"To be honest punk was dead in '78, really. At first it was just pure enthusiasm, inventing new stuff and I really liked that, but it just dragged on and on. The whole punk thing changed from this amazing ideal to where you had mohawks begging for 10p on the kings road, pathetic absolutely pathetic! I could sniff something new out there, so I dived into London and got in. Actually a girlfriend moved into Trent Park Polytechnic, so I moved into the ladies' dorm. Yes it was very handy, and quite pleasant."
Temporarily lost in thought, Geordie Walker, Killing Joke's tall, enigmatic guitarist narrows his eyes, smiles contemplatively and lights up yet another cigarette.
As a mainstay in Killing Joke right from their inception 15 years ago, Geordie has juggled dual roles as both axeman and foil for the crazed antics of vocalist Jaz Coleman. The unstable chemistry between the volatile, unpredictable Coleman and Geordie's pragmatic, streetwise cool has been responsible for nearly the band asunder almost as often as it has helped produce some of the most awesome rock music ever heard.
The spine chilling roar of Geordie's drop-tuned Gibson 295 virtually borders on the orchestral and lies at the very epicentre of Killing Joke's threatening maelstrom. Even more poignantly, the aura of its brooding presence can be clearly traced through a host of bands from Faith No More to Nirvana To Therapy?.
Typically unhampered by rose tinted delusions about the decline of the British punk scene in the late 70s, Geordie reflects that Killing Joke's subsequent emergence from the ashes was as much a reaction to the debris left floating in the wake as an attempt to stir a flicker of life from the dying embers.
"Punk was dead when I started; I mean, it was just a convenient label at the time. There were only ever a couple of decent bands anyway; Pistols, The Dammed, I used to quite like The Suburban Studs a lot, I don't what happened to them; but so much of it was utter crap!"
"We're a groove band, don't forget that! That's where you get the hypnotic element into it, you know? Because the whole things basically a trance, that's what we were about and still are about. For the new album we set up sequencer loops and stood listening until we said, this is just the computer going over it but isn't it nice and groovy? Oh all right, lets go: live takes, drums, guitar, bass, maybe keyboards, something like that, just roll the tape and go for it!
"Suddenly you realise that's the reason you do it, because it's fun, it's amazing, it's a high, it's exactly what you want to do, and it's gorgeous and it can go anywhere. The possibilities are endless, that why you do it."
Geordie's enthusiasm for the intricacies of the modern studio has received a welcome boost with the return to the fold of the original Killing Joke bassist Youth. Youth relinquished the role of bassman after the first two Killing Joke albums before going on to become a highly respected record producer.
After a stint cutting his teeth in the Stock, Aitken and Waterman Stable, working with Bananarama among others, Youth's talents became held in high regard by the dance music fraternity. A chance meeting with Geordie led to him agreeing to rejoin and the latest Joke platter, 'Pandemonium', is bursting with his pumping, sequenced lines breathing new life into Killing Joke's austere, iron fisted metal.
"The real joy of Youth is when he's on stage, because he surprises himself with how good he is," enthuses Geordie. "He really knows what bass playing's supposed to be, you know? It's bottom end, it's bottom end, it's deep and sexy. He's so talented but that's how he makes his fortune, he makes really good dance records. Dance is fundamentally about bass and drums; the programming and sequencing is just added on top really."
"In the early days Youth was always on my side when it came down to writing. There were only certain things that I would come up with that Jaz would like because he was only into the really moody stuff. But thanks to Youth backing me up, I got away with murder on this album. There was all this other stuff I really wanted to play, like the intro to Pandemonium. When I played it to Jaz, he didn't like it, But Youth stuck up for me and said, Yeah, go for it and he really shaped how the whole record eventually turned out."
While Geordie's appreciation of Youth's talents doesn't quite embrace all of the current techno/dance scene, the debonair guitarist admits that his early years exposed him to a very diverse range of musical influences.
