Artist Spotlight: Killing Joke (or; How to Compose the Soundtrack to Every Apocalypse) [Part 4 of 7]

Part 1 here. Part 2 here. Part 3 here.

The Courtald Talks (1989)

When last we left Killing Joke, they were still broken up, for the second time.

The Courtald Talks isn’t really a real Killing Joke album, there’s no songs here and the band didn’t technically exist. It’s vocalist/keyboardist Jaz Coleman giving a talk to the Courtald Institute with Geordie Walker on acoustic guitar and Jeff Scantlebury on light percussion. It’s really a spoken word album. From the back of the record, Coleman says:

In the demonstration part of the Geometria System at The Courtauld Institute, I explain how during a ritual working, I identified a hostile current (or extraneous force) emanating from the Middle East (Iran). I attempted to portray this force in the development section of the title track of the last LP ‘Outside The Gate’ by employing an unusual rhythm and musical sequence that I heard within this ritualized ‘altered’ state of mind. With the metronome I spontaneously pin-pointed the natural tempo at 103 beats per minute. In the Geometria (an ancient system of numerology) this number is the number of the Prophets. As I write this observation down on paper the 9 o’clock news on BBC 1 drones on in the background of how an Iranian Revolutionary group is being blamed for the destruction of flight P.A.103 in Lockerbie, Scotland and I began to wonder……

Did you get all that? Good.

Ministry touring alum Martin Atkins put it out on his Invisible Records, the fourth release from his label.

Extremities, Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions (1990)

After the debacle that was Outside the Gate, Killing Joke, or whatever was left of it, was in shambles. Coleman was psychiatric ward, and Killing Joke as an organization was deeply in debt. “[We] went through three years of torment,” Coleman said. “Basically, we had no contract. We were in litigation, we couldn’t record, we couldn’t do anything. All avenues of income were cut off and it was a very, very difficult time.”

Coleman departed to Egypt during the hiatus to work with Art of Noise founding member Anne Dudley. Dudley was also a sought-after session musician, working with George Michael, Marc Almond, Rush, Pulp, and many, many others. The pair collaborated on Songs From the Victorious City, an Arabic/ world music album, in which Coleman played violin, cobra pipe, and flute. I never heard this before, but the video is sufficiently silly.

Coleman and Walker were flat broke, and realized the only way for them to survive was to resurrect Killing Joke and tour. The pair had made about £40,000 in publishing, but it was all absorbed by EG Records for the debt over Outside the Gate. So, the duo began the task of recruiting a new rhythm section.

Enter drummer Martin Atkins. Atkins had been a drummer in John Lydon’s Public Image Ltd., and later his own band Brian Brain, and had just come off the road as second drummer for Ministry’s The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste tour. After being fed up with the music business, Atkins started doing construction jobs in New Jersey, and soon after he started his own construction company. Not long after that, he got a call from Walker with an invitation to join Killing Joke. Walker and Coleman had been jamming with a bass player known only as “Charlie”, who Walker wrestled to the ground and held in a headlock until he provided Atkins’ phone number.

Atkins was undecided about joining the band, he had a thriving business and a new wife, and his American Citizenship could be in jeopardy if he left the country. He liked the early Joke material, of course, but his wife made him listen to Outside the Gate so he knew what he’d be getting himself into. He was not impressed, but he considered that this sound didn’t include his input, and was curious to know what that version of Killing Joke would sound like, so he joined up and flew to London.

Initially, the band recruited Andy Rourke from The Smiths on bass. He showed up for the first three to ten days (sources vary), long enough for a press release to be drafted and promo photos to taken, and then he vanished. It’s highly rumored that he had a heroin problem at the time. Instead, the band recruited Welsh bassist Dave “Taif” Ball. Ball stayed with the band for somewhere from six to eight months, while they toured North America and Europe. The reason for Ball’s eventual departure have never been stated, but he later turned up in Voodoocult which briefly also had Slayer’s Dave Lombardo and Grip Inc.’s Waldemar Sorychta.

After having gained some momentum, the group began the process of demoing new material (with Ball). Unfortunately, their reputation preceded them, and no label would touch them with a 3.048-meter pole. The band was undeterred and set off to record the album anyway, but they needed to acquire a bass player, so they called old reliable Paul Raven. “When I heard some of the ideas that Geordie [Walker] was already knocking around, it gave me the opportunity to make the record that we should’ve made after Night Time,” Raven said. “That was really my musical motivation.”

Raven and Atkins worked 10 hours a day, every day, for three weeks to get the songs down and to be prepared for the recording of the album. “[Atkins] and I instantly got on personally as well as musically,” Raven said. “For all of Martin’s misgivings, he’s an innovator and he really did a good job on that record. I believe we got Martin at the absolute peak of his powers.”

