With extensive reissues of KILLING JOKE’s mid-eighties catalogue all lined up, unforeseen developments suddenly cast a shadow. A reflective Jaz Coleman talks to Vive Le Punk and looks back on the Joke’s Raven years.

“It’s hit us all hard. It hit me harder than my father dying.”

A painful subject hangs in the air, and it would be futile to try to avoid it with Killing Joke’s Jaz Coleman at this particular point in time. In town to publicize the reissue of the band’s mid-eighties catalogue, Jaz maintains a philosophical front, and yet is clearly still reeling at recent events; a fortnight before our scheduled meeting, Joke bassist Paul Raven – whose original spell with the band these albums represent – died in his sleep of a heart attack. While the Joke have always managed to soldier on through adversity, it’s been a devastating two weeks in the band’s circle…

“He was the youngest out of us lot”, Jaz contemplates. “And, you know… too many years together. It’s been a hard two weeks, I’ll give you that.”

VLP: Had there been any sign his health was bad?

"I knew he’d had heart flutters for a few years, he used to tell me about them, he couldn’t lay flat on a bed because he’d get heart palpitations, so he used to sleep sitting up. You know, musicians don’t live as long as other people. Not always.”

VLP: The earliest of the reissues, ‘Fire Dances’ (1983), was the first of Raven’s albums with the band you’d kind of split up at a point the previous year, with you going to Iceland.

“Yeah, it was a very upbeat album compared to the spaces that we’d been in before, it lifted people a bit more. It was good to do that after the Iceland thing was a very misunderstood event, I just wanted a lifestyle change from all the rocking and rolling, I wanted to study more than anything else. Study classical music, study sacred geometry, and antiquities – just break out of the corny, clichéd rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. And then of course, we got back together, and so we do another album. At this stage in our career we were surrounded by a very famous East London gang! And they were just wonderful to us! We had our own Rolls Royce, free houses everywhere, we got meet Princess Diana and all these wonderful people, I met Jimmy Page and it’s the year it was all kicking off, we were doing vast quantities of cocaine! And generally enjoying life and having great gigs, it was a good time, a fresh start, we’d all moved to Geneva and it’s kind of ironic he died in Geneva because that was one of the happiest times of our life.”

VLP: That was around the time of this album then?

“Yeah, sure, we were doing ‘Fire Dances’, we all moved to Geneva, and that’s why it’s so funny he passed away in Geneva, and comforting in another way as well. I traced down everything he did in the last two days and last few hours of his life, to every detail, he’d gone back to all our old haunts Paul had, yeah, it was curious, but it was ‘good death’, if there can be such a thing. Whereas, everyone was grieving at his funeral, I want to turn it to celebrating a life, Paul accomplished a lot and kept going. But yeah, it hit us hard, and seeing all these old photographs and everything, you know.”

VLP: Did you already know Raven before he joined?

“Sure, he was good friends with Youth, they were seeing the same girl together! We’ve got this photograph of Youth and Paul with their arms around the same girl. And they were born on the same day which is the uncanny thing! And so it was a very easy transition. Youth always had much more of a recognizable sound than Paul, but Paul live would be great, he would give so much energy! They were different bass players and both with their virtues. So ‘83, yeah, we had a Rolls Royce Carmargue spray painted with Killing Joke, we were doing cocaine in the toilets of airports and generally having a loutish time, surrounded by, like, thugs! (laughs).”

VLP: ‘Fire Dances’ sounds far more celebratory than the previous albums.

“Yeah, we wanted to have something that lifted up our spirits, it was a very tribal album and some of ‘Dances’ is really about ancestor worship and well Paul died, his funeral was on All Souls Day or Halloween, it’s traditionally a day when you say prayers for the dear deceased, or when the souls of the dead come back to the world of the living to advise them on how to survive the cold winter months that lie ahead. And it was a good day, Paul, I could feel his conscious presence with us, it was almost tangible. So these are the things that have obviously been dominating my thoughts the last couple of weeks.”

VLP: ‘Harlequin’ is an interesting song. You’ve always tended to use this jester figure as a graphic device from the start.

“Always, absolutely, we use the triple snake symbol, which is actually like the headdress of the joker, it represents the Hebrew letter shin, and there’s another meaning to this, we use this triple serpent because in Killing Joke it takes three of us to make a decision for the band. We’ve always kept that tradition, it’s always me and Geordie, but we’ve always needed just one another person and that’s a band, otherwise it’s a fucking duo! So that’s the kind of symbolism. And the whole idea of the jester is very dear to my heart. In the beginning it was the futility of everything. The Killing Joke was the idea, the realisation, that you’re in the trenches, they’re going to blow the whistle, and you’re going to get your head shot off, and you’re being manipulated. This kind of feeling, and then it transformed to the kind of laughter that overcomes all fear, and it became a much more positive entity in my head. And the jester is a figure that I find myself fascinated with. You know, the hero dies, but the fool survives. And I’ve always liked this fool, he’s the only person who could legitimately hit the king. And I’ve always identified with this figure, because I find I can walk into places full of bankers or very wealthy people, or I can go to the poorest places in the world and be completely at home. So, I feel free. And I think freedom is it. I like to feel free, if I were in the mood to tonight, I could be on a plane tomorrow anywhere I want in the world. I’ve never gone for the big house thing, but I have gone for freedom. If I want to fly somewhere tomorrow, I’ll just go and do it, and I can do it."

