Captivating afternoon in Brighton with Martin Atkins of PiL & Killing Joke

Posted On 20 Nov 2022 at 6:37 pm

Martin Atkins at The Folklore Rooms, Brighton 19.11.22 (pic Hector John Ktorides)

Legendary drummer and musician Martin Atkins was in Brighton this afternoon as part of his select seven date ‘Spoken Word Tour’. He had already presented to fans in Manchester, Hull, Birmingham, London and Margate and no doubt those attending the earlier dates were as absorbed as those gathered at The Folklore Rooms in the centre of Brighton above The Quadrant Pub near the Clocktower.

The Folklore Rooms was the perfect venue for this informative presentation of the music life of the former Public Image Ltd drummer who played on their ‘Metal Box’, ‘Flowers Of Romance’, ‘Commercial Zone’ and ‘This Is What You Want… This Is What You Get’ albums. Atkins was also notably a member of Killing Joke and he founded industrial super group Pigface, The Damage Manual, and Murder Inc., and has contributed to Nine Inch Nails and Ministry.

Martin Atkins at The Folklore Rooms, Brighton 19.11.22 (pic Nick Linazasoro)

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Atkins stated that he too liked the vibe of The Folklore Rooms and indeed I totally agree. It was akin to sitting in a quiet pub with your mates and watching a highly informative seminar featuring a slide presentation by one of them.

We learnt so many nuggets during our time with him. The session was due to start at 2pm and run until 4pm, but Atkins was very keen to take a host of questions from around 1:45pm and then overrun by 19 minutes at the end. We could have had more, if we had thought of some more questions. It was just like opening up an encyclopaedia and absorbing its content.

Martin Atkins at The Folklore Rooms, Brighton 19.11.22 (pic Hector John Ktorides)

I’m going to get the elephant in the room out nice and early, that being if you were to shut your eyes whilst listening to Atkins, you would swear that you are listening to the late great Tony Wilson of Factory Records fame. Although Tony was born in Pendleton, (Salford, Lancashire) and Atkins was born in Coventry. Both men being equally articulate and people you feel that you could spend many hours in the company of and never get bored listening to their anecdotes. I must flag up that those present this afternoon were also clearly a learned bunch as the quality of the questions and depth of their knowledge was top notch!

The presentation was more or less in chronological order, but there was only really one way to begin and that was with the recent passing of Keith Levine, who was a founding member of both the Clash and Public Image Ltd (PiL). He had passed a mere eight days earlier and clearly his departure from complications of liver cancer was upsetting for Atkins, even though they at many times didn’t see eye to eye as PiL bandmates. We saw a number of newly added slides of Levine that those folks earlier on the tour might not have seen. Atkins informed us that he had been dry for nineteen months and thus two pints of alcohol free beer were on the go during the afternoon.

Martin Atkins at The Folklore Rooms, Brighton 19.11.22 (pic Nick Linazasoro)

Atkins told us that he began drumming at the age of nine and by the tender age of thirteen was playing them as backing to strippers at the Newcastle Labour Club. Which is a far cry from his life he has now in Chicago. Atkins has four boys, but I suspect none of these have backed strippers on the drums. Atkins has certainly flourished in Chicago, where he has foundedThe Museum of Post Punk and Industrial Music which is an archive of post punk and industrial music objects, stories, ideas, audio, fashion and the like. He has taught at Columbia College in Chicago where he instructed the course “The Business of Touring” and is now the Music Industry Co-ordinator at Millikin University, which is two hours south of Chicago. Atkins is also an honorary board member of the Chicago-based non-profit organisation ‘Rock For Kids’.

Atkins stated that he had his PiL audition with John Lydon (formerly Johnny Rotten) and Jah Wobble and then almost immediately went off to Paris to play his first gigs with them on 17th and 18th January 1980, which were recorded and released as a live albumParis au Printemps (‘Paris in the Spring’). In his first year with PiL the band also recorded John Peel Sessions for the BBC, as well as appearances on ‘American Bandstand’ and the BBC’s live ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’.

Martin Atkins at The Folklore Rooms, Brighton 19.11.22 (pic Hector John Ktorides)

Atkins told us that a truck full of PiL’s ‘Metal Box’ albums (released 23rd November 1979) which he had contributed ‘Bad Baby’, crashed and the tin boxes were damaged and they couldn’t sell them, well there’s a sales opportunity missed methinks!

Atkins recounted an amusing tale of when PiL were playing a 3,500 capacity New York concert, that they hadn’t really planned what they were going to play. The band at that time consisted of John Lydon, Jah Wobble, Keith Levine and Atkins. All was going well at the beginning for a few tunes, but they didn’t really know what tracks they were going to perform next, so Atkins (drums) and Wobble (bass) launched into a long jam session, during which their manager crawled across the stage to the drumkit and announced that Lydon and Levine had actually left the stage and gone back to the hotel! They were being showered by coins from the audience! Suffice to say that Wobble and Atkins went back to the hotel to look for them! Amazingly, a day later they were all back on stage at an impromptu gig held opposite the legendary CBGB’s. A venue famed for early shows by the Ramones, Blondie, Television and the like.

