"As a teenager when I started this group, we sat around and we said: 'What do we want to achieve out of all this?'"
Jaz Coleman, the warrior-king singer of Killing Joke, takes a long pull on a glass of rum and coke followed by a thoughtful toke on a rapidly-disintegrating cigar.
"The answer to the question was that we wanted to inspire other people," he says. "We had this idea that Killing Joke is a mirror, and what you see in us, you can do too; that the stage is the audience and the audience is the stage."
If the growing army of acts who have taken inspiration from Killing Joke is anything to go by, then Coleman has achieved his goal. The British band's influence on internationally-acclaimed groups such as Nirvana, Metallica, Nine Inch Nails and Ministry has been well documented. A generation of death metal bands - such as Fear Factory who have just recorded a new version of *Millennium* - have paid homage to Killing Joke. But so too has Kate Bush, who has long been a fan of the group and whose most famous single, *Hounds of Love*, featured Killing Joke's original bass player, Youth.
"We have a very eclectic and passionate underground audience," Coleman says. "They are intelligent thinkers ranging from people who were sperms when we put our first record out to people of our own age. We're not a band that's ever had major pop appeal. But after 27 years you see 'em on the way up and you wave to 'em again on the way down. So, I think we chose the right path."
The latest step on that path is a new live album, *XXV Gathering: Let Us Prey*, a colossal performance of songs spanning the entire career of the most apocalyptic band in the history of rock'n'roll. Recorded at a show in Shepherds Bush, London in February 2005, it is an album of ageless aggression and dark, thunderous beauty. Those fans lucky enough to have been at the show will remember seeing guitarist Geordie, bass and keyboard player Raven and drummer Ben Calvert carving out great wodges of electric noise and tribal rhythms, while Coleman, his face painted blood red and eyes bulging out from great welts of charcoal make-up, roared the lyrics to *Communion*, *Wardance* and *Requiem* as if in the grip of some awful physical dementia.
"The concert stage is where I go, quite consciously, to rid myself of many things," Coleman says. "I differentiate that entity from the person who's sitting here now. For me it's a ritual, not a fucking concert. It's a primal place that I go to. If the show is any good, I don't remember hardly anything of it. I seek to get out of my body and achieve a true intensity. And afterwards I feel a deep sense of calm."
Coleman doesn't know how many gigs Killing Joke have done. Reckons it must be around the 3,000 mark. But as he told the crowd at Shepherds Bush he still cherishes the very first memory he has of walking into the rehearsal studio "with Big Paul [Ferguson] who's not here, God bless you, and Geordie, and just playing this one note." The result was Killing Joke's very first song, *Are You Receiving?*, captured in a performance here which radiates a level of passion, danger and commitment that is every bit as pervasive as it was back in 1978 when the group first convened just a mile down the road in Notting Hill Gate.
When their self distributed EP ‘Turn To Red’ dropped in John Peel’s pigeon hole, he was so impressed he played all three tracks on his radio show that night and continued to champion the band with various live sessions, one of which is one of the most requested in the history of the show.
Their debut album, *Killing Joke*, released in 1979 and its follow-up, *what's THIS for...!* (1981) brought the anger and energy of punk forward into a new decade. The group travelled to Germany where they worked with the veteran producer Conny Plank, of Can fame, on their third album *Revelations* (1982).
"The idea of Killing Joke being a rock band that operates in a European tradition has always been important to me," Coleman says. "It's not drawn from American blues - that doesn't belong in my sphere. I see Killing Joke as more a part of a modern European folk tradition."
Youth left the band before a tour of Europe and America in 1982 which yielded the live mini-album *Ha!*, the first recording to feature Raven on bass. These first four albums, all re-mastered and with bonus tracks added, were re-released in July 2005.
*Fire Dances* (1983) and *Night Time* (1985) represented a high water mark for Killing Joke both artistically and commercially. As a group they were playing with incredible power and menace, while their songwriting skills had now developed to the point where they could turn out a Top 20 single in the typically moody but melodic *Love Like Blood*.
In 1985 they headlined the Friday night of the Reading Festival. It was getting dark, and just as the band went on stage a huge thundercloud drifted over the site. "It normally does," Coleman says. "I remember Reading. Got good reviews. Didn't enjoy myself. Festivals have become such corporate events."
The band took a stylistic detour towards a more keyboard-dominated sound on *Brighter Than A Thousand Suns* (1987) and *Outside The Gate* (1988), after which there was a period of turmoil and the group temporarily broke up.
Returning in 1990, with former-PIL drummer Martin Atkins, they released *Extremities, Dirt and Various Repressed Emotions*, a restatement of first principles, and about as hardcore a collection as anything they had yet recorded. At a show at the Astoria in London, in 1991 they produced an unbelievably brooding atmosphere as they performed numbers from the album such as *The Beautiful Dead* and *The Age of Greed* while a fire-eating juggler sent spumes of flame searing across the heads of the audience.
