In 2004, I was approached by Paul Raven, the erstwhile bass player of Killing Joke (if you are unfamiliar with Killing Joke, and/or their significance to the author of this weblog, you're probably here by accident) to reach out to the band's since-estranged former drummer/founder, Big Paul Ferguson (then living here in New York City) for the purposes of an interview to be included in a proposed book on the band to commemorate their 25th Anniversary. Oddly enough, I'd actually happened across Big Paul a couple of weeks earlier (there's no mistaking him) on the corner of East 4th Street and Lafayette, and accosted him (I'm sure giving him pause). I happily accepted the mission and called up Big Paul to see if he was amenable to the idea. Sure enough he was game, and a week or two later we got together for a chat (detailed below). As fate has had it, the proposed book project has since gone without any official mention in the Killing Joke camp (though, ominously, lead singer/primary strategist, Jaz Coleman, has repeatedly claimed in recent interviews that there will never be a book on the band, as no one can effectively get inside their inner circle). While I've been waiting for some official word from the gents about the status of the project, the fact that I've been "withholding" a rareified interview with one of the band's original architects has been a source of some frustration among my friends and fellow `Joke zealots in The Gathering (a sort've online cabal of Killing Joke fans). Since the 25th Anniversary of the band has come and gone (celebrated with a live album and DVD), I'm figuring that the proposed book project has been scrapped, or is, at the very most, on the back burner of an entirely different stove by this point (I'm going to try to put this as diplomatically as possible, but the `Joke sometimes has an exceptionally hard time of achieving fruition with their many projects). As this may indeed be the case, I'm going to present the interview with Big Paul Ferguson here on Flaming Pablum for the benefit of my bretheren in The Gathering (and anyone else who happens upon it). By no means, however, does this indicate that I am not fully committed to the project should it ever re-surface, and I will happily dismantle this post with all haste should any of the concerned parties feel that it does the project a disservice. In the interim, I'd hate to see the work go to waste. So, for the time being at least, here it is......
Late summer. Brooklyn. 2004. Through the auspices of Paul Raven, I’ve been recruited to seek out and interview Killing Joke co-founder and former drummer “Big” Paul Ferguson, absent from the band’s ranks since 1988. Since parting ways on not the best of terms, Ferguson has become constant fodder for speculation among the band’s faithful following, his whereabouts and activities shrouded in a myth about an alleged hair-trigger temper when accosted. I find him at a spacious Brooklyn studio he and his wife have been house-sitting. Contrary to the rumors, Paul is a soft-spoken, affable gent with an easy-going manner. There are moments when he speaks with a quiet, thoughtful intensity, but at no point does he part with his cool, so to speak. After a couple of beers at a local neighborhood bar, we repair to Paul’s work studio (amidst works of priceless sculpture and antiquities in the process of his careful, studied restoration) to discuss his days with Killing Joke.
ALEX IN NYC: First of all, I want to thank you for agreeing to do this. I promise it won’t be too painful. Before we get into the whole back-story of Killing Joke, I’d like to bring your story up to date. You left the band in `87/`88, and you are now?
BIG PAUL FERGUSON: I’m an art restorer, restoring ancient sculptures. And I’m an artist….a sculptor and a painter. And I still play music, for my own enjoyment more than anybody else’s, but…
ALEX: I saw some drums in the front room…
BPF: Yeah, I still play, but I’ve sort of diversified a bit. I play guitar now and play congas and anything I can get my hands on, really.
ALEX: How did you get into art restoration? You said you always had an interest in it, but how did you officially get started?
BPF: Uhh, that was really just a chance meeting with one of the predominant art restorers in the world. I met him in an elevator as I was going to a rehearsal. He’s English, asked me in for a cup of tea, and showed me the sculptures that he was working on. I said, ‘well, I need a job and I’d love to do this, so can you train me?’
ALEX: Were you familiar with the back-history of the sculptures in question?
BPF: To a degree, because I had a background in art anyway and always an interest in history and mythology. That was an integral part to me of Killing Joke anyway, and I know it was an interest of Jaz’s as well. So, yeah, I was familiar with the history of
most of the objects. And then it was just purely learning the techniques and the whole craft.
ALEX: You said you met him on your way to rehearsal. Who were you rehearsing with?
BPF: I was rehearsing with a band called Crush, and that was with John Carruthers of the Banshees and Fred Schreck from the Ancients. And a little-known but excellent bass player called John Micco.
ALEX: What’s happened to him?
BPF: He’s still playing. I don’t know who he’s playing with, but he’ll never give up.
ALEX: And this was around 1989?
BPF: This was a few years later. Crush had already made an album, and we were rehearsing for a tour.
ALEX: Crush only made that one album?
BPF: We only made one album, but we recorded it twice ::laugh::: Once with Island Records, under the name Pleasurehead, and then again with East West, which was Warner Bros. We recorded that in Wales, in fact.
ALEX: Was it just a one-album deal?
BPF: No, but it was one of those things where the A&R person got head-hunted for another job, we spent way too much on the album, we couldn’t get any good tours and so we were really hard-pressed to promote it. And so, the energy just sort of fizzled out.
ALEX: Was that the last official band you’ve played in?
BPF: I played with The Orb after that. I played with Murder Inc. during and then I was playing with a band called Superdeformed, recently, but that’s over.
