Killing Joke: my part in their Dour Festival triumph
The incredible trailer for ‘The Death and Resurrection Show’, here on Louder Than War, has reminded me of my special few minutes onstage with Killing Joke – an episode I will never tire of relating.
I had been employed to drive the band’s gear and crew to the Dour Festival in Belgium. In the cargo area at the back of the Mercedes splitter van were some ludicrously heavy amps and drums plus a folded black cloth that was later unveiled to be the iconic ‘KILLING JOKE’ drop stage banner. Spread across the back seats – in battered flightcases – were Geordie’s priceless vintage guitars… the very source of Killing Joke’s spectacular racket that had kept me and my chums enthralled since the early 1980s.
I’d seen Killing Joke play before, of course, and had always enjoyed them – from my super-loud first experience at Exeter Riverside Club in 1983, where ‘The Pandy’s Are Coming’ had threatened to melt my ears off, to the strange 1990s stuff with fire-eaters and the like. So this weekend, in mid July 2009, was destined to be special for me.
I didn’t get to meet the band until after the show. Even then they had very little to say. And I considered it would be polite not to break into their world with an introduction. I was on the payroll for a couple of days, and that was it. So I kept courteously schtum and nodded and smiled in the right places. Having said that, Paul and Geordie were friendly and chatty enough. And Youth had the confident smile of a man who had enjoyed a steaming pile of well-deserved production success and acclaim. But the terrifyingly formidable Jaz spoke just three words to me in three days. This is what he said: “Got a pen?”
Show day itself was exciting but rainy. Lugging the aforementioned heavy stuff onto the stage was hard, but rewarding nonetheless. And there is nothing quite like the view of several thousand faces turned towards a stage in anticipation. I’ve been on the other side of that scene many times, of course, but the pinky-orange glow of concert faces is one to cherish. From this perspective, humans look warm, healthy and clean…
I digress. It was fast approaching Joke O’clock. I’d taken up a discreet position in the shadows at the side where I could watch and listen from the ringside. The band, all apart from Jaz, were huddled in the opposite wing, waiting to take their places. The singer remained static at the very back of the platform, eyes closed, head pointed towards the deck, arms by his side. Local stage managers and the like were trying to approach him, but he was oblivious. His fists were clenching and unclenching; he appeared hypnotised, meditative, entranced… and as mad as a badger.
Suddenly, the Joke’s amiable Westcountry guitar tech came racing towards me from the front of the stage – he had an air of someone who had only just remembered something very, very important. Jaz Coleman’s microphone was in his hand – and the world’s longest mic cable stretched from its bottom to the front of the stage.
“Andy!” he shouted over the racket booming through the speakers at that moment. “Take this mic. When Jaz turns around, stick this under his fucking nose. Make sure he fucking sees it!”
He shot me a glance that seemed to add “…or we’re all fucked”, then scrambled back to his position, next to Geordie, who had just plugged in and was preparing to unpack that effortlessly awesome guitar sound of his. Reza powered up his keyboard and shot the opening siren of ‘Requiem’ towards the Belgian crowd. It entered my ears, shook through my skull, shot down my spine like a cold chemical and left via my ass. This was the sound of Killing Joke – just like it had sounded to me in 1983, and ever since.
I turned nervously towards Jaz again. Surely he should be onstage now? Was I doing something wrong? He was breathing more deeply, eyes still closed, still looking as mental as anything. I became suddenly, terrifyingly, massively aware of the responsibility I’d just been handed. One false move and I’d ruin the moment – this very special moment – and possibly the whole gig. I had a part to play, and if I got it wrong I would never live it down (I would probably get my head kicked in as part of the bargain as well, I thought).
Suddenly Jaz turned on his heel. With a murderous look spread across his face he ran towards the front of the stage – and I shoved the mic, as instructed, right under his nose.
I felt his rough fingers snatch it away from me, I saw him blur past, and then I heard his formidable voice boom through the monitors: “MAN WATCHING CITY FALL… THE CLOCK KEEPS ON… TICKING!”
I was ecstatic. “Fuuuuck!” I repeated to myself a few times. My job was done, but my pulse wouldn’t return to normal for another hour or so. Later I tried to figure out how I felt about those few seconds. I still feel the same way, a couple of years down the line, to be honest. Call me melodramatic, if you will, but I genuinely felt that I had been at the start of something truly special.
It was just like handing the chisel to Moses so he could get stuck into his tablets. Get in.