The band entered the studio on their own dime, and brought with them former Brian Brain (and future Ministry, Fear Factory, and Prong) keyboardist John Bechdel on programming and samples. The band managed to record the entire album in two days, with five days for mixing. The album cover features the eyes of actor Conrad Veidt from the film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and not the eyes of Coleman, as many erroneously believe. The band finally found a home for the album with German metal label Noise Records. The back of the album has the logo for Atkins’ Invisible Records, but that is because Atkins became the manager in addition to the drummer, but more on that later.

Extremities, Dirt and Various Repressed Emotions was released on November 20, 1990, and was received well by the public and hailed as a return to the early, aggressive sound. The first three tracks are really amazing, “Money Is Not Our God”, “Age of Greed”, and “The Beautiful Dead”, but after that the songs are a little too long. It was reissued in 2007 with bonus tracks from a rare cassette demo, that features Ball on bass. If you see either version, snatch them up, because both are pretty rare. The outtakes two-disc set, Inside Extremities, Mixes, Rehearsals, and Live released in 2007, is much more common, which features exactly what it says on the tin.

Because the band was untouchable at the time, they couldn’t get proper management, so Atkins became the manager. This ended up being a problem, of course. Some people like to infer that Atkins was dipping into the band’s cash, but members continued to work with him after he left Killing Joke. The thing about Atkins is, nearly everyone who works with him has a falling out, but most of those people end up working with him again later down the road.

“We were touring Europe when the first Gulf War was happening, and there was definitely a feeling of, ‘Alright, America’s gone to war. Where the fuck is this going to end?”, Atkins explained. “I began to overhear conversations that Jaz was reserving flights to New Zealand. I was running the budgets on the tour, and I’m like, ‘Look, if you leave the tour in Vienna, some expenses haven’t been paid.’ At the end of the last day of the tour, the budgets have all been paid, the merchandise has all been paid for, the buses have been paid for, the crew has been paid and that’s it. But if Jaz leaves the tour in Vienna, how do we get home? These were clearly problems that Jaz hadn’t thought about, or, I think more accurately, didn’t care about. I think we were all pretty disgusted.”

Atkins continued, “I called my wife at the time, and I got a phone number for Chris Connelly. I approached him really humbly because at that time, Ministry were huge, and Revolting Cocks were huge. I said, ‘Chris, I know you’re a fan of Killing Joke. Any day now, Jaz might just leave and I don’t know how we’re gonna get through this. Is there any way that you would consider learning Killing Joke songs so that if this does go down, you can jump on a plane and sing through the last ten shows and we can go home and we don’t have $20,000 debt over this?’ He agreed to do that.”

The tour was completed, but after that, this was the end of Killing Joke… again.

Murder Inc. – Corpuscle EP (1992) / Murder Inc. (1992) / Locate, Subvert, Terminate (1999)

I wrote about Murder Inc. already for the Ministry Spotlight, but I didn’t approach it from the Killing Joke perspective. So, I won’t spend a lot of time on it, but there is some more to say. A quick refresher: Murder Inc. was original Joke drummer Paul Ferguson, and most recent drummer Atkins, Raven, Bechdel, Connelly, and Walker.

“I was already based in America, and American was my home. Chicago held a lot for me musically,” Raven said. “[Murder Inc. came] from our belief that Killing Joke needed to be touring more in America. It stemmed from my enjoyment from playing with both Paul and Martin. I was like, ‘Man, it was great playing with Paul, and it’s great playing with Martin. How great would it be to play with both of those fucking lunatics?’ Fortunately, they hit it off… When we went on to Murder Inc., those guys found a big gray area where they both blended well.”

“I know Jaz has accused me of trying to steal Killing Joke. I just accepted that as someone who felt betrayed,” Atkins said. “But the reality is, Jaz started Murder Inc.”

“While we were in Chicago rehearsing, we were hit with a Killing Joke debt from the merchandising company. It was a substantial, $20,000 or $30,000,” Atkins said. “I just thought there was no way I should be responsible for that debt, and none of us should have been responsible for that debt. I thought, ‘Jaz is making the decision whether we play and tour or we don’t, so he can have the fucking debt!’ Plus, there was no way for me to make Killing Joke money to address a Killing Joke debt. I sent a fax to Jaz’s attorney. I don’t remember what it said, but it got the result I was looking for, which was a fax from Jaz and his attorney saying, ‘I own Killing Joke 100%. I am Killing Joke’.” Atkins then faxed the letter to the merchandise company over the debt. “Jaz didn’t know the fax was the device to get rid of a merchandising debt… The regular guy in me certainly would want to apologize to Jaz. To know that everybody in your band is in Chicago recording an album, then to get that fax… that’s pretty horrible… but I would still say that he fucking started Murder Inc., absolutely.”

“It’s a shame we couldn’t resolve our differences and keep that lineup together,” Raven said. “But there were a few cathedral sized egos around, and that will never do.”