Killing Joke guitarist Geordie Walker dead at 64

Geordie Walker onstage in 2022
(Image credit: Lorne Thomson/Redferns)

Geordie Walker, guitarist and founding member of Killing Joke has died. He was 64.

Walker died on the morning of November 26, and news of his passing was confirmed by his friend and former Killing Joke bandmate Martin Atkins, who also played alongside Walker in industrial-metal supergroups Murder Inc, and The Damage Manual. 

Walker, whose unique guitar style has drawn praise from a host of fellow musicians from Jimmy Page and James Hetfield, to Helmet’s Page Hamilton and My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields, co-founded Killing Joke with vocalist Jaz Coleman and drummer ‘Big’ Paul Ferguson in 1979, and, alongside Coleman, has been the only constant member of the band since its formation.

The news of Walker's passing was revealed on Martin Atkins’ Facebook page this evening (November 26). The drummer shared a video of The Damage Manuel song Laugh Track, with the caption “gutted”, writing “Geordie has passed” in the comments. On X (formerly Twitter) Atkins added “God bless Geordie Walker... tell [late Killing Joke bassist] Paul Raven I said hi”

Killing Joke later issued their own statement confirming the news, saying “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.”

Born in Chester-le-Street, County Durham, on December 18, 1958, Walker took classical guitar lessons as a child, before being bought his first guitar, a 1969 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe, in a Northampton music shop by his mother as a Christmas present in 1973. He later switched to his trademark semi-acoustic Gibson ES-295, purchased in London after he moved to Milton Keynes as a teenager, which he subsequently played on every Killing Joke album, from their groundbreaking self-titled debut album in 1980 through to 2015’s Pylon, their 15th and most recent studio collection.

“When you find something that you express yourself through the best - something that is completely your sound - why would you use anything else?” he said in the May 2016 issue of Guitar World.

Explaining how he first came into contact with Jaz Coleman, Walker told Music UK magazine in 1984, ”I’d just moved to London and I saw an ad in Melody Maker, I don't know, but I liked the sound of it, it looked rather serious, fanatical, I don't know what it was but it clicked with me. So I went down to see this guy (Jaz) and immediately started arguing with him about his taste in music and whatever, and I kept in touch and kept hassling them for some reason. I think it was the intensity of the argument I liked.”

Giving his side of the story in an interview with Metal Hammer, Coleman told writer James Gill, “Me and Paul [Ferguson] put an ad in Melody Maker. 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’. I was always like, ‘Oh God it’s this cunt again.’ I couldn’t get rid of him, so at last I said, ‘Alright, alright, come round,’ – which I then forgot about. Later that week I was going through the bins outside – I’d lost some hash or something – and I heard this voice saying, ‘Looking for your breakfast are you mate?’ I looked up at this misfit with long ginger-ish hair and brothel creepers. He said, ‘I’m looking for number 11’. Then it clicked: this is the twat I’ve been trying to get rid of for fucking ages. 

“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. I thought, ‘Thank God he can play’.”

From day one, Killing Joke wanted to “create a musical renaissance via a strict musical form” Coleman told Uncut magazine in 2018. “That’s what I wrote in my diary in 1979. No guitar solos, no blues except in parody, no Americanisms. We talked endlessly about things like, what is an English rhythm? We didn’t have a folk tradition to draw from. Killing Joke was rediscovering the tradition.”

With the band’s original line-up (and indeed their current line-up) completed by bassist Martin ‘Youth’ Glover, Killing Joke debuted with the 1979 EP Turn To Red, before releasing their first album in 1980 on E.G. Records. Described by Metal Hammer’s Stephen Hill as “one of the best debut albums ever made, and one of the most definitively British records of all time”, and famously likened to “the sound of the earth vomiting” by Paul Ferguson, the album peaked at number 39 on the UK charts, but went on to influence a host of bands from Metallica (who covered The Wait on their $5.98 E.P. – Garage Days Re-Revisited in 1987) and Nirvana (Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters later covered Requiem), to Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Faith No More and Helmet (who covered closing track Primitive). 

To outsiders, Killing Joke could be as intimidating and intense as the music they made, and the quartet made little or no effort to ingratiate themselves with the gatekeepers of the British music industry. 

“For years, music magazines set out to destroy us,” Jaz Coleman told this writer in 2015. “It’s different now, people only write about Killing Joke because they like the band, but when we started out magazines felt obliged to cover us, but they’d send out journalists who hated Killing Joke to interview us or review us. And we knew this, because we had spies on the editorial boards, so we’d get a tip off. We had our own ways of dealing with that though. On at least two occasions a member of the band actually shagged the fucking journalist's girlfriend before our interviews: I thought that was genius. Generally we’re lovely people, but woe betide those who have it in for us.”

