(From the Prague Post, English-language Czech daily, 17 March 2005.)

War Zone Wonders

Jaz Coleman takes his band to the battle lines

by Max Farr

Jaz Coleman walks into a bar. He's limping and has a broken finger. "There's always some sort of hooliganism going on with our band," he says by way of explanation.

Though by all rights he should be exhausted he's been rehearsing with his band, Killing Joke, for weeks he's bursting with positive energy. Coleman has reason to be upbeat. In fact, he's got a truckload of reasons.

The latest good news is a Lifetime Achievement Award from Kerrang! magazine, announced earlier this month, nearly 27 years after the post-punk industrial pranksters first got together. The award caps a career in which Coleman, who will turn 45 Feb. 26, has put his name on 38 recordings ranging from punk to Arabic to classical music. But he isn't looking back. In fact, this could be his busiest year ever.

Coleman's got five recordings lined up for 2005: a new Killing Joke CD; arias from the opera The Marriage at Cana with Sarah Brightman, marking their second collaboration; The War concerto, an original work; sacred arias in Italian; and a recording of Killing Joke songs arranged for orchestra and choir. These should go a long way toward equalizing his age and the number of his recordings.

He's also got a world tour, which he's kicking off with Killing Joke's third appearance at Palac Akropolis in Prague. Songs likely to be on the set list include some of the oldest in the band's repertoire, such as "Are You Receiving" and "Psyche." But there will be songs from every era of the band, assures Coleman. "Most of the songs were chosen for spiritual reasons," he says.

Spirituality notwithstanding, the tour has been dubbed "War Zones." Appropriately enough it will take the band through war-torn Kashmir, pre-invasion Taiwan, southern Lebanon and Cairo. They plan to do some recording along the way. "The idea is to let these different environments affect us," Coleman explains.

Coleman will also be returning to a personal war zone of sorts, his hometown of Cheltenham, where he's refused to play for the past 25 years due to his experiences there with racism. That gig is a benefit for the leader of the band's fan club, who has cancer but can't afford medical treatment in his home country, the United States.

And all that is just a warm-up for adventures down under. In October Killing Joke will do two shows in Sydney, after which Coleman will conduct 90 minutes of Killing Joke music arranged for two choirs and a full orchestra (and sung in Latin!) at the Sydney Opera House. While details are yet to be worked out, "'Darkness Before Dawn' [a seminal '80s classic by the band] will definitely be part of the performance," he says. The show starts a one-year stint for Coleman as conductor and composer for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

Coleman also has a classical appearance planned for Prague in August, when he'll be conducting the Czech National Symphony Orchestra in a performance of the music of Czech anti-communist folk hero Karel Kryl, plus original works. The concert marks a change of position from composer-in-residence with the Prague Symphony Orchestra to a similar position with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra.

And throughout the Killing Joke tour he plans side engagements as conductor with various other orchestras. "I like to consider myself, when all is said and done, simply a hardworking musician," he says matter-of-factly.

Asked about the band's name, Coleman says, "In the beginning, Killing Joke represented a feeling of no control over one's destiny tragic realization. But as time has passed, Killing Joke represents the laughter that overcomes all fear." Coming from a man who seems quite in control of his destiny, there should be a lot of laughter at Akropolis.