Pig's heads, the Great Pyramid and leylines... the full mind-bending saga
What’s This For…!, 1981’s second LP, maintained the danceable metal style but for 1982’s Revelations, Krautrock producer Conny Plank smoothed the rough edges. “Conny Plank was spinning round in his chair in glee, talking about the sound of the bombers flying overhead and how that made him want to get into production,” says Ferguson. Geordie also enjoyed the experience, particularly when Plank told him “my guitar reminded him of being small during the war. When they played classical music on the radio, if you turned it up full, that was the sound I made, that dissonance. It was the best compliment I’ve ever had.” Youth, though, was less content. The previous albums had been self-produced and he loved the studio experience. As for Coleman, he disappeared. “I was sharing a flat with Jaz and his girlfriend,” says Youth. “He hadn’t told her he was going. She burnt all his clothes in the garden and fucked off.”
Word eventually got out that Coleman had gone to Iceland. The rest of the band were forced to perform “Empire Song” on Top Of The Pops with a stand-in while contemplating their singerless future. At which point Geordie left too. “Iceland was an idea about islands, small self-sufficient places, establishing temporary life off the grid,” says Geordie. “We loved it there, getting away from the rest of the world. We never meant to move there permanently.”
It was said that Coleman left because he believed the apocalypse was imminent. “I told everybody the end of the world was coming, but that was to get people off my back,” Coleman says now. “I wanted to begin a process of individuation, to find my place in life, and I wanted to get away from roads because I’m interested in geometric energy. It was in Iceland, on my 22nd birthday, that I made the decision to become a composer.”
When Coleman and Geordie returned after a few months, they tried to piece the band back together. Ferguson, hurt at being abandoned, reluctantly agreed, but Youth wasn’t interested. He’d always “taken the piss mercilessly” out of Killing Joke’s esoteric beliefs, but had recently experienced a moment of enlightenment. “It was my infamous LSD experience where I was burning money on the King’s Road,” he says of an episode that began with him trying to break into Freemasons’ Hall on Long Acre and ended with electric shock therapy.
“The month prior to that I was tripping on my own DMT and everything became cosmic: sewer plates, road signs,” he says. “I had a breakdown, initiation, illumination. It took seven years to rebuild my shredded ego.” Paterson believes the incident was caused by the band’s mystical habits. “They blamed drugs, but it was more than that,” he says. “They sent him mad. Call it the dark side, black magic, things you shouldn’t really delve into.”
Having survived his brush with insanity, Youth began exploring dance music, forming Brilliant with Jimmy Cauty. He worked with Paterson on The Orb and discovered psychedelic trance after an “amazing DMT experience”. His reputation as a producer grew, and in 1992 he produced Crowded House’s Together Alone, which led to him forming The Fireman with McCartney. Through it all, his spiritual beliefs evolved. As Coleman summarises, “Youth went from being an earthbound punk street thief to the shaman he is today.”
Youth’s replacement was Paul Raven, a Brummie who’d played in punk band the Neon Hearts and glam rockers Kitsch, and was close friends with Youth. “Youth was a hard act to follow and Raven was his best friend,” says Coleman. “There’s only one day that separates them astrologically so it was seamless, and yet you can’t compare them. Youth is a creative genius, whereas Raven was a genius onstage. Both were comedians without realising it.”
Ferguson adds that “Raven brought a sense of humour that was invaluable, and also an enthusiasm.” This was important, as Ferguson was still nursing a grudge over Iceland that festered in this commercially successful era. Fire Dances (1983) and Night Time (1985) saw the band embrace a poppier sound, while a raft of 45s (“Eighties”, “A New Day” and “Kings And Queens”) included a genuine hit, 1985’s “Love Like Blood”. “We didn’t try to become a success,” says Coleman. “But there was a part of me I was suppressing, the romantic composer. When you become involved with something as dissonant as Killing Joke, sooner or later you search for the opposite, for harmony, as a counterpoint.”
Chris Kimsey, who’d worked with the Stones, produced Night Time in Berlin. He recalls a band that combined musical professionalism with an anarchic spirit. On the first day, he was summoned from his hotel room at 5am to find them being held at gunpoint by police in the studio. “They’d had a party, somebody set off a fire extinguisher and broke a console. I had to do some deep sweet-talking,” he says. During late-night sessions, they’d throw open the windows overlooking the Berlin Wall and crank up the music. “We could see the East German soldiers bopping in their watchtowers,” recalls Geordie.
None of them relished the experiences that came with success – “getting up at 5am to mime for Dutch TV,” Geordie glumly describes it – and the relationship between Ferguson and Coleman worsened. “It got poisonous,” says Coleman. “Terrible things happened that took 20 years to get over.” Violence was the least of it. “Paul tried to kill Jaz a couple of times,” laughs Kinsey. “There isn’t one member I haven’t punched once,” admits Ferguson. “I grew up in a military family and that rubbed off on me, and it grated with Jaz. And he was doing things I couldn’t approve of, that reflected badly on us. It was more serious than maggots, it was bleeding on people.”
This was the time Coleman broke into Rough Trade with a bread knife. “A bootleg came out through Rough Trade,” says Geordie. “Jaz found out, got a bottle of Jack inside him then went down when he knew they were having a meeting. He grabbed a knife and cut his arm over the table, dripping blood over their heads. It was horrifying but the point was made. The bootleg was stopped.”
In summer 1987, Ferguson was sacked while working on Outside The Gate. “I had developed a disdain for Jaz,” says Ferguson. “He was doing a solo album, but it cost so much, it became a Killing Joke album that I didn’t want to make. I recorded drums, but the engineer and Geordie turned the keyboard off so I played to Geordie, but then when you put the keyboard back in it made no sense. As a result, I was told I was being replaced. I went to LA and haven’t lived in England since.”
Raven also left. Andy Rourke was recruited on bass, lasting three days. “He was a lovely lad, but the only time I saw him smile was when he played a bassline from Coronation Street,” muses Geordie.
Ferguson’s departure was fraught. Not only was he a superb drummer – “one of the best in the world,” Paterson says – he’d been instrumental in creating the band’s philosophy. “It was ugly and hurtful,” says Ferguson, who developed a second career as a renowned art restorer, still smarting at his dismissal from the band he’d co-founded.