It’s brass monkeys, as they (probably) say, as a February wind tries to shove me off-balance into a passing mobile library. I am snaking through to London’s South Bank, miles from the sacred ground where a band called Killing Joke would have first formed and fought, a million years ago. I pass pockets of tourists, and fail to find a bin for the banana skin I am carrying.
Entering the BFI building, a wary eye is kept out for Killing Joke’s frontman, Jeremy ‘Jaz’ Coleman, due to participate in a Q&A session after the film. A volcano-throated mystic who has spent nigh-on three decades fronting one of the most influential bands to tour the Earth, Killing Joke have probably made a mark on a band you like and you don’t even know it. Metallica? Check. Tool? Check. Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, Prong, Soundgarden? Check.
Oh, and Nirvana’s memorable Come As You Are bassline? Go listen to Killing Joke’s Eighties.
Those who could be here tonight are wandering around the building, easily spotted. I spare a thought for all of those who couldn’t make it, and perhaps the most-missed brother of all: Paul Vincent Raven, Killing Joke’s long-term bass player. In a wondrous example of triumph over tragic, Raven’s untimely death in 2007 was the catalyst for the original line-up to reunite. Faced with their mortality, the force-of-nature alchemical combination was restored.
After a series of reunion concerts, 2010 saw the release of Absolute Dissent. A wide-eyed and abrasive slab of noise, it still touched on moments of beauty, not least The Raven King: the Joke’s musical send-off for their fallen comrade.
Having established their return and reaffirmation, the more musically considered MMXII shot out of the portal in 2012. Still packing enormous sonic punch, the Joke painted with more colours from their musical pallet. Here they kept a watchful eye over the impending collapse of mankind, taking in the magnetic shift of the Earth’s poles, the construction of FEMA internment camps in America, solar flares wrecking Earthly electrical systems, and that old chestnut, the end of the world.
Back in London, it is time to sit and gawp at an admirable attempt to tell the story of this extraordinary outfit: The Death And Resurrection Show. Killing Joke’s circus is in town, as is their ideal of ‘the gathering’, as grown-up punks momentarily take over the bar and seating areas. There is a great sense of occasion, but on a small, humble scale, where softly-spoken voices of reunited friends are moved to joyous laughter. The time eventually comes for everyone to pile into the screen room, and the usual kerfuffle over seats ensues.
The film itself is a treat, bravely pulling the dimensional veil back and allowing all gathered to spy on fascinating moments in the band’s history, intertwined with illuminating insights from current members, past members, associates and fans – including a pair of nobodies called Dave Grohl and Jimmy Page.
From a burned-down flat in Battersea, to the King’s Chamber in Egypt, to the Island of Iona, through the Basements of Hell in Prague, it’s a rollercoaster ride through the cosmos, laced with fascinating anecdotes and fantastical individuals. There doesn’t appear to have been a square of the planet that the band haven’t touched, or touched upon.
At the centre of it all is Jaz Coleman, the all-seeing eye of the storm. We see the progression of his remarkable life: from angry young school leaver to post-punk keyboardist, student of the theology, cult of personality (to the chagrin of drummer ‘Big’ Paul Ferguson, a figure of quiet dignity and a lingering wisp of fury), scourge of record companies and music journalists (do a search for ‘Jaz Coleman maggots’), eventually becoming something of a modern renaissance figure.
It would be rude not to mention Kevin ‘Geordie’ Walker and Martin ‘Youth’ Glover, a fiercely singular and innovative guitar musician, who provides much of the sonic textural backdrops for Coleman’s acid-spitting roar. Youth meanwhile provides a hippie-tinged foil, bringing a love of dub and dance to the mix and countering the doom-laden heaviness with his own artful spiritualism. The aforementioned Ferguson provides an approach to drumming not before seen in this dimension, described as his rhythms have been “like Garry Glitter on crack”.
The film stays remarkably true to the spirit of Killing Joke, by way of presenting chaos with a driven narrative, a sense of ‘background reins’, as can be detected in the band’s music – just the right amount of wrong, and thus the whole circus never quite collapses.
But thanks to The Death And Resurrection Show, we have further access than before on all the moments (and there are numerous) when the charade almost ground to a halt, from the infamous (and according to Coleman, much-misunderstood) fleeing of the singer to Iceland, to the reputation-buggering Outside the Gate, the magick-tinged battles of ego, and steadfast bassist Paul Raven’s tragic passing.
It is a double-edged sword that the film eventually has to finish, and there is no coverage of the band’s escapades post-Absolute Dissent – understandable, as by the time footage had been tacked-on to the documentary another chapter would have undoubtedly begun – and it is immeasurably tantalising to remember that Killing Joke is alive, well, and still laughing.
A Q&A session takes place afterwards as we collectively gasp for air and attempt to make sense of what has been seen: a story that would have been remarkable as mere fiction, let alone the actual history of a band. Fascinating anecdotes about the film’s troubled genesis are revealed, along with musical recollections from Coleman that tickle the assembled. Jaz is to be found later signing copies of his book, Letters From Cythera: A Ludibrium by Jaz Coleman. He patiently signs everything and poses for everything else. It’s especially surreal to have witnessed The Death And Resurrection Show and see the figure at its centre amicably chatting with those gathered.
After speaking with him on a resonance found in Killing Joke’s music found wanting elsewhere, I stumble out into the night, the air laced with the taste of the Thames. I amble through the glow cast by the now-named Coca-Cola London Eye: another symbol of sheer wrong, as a bloated company steals even more space from your vision to flog you sugary liquid excrement. It’s just the sort of thing Killing Joke would froth and foam over, sonically pummelling you whilst also presenting the facts of the argument, such is their gift. Perhaps it’ll feature on the impending new album.
Walking up the steps to my hotel, a sudden slip sends me careering majestically back down. Luckily, it’s too dark for the Nikon-armed tourists to see me and capture my fall for posterity.
On the hotel step sits a banana peel.
The Joke is alive.