The West London-based group gradually built a devoted, fiercely loyal fanbase with their first three albums, their debut being followed by 1981’s What’s THIS For...! and 1982’s Revelations, recorded by renowned Krautrock producer Connie Plank. The producer told Walker that his guitar sound took him back to listening to radio broadcasts during World War 2. “When they played classical music on the radio, if you turned it up full, that was the sound I made, that dissonance,” the guitarist recalled to Uncut. “It was the best compliment I’ve ever had.” 

In 1982, Walker followed Coleman to Iceland, where the singer had reported moved to to escape the apocalypse’: “I told everybody the end of the world was coming, but that was to get people off my back,” he later admitted, exposing the myth. In reality, Iceland became a front for Coleman and Walker to launch alternate careers as drug dealers.

“I might as well say this now, because nobody can do anything about it,” the singer told Mojo magazine in 2020. “My first trip to Iceland with Geordie was a bit before that, and five or six hours before we left, we were told by a friend of ours, Lee Harris, who worked for High Times, the dope magazine, that hashish in Iceland cost £25 a gram. So on that first trip, Geordie and I smuggled over four ounces. We put it in balloons and shoved those down our necks with porridge. On the way to Heathrow [airport], you could hear the balloons squeaking, going eeeek-eeeek inside. We felt sick as pigs.”

“We set up a bogus [record] label in Iceland,” Coleman continued, “and had this guy who would meet my ex-girlfriend at Heathrow, and she'd send him back with these cassettes full of hash. We were onto a good thing - I got a grand piano out of it.”

Walker and Coleman shelved their operation “just before the shit hit the fan”, according to the singer, and returned to London. Before their returned to the studio to make Killing Joke fourth album, Fire Dances, Youth had departed, being replaced by Paul Raven: the album peaked at number 29 in the UK charts, a disappointment given that its predecessor had reached number 12. But the quartet’s biggest success lay ahead, with Love Like Blood, the second single from 1985’s Night Time album, peaking at number 16 on the national singles chart, and Night Time peaking at number 11. 

The band were never likely to make comfortable bedfellows with commercial success, and increasing tensions within the unit led to Paul Ferguson and Paul Raven departing before the release of 1988’s experimental, and poorly-received, Outside The Gate album. Killing Joke’s eighth studio album, Extremities, Dirt and Various Repressed Emotions, released in 1990 was as brutal and intense as its predecessor had been confusing, but after touring it, the group decided to take a break, at the precise point at which a new generation of ‘alternative rock’ bands who had taken influence from their unique, uncompromising sound (see the similarities between Nirvana’s Come As You Are and the band’s 1985 single Eighties) emerged into the spotlight to change the face of mainstream rock globally. 

During Killing Joke’s hiatus, Walker assembled industrial-metal supergroup Murder, Inc, featuring KJ alumni Raven, Ferguson and Martin Atkins, plus Revolting Cocks frontman Chris Connelly.  The band recorded their excellent self-titled debut album with Steve Albini, before splitting due to internal tensions. 

Following the departure of guitarist Jim Martin after 1992’s Angel Dust album, Walker was then invited to try out for Faith No More, as bassist Bill Gould, keyboardist Roddy Bottom and drummer Mike Bordin were all huge Killing Joke fans. 

“Geordie is probably the coolest, best guitar player I can think of,” Bill Gould told Louder in 2016. “He’s a natural. I would say 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. He’s amazing. His layering and tone and arrangements are absolutely brilliant.”

Killing Joke returned in thrilling fashion, with Youth back in the band, with 1994’s Pandemonium album, and the only-marginally-less gripping Democracy, released in 1996. Walker then branched off again to work with Martin Atkins, Chris Connelly and Jah Wobble in the short-lived The Damage Manual, who released their self-titled album in 2000.

Killing Joke recorded their own second self-titled album in 2002 with super-fan Dave Grohl on drums, and went from strength to strength until the death of bassist Paul Raven in 2007. Ironically, that tragedy would lead to the original band reforming again. “Everything came together when we all met at...Raven's funeral,” Coleman told Terrorizer magazine. “It was funny the unifying effect it had on all of us. It made us realise our mortality and how important Killing Joke is to all of us.”

Killing Joke’s most recent release, a single titled Full Spectrum Dominance, was released in March.

An intensely private man, and a musician’s musician, utterly disinterested in fame, money, or the ‘showbiz’ side of the music industry, the guitarist had been living in Prague for over a decade.

At the 2010 Classic Rock Roll Of Honour awards, Jimmy Page presented an award titled The Innovator to Killing Joke, who he fell in love with largely due to Walker’s distinctive, idiosyncratic guitar playing.

“I used to go and see the band, and it was a band that really impressed me because Geordie’s guitar sound was just really, really strong,” Page said at the time, “…it was really intense.”

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.