Album Review – Jaz Coleman

Jaz Coleman with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra -‘ ‘Magna Invocatio – a Gnostic mass for choir and orchestra inspired by the sublime music of Killing Joke’ (Spinefarm Records) Killing Joke?

No, really. This is no opportunistic orchestra for hire play the hits of Killing Joke (something for which we should all be thankful). Rather these are thirteen tracks that take on musical themes within Killing Joke’s music. The result is ninety minutes of sublime music that stands as one of the best albums to be released this year.

It’s not the first time that Coleman, Killing Joke’s leader since 1978, has worked within classical music. As a child he studied piano and violin and was a chorister in several cathedral choirs. Even forties years ago, as Killing Joke formed and took off he was studying classical music. An expert in that field, Conductor Klaus Tennstedt, described him as a “new Mahler.” His first classical release, Songs From The New City, a collaboration with Anne Dudley, was released as long ago as 1990.

A Gnostic mass, in case you’re wondering, is a ritualised celebration of the mysteries of existence. Over the course of this album there’s plenty to ponder, so that the rock vs. classical debate hopefully gets left behind very soon. It’s just music, kids, and all the better for it. The orchestra, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra is Russia’s oldest.

The promotional track doing the rounds ‘The Raven King’ (see below) is a great example of why this album works so well. It takes the 2010 Killing Joke track ‘The Raven King‘ – a tribute to the former Killing Joke bassist, Paul Raven, who died in 2007, and takes the melody someplace entirely else, while remaining close to the spirit of the original. Those familiar with the music of Killing Joke (hopefully most of you) may expect that translating the music into this new form that it contains the paranoia and rage that characterises much of their music. The surprise is that a) it doesn’t and b) it still works perfectly well. The reworking of 1986 single ‘Adorations’ is another highlight.

As someone who’s long enjoyed classical music, and indeed the work of Killing Joke, this album works well on several levels. Yes, there’s the majesty (I don’t use that word lightly, you understand) and power that you expect from Killing Joke, and the passion from classical music. Indeed, you don’t need to be particularly in either camp to appreciate this album. One that I intend to pass onto both my classical loving parents and rock fans. Nor does it at any point invoke that dreaded spectre to ‘rock-classical crossover.’

In the press relase, Coleman states ‘“The end goal was always to bring magic into the listener’s life in some meaningful way”.

Mission accomplished.


Magna Invocatio – a Gnostic mass for choir and orchestra inspired by the sublime music of Killing Joke is out now. The vinyl version will follow on January 24.

Gig review – Karine Polwart

Karine Polwart – Usher Hall, Edinburgh

November 16, 2019

(Yes, it was a week ago, but it’s been a rather chaotic week, yet this has left a nice glow…)

It’s that time of year – yet again – when thoughts turn to end of year lists. High on the list at 17 Seconds Towers is Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook (see here for review), eleven songs from the last fifty years of Scottish popular music delivered in her own style.

Interviewing her in August, she explained that the album evolved out of the exhibition on Scottish pop music that took place last year at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and a night of Scottish pop in a folk style that she curated at the Leith Theatre. ‘The amount of effort for one night led to four days in a studio and pondering the issue of ‘How can you make a go of them in a way that’s not shit karaoke?’

As anyone who has heard the album will attest, it’s most definitely not shit karaoke. The show opens with her radical reworking of The Waterboys’ ‘The Whole Of The Moon.’ The skill of the reworking is that it maintains the spirit of the song, even though it doesn’t have the famous trumpet solo.

There’s some excellent banter form the stage, drawing upon her time growing up in Stirlingshire, including an excellent story about the girls who decided that they weren’t going to do knitting if the boys weren’t. She sheds light on the songs – it’s still a surprise to learn that Strawberry Switchblade’s song ‘Since Yesterday’ is about nuclear war.

When interviewed, she indicated that there wouldn’t be a second volume, but there’s a number of tracks that get an airing tonight. On paper, a choir of schoolchildren coming on stage to join a version of Lewis Capaldi’s ‘Someone Like You’ should have been unbearably cloying, but it comes together surprisingly well. Perhaps the highlight, though, is a medley of Eurythmics’ ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’ and Bronski Beat’s ‘Smalltown boy.’ She jokes that it’s because they both feature the word ‘rain’ prominently in the song but it’s a genius reworking. As a songwriter, it’s understandable that she may not wish to do a second volume, but  her reworkings make for an engaging listen.

New from The Flaming Lips

I’m not going to starts Christmas posts properly until we’ve got past Thanksgiving (Mrs. 17 Seconds is originally from Indiana, so this gets noted more in our home than it would do otherwise in most Scottish homes), but this popped into my inbox on Friday, and is too good not to share, frankly.

It’s a tribute to the David Bowie and Bing Crosby medley of ‘Little Drummer Boy – Peace On Earth‘ originally taped for a Bing Crosby special in 1977, and released as a single in 1982. The video is as wonderfully psychedelic as you might expect. This performance was originally shown last December and was directed by Wayne Coyne and George Salisbury.

Now, although the info from the US says it’s out now, it’s not on iTunes, in the UK at least, so you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled…

In other Flaming Lips’ news, there’s a live album, entitled The Flaming Lips Recorded Live At Red Rocks With The Colorado Symphony Orchestra due on November 29. This version of ‘Race For The Prize’ is glorious.

Forthcoming from Paul Vickers and The Leg

Ahead of the December 6th release of their new album Jump, Paul Vickers and The Leg have unveiled the first single and video from the album.

Released on Tenement Records (who have also given us releases by Aberfeldy, George McFall and Dominic Waxing Lyrical), if you’ve never heard the band reassembled from the ashes of Dawn of The Replicants the first single is an excellent place to start. ‘Chieftain Of Paradise‘ manages to sound like a slightly sinister knees-up and a call to arms. No mean feat, I think you’ll agree. A couple of plays and it is very pleasantly wedged into your brain.

The video is cheerfully bonkers and great fun. The first verse drops clues about early Elvis Presley singles with hands holding up singles to drop clues. I can’t work out if this was low-budget or not, but it’s wonderful to have a single that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

The album tracklisting is as follows:

  1. Hearing My Voice
  2. Do your Best
  3. Chicken Church
  4. Hopelessadocus
  5. Sherbert And Chili
  6. Little Turtle Wars
  7. Help this Animal
  8. Chieftain Of Paradise
  9. Xmas In The Jungle
  10. The Blackburn Giant