"I’ve always gone for this, rather than a mortgage and a big car and all this shit, I don’t buy it! I’ve done all the tests, I’ve walked through London with 50 grand in my pocket, ‘you can have anything you want Jaz, what do you want mate?’, you know, I end up buying a book, maybe a cigar, take myself to dinner, I don’t know what to do after that. I think people will be shocked at how simple I live. I live real simple, I insist my partner, who’s my ex-wife, I live with my ex-wife now. Do you get your money back, no! But we live, just use a mattress, we own very little, I don’t like owning a lot of stuff, I don’t have a great number of possessions, I’m not this way inclined. (Only) books, I’ve got like 15,000 books in lockups around the world.”

VLP: So where are you now, mostly Prague?

“Mostly Prague at the moment, but there’s no normal years when you can say you’ll be here there or anywhere, I did twelve years in New Zealand but I’ve always come back for European summers, so I’ve got 2 summers a year. I’ve had no winters for 12 years, and that lifts your spirits! I’m gonna go and stay in Costa Rica for a couple of months, the good thing about writing for an orchestra is that you can do it anywhere. And so I just take all my bits and pieces, fuck off to a hotel and get it done. Like I say, I feel freer than most people. I do not like the direction the world’s going in and I can see myself as time passes on isolating myself, which was always my intention.”

VLP: Because you’re on an Island part of the time?

“That’s right, it’s 100km off the coast of New Zealand and it’s stunningly beautiful. 400 people and one policeman. But you know, I’m a driven person, I can’t be stuck out there all the time. I like travelling less and less, but it’s a fact of my life that I’m always travelling, I can’t foresee a day when I stop doing concerts or making music, I intend to go non-stop until death!”

VLP: The following record ‘Night Time brought chart hits, and your profile went way up – was there pressure with that?

“There was, it was probably the worst thing that happened to us at that time. ‘Give us another ‘Love Like Blood,’ you can do what you like for the rest of the album’, there was a massive pressure on us and of course we didn’t. I don’t think them putting pressure on us helped our creativity flourish, it was a pretty horrible time, I don’t remember that as some of our best, we had great times, but… it was a horrible market, ghastly market forces."

VLP: And of course you had your Eighties theme, while it’s a decade that’s culturally remembered as very trivial…

"Yeah, it was amazing we survived through the eighties, but we got through it! I prefer life now in a funny way. I mean, my life’s better now than it was then, especially in ‘85. There were loads of concerts, we’d been touring for so long but yeah, it did change, there was pressure to write something that was going to work on the radio, and this didn’t have a good effect on us.”

VLP: There’s a militaristic sort of feel to this album…

"It was a funny album because Walker and myself were the only people there to write it, the other two weren’t around us, so we basically got everything together ourselves and then showed the other two what we were doing in the studio and it was… my God, that session we were at Hansa Ton studios, Geordie caused over a million pounds worth of damage in one minute! He got this fire extinguisher, blasted me playing the grand piano with it, then went running down the corridors to the control room, blasted all the equipment in the control room with this fire extinguisher. And it had aluminium in the powder, this destroyed absolutely everything, over a million pounds worth of damage in one minute! He was just pissed up. Next morning I heard this noise and stuck my head out the door, Raven and Big Paul were there and Geordie was being carted off by the police! (laughs)”

VLP: Hansa’s in Berlin?

“Berlin, yeah. Bowie was in that very studio. Geordie got out of it, the insurance and bla bla. Amazing really. He’d go disappearing for fucking five days at a time on that session,
Geordie, and turn up again. It was an insane session, yeah.”

VLP: So pressure and chart success was getting to you?

“Oh everything, yeah. I remember, we were living over Hansa Ton studios, there was all sorts of people were there at the time, I’ll tell you who was there at the same time, Depeche Mode, and it was hysterical watching them, it was kind of like a school class the way they were putting down their music, had all these kind of mentors and people looking over them, they had to put down their synthesizers, I’ve never seen anything like it. Who else was there at the time, Neubauten, quite a few people. It was a great studio."

