Coil’s History 2004-2010

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Coil’s Final Days – The Death of John Balance

COIL’S 21ST CENTURY – INTROVERSION TURNS INSIDE OUT…

At the end of the 20th Century, Coil moved from a London filled with the Ghosts of our friends, funerals and nightmares, to a rambling Victorian “Care Home” on the Coast, both before and since (and in hindsight DURING) our residence. It was a melancholy but also very beautiful environment, bringing forth Musick to match, to Play in the Dark, even.

Also, thanks to Thighpaulsandra we plucked up the courage to Sally Forth and meet our many admirers (and sympathisers). The motivation to make a new show every six months or so, brought about much new material that would not otherwise have happened. And apparently the sight of the new “Coil Live” effected many people profoundly.

After laughably being told I” would Never Work in Hollywood Again”, I decided that was okay by me, and so had plenty of time to take care of Geff, who was up and down, and make more music and video for Coil.

The Downside for me was having to watch (in close-up) as the beautiful 17 year old genius I had first met, and fallen in love with 20 years earlier, slowly drank himself away from Joy, Awareness, Hope and finally, Life itself. -Sleazy

Dublin, though considered a one-off show by Peter and thus explaining why no professional audio recording exists, was not supposed to be where it ended. According to Phil Barrington in his book The Golden Age of Bloodsports, “On November 10th Coil officially announced two live festival appearances for December. On the weekend of 3rd-5th December, they were to appear at ATPs’ ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas,’ once again performing at Camber Sands Holiday Resort. They were then planned to head straight over to Bilbao, Spain for a performance at the MEM Festival on December 6th. Both of these events would obviously be cancelled soon enough. Intriguingly, on the 12th November (the day before Jhonn’s death), Coil officially announced that the ‘Seed Records 4th Birthday’ event at Aldwych Disused Tube Station, that Coil was scheduled to play that evening, had been cancelled. According to Sleazy’s post to the Coil mailing list, ‘apparently someone high up in London Underground saw the word “rave” on some internet site and panicked.’ Coil had originally planned to present a ‘short and low-key set’ on that Friday night.” Regarding the projected sound of the gigs, to quote Peter, “I can’t say if the largely abstract form of the music that day [in Dublin] would have continued to develop into some new form, or whether something had already ‘worn out.’ As you can hear on the Reconstruction Kit I had new Backing Tracks for 4 or 5 new songs but ended up only using a couple of them [on the night]. At the time it just didn’t seem right.”

According to Peter, after this gig, John returned to the alcoholic “oblivion” in their home in the Weston Super-Mare, only emerging a few times. He contributed vocals to Thighpaulsanda’s solo song “Christ’s Teeth” and in October recorded numerous takes for Danny Hyde’s track “FJ Nettlefold,” while at one point he acted as a tough director to François Testory, who visited the studio to record the studio vocals for “Going Up.” According to Peter, “”I don’t know why Geff suggested we try it, nor can I remember how we came to be in touch with amazing counter-tenor Francois, who I only ever met twice (I think) – once when he came to the house in Weston to record the ‘official’ vocal – I remember Geff sobered up sufficiently for the morning to act as quite a tough producer, demanding many retakes and alterations of nuance from Francois’ performance before retreating to his room (and the bottle) afterwards, and the second time in Dublin to feature in Coil’s Last Five Minutes.” For the latter session, Peter remarked how John seemed “nonplussed” by what he heard from Testory before retreating once again.