ALEX: And who’s in Superdeformed?
BPF: Some talented friends that have not been discovered yet.
ALEX: Truth or fiction: did you play in Pigface at any point?
BPF: I did. I made ummmmm….. I don’t even know the name of the album, but yeah. Actually while Crush were writing material for a new record, I was getting a bit pissed off and I gave Martin [Atkins] a call and said ‘let’s do something’. So, I went out to Chicago and we did some tracks.
ALEX: Did you tour with them at all?
BPF: No. I got up on stage and embarrassed myself once or twice :::laughs:::.
ALEX: I saw Pigface once or twice when they played at a place here called the Marquee on 21st street, and it was always a circus. No real cohesion. It was entertaining, but….
BPF: No, I like things to be more sort of formulated and impactful. ::laughs::: rather than just the impact of complete chaos.
ALEX: Okay, let’s go onto the meatier stuff. Despite the popular preconception that Jaz is the centerpiece of Killing Joke, it was actually YOUR band first, correct?
BPF: Where’d you hear that? :::laughs:::: `Cos it’s fucking true!
ALEX: There’s that story, which you can elaborate on, about Jaz on the unemployment line – the dole queue – and some guy named Carlos said ‘you should meet Paul!’
BPF: That’s right. Well, Carlos was this Indian guru type that lived in the friend’s house that I lived in. It was a Quaker-owned house in Holland Park in London. And, yeah, Carlos came back one day and said, “there’s somebody you should meet, this guy Jaz!” We hit it off immediately, with similar interests in doom and the occult. We really wanted to play together. I was in a band called Matt Stagger.
ALEX: I’ve looked for records by the Matt Stagger Band, and it seems virtually impossible to find any. Are there any?
BPF: There were records. And I may even have one somewhere. The picture on the back has got like one eyeball of my face and a drumstick, but there’s a big picture of Matt Stagger :::laughs:::: And he was an African guy, and we played a kind of rock-reggae, and it was really energetic. He was really punky in his approach to everything. I have to give him a lot of credit in taking me from obscurity.
ALEX: Was that your first ever band?
BPF: It wasn’t my first band, but it was the first touring band. The first band that was doing proper gigs as opposed to playing at the village hall kinda thing. So, I said to Jaz, “We need a keyboard player. Why don’t you come and audition for Matt Stagger?” I’m not sure of the timeframe, but Jaz was playing with some guys also, and we thought I’d go and play with them too. It ended up being Jaz and I completely jamming and getting off on each other and the other guys just left the room. So we thought, “oh well we’ve got something here, so let’s do it.” And Jaz didn’t really get on so well with The Matt Stagger thing, `cos he didn’t have the reggae kind’ve feel. But, we wanted to play together, so that’s when we started talking about how we were going to go do our own thing. And y’know…that’s kinda where it started.
ALEX: Where is Matt Stagger today?
BPF: I’ve got no idea. He was understandably very pissed off that Jaz and I should leave and leave him the lurch.
ALEX: So you haven’t heard from Matt in the ensuing years?
BPF: No. I read an interview that he had in one of the….I think it was Sounds or the NME or something… and he was slagging us off.
ALEX: Really? To this day?
BPF: No, this was a long time ago. I met some guys that were in his band, and they were still sort of playing in bars. Yeah, stuff like that, you’d hope to avoid – letting people down, or whatever, but in the heat of the moment, you just get swept up in action. What you’re doing and where you want to go. Unfortunately, some people sort of fall by the wayside.
ALEX: I see his name mentioned in virtually every band bio I’ve ever read about Killing Joke.
BPF: He certainly got more promotion out of us :::laughs::: and yet you still can’t find his records.
ALEX: So, despite what many might assume that it was Jaz’s mindset, it was actually more of a collaborative effort….
BPF: The thing was that we really wanted it to be anonymity and collaboration. The idea originally was that he didn’t want to be the singer, and so we were going to share it. So, on early tracks, I was singing and playing drums. It just became more and more – as it inevitably would – that he became the focal point. But, I wrote a lot of the lyrics and had a great deal to say in what the band was supposed to be. What it was about. And we shared a lot of interests. Primarily magickal. We were both sort of obsessed by the occult and Crowley and all that sort of thing. We wanted to use the influences of that sort of thing to project music with intention. That all was a collaboration, but inevitably, Jaz being at the front and being a little louder than I am, he assumed the role as the focal point of the band.
ALEX: I’ve always wondered about the ad you famously placed in the music papers that read “TOTAL ANONYMITY TOTAL EXPLOITATION….” How exactly were you going to achieve total anonymity if you’re going to be a performing, touring band? Anonymity in a sort’ve Residents way?
BPF: No, I don’t think we were looking to hide behind anything. I think perhaps it was an artsy idea, and obviously totally impractical. But, we could become this huge influence on music and, by extension, politics and the world :::laugh::: without the trappings of fame. It was naïve, because the music industry absolutely thrives on personality. And exists only because of the cult of personality. But in our naiveté, we thought we could pull it off.
ALEX: So, obviously it was a conscious effort on the first few singles and the first album to have absolutely no pictures of the band.
BPF: Right, and using pseudonyms of one sort or another.