Martin Atkins at The Folklore Rooms, Brighton 19.11.22 (pic Nick Linazasoro)

Atkins also touched upon the music press eulogising on the arrival of the ‘The Flowers Of Romance’ album (released 10th April 1981) and them stating that it was an inspired move to have a drumming led platter this time around instead of a bass led one like its predecessor ‘Metal Box’. Errrrrrr helllllllloooooowwwww the bassist Jah Wobble had left! One of the things that impressed me the most was that Atkins was the drummer on the hit single ‘This Is Not A Love Song’, from the ‘This Is What You Want… This Is What You Get’ album, which dropped on 6th July 1984.

Atkins also touched on his time with the band Brian Brain who were named after the Worcestershire and Gloucestershire seam bowler. Interestingly, back in the day I used to go to Eaton Road in Hove and watch Sussex County Cricket Club play and also collect the players’ signatures, Brian Brain being one of those autographs that I obtained. Five years later, I used to regularly travel up to London to see the fantastic punk gigs held at the Lyceum Ballroom in Covent Garden. One of those was headlined by the UK Subs and featured Brian Brain as one of the support acts – That date being Thursday 18th June 1981. The only thing that I can recall from this whole night was the highly repetitive outro reel-to-reel tape played by Brian Brain. 41 years later I still remember its content “Buy my single, buy my album, be my friend, make me rich!” Brian Brain at that time also featured bassist Pete Jones (who also played with Public Image Ltd in 1982 and 1983) and I think keyboardist/guitarist Bill Surgeoner (Cuddly Toys). In 1983, Jones was replaced by original Go-Gos’ bassist Margot Olavarria. The band released six singles and one LP (‘Unexpected Noises’) on Secret Records, and continued to release singles and LPs on Atkins’ own Plaid Records throughout the 1980s. The band had a minor indie chart hit in 1980 with ‘They’ve Got Me In The Bottle’.

Martin Atkins at The Folklore Rooms, Brighton 19.11.22 (pic Hector John Ktorides)

Atkins said that he was in Brian Brain at the same time as PiL and that when playing live the reel-to-reel tape machine also had recorded applause on it so that the band could come back on stage again. They were wild times by all accounts as Atkins was bottled in the face at a Washington DC gig and had 16 stitches. He also had his nose and jaw broken by a bandmate after Atkins had previously thrown a monitor on top of the same bandmate.

Originally John Lydon called Keith Levine to tell him to sack Atkins from the band and then after a while they asked him back to play again. Second time around, Atkins quit PiL.

Martin Atkins at The Folklore Rooms, Brighton 19.11.22 (pic Nick Linazasoro)

Atkins then moved on to talk about his days with Killing Joke. He first came across the band when working (playing drums) with Jah Wobble on the tracks ‘Betrayal’ and ‘Pineapple’ for his debut solo album ‘The Legend Lives On… Jah Wobble In “Betrayal”’ which was released in May 1980 through Virgin Records. The tracks ‘Not Another’ and ‘Blueberry Hill’ primarily feature rhythm tracks originally recorded during the sessions for Public Image Ltd.’s second studio album ‘Metal Box’. This caused a dispute between Wobble and frontman John Lydon, which ultimately led to Wobble’s departure in 1980. At that time, Atkins was dating Bethan Peters who was the bassist for Delta 5, who incidentally were formed from the same art school scene at Leeds University as Gang of Four and The Mekons. Delta 5’s most memorable moment being their earworm ‘Mind Your Own Business’ single which dropped on Rough Trade in 1979. Bethan not surprisingly knew fellow bassist Martin Glover aka “Youth” from Killing Joke. Kevin Walker aka “Geordie” (Killing Joke’s guitarist) called up Atkins and asked him if he wanted to come and play in the band. Burberries in Birmingham was Atkins first show with the band. The venue was located at 220 Broad Street, next to Lee Longlands, but it was demolished some years ago. Andy Rourke from the Smiths was also asked to join Killing Joke but that was ill fated due to illegal substances.

Atkins (who informed us holds a Masters Degree) also briefly covered Paul Vincent Raven (16th January 1961 – 20th October 2007) who was Killing Joke’s bassist, and also was in Ministry. Jaz Coleman and Geordie (from Killing Joke) knew Cuban-American founder of Ministry, Al Jourgensen and that’s how Atkins went off to play on tour with Ministry for 12 weeks as nothing much was happening with Killing Joke at the time. Atkins recounted the time when a promoter gave Ministry 10,000 dollars for them to play the following night and it sold out and then he repeated the deal for the following night.

Martin Atkins at The Folklore Rooms, Brighton 19.11.22 (pic Hector John Ktorides)

In 1991 Atkins had also formed the industrial music supergroup Murder, Inc. which featured vocalist Chris Connelly, Killing Joke members Geordie Walker, Paul Raven, “Big Paul” Ferguson, and John Bechdel. Atkins said that they only played six gigs together, but fans can expect a double vinyl release to drop in the near future.

Atkins concluded that he still plays in Pigface to this day. I’m certain that he would have enjoyed conveying his tales to us for many more hours. I don’t even think that we touch on his time with Nine Inch Nails for instance. I suspect that the students gathered in Abbey Road Studios yesterday for the private talk, had just as much enjoyment looking at the slide presentation and listening to Atkins as we all did this afternoon. It was truly excellent!

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