It’s likely indescribable what John’s final days were really like. Peter questioned whether the weeks leading up to it would have had some sense of finality to John, even at least in an unconscious way, though apparently John never spoke up about it. There’s no telling what was going through his head on the last day of his life. According to Peter, “On the early evening of November 13th 2004, Jhonn and I were at home. Jhonn had been in the oblivion of vodka for a couple of weeks although that day he had eaten some soup and had a bath and was not quite as insensible as he had been.” Elsewhere Peter mentioned John was happily looking forward to seeing Ian that weekend and working on projects the following week. “I was watching TV (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) when I heard a noise in the hall. Jhonn was lying face down on the wooden floor breathing noisily. He was deeply unconscious. Apparently he had tipped over the banisters and fallen some 12ft to the floor below onto his head. I called the ambulance and they were at the house in 7 minutes. Jhonn was rushed to hospital, but despite the best efforts of the doctors in A&E, he did not regain consciousness. His condition deteriorated over the next few hours, and at 9.20pm he was pronounced dead.” John’s blood alcohol content at the time of his death was never revealed. In the official death reports, every party ruled out suicide.

Hundreds of people took to the Coil Mailing List and to the Solar Lodge Soulseek group to express their grief. Many of these were collected in two volumes called “Book of Condolences.” Some musical peers and others also expressed their goodbyes. For example, the following is Black Sun Productions’ eulogy to John Balance and remembrance of their involvement in Coil, which you can find archived here: Anarcocks

COIL LIVE

We worship, ever since, at the pagan altar of COIL.

We grown up listening to their musick and they greatly influenced our own musick and our attitude towards art and life. COIL were the reason that brought us magically together. Pierce met COIL and shortly appeared on stage with them in Leipzig, June 2001. COIL were going on tour for their first time ever and asked Pierce to find a partner to perform with in their forthcoming shows. Pierce found Massimo. We met and we fell in love. It was October 2001. COIL’s tour, supposed to happen in November, was then postponed of a few months because of John Balance’s conditions. We were already rehearsing, and eager to perform, so we decided to start, in the meanwhile, our own performance project Plastic Spider Thing.

When COIL finally hit the road in April 2002 our ways finally crossed. We met our inspirators in Zurich, where we used to live and where COIL happened to play. The Children of the Black Sun finally gathered together. For the following seven months we were to share our personal and artistic lives.

Drazen had the big chance and honour to release his soundtrack for Plastic Spider Thing on Eskaton, COIL’s own label. We performed our ghost boys stage persona as part of the COIL show everywhere in Europe, collecting standing ovations and practicing Disobedience and Fornication. We shared beautiful moments of Joy and Pleasure, and difficult moments of Pain and Sorrow. Ultimately we shared Life. COIL are kind spirits and generous mentors: they opened wide their hearts and their house before us. They made our dreams come true. Living at Threshold House we often felt like Alice in Wonderland and we had, together with them, many beautiful moments of true happiness: twisted nights of Love and Lust; intense shamanic rituals; some amazing moments of pure inspiration and many extraordinary performances.

To be both friends and artistic partners of Peter and Geff, Simon and Thighps, is one of the greatest gift we could ever have from life. A Coil show is a very intense experience, who was able to attend one knows it; it’s a highly cathartic Ritual, for both audience and performers. To tour with such a physically and emotionally demanding live performance turned out to be exhausting for everyone, for someone of us even devastatingly consuming. The last performance of the tour, in Vienna, was a seminal moment of our artistic companionship and of our personal lives. A very sad goodbye. On stage that night everyone of us had a lucid remote vision of the difficult moments that were there to come; and they came all…

Right after the conclusion of the COIL tour we found ourselves on the road again with another challenging and demanding task: the remaining second half of Plastic Spider Thing installations left to stage. Once and finally back in our production unit in Switzerland we started editing and archiving the enormous amount of video and photographic material documenting the COIL tour. It’s a titanic task we’re still immerse in. A documentary film about Massimo & Pierce’s collaboration with COIL is planned to be released within the end of 2004 through this website.

Black Sun Productions is, and will always be, a strong and loyal supporter of COIL. Through this website we’ll always spontaneously communicate any news officially confirmed, by the COIL boys or their management, and promote any activity around COIL and related projects (Thighpaulsandra, Cyclobe). If the price of existence is eternal warfare we are ready to pay the penalty for harbouring partisans…

Our eternal L.O.V.E. to Sleazy and John Balance.