ALEX: In the bar, we were discussing “Big Paul,” and you have no idea where that came from?
BPF: :::laughs:::: Well, I think it was Youth. We were doing a John Peel session and at the end of the session, the engineer – whoever it was -- had to write on the piece of paper who the musicians were. And Jaz had always been called Jaz. That was his nickname from high school, though his name is Jeremy….
ALEX: ….which he supposedly hates.
BPF: Yeah, but I’ll say nothing. And Geordie’s from Newcastle, so what else are you going to call him? Youth was really into reggae – as we all were – dub reggae. One of my heroes was Big Youth, and actually that was an influence on the drumming of “Turn to Red.”
ALEX: Oh wait – I just got it: Pig Youth!
BPF: Exactly. :::laughs::: Because at the time personal hygiene wasn’t high on his list, so…Pig Youth. And then when it came to me, I think it was Youth that just said “Big Paul,” and you’d have to ask him why. Maybe it was my monstrous personality or something.
ALEX: I heard Raven suggest something a bit more lurid.
BPF: Yeah, of course he would. :::laughs::::
ALEX: Consider the source. ::laughs:::
BPF: Let’s say, I would rather not deny it, however. ::laughs:::
ALEX: So, you’ve mentioned Crowley as a philosophical inspiration. Were there any other particular influences?
BPF: It’s a bit difficult to answer that one, really. I would really have to turn the clock band. I think more than anything it was an overwhelming desire to change what we saw around us. Musically, anything that was going. We always cite the Alex Harvey Band and stuff like that, but it probably goes deeper than that. I couldn’t even start to say. There was a track by 999 called “Emergency” that we listened to over and over again. But….it’s a difficult question to answer because where I am now looking back on it, really what was influencing me was so much that has gone past, and I wouldn’t even like to say that bands like – well, I’m not even going to say, but we were huge fans of music. We were just trying to make a niche for ourselves.
ALEX: It seems Killing Joke are often lazily tagged as a Punk band. There are several Punk compilations that feature “Wardance” or “Eighties”. It seems to me that Killing Joke are so much MORE than just simply a Punk band…
BPF: Well exactly, and I’m never quite sure whether to be offended by that or not, because, I loved Punk music, but we weren’t. And I think our influences were beyond Punk. Obviously before Punk, there was Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and there was Yes even and King Crimson, and those had all influenced me as a player, and the other guys would say other things, but I’m sure they were all part of their history as well. I know Geordie was really influenced by Van Halen.
BPF: Maybe I shouldn’t say that, but I’d never heard Van Halen until Geordie played it. And AC/DC. So, for us to be called a Punk band – yes, we came from that era, but we weren’t just about jumping up and down and spitting and three chords. We really wanted to create something that was really, really heavy and dramatic and life changing.
ALEX: So, another favorite quote about the sound you’d envisioned for Killing Joke was “the sound of the earth vomiting.” Was that your quote? Do you feel you achieved that sound?
BPF: Ummm. Yes, yes I do. I don’t really want to talk about regrets, but they are part of the whole thing. There’s a lot of stuff that we did that I think was not good at all. And that was predominantly to do with the pressure of selling records, so we’d try to do something to find a hit single. And we really let ourselves down, I feel, but yeah, we did achieve that really sort of wretched but awesome, beautiful power. That, I have to say, I do miss.
ALEX: This is a question I was saving for later, but you seem to be touching on it here. Do you feel that Killing Joke achieved your initial goal?
BPF: No. Sonically, I’m really proud of what we did achieve when I was in it. And actually, afterwards, the record they did with Martin, “Money is Not Our God,” I love that track. There are tracks on Pandemonium and Democracy that still really have it. So, hats off the guys for doing that stuff. There was a show that we did at the Elephant Fair, which was a festival down in the south of England, and we came on in the early evening just as the sun was setting, and it was drizzling. And I really felt like we had the power then, that I felt we deserved. I really felt that we had harnessed the power that we were looking for, musically.
ALEX: What era are we talking about here?
BPF: It was probably around the time of Brighter Than a Thousand Suns, but I’m not certain. But personally speaking, I really wanted the band to be huge. Where Metallica are is where I wanted us to be.
ALEX: That’s another thing that separated you from the Punks, that you unapologetically wanted to be big.
BPF: It wasn’t so much the money as the influence. I’m very happy that we have had an influence on so much music. But I really wanted it to be more of an influence on society. I notice that the name “Killing Joke” is used now as a legitimate expression outside of music and outside of this band. There’s that comic book, and I think it is even in a dictionary.
ALEX: There’s been a lot of speculation about where the term actually came from. I’ve heard lots of theories, from it being from a Monty Python sketch through it being a Crowley allusion.
BPF: No. We had a friend called Steve. I’m sorry I don’t remember his surname, but he was an intellectual that was hired by various unions and the government to intellectualize strategy. He was also a bit of an acid case. So, he had this insight into politics and how fucked up it all was and he was doing hallucinogenics. :::laughs:: So, he was very close to the edge of a nervous breakdown all of the time. He and my friend Bryan Taylor, who was our manager back in the early days, we’d all sit around talking in the evenings about how fucked up everything was and Steve actually coined the phrase, “Killing Joke,” and we all latched onto that as being the term for everything that was going on. Billy Connelly, the Scottish comedian, actually did us a great honor, I think. He preceded us on a TV show and he spun this very, very long yarn. And the punch line was “a Killing Joke,” and that was it. To my mind, that legitimized the phrase and from then on became part of the language.
