Geordie Walker, who has died following a stroke aged 64, was a guitarist and songwriter, and co-founder of the band Killing Joke, who blazed a sonic trail through the post-punk era of the 1970s and 1980s; his playing inspired the likes of Kurt Cobain and Metallica, while Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin was a big fan of his work.
Cobain’s love for one of Killing Joke’s songs eventually resulted in lawyers being consulted – though the case never reached court – when he based his riff for Come as You Are, from the 1991 Nevermind album, on Walker’s hook on the 1984 single Eighties. The Nirvana camp naturally denied any undue influence and insisted they had never even heard of Killing Joke – a claim undermined by the fact that, as Walker recalled, “they had already sent us a Christmas card!”
Killing Joke’s sound was dark and apocalyptic, thanks in no small part to Walker’s fusion of punk and heavy metal, but the guitarist himself, recalled Youth, the band’s bassist, was “like Lee Van Cleef meets Terry-Thomas via Noël Coward. No man was cooler than Geordie. Very charming, inscrutable and gracious, with a gentle effortless touch (both on the guitar, and making you feel welcome) – when he wasn’t shredding you with his razor-sharp articulate shrapnel.”
Kevin Walker was born on December 18 1958 in Co Durham, the only child of Ronald Walker, a joiner, and Mary, née Glen, a bookkeeper. The family moved down south and the boy attended Sir Herbert Leon Academy in Bletchley, acquiring the nickname “Geordie” thanks to his accent.
He received his first guitar, a Gibson Les Paul, at Christmas 1973 – Mary bought it for him as she had seen Jimi Hendrix playing one when he was on an Engelbert Humperdinck bill – then a few years later he moved down to London to study architecture. He answered an ad in Melody Maker placed by the drummer Paul Ferguson and keyboard player Jeremy “Jaz” Coleman – “It looked rather serious, fanatical, I don’t know what it was but it clicked with me,” he recalled.
He joined the new band, now named Killing Joke, in March 1979. A couple of months later the bass guitarist Martin Glover – better known as “Youth”, in homage to the reggae star Big Youth – was recruited, and they played their first gig at Whitcombe Lodge in Gloucestershire that August, supporting the Ruts and the Selecter.
John Peel played their first single, Nervous System, on his radio show, and they were soon supporting Joy Division, the kings of post-punk. Their self-titled debut album, released in October 1980, crept into the Top 40, and 14 more followed over the years, Pylon (2015) being their most recent; their most successful album was Night Time (1985), which reached No 11 in the UK. That album also featured their biggest-selling single Love Like Blood, which reached No 15 in the UK.
Other acts besides Nirvana were inspired by Walker’s playing: Metallica, who covered The Wait; Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine; LCD Soundsystem; Faith No More; and Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. Dave Grohl, the former Nirvana drummer, made amends for his old band ripping off Eighties by playing on Killing Joke’s second self-titled album, in 2003.
When not working with Killing Joke, Walker played with Murder, Inc in the 1990s and the Damage Manual in the 2000s.
Geordie Walker married Ginny Kiraly, whom he had met at a Killing Joke post-gig party, in 1989; they had a son in 1992. They lived in Detroit until the 2000s, splitting up when Walker returned to England to care for his ill father. They eventually divorced in 2012, and Walker spent his latter years living in Prague with his partner Alexandra Kocourkova; she survives him with their daughter and his son.
Geordie Walker, born December 18 1958, died November 26 2023