"Well I never had a stereo until I was 15, but I got into music at a very early age. I was about five when I heard Bits and Pieces by the Dave Clark Five. By about the age of eight I was knocking around with this kid and his older brother who had all the 'Magical Mystery Tour' stuff and During school holidays I was putting those on with him. Stuff like Scarecrow by Pink Floyd with my head in the gramophone at 16rpm, I think that the music that was up to about 73, 74 was like wild stuff! It was only when I got a stereo where I was buying Alice Cooper, Jeff Beck and funnily enough Rod Stewart and the Faces.
"I tell you, one album I want to get hold of again was John McLaughlin's 'Devotion'- not 'Love Devotion' with Santana. The album I mean had a mental cover: it was like McLaughlin with a Spanish guitar but the picture had been done with bendy mirrors. There was stuff like Don't Let The Dragon Eat Your Mother on it which was just like this acid stuff with mentally fast guitar with wild chords; I had that and it was a really big one for me!"
Even after all that, Killing Joke's macho fret mangler isn't afraid to pay tribute to good ol' mum.
"My mum saw Jimi Hendrix in 1967. She didn't take me, but she did take me to see Desmond Dekker And The Aces supporting the Tremeloes, Desmond Dekker was great, I still remember the white suit. But when mum went to see Englebert Humperdinck there was this weird record company package in 1967: Hendrix was there with the flaming coffin, you could tell he was on drugs, and she kind of half knew about guitars because of where she was working. She was trained as a bookmaker from the age of 16, turf accountancy and all that, and the people where she worked were into music. The boss owned a couple of casinos and stuff, and she just knew about guitars, she knew the names of my guitars when I was about 14 or 15. I wanted an electric guitar but she bought me a classical and made me do classical lessons, just to get me into guitar.
"I was being taught by Lord Cadmin's son and he used to turn up on Wednesday morning at the school in his 1965 Aston Martin DB with his handmade guitars. He was a really lovely chap, but he was always bloody late! I'm playing Gary Glitter songs on this acoustic and thinking, sod it, I want an electric!
"I was looking at shit, like £80 copies and stuff like that. One Saturday morning we went in this shop in Northampton, and all the local kids had come into the shop to see a Gibson Les Paul on the wall. I go in there with my mum and say, can I have a go on this one? Mum said, hang on a minute, so we went in the cafe next door for a cup of tea and she started laying into the old man! Then we went back round the corner and bought it for £318. This was in about 1973 or 74 or something like that. That guitar just played itself, I mean if you do get a nice feel of an instrument, it will play itself, no matter how bashed up it is.
"I've still got it and I did this album with it. I basically did a whole track with the Les Paul and a whole track with my 295, and mixed and matched to get certain sounds."
Geordie's battered but totally gorgeous Gibson 295 hollow bodied guitar is an indelible trademark, but what brought about the change from the much loved Les Paul to the big bodied jazz guitar.
"Well, I'll tell you what it is. What you find is, if you start doing totally complex chords with 7ths and 4ths in them and you really drive them - even through valve amplification - the harmonics start becoming prominent and you start losing the actual chord. When I started to get into that sort of territory, I thought, Well what I'll do is get a semi-acoustic and put a contact mike in it so I can whack this up as much as I want.
"I plugged this in and it was just there. So now I've got an acoustic guitar track going on for the music on top of the racket from the P-90s; it didn't need all that overdubbing and all that mechanical shit, it was like so much more a musical instrument.
"I first saw one in an old Gibson catalogue and I thought that's it! I've got a couple of them now, but I think that my original one is either a 1954 or a 1952. I really liked the but when I got the thing, I think that everyone got rid of them because they slide around a bit. That's easily cured with a bit of double sided tape underneath, but I think another reason why people went off them is because you get this sort of shit when you're playing as well" explains Geordie bending notes by pressing down on the trapeze tailpiece with his right hand. "It's so expressive; you can just bend out the chords, especially if you're using 7ths and stuff. You can flatten them a bit and flatten the ringing notes so I can crank it. When the bottom end feedback builds up, it just goes."