ALEX: I remember seeing the Batman comic, “The Killing Joke,” and thinking ‘what the fuck?”
BPG: Yeah, what the fuck? :::laughs::::: where are my royalties?
ALEX: But turns out the guy behind it was Brian Bolland, a British guy who initially made his name via Judge Dredd. But, I’m sure it was no accident.
BPF: Well, he also did a comic called “The Cult”, and I was a bit miffed at the time. He was using the name for something that I really haven’t ….I mean, Batman??? Please!
ALEX: Did you ever read it?
BPF: I did, yeah. I prefer “the Dark Knight,” and purely for the artwork. I’m not a comic book type at all, but I did appreciate Frank Miller’s approach to the whole thing. It was a bit more dramatic.
ALEX: Okay, let’s go into the ‘lightning round’, so to speak. Do you have a favorite song?
BPF: Ummm. I would say “The Hum,” maybe because of the Elephant Fair. I think that’s the song that we opened up the set with, and it was just so moody and so mesmerizing. Jaz wrote the lyrics to that predominantly actually from something that had influenced us both. It was a piece written in an occult magazine called “The Feast of the Hive,” and it was a particularly vivid account of people living in a hive mind mentality, and that sort of spawned the lyrics to “The Hum.” That track still has the ponderous groove that I really liked.
ALEX: Are you still interested in the occult to this day?
BPF: Ummm. No. I’m still interested in religion. Very much. I’m not a religious person, so to speak, but paganism still has a great sort of attraction to me and I seek to understand where that all comes from. But I’m not by any means a practicing ritualist or anything like that.
ALEX: Have you read any of Julian Cope’s Neolithic tomes? Are you more into the philosophy as opposed to the actual Neolithic study?
BPF: Well, I work with ancient sculptures, and I’d like to say I have a Celtic soul. I’m very attracted to remote places and I’m very attracted to places of power. I still can’t say what that power is, but yeah, I’m very, very attracted to the Neolithic sites.
ALEX: Had you been raised in a particular faith?
BPF: Yeah, I was raised Roman Catholic, which probably explains a lot of anxiety, guilt and all the rest of it. But, I certainly don’t practice today. And in fact, I think that probably did start off my interest in the occult, because I’m not sure how they can get away with so much hypocrisy for so long. ::::laugh:::
ALEX: Your least favorite song?
BPF: It would probably be “Me or You?”
ALEX: Everyone seems to hate that song.
BPF: Well, actually, a couple of days before we recorded that song, I said to Jaz and Geordie, “this is a real mistake, doing this. We shouldn’t do this.” But we went ahead and did it. We were committed to doing it. And there was a moment during playback when I actually thought, “oh well this is quite good.” But, by the time I got home with the tape, I though “oh fuck, what have we done?” But there are a couple of others that I don’t like. I would say “Blue Feather.”
ALEX: That you don’t like? Didn’t it only ever materialize as a b-side?
BPF: It was supposed to be a single. We did put some effort into recording that song. And “Southern Sky,” which was one of Jaz’s compositions. Which, I won’t slag it as a composition, but it WASN’T a Killing Joke song, and should never have been one.
ALEX: I don’t want to dwell on a song you hate, but in terms of “Blue Feather,” I’ve heard a story about the background to that song. Do you know what I’m talking about? That Jaz would see blue feathers in times of….
BPF: You know, I wasn’t privy to that story, but enough clues were dropped around it. Jaz never wanted it to be discussed. So, that was a song that I had no part in writing the lyrics of and I knew that it was something personal to him that he then didn’t want to discuss with anybody. So, I felt that it wasn’t really part of the plot.
ALEX: Alright, moving on. Do you have a favorite album?
BPF: Umm…I would say that Revelations is the overall favorite, but I tend not to listen to it too often, because it really sends me off down memory lane too much. I really liked Night Time. I thought that was a good, solid step forward in terms of developing our language, encompassing more elements. I thought it was a really good, consistent effort.
ALEX: It’s my favorite.
BPF: Y’know, but the first album, of course, was just what sort of brought the whole thing out.
ALEX: Apparently, Revelations is Youth’s least favorite record.
BPF: It was certainly a hard time for Youth, I think. I remember at the time he wasn’t happy, and there was definitely something going on. That was the time just prior to Jaz and Geordie fucking off to Iceland. ::laughs:: It’s always “fucking off” to Iceland. It’s never, like “going” to Iceland, or “departing” to Iceland. There were definitely undercurrents of something happening. The management got dropped and all that stuff. So, I think Youth felt – I mean, obviously he’s got his own story – but I got the vibe that he wasn’t happy. But I really liked the heaviness of the whole thing, and I loved working with Conny Plank.
ALEX: I’ve seen a few of the TV appearances after the Iceland debacle – and I’m sure you’re sick of discussing the whole Iceland thing, but after Jaz had flown the coop, you had a mannequin standing in for him and you were lip-synching?
BPF: Yeah, I was lip-synching, but it didn’t feel like it, because I was playing the drums so I had to sing. I mean, I couldn’t just pretend to be singing, so I was really singing the damn thing.
