Coil, circa 1984. John Balance (left) & Peter Christopherson (right). Photo by Lawrence Watson.
The depths of the night sky
Reflects in his eye
He says “Everything changes
And everyone dies.”
Coil, Blood From The Air (1986)
Yes, everyone dies but you don’t always expect it this soon, six years after the sudden loss of John Balance. Coil and Throbbing Gristle were refreshingly direct about the transience of existence so we should no doubt regard these moments with the necessary degree of philosophy. And yet… I’ve said for years that we lack an adequate complement of innovators, genuine creators, rare minds, and what Robert Anton Wilson used to call Intelligence Agents; such people always seem too few, especially in a world where hatred and ignorance are encouraged by those eager to keep us unfulfilled, the easier to manipulate and control. There’s a natural desire each time you discover a like-minded soul to want them to stay around for as long as possible, to help shine a thousand lights in a darkened room.
I never met Peter Christopherson but I saw him on stage with Psychic TV in Manchester in 1983, and as part of Coil for their thrilling performance at the Royal Festival Hall, London, in 2000. We corresponded sporadically via letter and email throughout the 1990s, and spoke on the phone a couple of times. Coil wanted me to create a cover for one of their releases and we talked about this on and off for several years but nothing ever came of the plans, something I regret to this day. Peter bought a drawing off me ten years ago (this one), and he remains one of the few people I’ve sold any artwork to. I broke my usual rule on that occasion out of respect for his work. That work is mostly acknowledged as being musical, and it’s the music—as a member of Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, Coil, and TG again—that other obituaries will rightly celebrate. But he was also a talented photographer and graphic designer whose earliest public works were for the design group Hipgnosis in the 1970s. He joined Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell as an assistant in the mid-70s and became a full partner in 1980. As a freelance photographer he shot the first promo pictures of the Sex Pistols in 1976, photos which (if I remember correctly) Malcolm McLaren decided not to use because they looked too heavy. Or maybe too queer…see this appraisal by John Gill from his book Queer Noises. It was Peter Christopherson’s design authority that gave the Throbbing Gristle releases a quality many other independent productions lacked in the post-punk era. He brought the same visual finesse to Psychic TV in 1982 and it was painfully obvious when that finesse was withdrawn after he and John Balance left PTV in 1983 to form Coil. I owe Coil more than I can easily articulate. I’ve spent hours and hours listening to their music whilst working; the full range of their interests probably matched mine more completely than any other group I’ve encountered. It was a real shock when everything crashed to an end in 2004. It’s good to know that the Coil site at Brainwashed has a wealth of interviews and articles going back through the years. And there’s still the music, of course.
Fellow TG members Cosey Fanni Tutti and Chris Carter issued some words of remembrance a few hours ago which they end by saying: “Peter was a kind and beautiful soul. No words can express how much he will be missed.” A few examples of his photography and design work follow.