COIL European Tour 2002

[w/ Massimo & Pierce]:

Zurich 4 Apr

Bologna 6 Apr

Den Haag 7 Jun

Dour 13 Jul

Fano 26 Jul

London 1 Oct

Thessaloniki 5 Oct

London Oct 12th

Copenhagen 16 Oct

Oslo 17 Oct

Stockholm 19 Oct

Helsinki 21 Oct

Gdansk 25 Oct

Lódz 26 Oct

Prague 27 Oct

Vienna 29 Oct

John’s funeral occurred on November 23, 2004 in Bristol, UK, attended only by close friends and family. Peter published the funeral program in the booklet to Colour Sound Oblivion.

An MP3 of the funeral music CD used at the funeral surfaced shortly thereafter under the name Funeral Music for Geff. François Testory’s live vocals and Cliff Stapleton and Mike York’s live hurdy-gurdy and bagpipes respectively were not recorded, as far as I know.

Throbbing Gristle played for a second time since they broke up, at All Tomorrow’s Parties on December 3, 2004, which Coil was also originally set to play. The official video, released on TGV, depicts Peter famously wearing the white fluffy suit he adorned for many Coil live shows. After the first song, “P.A.D.,” Genesis P-Orridge dedicated the evening to the memory of John. During the final song, “Wall of Sound,” Peter apparently broke down into tears, garnering Genesis’ attention who then went over to comfort him. Peter disrobed the suit onstage like a snake shedding its skin, briefly waved bye to the audience, and left the stage first, with Genesis following quick suit and Cosey and Chris staying for a little while longer. I’ve got to hand it to Peter, sticking out the show as the true professional he was, and it’s impossible not to see the poetry in his actions onstage.

 

On March 5, 2005, Peter said: “‘Although we all certainly knew that something like this might happen if Jhonn continued to use alcohol in the way that he did – and much of the work of Coil, Jhonn’s Life’s Work in fact, described or addressed that Very Moment, nevertheless it came as a great shock to all of us. In the days that followed, Ian – Jhonn’s partner for the last year or so – and I struggled to keep ourselves together and to begin to organise both public and private arrangements. The response to the news on the website was overwhelming and very touching, and brought immense Solace in a time of need. Friends of Coil over the years, particularly Ossian Brown, Bill Breeze, David Michael, Geoff Cox and Marilyn, our housekeeper, were also incredibly supportive, and they were among the 100 or so guests at the Funeral Celebration, which was held on November 23rd at Memorial Woodlands near Bristol.’ We all continue to have bad days from time to time, but slowly as the numbness begins to recede, the possibility of enjoying new sights, smells, flavors, the possibil-ity of new life, returns. I still find it hard to say the words ‘Geff’s dead’ or ‘when Geff died’ out loud, and the process of mixing and editing Jhonn’s last Work ‘The Ape of Naples’ has been almost unbearably emotional, to say the least. The last song of that show “Going Up” is a reworking of the theme to the 70s TV show ‘Are You Being Served?’ but through the eyes of Coil and Jhonn Balance it clearly is just about ‘Going Up’ himself – Over and over he sings ‘Are you ready to go now?’ and in the end, his Last Live Words: ‘…It Just Is.’”

Ian Johnstone’s “Memorial for John Balance”

Coil, THBC, TG, X-TG, and Bangkok – The Last Six Years of Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson’s Life

Coil broke up as soon as John died for obvious reasons. I know not to what extent each of them kept in touch. From there, Peter worked tirelessly on countless projects, including touring with Throbbing Gristle (and briefly X-TG), forming Soisong and touring with Ivan Pavlov, and of course his own solo project Threshold HouseBoys Choir, which apparently John had always liked the name of. Thighpaulsandra continued with his solo work, Ossian Brown formed Cyclobe with former Coil member Stephen Thrower (which Mike York and Cliff Stapleton would later collaborate with as well), and Massimo and Pierce continued to record work under Anarcocks and Black Sun Productions for some more years, even playing “Ostia” and “Tattooed Man” Coil covers live.