ALEX: Did you ever get a formal acknowledgment or apology from Jaz for basically leaving you in the lurch?
ALEX: I mean, didn’t you have tour dates penciled in? I mean, how did it ever get reconciled? How did you ever get back together?
BPF Well, it was a real sort of blow. And, I’m not sure how personal I want to get here with the whole thing. It’s water under the bridge. It was a blow to us all, but what really hurt was that Geordie was really in on it, and didn’t tell us. And then left himself. So he was sort of treading water to see what happened. That was the thing that really got to me most, because I roomed with Geordie and felt that he could’ve been a bit more open about it.
ALEX: You must know Kris Needs.
BPF: Oh yeah.
ALEX: I knew Kris when he was living in NYC and working at Bleeker Bob’s.
BPF: I know, I went in there to say hello to him one day, and Bleeker Bob [Plotnick] chewed me out completely. He said, “any friend of Kris Needs is no friend of mine –- GET OUT!”
ALEX: I remember seeing him there for along time, thinking, “Who’s this long haired British freak?” And then I started writing for a music magazine called the New York Review of Records, and Kris was friends with the editor. So Kris moved into this guy’s apartment – which was also the office – and I got to know Kris through that. He was having some problems at the time, but he was completely hilarious and used to tell stories about Killing Joke all the time. He’s a big, successful producer now.
BPF: I’m really glad to hear that.
ALEX: Okay, back to this. What’s your least favorite album?
BPF: That would be Fire Dances. Yeah.
ALEX: Really? Why is that?
BPF: It felt a bit jokey to me, pardon the pun. It felt a bit too humorous, and we were all indulging in substances, so the mixing was a bit tinny. ::::laughs:::::
ALEX: Supposedly there is work afoot to re-master a lot of the albums.
BPF: Oh yeah?
ALEX: Do they fly things by you in that capacity? Do you have to sign off on anything?
BPF: Unfortunately, we don’t have much communication in this regard.
ALEX: Okay. This is a Mike Coles question. Do you have a favorite cover or sleeve design?
BPF: :::laughs:::: Of his?
ALEX: Of any Killing Joke release?
BPF: Well, my favorite one was the first album in terms of his artwork. I liked Revelations a lot, which was our artwork.
ALEX: It was supposed to be different, no? Wasn’t there something that you were forced to remove? Is that true? A pin or badge that was stuck to the fabric?
BPF: Underneath the fabric, there were four pins holding a piece of paper with a mandala we’d created. So, if you look very closely on the corner, you’ll see the shadow of the pins. It wasn’t removed. It was designed to be underneath. It’s not really part of the design of the album; it was just there – part of the intention of the album. So, it’s not really for anybody to see, but it does exist within the artwork. Oh, and my other favorite cover is the Fred Astaire dancing over the battlefield. Brilliant.
ALEX: I tracked down the original Don McCullin photograph from the first album. I was saddened to see that the writing on the wall does not, in fact, read: “Killing Joke.”
ALEX: Least favorite sleeve design?
BPF: :::laughs:: Well, I think the new album’s fucking shameful, I’m sorry. But, what happened? Did everybody leave the room? I mean, I don’t want to take credit for stuff that might ruffle anybody’s feathers, but I’m really into art, and I felt I contributed vastly to the videos, to the artwork and since I left…it’s kind’ve lost its edge completely.
ALEX: There was a discussion on the Gathering about the band’s videos the other day. Of the videos that you did do with the band, which ones would you rate?
BPF: Well, none of them in retrospect. :::laughs::: It was the early video days and everything was horribly cheesy. But, y’know for “Let’s All Go (To the Fire Dances)” we were all dancing around the fire….
ALEX: It seems to me that the video that best captured the sentiment of the song and the spirit of the band was “Eighties”. Do you have fond memories of making that one?
BPF: Yeah, because I felt really like visually my ideas were being represented, even down to painting the flags. And Tony Vandenend who directed those videos was very – like I said, it was the early days – but it was nice working with someone who was into collaborating. I’d just like to say that I now would really like to do some videos for old Killing Joke songs.
ALEX: In terms of…?
BPF: I would like to get those songs and do some videos for them,
ALEX: Is it true you did the cover art for “A New Day”?
ALEX: What’s the story there?
BPF: Well, it’s fairly obvious, really. There’s a little kid standing on a hill in paradise with an evil, knowing grin on his face, as he eats the apple, and then you look around and it’s all gone. There’s nothing deep about that.
ALEX: No, I mean, how did you end up doing it? It seems like Mike Coles had done all the sleeves up until that point – or wait, should we not discuss this?
BPF: No, this is fine. Until the guys had left for Iceland – oh, excuse me, “fucked off” to Iceland :::laughs::::, Malicious Damage was going fine. When they came back and I re-joined and starting playing with them again, then Malicious Damage was essentially no more. Or rather the relationship was all a bit dodgy. Therefore, Mike Coles became an old story for the moment. So, it became an opportunity for me to start being more hands-on. The one I particularly liked doing was “Chop-Chop”.
ALEX: What’s the origin of that sleeve? Is that an original illustration?
BPF: That was a copy by me of a medieval print that I just sort’ve tweaked to my barbaric sense of wit.