VLP: And it still would have been East/West Germany at that time…

“We would take the metro into Friedrichstrasse and pick up caviar and cheap vodka, and come back into the west and do it all, and I remember on that session, my girlfriend suddenly turned up, and I’m sitting with one of our roadies and my girlfriend in my room, and a couple of cleaning ladies are cleaning my room, suddenly there’s this fucking rattling sound, one of the cleaning ladies comes marching up with this fucking earring, and gives it to me, ‘Oh Patsy, here’s your earring’ ‘It’s not mine, Jaz!’ and there’s this deathly silence. And the roadie goes, ‘listen love, you’d have something to worry about if a load of golf clubs fell out’, and we started laughing and then I managed to get a good excuse in and wheedle my way out of it. ‘She was a friend of mine, she was gay, she split up with her girlfriend she just crashed the night, don’t give me any shit!’ Lie, lie, then deny! (laughs)”

“Yeah, there was a lot of violence. Me and Geordie had a really big fight there, full fists, then Big Paul bashed my girlfriend, split her nose apart. She was fucking drinking too much, and he was, you know, just stupid shit, it all got out of hand. Yeah, that’s when we started to drink! (laughs)”

VLP: I remember this weird story at the time, that Raven had this doppelganger?

“You know what? Absolutely true! This guy was claiming to be Paul Raven! Going all over Europe, getting into clubs in London, all sorts of things. And Raven was going mad by it. He had a nasty bike accident, the guy! Absolutely true, I remember this! We’ve had so fucking many homing loonies, I can’t tell you mate! I’ve had them come to my island from all over the world. Like real psycho homing loonies. That’s why I never communicate with anyone by letter or any other way. I do when I’m doing a gig, we’re really open people in Killing Joke, but generally there’s people, you don’t know what they’re really like.”

“Let me give you one example. I can give you ten! Straight off! Right, a woman that followed me for fourteen years and put her kid into the same school as my daughter and gave my kid loads of presents, real fucking psychos I’ve had! One wasn’t so long ago, this guy, was a Killing Joke fan, comes backstage at one of the Italian gigs, seems nice enough, but Geordie goes: ‘You, I don’t like you. Don’t know what it is about you, I don’t like you!’ Very astute and very intuitive, Geordie. And this guy turns up in New Zealand, ‘I’ve got relatives over here’, all this, seems nice enough, comes to see my concerts with the orchestra and he’s a music student himself. So I’m going out to my island, and I said to him, look you can look after my flat in Auckland and feed my cats for me. And we had a bit of a get together for some friends before I left for the island, and this guy comes, all my friends are there, and suddenly goes, ‘You’re trying to take over my mind!’ ‘Beg your pardon?’ ‘You want to sacrifice me in a black magic ritual!’ (laughs) I went, ‘Would you like to step outside?’ Man, you’ve got no idea! I took him to a priest, this guy, and said ‘You need help’, the priest said ‘Don’t send me one like that again!’”

VLP: You’re known for having occult interests, maybe that attracts them?

“Well I do but I don’t suppose it’s the way people think. Occult just means hidden, and I just don’t take an orthodox view of Christianity or the religions, I look at the science of religion or the common denominators, I’ve never been a devil worshipper or anything like this! Yes, I have done ceremonies, and rituals, but it’s more romantic-based, but people get ideas, the press or whatever! I consider myself a deeply religious man!

VLP: Yeah, because you said you were a lay preacher?

“That’s right. Do you know what, I have another career most people don’t know about. I’m with people when they’re dying, I bury people, I even marry people occasionally. I do all those things when I go back to the island, into my parish. I only did it for a practical joke, I studied theology, but became a priest really for a laugh, because I don’t really believe in priests!”

“There’s much to be said for Islam that says ‘It’s just between you and your god’. I take a magical view on the universe. Baudelaire talks about the forest of symbols, people can be symbols, but I view the universe in a magical context. For example, women and men, male and female, they can’t be described as like a plug socket on the wall! You don’t say about your wife that you fertilized her and now she’s going to reproduce! I’m just demonstrating that there’s a need for the poetic or the magical within our soul and I always try to enhance this. All a ritual is to me is enhancing the experience of this existence, and become more aware of it. When I do a great gig, to have the ability to say to yourself, ‘this is a great moment in my life’. Very few people have that ability, it’s an ecstatic experience, and it’s always in retrospect isn’t it with most people, but there’s always been death around me, people dying and I don’t take life for granted, you know, I try to love every day of my life and I’ll always keep the Joke marching on! We play so much better than we ever used to! It just gets better now! Much better, and I still enjoy it!”

VLP: You’ve said before a good performance is one you can hardly remember?

“Yeah, I remember going on stage and I remember coming off but in between it’s just like an oil painting. I don’t really remember any one moment, you get fleeting impressions, there’s so much exertion. I seek a trance-like state and I get that most of the time. I don’t remember a fucking thing! It comes through you, the whole thing comes through you, you become one with the soul of the crowd and the people. I love it!”

VLP: So that’s like a religious experience for you?