Part of the secret of Killing Joke's cavernous sound is Geordie's simple but unusual choice of alternative tuning.
"Yeah, I've never used that much of a standard tuning anyway. There's something wild about that tuning, but it's been around for centuries.
"I think the first album was regular tuning, but I found out after the second album that I had been tuned a semitone down like Hendrix. Anyway, one day at rehearsal I took the guitar out of the case and started playing with the bottom E tuned down to D, but we thought it sounded really great and so I've used it ever since - money for old rope."
Whatever light Geordie makes of his talents, he does reveal a more serious side when recalling some strange events which took place during some of the 'Pandemonium' sessions. Largely under Jaz Coleman's influence, large chunks of the album were recorded deep inside the Central Chamber in the Great Pyramid at Cairo, Egypt.
"Well we got in because Jaz knows the guy who is the caretaker of the place, a guy called Abu Sett. We went down this corridor and into the chamber with a couple of DAT machines to mix a couple of backing tracks and for Jaz to do some vocals. The place was only lit by torchlight, it was really creepy and we had enough power in the batteries for about six hours of recording. But for some reason, after about half an hour both the batteries went absolutely dead, nothing left at all!"
"The whole place is a very powerful and spiritual place. There are specially chartered flights coming in from Tibet with Lamas wandering around in robes, most excellent."
At one point prior to Geordie and co. regrouping for the 'Pandemonium' sessions, Killing Joke's future looked decidedly dodgy: Jaz Coleman was off travelling the globe in pursuit of his obsession with obscure eastern mysticism and Geordie found himself tempted by an offer to join Faith No More after the acrimonious departure of their own guitarist Jim Martin.
"They're nice enough lads and I was just feeling so domesticated. It was minus 40 in Detroit at the time and I flew down to San Francisco to meet up with them. It was the funniest thing, we went out for a drink and it started hailing down outside, and they're all hanging out of the windows because they'd never seen it before! I went through some of my own stuff with them but they're a bit set in their ways and they didn't want to change from that formula."
Nirvana were another band whose alleged debt to Killing Joke was the cause for some friction. If any hostilities were imminent, they ceased with the unfortunate death of Kurt Cobain and now Geordie shrugs at the memory of it all with the mildly disgruntled air of a man with unfinished business hanging over his head. Interestingly, he still refers to Cobain, in the present tense.
"Kurt Cobain is a bloody good songwriter but a complete plagiarist. He had Eighties off us as Come As You Are and someone told me that Teen Spirit was a Blue Oyster Cult Riff!
"We are very pissed off about that, but its obvious to everyone. We had two separate musicologists' reports saying it was; our publisher sent their publisher a letter saying it was and they went, Boo, never heard of ya! But the hysterical thing about Nirvana saying they'd never heard of us was that they'd already sent us a Christmas card!
"I tell you, I can spot a riff from a mile off! That comes from all the time I spent listening to the radio as a kid. The other day is was listening to Creep by Radiohead and as I sat there in the studio watching the video on MTV, I suddenly realised that it was The Hollies The Air That I Breath! But Cobain is just like that, he is a magpie, but he made it very much his own stuff. I think that he is a very good vocalist and he achieved the hardest thing of keeping a very good idea very straightforward and simple. But it was still sad what happened. He should have shot the wife - he would have been out in five!
"But there you go, look at the state of the English bands in this country. There aren't any really, America's doing it all! Like The Smashing Pumpkins, Dinosaur Jr, they're all really good bands and that's only because they've been out on the road slogging it for bloody years and years. I don't even know the kid's name from Dinosaur Jr, but he is really talented - a great songwriter and a brilliant guitarist. They haven't just woken up one morning and walked into it, they all play really well with all the spaces in the right places and all the right proportions.
"With Killing Joke I get away with murder; everybody likes what I write. We were absolutely pioneers: four people who wouldn't normally be mixing together using all that energy, all that angst! Breaking new ground, impressing us to be surprising ourselves and it still does, thank God!"
Interviewed by Tim Slater
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