ALEX: Who is that on the flipside (for “We have Joy”)? The picture of a shirtless figure, with sunglasses and a gun in front of an American flag. Is that Jaz?
BPF: No, that was one of Mike Coles’ friends. He was the mad guy that….I think his face is also on What's THIS For…! He did a couple of projects with that guy. But it was just such a cool picture.
ALEX: Favorite memory of your days with the band. The Elephant Festival you mentioned?
BPF: Yeah, that’s one of them, but there were countless gigs. One in particular was a gig we did in Reading where we had Dave the fire-eater on stage with us, and I’m sure he’s been mentioned before…
ALEX: Did he go by the name Wizard?
BPF: The Wizard, yeah. The guy would come on stage, let loose and blow fire, and that particular gig was mesmerizing. But, y’know, I’ve got very fond memories of recording, particularly in Berlin. There were some very harsh memories as well, because there were moments of inexcusable behavior on my part. But overall, those were good memories.
ALEX: Here’s the flipside of that question which you may not even want to answer, but what is your least favorite memory?
BPF: Well the least favorite memory was being asked to leave the studio.
ALEX: Is this circa Outside the Gate?
BPF: Yeah, by Jaz telling one of the road crew to tell me that I wasn’t welcome in the studio.
BPF: Which was a bit of a blow. Another low point was definitely headlining Reading Festival .We sucked. Jaz and I blamed each other for completely fucking up the opening number and it just got worse. Then the apocalyptic pyrotechnics set to end the show were no more than a damp squib. It was a horrible disappointment.
ALEX: A lot has been written about the infrastructure of the band as being very fractious. How much of that was wrapped up in the image and how much was involved with fact? Were you guys constantly at each other’s throats?
BPF: No. There really was team spirit. There must’ve been to start. I can’t really pinpoint when it started happening, but definitely between Jaz and myself we stopped communicating. I think he started doing things that I didn’t really approve of, and I felt there were more band decisions to make. And my own fault being that I’d get the hump and wouldn’t really communicate with him, so I think that was the main problem. Geordie, Raven, Youth and I got on very well always. I don’t know if Youth and I communicated very well, just because we’ve got very different personalities, and obviously he was hurt by me when I left him in Brilliant and went back to Jaz & Geordie. But, I felt like I still had a mission to accomplish with those guys. And as I felt that it was so much a part of what I wanted to do in my life, that for me to start another band with a different premise wasn’t even conceivable. It would be purely because I wanted to stay in music, and it was something more than that to me. It was kind of a lifestyle statement to me, and I couldn’t let that go for something like producing somebody else’s record or joining some band. It just wasn’t really an option.
ALEX: It also seems to get back to your mission with Killing Joke to begin with, which wasn’t simply about making pop records, but rather that you had a very specific ideal.
BPF: Well, exactly.
ALEX: If you’re at liberty to discuss it, what do you have to say about the circumstances of your departure from the band?
BPF: Well, I don’t want to get into the hurt of it. What I would like to say is that Jaz’s relationship with me and mine with him had deteriorated to the point that it was really not working for anybody. It was making us both very unhappy, so that it should’ve happened is not really unexpected. The fact that it was Jaz’s solo album that sort of went over-budget and then turned into this Killing Joke album that nobody really wanted to do and nobody wanted to buy, and I’m still paying for it – I’m sorry, that’s too personal. Ummm. It just wasn’t right. And then when Jaz wouldn’t come in the studio with me. So Geordie was producing my drum tracks. I wasn’t even listening to the keyboards, I was just playing with Geordie’s guitar tracks. He liked it. I liked it. And then when they brought up the keyboard tracks – which were being completely ignored – it just didn’t work. It just didn’t work. And so I thought it was all done, went on holiday to a friend’s wedding up in Scotland, and when I came back I was told that a session drummer was doing the work.
ALEX: There are some bootlegged recording floating around, titled Before the Gate, which I believe retains all your original contributions on it.
BPF: I’m very sorry to hear that.
ALEX: I have a copy on cassette of it.
BPF: I have a copy of it, but it only makes sense with the guitar. It doesn’t make any sense with the keyboards.
ALEX: In 1994, I interviewed Jaz, and asked him some similar questions. He was very cryptic about it, typically. All he would say is that you’d probably never work together again. Have you spoken with him at all in the ensuing years?
BPF: I bumped into him at a rehearsal studio when I was rehearsing with the Orb and Killing Joke were rehearsing next door. I bumped into him, and he was drunk. And he was apologetic in his way, and that’s the only time I’ve seen him. I went to a show of theirs and I saw them onstage and I left. That’s all.
ALEX: It’s been widely rumored that you’ve been approached to re-join at several points? Has this ever happened?
BPF: Well, Youth approached me. Geordie always hinted at it, but Youth asked me. Their management asked me. I think it was Democracy. And I was entertaining it, but there was a death in my family. My sister died, and I just couldn’t step back into that in the wake of what had just happened. And I haven’t spoken to Jaz, so until he says that what he wants to – that he wants to talk to me, there’s nothing really serious to do about it.
ALEX: If – and I have to ask this – under what circumstances would you ever conceive of it? Would you still entertain the idea?