“It is, and I’ll tell you another strange thing about Killing Joke gigs, after I gig I feel the deepest sense of peace! Most people wouldn’t understand, but it really cleans your soul. There was a time when I was questioning what Killing Joke was doing because of my religious convictions, but then you look at the new testament, it says ‘a good fruit can not come from a bad tree, and a bad tree cannot bear a good fruit’, and I felt this about Killing Joke, it’s not like a lot of other bands. I find a lot of other bands morally bankrupt, there’s no concept of beauty, it’s all designed, the American punk scene or alternative scene, to shock. ‘I can say nastier things than you, I can show people jumping out of buildings’ I just didn’t get it, it wasn’t innate, it wasn’t coming from anywhere, it wasn’t a genuine frustration, it was just shock value. I hated that!”

VLP: On to 1986’s ‘Brighter Than A Thousand Suns’, it’s a comparatively polished recording.

“Yes, it was, almost too polished. The vocals are up too high in the mix and the guitars aren’t loud enough, and that’s the way I feel about it, although I deeply love the music on that album, ‘Twilight of the Mortals’ I think is a wonderful track, and ‘Rubicon’, ‘Chessboards’, great tracks. I love that album lyrically as well, it’s just got a mix on it that’s kind of representative of the times that we were surrounded by, ‘We need to put the vocals up more’, that’s what I mean about record company pressure and stuff like that. I still love that record, but I wouldn’t do it that way now. In fact, we might remix it, later on.”

VLP: Was it around this time you first went to New Zealand?

“That’s right, I started going to New Zealand from 1985 onwards.”

VLP: You expressed a lot of interest at the time in self-sustaining communities and so on.

“I’ve done that, we’ve got to develop it. I’d just got married in 1985, to a New Zealander, Mr and Mrs Passport! I had two children with her as well! I remember the year 1986, I couldn’t find any music I liked, and my favourite work of art, I walked around this place called the White Pearl Water Gardens, which was set up by a couple in a peninsular in New Zealand, and they’d changed this 90 acres so it was the most fertile place in the whole of new Zealand, and it was a complete experience walking through this place by these two horticulturalists. This profoundly moved me, and then I read The Magus by John Fowles, and I became incredibly, well, entertained the idea of becoming territorial, and having my own domain became suddenly important on that year, that was the sum total of my inspiration that year. I’m glad we’re not there now!”

VLP: The final album of these reissues, 1988’s ‘Outside The Gate’, is possibly your most controversial record.

“It’s not a Killing Joke album, it was a side project. It was never Killing Joke, it was never intended to be, it was an experiment on something else and it can’t really be categorised as Killing Joke as such.”

VLP: The Pauls weren’t involved?

“No, but I kind of used it as a way to get rid of one of the Pauls! I used the situation, I wasn’t getting on with Ferguson. Though we’re on great terms now, times change.”

VLP: I heard he worked as an antique restorer now?

“He works on, not just antiques, great works of art, restoration. But, yeah, I saw him last week, first time in 22 years. It was good actually, good to see him! We’ve all changed, to a degree. Now in a fight I could beat any one of them up! (laughs)

VLP: Hope it doesn’t come to that!

“No, I don’t think so!”

VLP: Outside The Gate’ is quite an eastern-influenced album.

“Yeah, you can trace my musical identity crisis way back to ‘The Pandies Are Coming’ on the third album. I knew there was a part of me that just didn’t belong in the United Kingdom or Europe for that matter, and it was the eastern part of my genes. I had a choice to either go to New Delhi to study oriental music, or Cairo. And I chose Cairo to embrace and study Arabic music, and that was really the best decision I made. It was just before I did the thing with Anne Dudley (‘Songs From The Victorious City’, 1990), went to Cairo and had good contacts there etc, it became a big part of my life. Arabic music, I love it. Thing about it, there’s 12 notes in an octive, 13 if you consider the full octave, but then with Arabic quarter tones, that gives you 26 notes. But then a great master says, ‘do you want me to flatten that quarter tone or sharpen that quarter tone?’, that gives you 52 notes to a scale, with the Arabic system, compared to our 13… It’s fascinating! It’s like they’ve let in a little bit of the darker forces, for a split second, there’s that kind of effect. I couldn’t work out, how the fuck are they getting that? So, my book, that’s coming out in 2009, will have every Arabic scale and mode, Persian, I’ve collected everything, because nobody’s ever done a complete work, this is just one of the things. I’m on my third piece of architecture! And architecture that I’ve designed so it’s all completely self-sufficient, everything’s recycled from it, and it’s relatively cheap to put up! So yeah, it’s a colourful life, there’s so much to do isn’t there?”

VLP: Yeah, I wonder when you sleep!

“You know, you’ve hit the nail on the head, I have massive sleeping problems. I can’t sleep, I can go ten days probably without sleep, I’m two hours, three hours a night!"

