Jaz Coleman's madness and passion

By Scott Kara

Scott Kara previews a film about Killing Joke and its enigmatic frontman, Jaz Coleman.

Jaz Coleman from Killing Joke. Photo / Supplied
Jaz Coleman from Killing Joke. Photo / Supplied

The Death and Resurrection Show is about the turbulent and uncompromising 35-year reign of British post-punk industrial band Killing Joke. But, as with anything Killing Joke, it's also the Jaz Coleman show. Because the frontman is the band's self-proclaimed maniacal mouthpiece.

This documentary delves into the passionate, sometimes mad, and often bad mind of the man who has called New Zealand - or more specifically, Cythera, his code name for Great Barrier Island where he has had a "shack" since the mid-80s - home.

The film, made by British-born, New Zealand-based film-maker Shaun Pettigrew, a long-time fan of the band and gatherer of Killing Joke footage and history, has its world premier at Auckland's Academy Cinema on Wednesday, the day before Killing Joke play their first show in New Zealand at the Studio on K Rd.

The documentary opens with a magical and mysterious shot of Great Barrier before it cranks into the regal grind of Requiem, from the band's self-titled 1981debut album, as Coleman recollects the band's beginnings in London in 1979.

Though the life and times of Coleman is a dominant thread throughout the film, it always comes back to the music.

Coleman formed the band with drummer "Big" Paul Ferguson, guitarist Geordie Walker and bass player Martin "Youth" Glover.

As well as the music, the members were also united by their interest in the occult and the ritualistic and mystical worlds which inspired their music and shaped the confrontational experience and aesthetic of their live shows.

Musically, along with Coleman's caustic, fearsome vocal delivery, and the aggressive tribal hammering of the rhythm section, it was Walker's singular guitar sound, played on a semi-acoustic instrument with an eerie haunting heaviness to it, that made Killing Joke so unique.

In the beginning, Walker thought he was the best guitar player in the world, despite only playing in his bedroom before joining Killing Joke.

But, as Coleman remembers: "When he started playing it was like fire from heaven." That description also sums up Killing Joke's music.

And it's quite a canon of work, from the primal hypnotic groove of their self titled album, and songs such as War Dance, through their mainstream, Top of the Pops stage with 1985's A Love Like Blood, and the latter part of their career which has included a run of four excellent albums from 2003 onwards.

In turn, Killing Joke influenced essential underground bands such as Nine Inch Nails and Ministry, and mainstream rock monsters such as Nirvana (as the documentary points out the riff to Eighties from 1984 is a dead ringer for Come As You Are), Metallica and Foo Fighters.

Though the film is clearly put together by a fan of the band, it's not sycophantic.

It simply tells the story of the band and of Coleman by pulling together three decades of archive footage, most of it never seen before, and through candid interviews including band members (Youth describes how Coleman can be a "testy threatening dictator"), Coleman's mum Gloria, Led Zeppelin guitarist and fellow occult fan Jimmy Page (who loved the "menace" of Killing Joke), Dave Grohl (who drummed on their second self-titled album from 2003) and New Zealanders Tom Larkin of Shihad (Coleman produced the band's debut Churn) and Maori diva and Coleman-collaborator Hinewehi Mohi.

But it's the way the film gets into Coleman's complex, questioning, and resolute head where things get more intriguing - and if you don't follow his thoughts carefully it all becomes rather bamboozling.

This is a man with many sides to him.

There's his occult and religious beliefs, with outer-body experiences and levitating a common occurrence (such as during a recording session at an Egyptian pyramid).

In the early 80s he disappeared to Iceland, a place he believed offered the best chance of survival if a nuclear war broke out, but he would later find refuge at the opposite end of the Earth on Barrier.

Then there is his classical music pedigree, which has seen him collaborate with, among others, violinist Nigel Kennedy, be composer in residence for the Prague Symphony Orchestra and work with the NZSO and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.

But there's also the fiery, fierce side of Coleman, coming through in his early disdain for the press, which led to moments such as his throwing maggots around the reception area of a magazine he took exception to.

In the film Larkin, who drummed on the band's 1994 album Pandemonium, tells how Coleman had a special microphone set up so he could yell abuse at them as they recorded.

However, he also has a sensitive and caring side. He joined the debate in defence of Hinewehi Mohi following the fallout from her singing the national anthem in te reo at the 1999 Rugby World Cup in England.

It was an incident that he said led to him getting death threats from "Kiwi rednecks".

His passion for Maori and New Zealand also emerged last year when TimeOut talked to him about the release of Killing Joke's 15th album, MXMII.

"Home is a place where, when I hear a Maori voice, the tears well up, and that's how I know where home is."

But, and perhaps fittingly, it's his mum who sums him up best in the film, saying: "He's gentle and reflective inside. You wouldn't know that because of Killing Joke. But inside, he is. He has a deep fear of something and he manifests it in different ways."

Who: Killing Joke
What: The Death and Resurrection Show, a documentary about the life and times of Killing Joke and frontman, British-born Kiwi resident Jaz Coleman
Where & when: World premiere, Academy Cinema, June 12
Playing live: The Studio, K Rd, Auckland, June 13

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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