Several Coil releases followed over the years. In April 2005, …And the Ambulance Died in His Arms was released, containing a full SBD recording of the 2003-04-06 ATP show. The name had been chosen by John before his death – the line itself mirrored “And the ambulance died at my feet,” which John would sing on certain live versions of “Drip Drop.” The Ape of Naples followed in December, comprised of heartbreaking remixes and rerecordings of Backwards and contemporary Coil material. It’s widely regarded as one of Coil’s finest releases. Live in Porto, sourced from an MP3 of an AUD recording of the 2003-06-21 Porto gig, was released sometime in 2006. Animal Are You?, an underwhelming previously unreleased Coil track, followed in December in a wooden box signed by Peter himself, additionally containing a small bottle of fine absinthe, two glasses, and two spoons. In April 2008, The New Backwards, a collection of further remixes of (this time, just) Backwards material, was released.

Finally, in July 2010, just months before Peter’s death, he released Colour Sound Oblivion, a 16-DVD set containing 14 videos of live Coil performances and most of the backing audio tracks and video projections the band used throughout their live career as well. Numerous video projects were started and abandoned over the years, but this one was indeed finished. Peter did not have everything in his archives, neither at his home in Weston Super-Mare nor his home in Bangkok, Thailand, so the set only contained what he considered “the best” of what he had. Editing the set nearly killed him, since it was so emotional an experience, especially the final Dublin gig, which he waited until the very last minute to edit. This explains many of the set’s editing shortcomings and heavy reliance of previously released/edited material and single-cam videos. As it turns out, it was not exactly meant to be the capoff – Peter had also planned to release the Coil Codex, a projected Blu-Ray containing all of Coil’s studio work and tons of unreleased demos and extras, and collections of John’s notes, art, and photos. I’ve heard elsewhere in what was hailed as Peter’s last official interview that after CSO he was done with Coil and would not mention them again, but I unfortunately cannot find that source – maybe by the end he had decided CSO was the last big thing, or maybe he himself was done and was trying to pass off his proposed projects onto other people for them to do instead (which is essentially exactly what happened). Regardless, any other Coil ephemera released since have been considered unofficial bootlegs, even by the Coil affiliates who released them, including the T-ARCH project and Danny Hyde’s 2015 release of the original intended version of Backwards.

Once he set up shop in Bangkok full-time, Peter founded a house where Bangkok boys of age would cater to his every whim. Whenever he wasn’t working, he lived in total decadence. Much of his THBC material was heavily inspired by and/or taken directly from Bangkok culture, as seen in the artificial vocals in a lot of his songs at the time and the video projections he’d use during live performances. In 2007, he released Form Grows Rampant, a combined CD+DVD package. The DVD portion of the set includes documentary footage directed by Peter Christopherson from a vegetarian festival in Krung Thep, Thailand. Additionally, he formally reformed Throbbing Gristle with the other members, touring and recording new material, and formed Soisong with old Coil friend Ivan Pavlov.

It’s worth noting that on October 29, 2010, in the middle of a TG tour, Genesis P-Orridge bailed on the remaining tour dates, and the remaining three members finished the tour (two last shows which were both slightly delayed) under the name X-TG. Seems Gen wanted to focus on the best-of material and play all the songs relatively straight every time, while the other three instead wanted to harken back to the original TG days and improvise live on stage. The new project almost became a separate entity entirely and probably would have, were it not for an upcoming tragedy. The last TG gig took place on October 23, 2010 at the Village Underground in London, UK, six years to the day after the final Coil gig in Dublin.

Hilariously, Peter played a drug dealer in a movie adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and the Damned, directed by Richard Wolstencroft and released on DVD in October 2010. To my knowledge, it was his only real acting role. I haven’t seen the movie myself, but the trailer makes it look like a student film, only a few notches above something like Birdemic in terms of production. Peter is apparently the only reason to give a shit about the movie, but even then, it doesn’t really pique my interest.