BPF: Yeah, I would but I don’t want to run into the same personality problems with the same person. Obviously, we’ve both grown up and gotten over a lot of things and for my part, I would be only too willing to apologize for whatever behavior he found offensive. And if he were likely to do the same, then we might be able to do something, but I don’t know. I certainly miss the vibe.
ALEX: There’ve been rumors about 25th Anniversary Shows. Would you join in for those?
BPF: I wouldn’t discount it, but it would feel like having a guest spot in my own band. :::laughs:::
ALEX: Duly noted. Okay, so you mentioned that you have continued to listen to their music and follow their progress after your departure…
BPF: Not necessarily out of any morbid curiosity, but only because I’ve got so many people who are still friends with them that some bastard will always a give me a copy of the album that would eventually burn a hole on the shelf it was sitting on and I’d have to listen to it. That hasn’t been the case with the new one. Purely because, I don’t know, I just can’t get past the artwork.
ALEX: Mike Coles had originally been slated to work on the project and had a cover all cooked up that didn’t get used.
BPF: Well, they had such a great title for it – The Death & Resurrection Show. I don’t know what happened, for fuck’s sake. I swear to God, it’s complete indifference to presenting the visual side of it.
ALEX: If you ever get around to it, you should listen to it. It’s a great record. Personally speaking, I think it certainly blows Democracy out of the water. Andy Gill produced and Dave Grohl did a great job, but…
BPF: Well, there’s that whole Dave Grohl thing too.
ALEX: That happened after you’d left the band, though.
BPF: Yeah, but there’s still the Nirvana covering that song.
ALEX: Have you heard “Life Goes On” by the Damned?
ALEX: On the Strawberries record.
BPF: Even more so?
ALEX: Well, it pre-dates “Eighties”
BPF: Oh, okay. But, I have to say, and I don’t know if you want to include this or even should, but from a business point of view, if you want to sell some records, get Dave Grohl to play drums on it. It makes perfect sense. I’ve got no personal beef about it, it’s just that, okay, you’re paying back the favor to whom?
ALEX: So, when the band played NYC last October, where you tempted to go?
BPF: Actually, I was all ready to go, but I felt like I did deserve a phone call, and I didn’t get one.
ALEX: Not even from Raven?
ALEX: Do you stay in touch with the other folks in the band?
BPF: Well, Geordie’s never been one for the telephone and I’m not sure that he uses the internet, so I’d only ever see him when he came to town to stay with Legion. Raven and I talk once a year, generally when there’s a Killing Joke project going on.
ALEX: He seems to be the most communicative…
BPF: Yeah, well, he’s also the most gregarious.
ALEX: Do you stay in touch with Youth at all?
BPF: No, and not through any sort of personal differences. Purely, his life is very different from mine, and I’m not sure we bonded that well.
ALEX: Martin Atkins?
BPF: Actually, yeah, we talk once in a while. He let me know that he had another kid, a third.
ALEX: I asked you earlier about the older material being re-mastered…
BPF: No, I had no idea.
ALEX: Well, EMI just released a new compilation called Killing Joke For Beginners….
BPF: Oh really? Unfortunately, we weren’t very prolific. :::laughs:: And that’s something that I really regret as well. How much time we’d wasted getting wrecked or just hanging out when we should’ve been more productive.
ALEX: In the last few years, there’ve been a few archival re-releases (Unperverted Pantomime) and then there was No Way Out But Forward Go, which was the Lorely Festival performance. Have you seen that?
ALEX: That struck me as an odd choice --- you weren’t even headliners on that bill.
BPF: Well, it was a fantastic day. We had a hoot. The Chili Peppers, Parliament, the Blasters. They were friends of ours. So, the hotel after the show was absolutely a riot, :::laughs:: And it was beautiful place, overlooking the banks of the Rhine. But Killing Joke on at three in the afternoon? Excuse me, but that does not work. And it wasn’t a great show. We were just there and doing it. And unfortunately, the guy that released it, released it purely because it was the only material that he could get his hands on. That’s unfortunately what’s happening now, because there wasn’t a lot of material and now people are just trying to make a buck here and there.
ALEX: Had you been asked to weigh in on Laugh? I Nearly Bought One!
BPF: NO! :::laughs:::
ALEX: Okay, we’re almost done. How often do you find yourself being accosted by idiots like myself?
BPF: It doesn’t happen that often, but it happens so unexpectedly. Yesterday, I was just leaving the building here, and some guy shouts across the street, “KILLING JOKE ROCKS!” I moved to Puerto Rico. I lived in Puerto Rico for three years, where I started producing sculptures and had art shows and all that stuff, and I had loads of press down there. I went to a rave on a beach south of the island, and fifteen people came who were Killing Joke fans, just from having spotted me showing up. Stuff like that – it doesn’t happen that often, but it’s really quite heartening. The premise was to influence people, and the fact that the ripples are still there is really very heartening.
ALEX: It’s also a bit striking that despite the fact that there weren’t that many pictures of you guys – Brighter Than a Thousand Suns notwithstanding – that people should recognize you in the street.
