused such a stir it actually attracted the attention of the government. Come to find out, a large section of the music industry in the UK is (or was) pretty right wing, and the band was getting a lot pressure from labels and promoters about their views.

The album itself is pretty uneven, at best. It has some great tracks, like “Empire Song”, “We Have Joy”, and “Chop Chop”, but the entire thing kind of falls apart at the end. The classic elements of the band are still here, and this album kind of bookmarks the end of their first abrasive era with their first self-titled.  After this, they’re still post-punk but a little smoother and a little more accessible.

Prior to the release of Revelations, Coleman told the band’s management that he was going to leave the band because the global apocalypse was imminent. The management just chalked this up to an overactive imagination. Killing Joke played a pair of sold out shows prior to the album’s release, one of which was pro-shot and televised in France. Prior to the show, Coleman had given a brief interview to be shown before the broadcast, in which he proclaims, “the Western civilization has 20 months to survive.”

After the success of the shows, Killing Joke was set to appear on Top of the Pops, but Coleman was a no show. The band mimed (as was the style at the time) “Empire Song”, with Ferguson pretending to sing while someone in a union suit and a beekeeper’s helmet was propped up behind the keyboard. Many sources cite it was a mannequin or a dummy, but in the video, he clearly moves.

British music magazine NME took it upon themselves to speculate Coleman’s whereabouts. The magazine published a running list of supposed sightings, as well as listing places he might be attracted to because of their relationship to the occult. Someone at NME finally did make contact with Coleman, and his response was, “You can wonder all you like. I hate NME. You’ll see what’s gonna happen. Just fuck off, right.”

During this time, Coleman had become increasingly obsessed with the occult. At this point, the band had done better than they had financially, but Coleman decided that it was important to spend all of his money except for having 1 British Pound note in his pocket, and then he fucked off to Iceland. Walker joined Coleman later.

Coleman and Walker then, allegedly, had secured their own management in Iceland and were planning to restart the <b>new</b> Killing Joke and record a new EP and LP. When their UK management got wind of this, they said “They’re nuts. They’re disturbed, stupid, crazy… they’re the biggest bastards under the sun.”

Coleman began working with Icelandic new wave band Peyr, on a project that became Niceland. They wrote five songs, recorded three, but Niceland has never officially been released. Coleman’s drinking has been cited as the source for their split. Coleman then sent a letter to NME, whom he hated remember, saying that Peyr is a “vile enterprise” and that they have no affiliation with Killing Joke or any former Joke members who remained in Iceland. So there, that bridge is sufficiently burned.

Youth and Ferguson found out the band had moved to Iceland by reading it in NME, and Youth  was pretty mad about finding out that way. “I left the band after Revelations, being a little disappointed in Revelations as much as I loved working with [Producer] Conny, it came out a dirge-y,” Youth said. “Then I left the band and they went on and did Fire Dances and it was great songwriting and great choruses, great production. I was like, ‘oh shit, I would’ve stayed in the band if I’d known!’ Nonetheless, it was important for me to leave and find my own feet in other areas.”

Youth went on to form the group Brilliant, which featured future founder of The KLF Jimmy Cauty, and Ben Watkins (aka Juno Reactor), but Watkins left before the group was signed. He also formed experimental ambient/rock group The Fireman, with part-time Nirvana front man Paul McCartney. If that wasn’t enough, Youth also became a highly sought-after producer and remixer. But don’t worry, we haven’t seen the last of him.

Ferguson initially joined up with Youth in Brilliant, but left before anything of note was accomplished. Meanwhile, Coleman and Walker began working with the new Icelandic lineup of Killing Joke. This only lasted for a few months before the pair returned to the United Kingdom.