27 November 2023

RIP Geordie Walker

Photo of Geordie Walker by Petter Duvander.
© Petter Duvander, 2013.
Bad news is a given these days. It seems like each day I wake up, something tragic is happening in the world and consequently, I think I'm suffering from a bit of compassion fatigue. So it's rare that I burst into tears when I hear news of a death in the music world...I am usually saddened but not shattered.

But waking to the news that Geordie Walker from Killing Joke, one of my favourite bands, has passed away at the young age of 64 has shocked me to the core.

The official statement from the Killing Joke Instagram account says Geordie passed away in Prague at 6.30am on 26 November 2023 after suffering a stroke.

Kevin 'Geordie' Walker was born on 18 December 1958 in County Durham, England. He was nicknamed Geordie as a teenager due to his Geordie accent.

From a young age Geordie wanted to be a guitarist, citing the band Love Sculpture as an influence because "it used the guitar as a musical instrument to convey an atmosphere, it wasn't normal guitar playing which people feel they have to play certain rhythms, certain solos, certain scales". In 1973 his mum suggested he try a Gibson Les Paul she saw in a shop. 

Geordie's guitar of choice was a hollow-bodied 1952 Gibson ES-295. He liked to tune his guitar a tone lower. "It suits the resonance and volume of the thing and you can use heavier strings. I've got 58s on the bottom. Basically if I play an E-position chord, it's D."

Geordie moved to London to study architecture and became a founding member of Killing Joke in 1979 when he replied to a Melody Maker ad placed by singer and founding member Jaz Coleman. He'd never played in a band before. Geordie and Jaz remained the only constant members of the band until Geordie's death.

In 1980 Killing Joke released their self-titled first album. While the band's style had roots in post-punk, their music had a more aggressive delivery. Over the years their style evolved, incorporating elements of goth rock and symphonic metal. Many bands have cited Killing Joke as an inspiration, including Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, Metallica and Soundgarden.

Geordie was also a member of The Damage Manual and Murder, Inc. At the time of his death, Geordie lived in Prague where he cooperated with Studio Faust Records recording other artists' music.

My Killing Joke journey began in 1985 when I first saw the music video for ‘Love like blood’. 

Over here in Australia, sadly exposure to great bands like this only came about through the music video format, such were the times. So my 'discovery' of Killing Joke only occurred for their fifth album, Night Time. I quickly ventured to discover the rest of their catalogue and they firmly became one of my favourite bands. In 1986 when I finally ventured into nightclub land, I distinctly recall the feeling of hearing ‘Love like blood’ over the sound system and dancing to it. Who can forget the opening guitar chords of this song...they still send shivers down my spine, along with Paul Raven's driving bass line.

In 2006 I reviewed their album Hosannas from the Basements of Hell, and I was impressed to find their music was still evolving, after all these years. And that's something Killing Joke has always done - they've never rested on their laurels.

Geordie's guitar playing was a revelation for me. He left space for the guitar to resonate and breathe. There was something majestic about it. Onstage, he was so quiet and still onstage in comparison to Jaz, the wild front man, but never boring. I felt a sense of tension in Geordie’s demeanour, of channeling his energy through the guitar instead of onstage antics; he would just stand and stare at people in a really intense way. Geordie’s guitar skills and style allowed Killing Joke to evolve and manifest into one of the greatest bands on earth, in my opinion. I personally think his guitar playing heavily influenced the shoegaze genre, as well as countless others, including the grunge movement with Nirvana’s ‘Come as you are’ sounding more than a little like the Killing Joke single ‘Eighties’.

I last saw Killing Joke in Brisbane in 2013 and was so lucky to meet both Geordie and Jaz outside the venue. While Jaz engaged in animated conversation and hugs, Geordie quietly accepted my praise, smiled, and climbed into their van. My memory of him was that he was a dignified person who was quite humble despite his immense talents.

Rest in peace, Geordie. You will always be remembered by the impact your music had on us.

If you don't know about Killing Joke, visit their website or check out their videos on YouTube. They're really an incredible band and I mourn for what this means for their future.