*Pandemonium* (1993) found the group once again operating at full throttle and turned out to be their biggest selling album yet, while *Democracy* (1996), which marked the temporary return of Youth to the ranks, was yet another extreme classic, described by one reviewer as "a brutal, barbarous, bloodthirsty shellacking, the hardest, most vicious, ghastly onslaught they've ever perpetrated." Good job he liked it.
The group lay dormant until the release in 2003 of *Killing Joke*, the second album to bear the band's name as its title. With the line-up now settled around the hardy perennials of Coleman, Geordie and Raven - all of whom are resident for much of the year close to each other in Prague - the band has reached a new high point of maturity and stability.
Is drummer Ben Calvert now a full member of Killing Joke?
"Sure he is," Coleman says. "As long as he behaves. But the decision making is always done between Geordie, Raven and me.”
Geordie's father and Coleman's father both died in the period leading up to the recording of the live album, as noted by Coleman in his introduction to *Love Like Blood*, which he dedicates to their Dads, "the two Rons". "Our fathers knew each other, and they were both woodworkers," Coleman says. "My father made violins. Geordie's Dad was a cabinet-maker, anything with wood. The Killing Joke family exists on many levels. The last three years of my life have been a dark period. Not just for the world, but for us emotionally. Lots of people dying. Also been some modest victories, as well."
The darkness was not greatly relieved by a brief stint of touring in the summer of 2005 as support to the reformed Motley Crue. Were the American rockers good company? "You gotta be fucking joking," Coleman splutters. "Our manager was asked if he'd like to meet Tommy Lee. So he goes in, and Lee's got all these dumb, brain-dead women sitting around. And he goes 'Ah. You manage Killing Joke. They're great. I've got six of their albums. What are those guys doing now?' He didn't even know we were on the road with them! I'm never, never, never doing that again.”
This year also saw the band pick up a ‘Lifetime Achievement’ award at the Kerrang! Awards, firmly cementing their place in rock history. They were presented this award by Dave Grohl who himself is a huge fan of the band and even played drums on their last album.
And what of the future? In 2006 Killing Joke are planning to do an acoustic tour, for charity, of "the colonial bars of the world" which Coleman says will result in a low-budget, lo-fi acoustic album. The group is also currently working on a new studio album which will incorporate elements that have been recorded in war zones or places of historical turmoil: Lebanon, Ethiopia, Bolivia, Taiwan. "They're places that mean something to me," Coleman says. "They're places where I can get an extra tension when I'm doing an overdub." Does he plan to go to Iraq? "I think it's probably not a good idea at the moment."
The new studio album, incorporating all this "extra tension", will be released in 2006. Coleman describes it as being "brutal" and "more tribal" than the last album. "The unthinkable is going to be there on this next fucking record," he says. "The unimaginable. I think there's an eco-meltdown on the cards. That's certainly in there. I believe that the activities of homo sapiens is being moulded by forces beyond the normal person's comprehension. I believe the whole fabric of everything we ever believe is a lie. So it's these things. But it's also a celebration of ceremonies......
Jaz Coleman’s career is one of the music industry’s most diverse, oscillating between the white heat of Killing Joke and the world’s symphony orchestras. Brought up in an academic family that revered Da Vinci, he studied piano and violin from the age of six before being admitted to sing for the Addington Palace Choir. By the age of ten, he had sung in many of the great cathedrals in England and achieved the most prestigious accolade for a chorister, the Saint Nicholas Award. By fourteen his prizes included the Gold Medal at the Bath International Festival, Distinction for violin and the Rex Watson Cup at the Cheltenham International Festival of Music.
In 1979, aged 17, Jaz founded the legendary post-punk experimental group, Killing Joke, whose world tours and many recordings have influenced two generations of contemporaries such as Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Tool, Faith No More, Nine Inch Nails, Ministry and Metallica, to name but a few.
Throughout 2003 Jaz promoted the eponymously titled Killing Joke, the band’s eleventh recording, considered to be, by all accounts, their best work to date. All original members joined forces with Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighter frontman Dave Grohl, for an explosive masterpiece that has consistently gained five star reviews worldwide.
Jaz Coleman studied in Leipzig DDR in 1987 and Cairo Conservatoire in 1979 where he made an extensive study of Arabic quartertones, culminating in the recording ‘Songs From The Victorious City’ co-composed with Ann Dudley using the master players of Cairo. Coleman was the first western student to study oriental music at an Arabic conservatoire. In late 1989 he had the score of his Symphony No.1 ‘Idavoll’ reviewed by the late East German conductor Klaus Tennstedt, who endorsed it referring to Coleman as ‘our new Mahler’. After extensive study in composition, in 1992 Jaz took up citizenship of New Zealand to become resident composer of the Auckland Philharmonia.
After Coleman’s work came to the attention of minimalist composer Philip Glass, Jaz’s recording career accelerated at an astounding rate with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Convent Garden, Auckland Philharmonia, Czech Philharmonic, Prague Symphony Orchestra, Collegium, Prague Chamber Orchestra and the New Zealand String Quartet, having achieved 15 classical recordings in ten years, topping the American crossover charts with three top fives and two No.1s, one of which stayed at No. 1 for an unbelievable 103 weeks.