In mid-2010, Peter started the unklesleazy.tv project, a website dedicated to videos regarding his projects and Thai culture. In a video originally posted in June, entitled “Bangkok Just Last Night,” Peter stated, “Certain health problems have, uh, detained me, along with other matters…I’m fine, so don’t, uh, don’t be concerned. I know you’re in very good hands, as, indeed, am I. I hope you enjoy the show…” In said video, he’s shirtless, sweaty, and bloated. He’d been fat since the late 80s/early 90s, and since Peter never opened up about his health problems, it’s reasonable to assume his weight and life style started catching up to him by this point. Supposedly, he had taken to drugs and drug-fueled orgies with his Thai boys. On November 21, Peter aired what was to be his “final transmission,” titled “Fire in the Sky,” a video detailing a local Bangkok festival. This was the last footage Peter ever appeared in.

On November 25, 2010, six years and twelve days after John Balance’s death, Peter quietly passed away in his sleep, allegedly from a drug-fueled heart attack. It’s only fitting that he died the same month as the love of his life. Interestingly, he was also born the same month too, February. The official cause of death was never made public, and supposedly an autopsy was never performed, as such an action was apparently against Peter’s Tibetan Buddhist beliefs at the time. The whole Coil, TG, THBC, Soisong, PTV, etc. communities were devastated by the news and still are to this day. His funeral took place on December 1 – a few video snippets have surfaced on Youtube. Pictures reveal that Andrew Lahman, Thighpaulsandra, Ossian and Steve, Chris and Cosey, etc. all sent large bouquets of flowers.

 

To add insult to injury, tragically, Peter’s archives were not properly backed up in Bangkok. At least, that’s what most people think and say. The truth is that by Peter’s own admission, plenty of recordings WERE properly backed up by multiple copies on multiple terabyte hard-drives and the like, but the problem is that there are also tons of backups on antiquated, now inaccessible formats, such as Jaz drives (whatever those are). Peter, being slightly forgetful and aloof as he was, did not have the foresight to write down what was on each drive or other device. In fact, when he officially moved to Bangkok, boxes he had in storage were not labeled either! It’s unknown exactly what was backed up and what wasn’t, how many copies of any given recording were backed up, where exactly they were backed up, who has them now, etc. for this reason – people like Thighpaulsandra, who by his own admission has never been particularly tech-savy, have a certain set of archives in their possession that they simply cannot access. Furthermore, no one knows what Peter’s password on his old Apple laptop was, so any outstanding material he had solely on there is most likely locked away forever!

Because of this, for all intents and purposes, much of the material he had has simply become lost – according to Andrew Lahman, this included the AMT video of the 2002-10-12 Megalithomania gig, which he had the pleasure of watching at Peter’s house personally and even trying to convince him to put onto Colour Sound Oblivion! A lot of people have been upset by the lack of proper/organized backups as well, as it ties in with the question of legacy and copyright, plaguing the Coil community to this day. Some believe everything should be released for the fans, while others believe the remaining material should all be kept private, with every nuanced opinion in between. Numerous affiliates received differing copies of his archives, though Thighpaulsandra seems to have received a good chunk of, if not all the master tapes and other artifacts himself, based on the fact he’s sold some of the tapes over eBay in the past two years and the fact that he released Bright Lights and Cats With No Mouths, an art book comprised of John’s art, and Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson Photography, a photo book of Peter’s photography in 2014. There’s probably several other people out there who have a stake in all this as well.

Anyone can tell you that the past 7+ years has been a mess, in several more ways than one. Speaking personally, I have no real stake in the matter, and I don’t pretend to. I’m just a curious, if obsessed fan who wants to experience as much magic as possible before it’s all lost forever. I don’t think John and Peter would want us to stand divided – our mutual love for these two great men should and does bring us closer together, forging connections that otherwise would never be.

Ultimately, nobody really knows what the future holds for Coil, but rest assured, it seems that more is coming.

-Kiefer Gorena