Max Kay interviews Geordie
How, I ask Geordie Walker, did Killing Joke begin?
"I'd just moved to London and I saw an ad in Melody Maker, I don't know, but I liked the sound of it, it looked rather serious, fanatical, I don't know what it was but it clicked with me. So I went down to see this guy (Jaz) and immediately started arguing with him about his taste in music and whatever, and I kept in touch and kept hassling them for some reason. I think it was the intensity of the argument I liked."
At the same time Geordie had somehow or other managed to wangle his way into a ladies' hall of residence, where he stayed for a while, before he was turfed out on his ear.
"Move in with us, said the band and I did. A week after moving into that place we burned it down. It was a serious fire and the place was completely gutted. So we went out to Cheltenham, where the singer's parents live, and we were rehearsing out there for three months, and popping back to London.
"The first single (EP) we did off our own bats, on an independent label, and it got taken in to John Peel, who played it that night, all three tracks and he was raving about it. We missed all that shitty gig syndrome because of being on the radio, and about five gigs in we were supporting Joy Division.
"I hate the idea of paying your dues and having to go through the normal channels, I think it's disgusting. Just take what you want, take what you think you deserve, yeah? It lead to selling the EP to Island Records who tried to get us on an option, but we had a good solicitor at the time, and we got out of that one and eventually signed with EG. We tried another label first (the laws of libel prevent us saying who!) but what they usually do is sign a band up, give them loads of money, and if they don't click in a certain period of time, they say 'here's your songwriter, here's what you're wearing,' etc., and they'll totally manipulate the band. Usually because of that, the band split up, but they're individually contracted, so they're fucked - you can't form other bands. They (the record co.) just destroy the music, so we weren't too keen on the bigger companies. EG let us keep our own label - Killing Joke."
With four albums already released, Joke also boast an extremely healthy live following. "On the last tour," says Walker "I was checking with promoters on numbers, and at the Hammersmith Palais we got four and a half thousand people." No wonder everybody wants to play there, that's more than you can pack into the Odeon!
"What usually happens to our LPs is, as soon as they come out our followers buy them, and the album goes straight into the charts. We don't get much radio play because they consider our sound a bit fierce on first listening, they miss the musical content because of the savagery of the way it's presented."
Geordie's musical career got an early start when he was eight years old. "There was a record called Sabre Dance by Love Sculpture, and I used to go mad when it came on the radio. It used the guitar as a musical instrument to convey an atmosphere, it wasn't normal guitar playing which people feel they have to play, certain rhythms, certain solos, certain scales. In fact I don't know why he didn't carry on along those lines. A guitar has a lot of musical capability, but it has the rhythm as well. As one instrument, I think it has the most pleasing sound, the attack, the rhythm..."
According to Geordie, the worst aspect of learning the instrument was having to stop playing it when his dad came home in the evening.
"I used to run home from school at about four, lock myself in the bedroom, turn the amp up full, and thrash it till he came in. It was a daily ritual."
Well it may not have appealed to his neighbours, but on the positive side, it did get him where he is today. The first guitar that helped him on his way came at Christmas 1973. "My mum had once seen Jimi Hendrix in Newcastle." Now before you ask, is she hip, or is she hip, let Geordie tell you the reason she saw him! "Englbert Humperdinck was on the same bill, but she was completely taken by Hendrix, she seemed to know something about guitars! Anyway, I was sitting in this shop in Northampton trying a guitar, and she sees this Gibson Les Paul and she goes "try that one". I could play about two chords and she said "we'll take it." It was totally unreal. I've still got that guitar."
Rather than read and write music, Geordie chose his own path to follow some time ago. "I used to, I don't bother now, I make all my own chords up. Practice? Not at all!" Geordie Walker is not a musician who'd enjoy playing you his latest guitar solo either... "I don't do solos actually, the last single was the first single note thing I've ever done. It's melody lines as opposed to solos. I learnt all that when I was about 14 or 15, but I found solos lost a lot of energy and so I thought it was all a bit pointless. I think the guitar should convey some sort of emotion. Incidentally, the only thing I've heard since Sabre Dance, the only thing I've ever come across that was similar, was the guy in the original Banshees on The Scream. Apparently that guy had just learnt to play, and he came out with these chord structures that I found very refreshing. The guy's been ripped off so much, he started that flanged chord thing; I think he's gone back to art college now."
