Mike Nicholls gets the Killing Joke
There's an infernal row going on in room six at the Townhouse Studios. Killing Joke are listening to a playback of their forthcoming album and have chosen the occasion to be interviewed. Nick Launay, long-suffering PiL engineer is at the controls, unleashing all manner of electronic squeals and shrieks.
Above this excrutiation conversation is at a premium, nay impossible. Is this some kind of (killing) joke? Where did you get the name from, anyway? I ask Jaz, resident keyboard player and vocalist whose manic glare disguises a not altogether unsympathetic disposition.
"Well, what do you think it means?" he retorts.
Um, sounds like some sort of irony was meant.
"It was! It was! The whole thing was absolutely spontaneous. The coincidence of meeting the other lot! There was me and Paul (the drummer) then Geordie (guitar) somehow appeared."
Youth, the last member to join, somehow appeared in our office that very morning. Spontaneously, he suggested coming to talk to the band in the afternoon, preferably with a bottle. I arrive with half a litre of 100 degree Smirnoff. Soon afterwards he sends someone out for some dark rum...
Youth joined Killing Joke after the first bass player fled to Egypt. Apparently he "didn't like the atmosphere". Since then, this likeable shambles of a replacement, whose resemblance to the late Sid Vicious has not gone unnoticed, has had one or two problems of his own. But more about that later.
Killing Joke formed in the summer of '79 and in no time at all built up a following of curiously-dressed young fellows with garishly coloured spiky Mohican hairdos. This has subsequently swelled sufficiently to enable their latest single, 'Follow The Leaders' to leap straight into the charts.
So how did the whisper become a scream?
"More and more people just started turning up to our gigs," claims Jaz. "It was a nightmare," he adds with false modesty. All the group agree the turning point came when they played the Lyceum, supporting Joy Division.
"We stitched 'em up good 'n' proper 'cos they let us do the advertising," Jaz confesses. "Us at the top, small Joy Division letters under 'em."
"It was all malicious damage;" snickers Youth, dropping the name of their label.
The Malicious Damage collective includes all four jokers plus manager Brian Taylor, the fifth equal shareholder.
"It was a common idea," relates Jaz, "we needed it as a way of dealing with situations like record companies. The only logical solution is to start your own. That in itself is a killing joke, right? Setting yourself up in business."
Their label is distributed through EG Records, which is owned by Roxy Music's management, another killing jo...
"They were the best of a bad bunch," opines Paul.
Why, do they take an interest in what you're doing?
"No, we go down there and take an interest in what they're doing. We can control what we want. EG are concerned about the growth of the band so they'll make more money out of us in the future," replies Jaz with typical cynicism...
The alternative was signing a ten album deal with another label, as opposed to the three they are obliged to make before re-negotiating the terms of their current contract.
"Imagine having to do ten LPs," laughs Geordie, "you'd end up churning out anything!"
"Dirge! Garbage!" proclaims Paul.
As it is, they're not entirely happy. Although their last album sold more than 30,000 copies - quite respectable for a debut - Jaz reckons the figure "disgusting". "It wasn't even on sale in Sweden, Denmark and France," he complains and seemingly the band have toured successfully in all these countries.
They've also played New York, Germany and Iceland but recently have spent more time in Wales. Why?
"Mainly getting Youth away for a while," says Paul, referring to the bassist's infamous flirtation with a powerful hallucinogen which caused him to go tripping down the Kings Road naked at four in the morning.
Was he that bad? Youth is by now nodding and grinning in another corner of the room and doesn't seem to mind being discussed in the third person.
"He was totally off his lid," explains Paul.
"They were gonna clap a section on 'im, mate," elaborates Jaz, rather more earnestly. Do you know what STP is? Well he couldn't resist putting it in his mouth! But it wasn't only the drug , it was the experience he went through."
"Still, it was good what came out of it," they all laugh. "Wales - great food and looning about in the mountains at this rehearsal studio in the middle of nowhere. Got some good songs out of it too. You should hear the vocal on 'Madness'. He really say the light!"