VLP: That’s worse than Margaret Thatcher was!

"Yeah, same sort of mental energy. In those two hours you can’t wake me, I’m a real deep sleeper, but then I’m up, and I can’t go back to sleep at all, so I have to occasionally sedate myself. That’s why, a lot of the alcohol in the last few years is, just trying to relax, I was getting panic attacks – the stress of this business is immense, there’s no way around it, you’ve got to somehow not let things get to you. And realise, it’s only a bit of fun!”

VLP: So what will Killing Joke’s next move be?

“Well, definitely two new recordings for us to do, and concerts. There’s a big demand for the original line-up, but that wouldn’t really play the later records so I’m gonna end up with two Killing Jokes! Benny, Geordie and me for one, and Youth and Big Paul and Geordie for another.

VLP: So Youth and Big Paul are definitely up for it then?

"Yeah, they want to do it. I’m aiming for the film, the book, and intense touring for our 30th anniversary, to raise money for Paul’s children."

The Killing Joke original line-up has reunited for the first time in almost twenty years for a world tour and will hit the UK in October 2nd and 3rd for two shows at London’s Kentish Town Forum. On the first night they will play their first two albums (1980’s self-titled album and 1981’s ‘What’s This… For!’) and on the second night they will play 1994’s ‘Pandemonium’ album and the Island Records singles from 1979-80.

Expanded editions of ‘Fire Dances’, ‘Night Time’, ‘Brighter Than A Thousand Suns’ and ‘Outside The Gate’ are available now from EMI.

RIP Paul Raven, 1961-2007.

(photo by Steffan Chirazi)

Hugh Gadjit

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The return of…

Last year was quite a year for 70’s punk legends SHAM 69 who saw both the departure of frontman Jimmy Pursey (who has since set up Day 21), and the formation of a new line-up which released the return to form new album ‘Western Culture’. Vive Le Punk caught up with guitarist and surviving member Dave Parsons, and said "Tell us the Truth!"

VLP: How was 2007 for both yourself personally and for Sham 69 as a band?

“This has been a year of major change for both myself and Sham 69. At the end of 2006 Sham 69 parted company from Mr Pursey, there were many reasons for this, mainly that Jimmy would never play more than a handful of gigs a year while the rest of the band were desperate to get out and play; Jimmy would accept tours and dates from promoters and take large advance payments which went into his pocket only for him to cancel the tour days before we were due to start, it had also become like working in a dictatorship where no one was allowed to question Jimmies decisions. I’ve spent my life working with Jimmy (and therefore some of the best times were with him) but in the end I had to protect the reputation of Sham 69.”

VLP: What’s been the biggest high?

“The hardest and almost impossible task I had this year was trying to find a replacement for Jimmy, therefore my biggest high was completing the new line up with no compromises. I found Tim V who had been on the Punk seen since the beginning, he knows virtually all the main punk bands and his best man at his wedding was Mark P – the godfather of Punk from ATV and sniffing Glue fame, so he came highly recommended. Tim’s a cockney and has been accepted by the Sham audience worldwide. On bass is Rob Jefferson, a veritable powerhouse who compliments my style of playing perfectly, Ian Whitewood remains on drums, being the longest serving sham drummer at over twenty years of fine service. Just to have found the right people with the right chemistry, and to finally be out there playing again, has without doubt been my biggest high.”

VLP: What’s been the biggest low?

“The death of my father in law whilst I was away on tour, he was a great guy who lived his life the way he wanted right up to the end, not being able to say goodbye to him (I missed seeing my father before he died as I was in hospital myself having an operation) and not being there to give my partner the support she needed, as I missed going to the funeral as well. Also the death of one of my best friends, photographer and record sleeve designer Michael Beal, he worked with many bands including Johnny Thunders / The Only ones / Sham 69 / The Wanderers / John Cale / Pati Paladin and did the iconic cover for Eddie and the Hot Rods "Teenage Depression". A small tribute including some of his work can be seen on my web site”

VLP: What’s been the weirdest thing that has happened to you in 2007?

“I don’t know about the weirdest, but for me as a terrible flyer the most frightening thing was sitting in a plane at Heathrow on the run way for five hours while they sorted out a "technical problem", then when it was fixed, while we were taxiing out ready to take off one of the passengers started wildly shouting – there was fuel leaking out of the wing, you can just imagine my state of mind. Oh and the other thing was narrowly escaping death, just missing an out of control car which subsequently ended up a write off in a ditch, driven by a famous TV gardener who shall remain nameless.”

VLP: What’s the most rock n’ roll thing to happen to you guys in 2007?

“2007 has just been a mad year for us, after spending the last 20 years hardly playing at all, to suddenly find ourselves out on the road again is the most rock’n’roll thing, we’ve just spent the Summer playing major European festivals followed by a five week US tour taking in Canada and then a Japanese tour then back to the States for two shows on long beach then back home – then trying to get over triple jet lag, Sham was always primarily a live band and it was just criminal that we weren’t able to take the songs out to the people who wanted to hear them, I’m 48 now, but feel like 18 again – long live rock.”

