ANTHONY BLAMPIED REMEMBERS:
April 1981. Half a lifetime ago, I'm awoken by a knock at the door of my north London bedsit... "Telephone!" Shivering on the landing, I find that it's Tony calling with concern over our planned rendezvous for later that day with Killing Joke. Sleepy and bewildered, I ask what the problem is. "You must be the only person in the country not to know!" he exclaims. "The whole of Brixton went up last night."
[Within the past month I'd gone from being a regular reader of Jamming! to one of its photographers, inspired by my then-hero Anton Corbijn of the NME and despite my woefully inadequate equipment of an Olympus Trip automatic camera and a borrowed flashgun.]
We decide to brave it, and make the trek over to deepest Notting Hill, where the following side-splitting encounter took place. Did it seem so funny at the time? Or was the (killing) joke on us? In a series of stoned rants that combine Mick & Keef petulance with Derek & Clive levels of obscenity, Jaz and Youth hold forth on the riots, fame, nuclear war, America, fanzines vs. the weeklies... all punctuated with more swearing than I would have believed possible.
Anthony Blampied, December 2002
TONY FLETCHER REMEMBERS:
April 1981... They were stark, dark, minimal, confrontational, loud and not a little violent. And that was just their reputation as interviewees! But there was something truly fascinating about Killing Joke's apocalyptic vision, and their arrival on the London scene upon the dawn of the eighties was impossible to ignore: the songs 'Wardance,' 'Requiem' and 'Change', all from their debut 1981 album, resonated with the frightening mood of the time. Thanks to our friendship with one of bassist Youth's schoolfriends, Guy Pratt (who at the time played in mod revivalists Speedball but went on to replace Roger Waters in the touring Pink Floyd), Jamming! was able to arrange an interview with Youth and Killing Joke frontman Jaz Coleman. Clearly not concerned with the rigmaroles of the working week, they invited us to see them on a Sunday. The night before, Brixton went up in riotous flames following one police provocation of the local West Indian community too many. Killing Joke lived in Ladbroke Grove, itself the other main West Indian community in London, and the scene of many a violent face-off with the police at the annual Notting Hill carnival.
My journey into London from the suburbs of south London necessitated going through Brixton, but given that I had taken that route every day for five years to my secondary school in Kennington, every night I went into town for gigs, and that my band rehearsed on the Brixton 'front line', Railton Road, I wasn't going to let the small matter of a community in armed confrontation with the police stop me making the interview! And it didn't. On the journey home later that day, tape recorder still in my bag, I navigated my way from experience around the various police roadblocks into the back streets of Brixton and saw, up close and personal, violent scenes the likes of which I have never witnessed in America in fifteen years of living here. A memorable day.
Because of the tension in the air that day, we were invited to conclude the interview at a later date which we did. The tension in Brixton, meanwhile, spread to other cities, and the summer of 1981 is remembered for almost every British urban area having a violent uprising the same week as the Specials 'Ghost Town' went to number 1. Brixton went up in smoke again that July, and I went to see The Jam play on the other side of London; the experience didn't resonate in the same way as did the Killing Joke interview.
A footnote to all this. I would not have imagined interacting with Killing Joke much over subsequent years: for all that I hung out at Rough Trade and Better Badges off the Portobello Road, I never much considered myself part of the Notting Hill set, where there was too much dope smoking and other dubious dealings for my liking. But a decade later, in New York City, running the Communion night, Killing Joke seemed to be constantly in my life. Their whole 1980s catalogue was perennially popular, and while they were too big to play our own venue, we threw an album release party for them.
At that point it seemed as if all the band was living in America. Certainly guitarist Geordie and bassist Raven had made New York their home; they each played in the Killing Joke offspring, Murder Inc., led by former Killing Joke drummer and Chicago-based Invisible Records entrepreneur Martyn Atkins, with whom I became quite friendly. I still occasionally see Geordie around; contrary to the band's early confrontational image, he turned out to be the loveliest person.
