Killing Joke: Kevin “Geordie” Walker, guitarist with industrial band Killing Joke whose ringing, richly textured tone influenced generations of musicians, has died aged 64.
The band wrote in a statement on Sunday: “It is with extreme sadness we confirm that at 6.30am on 26th November 2023 in Prague, Killing Joke’s legendary guitarist Kevin ‘Geordie’ Walker passed away after suffering a stroke, he was surrounded by family. We are devastated. Rest In Peace brother.”
Killing Joke, With a beautifully multi-layered guitar sound that pointed the way to the shoegaze scene, and which also took in the spiky urgency of punk, the acute melody of pop and the crushing weight of heavy metal, Walker was – alongside frontman Jaz Coleman – the only consistent member of Killing Joke since the band’s formation in 1978.
Born in County Durham in 1958 and schooled in Buckinghamshire, where he acquired his “Geordie” nickname, Walker initially responded to an ad Coleman had placed in the music press. “This guy kept calling saying ‘Hi, I’ve never been in a band before, I’ve only ever played in my mum’s bedroom, but I’m the best guitarist ever’,” Coleman later said.
“I couldn’t get rid of him … He comes in for a cuppa and spots my fishing rods, so we have a conversation about fishing for six hours. After which he announced that he had nowhere to live so I said he could stay with me. Geordie moved in three weeks before I actually heard him play. When he did it was like a fire from heaven.”
Killing Joke: Kevin ‘Geordie’ Walker Dies Aged 64
Killing Joke in 1982 (from left) Jaz Coleman, Paul Raven, Big Paul Ferguson and Geordie Walker.
Killing Joke, The quartet released their seething self-titled debut album in 1980, which cracked the UK Top 40. Coleman decamped to Iceland and Walker soon followed him, with Coleman claiming the pair worked as hashish dealers (“we were on to a good thing – I got a grand piano out of it”, Coleman said). The pair returned to London and after finessing a more commercial sound had their biggest success in 1985 with the gold-certified No 11 hit Night Time, featuring the Top 20 single Love like Blood.
Killing Joke, Walker situated his sound around a Gibson ES-295 hollow body electric guitar, saying: “When you find something that you express yourself through the best – something that is completely your sound – why would you use anything else?”
In a brief early-90s hiatus, Walker formed the industrial rock supergroup Murder, Inc, and Steve Albini recorded their debut album in 1992. Walker also auditioned for Faith No More, with their bassist Billy Gould later saying: “His personality is so strong that he dwarfed us. For Faith No More, it wasn’t the right thing but I wish it would have been.”
Killing Joke, Come the mid-1990s, Killing Joke were back together and chimed with the pop-industrial sound they had come to inspire, and their 1994 album Pandemonium returned them to the UK Top 20.
They went on hiatus again after 1996’s Democracy, when Walker formed another new outfit, the Damage Manual, which featured Jah Wobble. Another Killing Joke re-formation came in 2003, with a self-titled album featuring longtime fan Dave Grohl on drums; similarities have long been noted between the riffs on Killing Joke’s Eighties and Nirvana’s Come As You Are.
Killing Joke, Other admirers included Metallica, who covered The Wait; Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, who called Walker’s guitar sound “really, really strong … really intense”; and Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, who cited Walker as a key influence in a 2013 Guardian interview, heralding “this effortless playing producing a monstrous sound”.
Killing Joke, The original Killing Joke lineup recombined in 2007 and continued to perform, with their most recent album being 2015’s Pylon, another Top 20 hit.
Reflecting in 2013 on what made the band so potent, Walker said: “When we started making records, playing gigs wasn’t that much different. You’d rehearse, you wrote the songs, you mic’d it up and you played it! And now if you’re not careful, you might not even see the fucking drummer and the maker of the fucking record. It’s all bits of this, cut-and-paste. It can sound impressive on first listen but after subsequent listens, it’s lacking human imperfection. The imperfection is what makes it magical somehow.”
Killing Joke, Tim Burgess of the Charlatans was among those paying tribute saying: “His guitar sound defined my youth.” Acclaimed illustrator Daniel Danger said Walker’s guitar sound evoked “the power of all endless worlds across all endless time dancing at once, an earthquake deeper than the combined existence of everything”.