Kevin “Geordie” Walker, guitarist with industrial band Killing Joke whose ringing, richly textured tone influenced generations of musicians, has died aged 64.
The band released a statement on Sunday announcing that guitarist Kevin ‘Geordie’ Walker of Killing Joke passed away at 6:30am on November 26, 2023 in Prague. He had suffered a stroke and was with his family at the time of his passing. The band is deeply saddened by this loss and sends their condolences to his loved ones.
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.
In 1958, a man was born in County Durham and attended school in Buckinghamshire. He was given the nickname “Geordie” while living there. He responded to an advertisement placed by Coleman in a music publication. Coleman later recalled, “This individual kept calling and claiming to be the best guitarist, despite never having been in a band and only playing in his mother’s bedroom.” Eventually, Coleman invited him for a cup of tea and noticed his fishing rods, leading to a six-hour conversation about fishing. The man then revealed he had nowhere to live, and Coleman offered to let him stay with him. Three weeks went by before Coleman actually heard him play, but when he did, it was like witnessing a heavenly fire.
In 1980, the group released their fiery first album, which made it into the UK Top 40. Coleman moved to Iceland and Walker soon joined him, with Coleman revealing they worked as hashish merchants (“we had a lucrative gig – I even got a grand piano out of it”, Coleman stated). Upon returning to London and refining a more mainstream sound, they achieved their greatest success in 1985 with the gold-certified No 11 hit Night Time, featuring the Top 20 single Love Like Blood.
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?”
During a short break in the early 1990s, Walker created the industrial rock supergroup Murder, Inc and their first album was recorded by Steve Albini in 1992. Walker also tried out for Faith No More, but their bassist Billy Gould admitted that his strong personality overpowered the band. While it wasn’t the right fit for Faith No More, Gould expressed regret that it didn’t work out.
In the mid-1990s, Killing Joke reunited and aligned with the popular industrial sound that they had influenced. Their album Pandemonium, released in 1994, achieved a spot in the UK Top 20.
After the release of their 1996 album “Democracy”, the band went on another break. During this time, lead singer Walker created a new group called the Damage Manual, which included Jah Wobble. In 2003, Killing Joke reunited again and released a self-titled album with drummer Dave Grohl, who had been a longtime fan. Many have pointed out similarities between the guitar riffs in Killing Joke’s “Eighties” and Nirvana’s “Come As You Are”.
Some other fans of Walker were Metallica, who performed a version of The Wait; Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, who praised Walker’s powerful and intense guitar sound; and Kevin Shields from My Bloody Valentine, who named Walker as a major influence in a 2013 interview with The Guardian, commending his effortless playing and the huge sound it creates.
In 2007, the original members of Killing Joke came back together and continued to play live shows. Their latest album, Pylon, was released in 2015 and also reached the Top 20 charts.
Looking back on 2013 and considering what made the band so powerful, Walker expressed, “At the beginning, our process for making records wasn’t too different from playing live shows. We would rehearse, write songs, set up the mics, and just play! But now, if you’re not careful, you might not even see the drummer or the producer of the record. It’s all about bits and pieces, cutting and pasting. It may sound impressive at first, but on repeated listens, it lacks the imperfect human element. And it’s that imperfection that somehow makes it magical.”
Tim Burgess from the Charlatans was one of the people expressing their admiration, stating: “His guitar playing defined my teenage years.” Highly-regarded illustrator Daniel Danger also commented that Walker’s guitar sound evoked “the immense force of infinite worlds throughout eternity, all dancing together in one moment, a seismic event more powerful than everything in existence combined.”