Youth, meanwhile, who cultivated a distanced Sid Vicious-like demeanour in those early Joke days, had long left the band. He formed the more radio friendly, though ultimately less important, Brilliant with Jimmy Cauty; along with former Joke roadie Alex Paterson, both men were then changed by early exposure to the British rave scene. Cauty and Paterson formed ambient pioneers The Orb, and Youth became the movement's studio guru, going on to become one of the most celebrated producers of the 1990s: his credits are all over records by The Verve, Crowded House, James, System 7, several hundred remixes, and even a one-off dance album with Paul McCartney under the name The Fireman.
And as for Jaz, the man with the particularly maniacal eyes and obsessed voice, he turned out to be every bit the mad scientist we suspected. After initially breaking up the band by heading off to Iceland (long before it was known for a music scene), he resurfaced as a classical composer, working with Ann Dudley, then with Youth on various Symphonic Arrangements of Classic Rock bands, teamed up again with the Joke several times and finally retired to New Zealand. Killing Joke's music especially its early 1980s recordings has endured well over the years; the album Wilful Days provides plenty proof of this. But as Anthony writes in his introduction, our interview experience back in April 1981 could hardly have cooked up more clichés if we'd fictionalized the interview as a caricature. Wilful Days? Yes. Naive? That too. Did we get the Joke? Not at the time. But I think we do now.
TONY FLETCHER, MARCH 2003
PART 1: YOUTH
Come on then, give me a question...
-What's the attitude with doing interviews, because everyone says Ð
A specific question.
-A specific question... Killing Joke's supposed to be really awkward to interview Ð
We are. 'Cause we don't have a lot to say about ourselves. Well I do, but we're four individuals. The drummer and guitarist get very manic when they're asked questions. Jaz really likes talking about the group, which is good, but there's a difference in that I really know what I'm talking about. We don't compromise. We compromise inasmuch as we feel is good Ð
inasmuch as leisure time is concerned. And leisure time as far as I'm concerned is 24 hours a day. We've all got different ideas. I mean, I forgot how to play the bass last week, that's how responsible I am. We all hate each other, but we manage to compromise to the extent of making music. I'm the most difficult one of the lot to get on with because I'm so unconventionally cuntish.
-Is that like saying you don't give a shit about other people?
Well I don't. Not really, no. I'm an individual. Like, if I'm screwing a bird I'll make sure she has a good time. I'll give her some real in-depth inspiration. But if she asks if I love her or not I'll tell her the truth.
-Jaz said that the fanzine interviews I'd seen were unserious because they ask such stupid questions.
If they're going to ask us what your favourite colour is, what do they expect us to say? I haven't got a fucking favourite colour. Jaz probably has. I've got a colour that I like using a lot myself and that's purple. That's 'cause I'm a magician. I'm into people awakening and being aware, and not keeping the masses ignorant.
-What do you think about what happened last night in Brixton?
I thought that was great. Oh, what Ð do you mean the riot? No, it was just a fucking point they were making. They weren't fucking beating each other up, they were just telling the police that the SPG aren't God, you know what I mean?
-Today the whole of Brixton is blocked off. About 20 square miles Ð
That's what happened in Latimer Road once. They called it Festonia, where all the squatters took over that area of London and just turned it into their own little kingdom. The squatters are still there but it's not sealed off anymore.
-There's probably a lot more going on down there than will ever get out.
That's 'cause the press are a little more sussed out than everyone thinks. They don't want to create national panic, do they? America was founded by the pirates, but no-one knew it was there until some official cunt like Columbus went and told them. Which would mean that crime is next to sensuality. If the pirates are sensual New Romantics, as they are now, America is living proof that even if you're a Nazi you can still be President.
-What would you call success for Killing Joke?
Tons of groupies... a pound of grass a week. Millions and millions of pound notes.
-Do you reckon Killing Joke have been successful?
We're fucking here, aren't we? We're all right. We've got a new album coming out soon, an excellent single. We've got a good future ahead of us. The past has been great, 'cause we've gone through squatting...gigging... heavy violence... we've gone through all that, we've learnt from our mistakes and we're still laughing.
CONTINUE TO PART 2: JAZ & YOUTH