VLP: How do you think 2007 has been for music? What are your top three albums of the year and why?

“I think it’s been a very interesting year, I’ve heard loads of great stuff from all different genres, I’ve got a terrible memory so don’t ask me what, I’ve managed to help out some local bands and have tried to give a helping hand to new up and coming bands – check out "Middle finger salute". As we’ve been doing little else this year other than working I don’t think I’ve bought anything new, I think we’re in for an interesting time next year what with bands like radio head etc deciding to give away there music for free, on one hand I’m for it and on others I’m not so keen, I think it’s good for established bands who can make money from touring and merchandising etc, but for newer bands I think it may create difficulties, does it mean the end of a music chart and the final end of the record company? It’s going to be an interesting year. Someone gave me a Miles Davis CD, I’ve never really been into Jazz before but this one just hit the spot.”

After a Christmas spent with his “partner and son in the Welsh mountains, doing a bit of walking and some mountain biking, just taking it easy” and taking a bit of time “to get my head together after a mad year”, 2008 looks like being every bit as mad as last year.

“We’ve just released our new album ‘Western Culture’ (Hollywood Hero, in the States) so we’ll be doing much of the same, Europe / UK, the states and Japan again and hopefully south America and Australia, we’ve got some new songs together, so time permitting we’ll be starting to demo some of those up as well. Incidentally, people are saying the new albums the best since the early days. We’ve got a reputation to repair and I think we’re getting there, people can see that we’re genuine, and if we say we’re going be somewhere then we will – this is what we do and we love it, see you out there somewhere. Check the sham web site out for up coming gig details –” 


VLP: Just how crazy were some of the Sham gigs in the old days?

“It was just a mad roller coaster ride, from the Roxy to places like the Glasgow Apollo and Reading, at the time it seemed to go on for ever but in retrospect it was a relatively short time. The gigs were always great, we had such a great audience, it wasn’t until later that we started having trouble from right wing groups who were only there for their own publicity.”

VLP: It seemed to happen pretty quick for you guys – next minute you were on Top of The Pops and one of the biggest bands in the UK?

“Yeah, it was a trip alright. I know this may sound arrogant, but it was no surprise to us that things happened so quickly, maybe we were naive but we all had total belief and faith in what we were doing, and in some ways this creates a bit of magic, when you have that focus, doors just seem to open. When young bands ask me for advice, the first thing I say to them is "the band has to come first, if there’s anyone in the band who isn’t a 100%, just forget it, keeping your day job just in case isn’t an option".”

VLP: Which album are you most proud of and why?

“That’s always a hard question to answer, I don’t think I have one favourite, there’s different bits of different albums I love and other bits that I know were never quite how I wanted them. At the moment I’d have to say the new album ‘Western Culture’ is my favourite, all the tracks have ended up the way I wanted, there’s also a lot of energy in there, I think it really is the closest to the first albums, and nearly all the songs translate well for live work. In the end I think I have favorite songs rather than favorite albums, songs like ‘If The Kids Are United’, ‘Tell Us The Truth’ and ‘Borstal Breakout’ are all timeless, and songs that I never tire of playing.”

VLP: You briefly played in the Wanderers with Stiv Bators-can you tell me about Stiv and how the band was?

“This was after Jimmy left Sham the second time, he’d already left once and came back – that was when he was going to be the new Johnny Rotten, unfortunately Steve (Jones) and Paul (Cook) couldn’t work with him, they said "he was harder to work with than Rotten". Anyway this time I decided enough was enough and called up Stiv in the States and asked him if he wanted to be the new singer, he said yes but wanted to call the band something different. We’d met Stiv many times before whilst touring the States, and he even got up to sing if the kids are united with us once. I enjoyed the Wanderers and had great fun recording the album "only lovers left alive" and two singles. We played a handful of gigs in the UK and did one US tour from which I returned to England and an isolation ward with Hepatitus. I was in hospital for over a month and sadly that was the end of the band. Stiv and Dave joined forces with Brian James and became Lords of the New Church, Rick joined what was then one of the first tribute bands, the Bootleg Beatles, and I formed Framed with ex-Girlschool bassist and vocalist Enid Williams. A small video (made up of stills) of the Wanderers can be seen on my Myspace site”

Eugene Big Cheese

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THE B-52’S


Those Ohio New Wavers are back, after years in the wilderness. But were the B52’s really any good, or just new wave chancers. Here’s some facts –you decide!

1) They formed in 1976 after a drunken night in a Chinese restaurant, and played their first gig in 1977 at their friends’ Valentines Day party.

2) Some models of the Amiga computer had the name of a B-52’s song written on their motherboard. For example, the Amiga 500 had “B52/ROCK LOBSTER” written on it.