An unusual choice maybe, but Geordie followed tin the footsteps of Elvis Presley sideman Scotty Moore, by choosing as his main guitar the Gibson ES 295, which is finished in a rather fetching gold lacquer. "It's a big fat semi-acoustic, made in 1952, with a trapeze tailpiece. If you hit a chord and press down on the bridge, it bends all six notes at once, that's probably one of the odder aspects of my technique. If you want to get technical - things like augmented fourths and sevenths have a certain unnerving effect, a bit like a tingle up the spine. I go for a lot of those in my chord structures, just for the excitement of it."
Back to that Gibson ES 295; why such a choice?
"I was getting a very raw sound from my solids, strident if you like. Connie Plank once described my playing as sounding like an orchestra turned up full blast through a radio ... I wasn't getting enough of the music, I was missing a certain bell-like quality which I wanted to hear. I thought I'd buy a semi-acoustic for this, put it through my stereo amps, put a contact pickup on it, and mix the two signals. I tried it once and it sounded horrible! Eventually, I was at Peter Cook's in Ealing, looking for a guitar called the Gibson ES 225T, which is a thinner version of the ES 295, anyway, he had an ES 295 and I fell in love with it. This old guy had been playing it locally in jazz clubs. I took it home, plugged it into the Burmans, and the sound was there - a full resonance, and totally bell-like with the sustain on it through 250 watts of amplification in stereo. You can feel the thing vibrating, it's a huge sound. I tune the guitar in D (below bottom E) and my strings are really thick, I use an 062 on the bottom, and because of the way I tune the guitar, the strings still have the same response as a normal guitar would. The amplification makes the bottom end sound unreal. The guitar cost me £660, and I've seen them going for a grand. The paint's all worn off the neck of mine, but the sound of the guitar is a lot sharper, a lot clearer than other one's I've heard. Some time later I got a call from that shop, and they said they'd found me an ES 225 that'd been under this guy's bed since 1958. It was just like it had come out of the factory, absolutely unmarked, I still haven't sussed that yet, I want to try to get a graphic for it, it's never been used, the pickups are really sharp, it sounds like a Les Paul, and I'm not getting quite the same bottom end as I am on the ES 295."
Unfortunately for Mr Walker, Burman, the company that made his treasured amps, is no longer in business. But he still uses the ones he has.
"I've used them for four years, since we started the band, so I called Greg Burman, to see if we could get some sponsorship deal, and found he's giving up. I couldn't believe it! I use a pair of Burman heads and he made me a pair of 8x10s. The amp's basically a Boogie-like design with KT 77 valves on the output. The sound is huge, the bottom end is so crisp and tight and the tone controls all work; not like a lot of other valve amps, where you get one sound and if you piss around with the knobs, it doesn't make any difference. I hope there's someone out there with a bit of money to give the guy a new deal, because he's a genius!"
Does Geordie think there's a benefit to be had from the stereo amplification set-up he uses?
"Yeah, it's just to enhance, it's quite an orchestral sound I try to go for, especially on tracks like The Hum on the third album."
Despite the stridency of Killing Joke's music, the guitarist does have a finely tuned ear.
"I took my SG down to a studio once, and plugged into a grotty valve head and a 4x12. I had the thing turned down and I noticed this real stringy resonance on the P90s, it was like a Fender sort of sound, single coil but with the bark of the Gibson sound. I completely went of the compressed humbucker tone, so all the guitars I go for now have P90s on them but they don't have the top end which is why I went for the 8x10, to push the top end up a bit. P90s are starting to come back into vogue; I've seen a lot of guys using them, even a lot of heavy metal bands are using them. I think they're the best sound wise."
When it comes to effects, the Walker taste displays a similar eclecticism.
"All these people seem to have gone out of business, including the guys who made effects. Those ADT units made by Bell which I have are used a lot by slap bass players, they're total studio quality, absolutely noiseless, and they're only £100 a go. It's got from a really tight delay to a single short delay, and a pitch bend on it. I've got one of those on each amp, and I also have an Electro Harmonix Memory Man Chorus, which also has a short slapback delay on it, it's the best chorus pedal. They usually sound really synthetic like those horrible Boss things and those Roland things, a really soupy over-synthetic sound. I have the guitar going into the Memory Man, which is stereo, each of the outputs goes into a Bell ADT unit, and on into an amp each. It sounds like about six guitars playing, awesome! I have a lot of trouble recording with them. When you're standing there in a room with them it affects your body; I mean you can feel the thing and it overwhelms you, but if you stick a mike in front of it, it sounds nothing like. The miking is so critical. I have to spend hours walking around finding a good spot. I remember in the Townhouse I had three pairs of stereo mikes on my set-up, two about three feet away, another pair ten feet away, and a pair of the big valve Neumanns about 15 or 20 feet away, and I mixed the lot together to get the sound. It fills the room, but it's just getting that sound onto record."