BPF: But at the same time, I don’t know how I appear to people. I always used to be accused of being aloof. I think that’s just my demeanor, because I really do appreciate talking to people about it. But now, it’s so out of the blue and so past life, I really have trouble in the street knowing what the fuck I’m talking about. :::laughs::: I mean, I have a head full of art projects and sculpture stuff going on and life, whatever it is now, but when it comes at me from left field, I’m sometimes just dumbfounded. I just don’t know how to relate to this person. I mean, things happen to me without fail every year when I’m least expecting it, that suddenly there’s this whole slew of coincidences revolving around Killing Joke.
ALEX: Other forces at work.
BPF: Well, like Raven getting in touch with me and asking me to talk to you.
ALEX….after I’d happened to run into you in the street out of the blue.
BPF: And then someone from our old management company sent me an e-mail, and then I’m walking down 7th Street and there’s Jaz’s face in the window of a second hand record shop.
ALEX: Which was it?
BPF: Brighter Than a Thousand Suns. The thing is, every time it happens, I go into this whole head trip of reminiscing and this bizarre ‘what it could be now’ sort of thing, and I have to shrug it off. No, go away, leave me alone. Because it turns into this Fantasy Island thing. There I am, playing with the guys and everything’s great. And it’s just not based on reality. I have to sort of shut the closet door again.
ALEX: I always think it must be strange to have a certain part of your life preserved in amber, if you will. A normal person who has never been in the public eye like that isn’t constantly reminded of their past. It’s probably worse for, like, the guys in Duran Duran, but…..
BPF: They do have the advantage, bands like that, that their comeback tours can still actually be successful, whereas…
ALEX: Well, I was discouraged that when Killing Joke played last year here, that they didn’t get their own proper billing -- they were part of a bigger lineup, and not even the headliners. They were squeezed between bands they had nothing to do with.
BPF: ….which is not where we should be. And that’s a point of pride for us.
ALEX: Do you think Killing Joke do get enough credit? Are you mentioned enough?
BPF: We’re mentioned, as much as we should be, because we didn’t have the success that we should’ve – through our own fault, if you like, I’m not sure. I think pursuing success when we tried it was a big mistake, and I think had we not been goaded down that path, if we had stayed true to our own integrity, we would’ve become bigger.
ALEX: Yeah, but it’s not like you guys suddenly became Wham!
BPF: Well, no, but to me, there was this big heavy thing going on, and we sort of desecrated it with this sort’ve fluff. So, we didn’t sell out, but we just shouldn’t have done a few things. And given that we didn’t have that kind of success and weren’t pursuing it in that way – I wanted us to be successful with integrity, and I wanted it to be a huge thing that wasn’t about selling pop records, and it wasn’t. The fact that we do get credited for influencing people, I’m very grateful for. And the people that say it are generally in bands that I love – Soundgarden, Nirvana, Metallica. I’m very proud to have people like that mention us.
ALEX: What sort’ve bands do you rate today?
BPF: I really like Muse. And I like Down.
ALEX: It seems Killing Joke are always being unsuccessfully classified and claimed by disparate groups – the Goths try and claim you, the Industrial crowd counts you as one of their own, you’re constantly be accused of being punks….etc. Does that ever bother you?
BPF: Well, it only bothers you because the record companies are trying to find a niche to put you in. Therefore, if they can’t categorize you, they don’t know how to market you, and all that bullshit. But we were all those things. We were. We weren’t New Wave, and that’s the one that really hurt, because we weren’t a haircut band. And we weren’t a LA Metal band, but there were similarities. We were just experimenting, trying to create a new sound. We were trying not to rest on cliché, which everybody else was doing – and making money off it. We were trying to break new ground, and had the technology been around -- `cos this was the early days of electronics, or whatever – had the technology been around, things would’ve been different. We’d have utilized all the stuff that Ministry and all of them ended up using. But we were elements of all that stuff, and they took from us what fit them.
ALEX: Does it bother you to hear blatantly derivative records….like Big Black?
BPF: Prong, as well. Does it bother me? No, because I felt like our whole vision – and this is purely an egocentric perspective, here – but our whole vision of what we were going to be was so much bigger than any of these bands. It was serious. We were trying to find out what was gong to happen, and to be prepared for what was going to happen, and what will happen. I don’t spend much time thinking about that anymore, because it still freaks me out when I think of the possibilities. I mean, we’re on the brink of something really gargantuan here -- whichever way it goes, and all of that was very relevant then, and it’s even more relevant now. And it’s a mindfuck if you put any thought into it. There are so many signposts, so many indications how fragile this whole situation is that we’re creating on this planet, and we’re still blindly going ahead, hurtling towards our doom unless we do some huge about face. And Killing Joke is all about that, and “Wardance” is absolutely as relevant today as it was then, and even more so. If I was to do anything with Killing Joke again, it would be on the scale of “Wardance.” it would be that paranoid stuff which I think drove Jaz to the point of a very tenuous hold on reality. I think it would be really gratifying and very, very powerful to re-record a lot of the material.
ALEX: They did, actually, re-record “Wardance” on the last record.
BPF: Yeah, but to re-record stuff like “the Pandys Are Coming,” “Unspeakable”, “the Hum”…and “Darkness Before Dawn,” stuff like that that is relevant and needs to be heard, and I’m not saying to bringing it up to date or tweaking it, but doing it with the same passion. And I’m sorry I haven’t heard the new “Wardance,” and perhaps that one has been done, but I think it needs to be done properly and needs to be promoted properly and Killing Joke does need to be in your face again.