3) They were one of John Lennon’s favourite bands after the release of their self-titled debut album in 1979.

4) There is a ‘Wizard of Oz’ style musical about The B-52’s, entitled ‘Planet Claire’. It is the story of a waitress working at the Love Shack who is transported to Planet Topaz where she meets aliens surprisingly similar to her friends back home.

5) They appeared as guest stars in an episode of ‘The Simpsons’ in season 11. Homer is challenging everyone to a duel with his glove, and so begins a montage to the tune of ‘Glove Slap’ (a parody of ‘Love Shack’).

6) They performed the title song on the 1994 live-action Flintstones movie as the B.C.-52’s.

7) They have been involved in a large number of collaborations, individually and as a band, with artists such as members of Devo, REM, The Ramones, Foo Fighters and Iggy Pop.

8) Vocalist Fred Schneider went on to do solo work, including an album with super-producer Steve Albini (who has worked with The Pixies and Nirvana, among many others).

9) In 1992 they released their most overtly political album, ‘Good Stuff’. Although they agreed they were primarily a band for entertainment, they thought it was good to get people ‘thinking and dancing’ at the same time.

10) In 1985, guitarist Ricky Wilson died. Initially there were mixed reports stating he died of natural causes or cancer, however later it emerged he had succumbed to AIDS. The band then campaigned about this, amongst other causes, in later years.

11) The band’s name comes from a particular beehive hairdo that is wrapped around, instead of teased, with an open “hole” in the top resembling the nose cone of the airplane of the same name. During their early years, wigs of that style were often worn by the band’s female singers Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson.

12) Drag artist RuPaul appeared in the music videos for ‘Love Shack’ and ‘Good Stuff’.

13) The song ‘Love Shack’ was inspired by a cabin around Athens, Georgia, complete with tin roof, where the band conceived ‘Rock Lobster’, a single from their first album. B-52’s singer Kate Pierson lived in the cabin in the 1970s, and the cabin existed until 2004, when it burned down in a fire.

14) Singer Kate Pierson claims that a psychic told her that their ‘Cosmic Thing’ album’s third single, ‘Roam’, would be a hit. It went to number 17 in the UK singles chart in May 1990.

15) The band’s first single ‘Rock Lobster’ is part of the The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list.

16) In the early 1980s, Kate Pierson, Cindy Wilson and Debbie Harry collaborated with the Ramones on the song ‘Chop Suey’.

17) After a hiatus between 1994 and 1998, The B-52’s release a new album in April. ‘Funplex’ will be their first record of original material since 1992’s ‘Good Stuff’, and will contain 11 songs recorded in 2006 and 2007.

‘Funplex’ is out April 14th on EMI.


Here’s ten B-52’s songs to listen to in your love shack…

1. Love Shack
2. Rock Lobster
3. Planet Claire
4. (Meet The) Flintstones (as The BC-52’s)
5. Roam
6. Good Stuff
7. Channel Z
8. Give Me Back My Man
9. Channel Z
10. Tell It Like It T-I-Is

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The out of control regional fuzz bomb explosion that lasted months but has been revered for decades.

The actual time that THE SONICS were at the height of their game can be measured in months and on a largely regional basis. How did this quintet from the Pacific Northwest of America become revered for decades, be named as inspirational by a never ending list of rock luminaries ever since, and become one of the most eagerly awaited reunion gigs that London has seen in years? The simple answer is the same as for most other rock legends who exploded onto the music scene and then disappeared as soon as they had arrived but left a few minutes of timeless genius. They were innovative, they came up with something new, something dangerous and something so inspirational though largely overlooked at the time, not only by their contemporaries but the band themselves.

The Sonics story starts in Tacoma, Washington around 1963 named after the sonic booms overheard in that area of aircraft manufacture, by the time they were signed to local indie label Etiquette in 1964 The Sonics were Jerry Roslie on vocals, Larry Parypa on lead guitar, Andy Parypa on bass, Rob Lind on sax and Bob Bennett on drums –described so eloquently as the ‘Skin Driver’ on the original sleeve notes for their debut album ‘Here are the Sonics’. Before embarking on a long player The Sonics came up with one of their defining moments at the very first attempt. ‘The Witch’ backed with a cover of Little Richard’s ‘Keep A Knockin’ was recorded and released as a 45rpm single in November 1964 (Etiquette 11). Despite early resistance from radio stations, some who refused point blank to play the disc and others who only did after a self-imposed curfew, the record became the best selling in the history of North West rock.

