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Killing Joke's Fearless Leader

Jaz Coleman has composed masterpieces, travelled the globe and, allegedly, inspired Heath Ledger’s Joker. But what lies behind the mask of this generation-defining clown prince?

His black eyes blaze as he lets out a cavernous roar, before flashing the audience a blood-chilling rictus grin.

 This is Jaz Coleman, the harbinger-of-doom frontman of Killing Joke, owning the stage at Metal Hammer’s Golden Gods awards in June.

A cursory glance at Jaz’s onstage demeanour might suggest he’s an unapproachable, terrifying, one-dimensional caricature. Yet he’s a former choirboy who composes symphonies. An iconic rockstar who’s made 14 albums with influential post-punk pioneers Killing Joke, yet owns little more than the clothes he stands up in. A father of three who can only find peace on a remote island at the end of the world. And so, as his band prepare to unleash Pylon, another staggeringly powerful album full of dark prophecies, we set out to uncover the real Jaz…

Jeremy Coleman was born in Cheltenham, Gloucester, on February 26, 1960. His parents were teachers, and his mother, Gloria, has historically significant Indian roots.

“My great, great, great grandfather was Mangal Pandey, who led the insurrection against the British [in 1857] and is revered in Mother India as one of the great nationalists,” says Jaz. “Then there’s B. N. Pandey, who wrote The Break Up Of British India and was very close to Gandhi. My grandfather was in the 1962 war with China; he executed two of his own men for not going forward, and he believed in global revolution.”

Jaz’s future was predetermined from age four. His family decided that while his elder brother, Piers, would follow an academic path into maths and science, Jaz would be a musician. “That’s the Indian side – it’s like an arranged marriage, and I’ve never considered any other vocation,” he explains.

Did you never feel any resentment that your life had been pre-arranged?

“No,” Jaz insists. “It was very clever. My grandmother saw me moving to music in the cradle, and decided I had an oral, visual intelligence, as opposed to an academic one.”

It was an arrangement that clearly worked for Piers, too, now an eminent physics professor at Rutgers University, New Jersey.

Despite winning several music prizes, Jaz left school with no academic qualifications. By his own admission, Killing Joke was his university. He moved to London in 1978, met drummer Paul Ferguson three days later, and the pair performed a ceremonial ritual to conjure the band into being, focusing their minds on finding people who “shared our strong sense of mysticism and our studies”. Within three months, Kevin ’Geordie’ Walker and bassist Martin ’Youth’ Glover had answered the call.

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