Jaz Coleman’s alternate career as a drug dealer in Iceland in 1982 funded his purchase of a grand piano, and helped him write his first symphony
The story that Killing Joke‘s Jaz Coleman fled to Iceland in February 1982 ‘to escape the apocalypse’ is one of rock’s great myths: “I told everybody the end of the world was coming, but that was to get people off my back,” he later admitted. “Back then, 80 per cent of people aged 20 or younger thought they were going to die in a nuclear holocaust.”
As Coleman pointed out to Metal Hammer last year, Iceland would have been a weird choice of location to avoid nuclear armageddon: the US military had established an airbase, Naval Air Station Keflavik outside Reykjavik, strategically located midway between America’s East Coast and Europe, in 1951, and as Coleman noted “even back in ’82, cruise missiles and nuclear warheads could have reached Iceland.”
In reality, Iceland became a front for Coleman to launch an alternate career as a drug dealer.
“I might as well say this now, because nobody can do anything about it,” the singer told Mojo magazine in 2020. “My first trip to Iceland with Geordie was a bit before that, and five or six hours before we left, we were told by a friend of ours, Lee Harris, who worked for High Times, the dope magazine, that hashish in Iceland cost £25 a gram. So on that first trip, Geordie and I smuggled over four ounces. We put it in balloons and shoved those down our necks with porridge. On the way to Heathrow [airport], you could hear the balloons squeaking, going eeeek-eeeek inside. We felt sick as pigs.”
“We set up a bogus [record] label in Iceland,” Coleman continued, “and had this guy who would meet my ex-girlfriend at Heathrow, and she’d send him back with these cassettes full of hash. We were onto a good thing – I got a grand piano out of it.”
The singer says that he and Walker shelved their operation “just before the shit hit the fan.” He returned to London from Iceland having written his first symphony during his stay: Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page later let Coleman stay at his house so that his staff could make a copy of the manuscript.
“I was very impressed when I first met Jaz,” Page told Mojo. “He came to my house with a voluminous manuscript of a piece he’d written in Reykjavik. I thought, This is an unusual guy!”