The band were quickly in the studio again where they recorded their second slab of genius that was to ensure their immortality in the history of rock – ‘Psycho’ replaced ‘Keep a Knockin’ on the second pressing of ‘The Witch’ and soon became a bit local hit in its own right eventually being released as single as an A side backed with ‘Keep A Knockin’’ All the while The Sonics were touring hard and gaining a huge reputation as a live band. This wide experience as a killer live act but little as recording artists was the main reason behind their distinctive raw distorted sound that made them stand head and shoulders above the rest at that time. Of course their questionable at the time choice of lyrics, chaotic arrangements and Jerry Roslie’s vicious vocal delivery already provided a base for what was to follow. The finishing touch to the legend that is their debut album was the band’s desire to recreate their live sound. The result was the primitive recording equipment used in the studio hired to record in (maybe only two tracks and just one mic to pick up the entire drum sound) was pushed to their limits by already ‘modified’ amps turned up to distortion level. The exasperated studio engineers had little choice but to let the guys lay down what was no doubt viewed by all present at the time, band excluded, as a fuzzed drenched cacophony of noise, but what a noise it was. The resulting album was a mixture of covers and self-penned numbers. While the latter included the manic singles as the now classics ‘Strychnine’ and ‘Boss Hoss’ contained the dark, almost taboo lyrics that made the band so dangerous they managed to bring out the dark side in their choice of covers. Listening to their cover of Rufus Thomas’s ‘Walking The Dog’ it’s hard not to imagine the worse when the heroine ‘broke the needle but she couldn’t sew’ while the sinister and wild theme prevails throughout the resulting ‘Here Are The Sonics’

The album ensured the band were busier than ever in the remainder of 1965 with their live work building up a bigger than ever reputation as well as enabling the guys to live out their dream and reason for forming a band, of ‘drinking lots of beer and scoring plenty of chicks’ and that they did, in style.

In February 1966 The Sonics were back wrecking the studio to record their follow-up album ‘Boom’, this session produced arguably an even wilder, rawer sound than their debut. Partly due to the legendary tearing down of the egg boxes that were doubling up as acoustic tiles (told you the studio was low-tech) to get a liver sound. The material one the album was once again a mixture of covers done in their own inimitable style including a brutal version of ‘Louie Louie’ and dark originals ‘Cinderella’, ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’ and ‘He’s Waiting’ Boom wasn’t a hit in terms of national chart success but did ensure that The Sonics were increasingly busy live and in demand as an opening band for the likes of The Beach Boys, The Kinks and Jan and Dean along with plenty of other luminaries throughout 1966.

1966 was the beginning of the end for the Sonics, they left Etiquette and with it their freedom of studio annihilation and expression, highlighted when they signed to Jerden Records who had been responsible for the Kingsmen’s sanitised hit version of ‘Louie Louie’ back in 1963. The Sonics were packed off into a car and sent to Hollywood’s Gold Star Studio to record their third album, the trouble was that the five guys in that car had grown apart, as Andy Parypa remembered in 1994:

“It was all written in the car on the way down, I mean if you can call it written. I mean that was the end of the Sonics. We were going through emotions at that time and people’s hearts were not in it, people’s minds were not in it. We weren’t thin with each other and I don’t, we really wanted to even to be, I personally didn’t even wanted to be in the same car with the rest of them, you know and I’m sure that the others felt the same and it was reflected in the way that Roslie approached the whole project. It was a complete zero, I’m embarrassed that it’s out on tape or on wax or whatever or I would be embarrassed if it mattered”.

The ironic thing was Jerden entitled the album ‘Introducing The Sonics’ but in reality it was far too late to introduce them, they had been and gone. The Sonics that had recorded ‘The Witch’ no longer existed, at least in mentality and enthusiasm, to a man describing ‘Introducing The Sonics’ as ‘complete garbage’ Unsurprisingly the album met with limited success, the band began to disintegrate before finally folding in 1967.

That would normally have been the end except that the power of those few inspirational shambolic sessions were captured for ever, albeit on a handful of mics and two tracks, on wax and have been revered as classic landmarks in the history of Rock n Roll. Described by some as the first real punk recordings a full decade before the genre is widely regarded as being born. Whatever your opinion, there is no questioning that in those short years The Sonics managed to transfer the full ball-busting excitement of a band who were doing it for kicks, bucking the trends, and letting rip with the full exuberant unhinged abandon that sets the never to be forgotten although short-lived as a unit from the also-rans, three minutes of genius and spontaneity (several times in their case) that will live forever as long as there are people that appreciate Rock N Roll.

Reforming briefly in 1972, The Sonics reunited again for a festival in Brooklyn, New York last year. Now it’s the turn of the UK to experience their poweful songs live for the first time, playing London’s Kentish Town Forum on 21st and 23rd March. Vive Le Punk can’t wait!

Simon Nott

THE SONICS PLAY AT SPEEDFEST 6 IN EINDHOVEN, THE NETHERLANDS ON SAT. 10th DEC. 2012 (alongside the likes of Danko Jones, Peter Pan Speedrock, Dwarves, The Reverend Horton Heat, Discharge and more).


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