Whilst respecting the traditions of both the symphony and the orchestra, Coleman has recorded outstanding symphonic renditions of rock music in the neo-classical tradition. This culminated in an endorsement by the surviving members of the Doors to arrange their music as a violin concerto to commemorate those who fell in the Vietnam War. The Doors Concerto was recorded with Nigel Kennedy for Universal Music.
In the year 2001, Jaz Coleman was commissioned by the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden London for his first large scale opera entitled, ‘The Marriage at Cana’, which in essence is the gnostic theme of Jesus Christ and the Mary Magdalene, and her subsequent exile to Provence. The libretto was composed by world renowned genealogist Sir Laurence Gardner, author of the controversial bestseller, ‘Bloodline of the Holy Grail’ . The nine acts of the opera were painted by the celebrated oil-on-canvas artist Andrew Jones, whose work was exhibited at the premiere of the opera on December 9th, 2001 at the Royal Opera House. The opera received great critical acclaim and is to be recorded with Sarah Brightman in 2005. Also commissioned by the Royal Opera House was Coleman’s ‘Unwanted’; a Concerto Grosso for Violin, Viola and String Orchestra which portrays the plight of the Romany people of central Europe. This work was in collaboration with Czech Photographer Jana T, whose portraits of Roma, photographed within her own country moved the composer with its deep compassion and humanity.
Separate to his recording career are many commissions. On March 22nd 2003, Coleman was commissioned to write and perform a major work by both Princeton and Columbia Universities in the USA to coincide with a lecture about quantum physics, superconductivity and its implications for anti-gravity research. The commission was entitled, ‘Music of the Quantum’ and inspired by the potential marriage between art, mysticism and science; the event was entitled Coleman2, as Jaz Coleman’s brother, Professor Piers Coleman is a pioneering physicist in the field of superconductivity. The event was performed at Columbia University, with a spectacular response.
Also on March 22nd, Sir Laurence Gardner’s new book ‘Secrets of the Lost Ark’, which expounds on anti-gravity and pre-history was released. Jaz Coleman and Sir Laurence publicly exchanged their work, (book and scores) at the Occulture Lectures in Brighton, July 20th, 2003. This is just another example of Coleman’s enduring belief in renaissance, collaboration and working in parallels.
Jaz has extensive experience with movie soundtracks; Walt Disney’s Mulan with Vanessa Mae, Weird Science, Cinderella, Showgirls, to name but a few. However Coleman’s passion for the world of movie soundtracks is firmly rooted in the eastern European film tradition. In 2001, film director Petr Zelenka completed his new classic ‘The Year Of the Devil’, in which Coleman not only played the lead part of the Devil but also conducted and composed the soundtrack which has reached double platinum status. The film has become a multiple award-winning cult classic (Crystal Globe, Czech Lion). The theme of ‘The Year of the Devil’ is the surreal but true story of Jaz’s involvement in the Czech folk scene.
Jaz has written and arranged for a diverse range of international recording artists. His dramatic arrangement of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Angie’ recorded with Mick Jagger and the LSO was recently used as the theme to Keith Richards’ daughter’s wedding. Sarah Brightman, Natasha Atlas and Nigel Kennedy are but a few of the artists in his extensive repertoire. Writing for the violin remains a passion for Jaz, having completed numerous violin concertos for each of his favorite virtuosos, Aboud Abdel Al, the master Arabic violinist from Beirut; Vasko Vassiliev, leader of the Royal Opera House; Matousek, the Czech Republic’s master virtuoso, the rising star Pavel Sporcl and Karel Holas, eastern Europe’s most famous folk violinist.
Jaz Coleman’s passion for the Maori music of New Zealand culminated in a 1998 commission for the music of both the Rugby World Cup and the prestigious Americas cup. At the opening of the Rugby World Cup in 1999, Coleman replaced the English version of the New Zealand National Anthem with Maori. This was sung by the famous soprano and Maori activist Hinewehi Mohi, resulting in great controversy. A six month debate followed in the New Zealand Parliament until a resolution to the situation was achieved, thus the laws were changed and Coleman was dubbed a subversive on Sixty Minutes (TV Documentary) Maori music in its modern form did not exist until Coleman’s 10 years of study and recording with Maori artists resulted in the first international release of contemporary Maori music with great success. (Oceania 160 000 Universal Records)
In April 2002, Coleman received an outstanding 3 Grammies and quadruple platinum sales for his concerto for Czech folk group and orchestra entitled ‘Promeny’. 2003 has seen Promeny being performed in 8,000-10,000 seater auditoriums throughout the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Coleman has recently completed a second masterpiece with Nigel Kennedy and the Kroke Trio in the role of friend and producer (‘East Meets East’ on EMI Classics).
2004 sees the completion of Coleman’s War Concerto for violin, choir and orchestra; twelve arias for recording with Sarah Brightman and the continuation of his work as composer in residence of the Prague Symphony Orchestra.
At weekends Coleman spends his time at the Roma Music Academy in Prague which Coleman opened last year to cater for gifted, underprivileged Gipsy musicians.
The man is living music history.
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