Monday, 26 December 2016

Andy Gill - Gang of Four

CULTURAL revolutions take time. Just ask the recently-reformed Gang Of Four. In the first flush of punk, they took their name from a quartet of deposed Chinese Communist Party leaders, and now, almost 30 years on, find the spiky urgency of their punk-funk pioneering co-opted into the mainstream by everyone from Franz Ferdinand to Bloc Party.

Gang of Four's appearance this weekend at the newly-constituted Indian Summer festival, in Glasgow's Victoria Park, should go some way towards reclaiming the limelight from such musical whippersnappers, as well as making up for the cancellation of a proposed Glasgow show in 2005 when vocalist Jon King injured himself.


As punk-rock moments go, it's a far cry from 30 years ago, when, as art students and serious young men at Leeds University, Gill and King, with bassist Dave Allen and drummer Hugo Burnham, became Gang of Four, part of a fledgling music scene centred around The Fenton pub.

"There was us, The Mekons and The Delta 5, " recalls Gill of those early days of bunking off lectures and late-night plotting. "That was our immediate group of friends, and we'd all started out at the same time. But there were lots of things going on in other parts of the pub. In one corner, there would be Green Gartside, who was just starting Scritti Politti. In another corner, there'd be Marc Almond and Dave Ball from Soft Cell. There was a mini vogue at that time for men to knit, so Marc would be sitting there with his needles and a ball of wool."

Almond aside, most of the Fenton crowd would go on to be cited in Simon Reynolds's book, Rip It Up and Start Again, as prime movers of what's now known as post-punk. The spiritual home of such activity was the Edinburgh-based Fast Product records, which, as well as the first Gang of Four singles, released early works by The Human League, The Scars and The Mekons.


"There'd been e-mails going back and forth between us for a couple of years, " King says, "about how so and so wanted us to play with them on a 20-date tour or whatever, and you can always find good enough reasons to say no".

He continues: "But, maybe it was the fact that all these bands appeared that clearly owed a big debt to Gang of Four - Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, and, what's the other one, Kaiser Chiefs. Everyone was used to the fact that our generation or the generation just after us had borrowed elements from Gang of Four, but this new crop seemed much more blatant. It's weird hearing it all over the place, but I like a lot of it. The thing that's different about it is you're never sure what they're going on about. With Gang of Four, I think it was always pretty easy to tell."

Gill and King had been "sitting about, playing chess, drinking gin and writing songs, " since 1975, so, "by the time punk came along, we'd already written most of our first album, Entertainment. We were writing about the interesting things that happen to you when you're trying to live your life, and the invisible forces that affect you. We were trying to look at what you can expect from culture, art, relationships, and which vested interests served us."


Of their association with Fast, Gill recalls: "Bob Last had his finger very much on the pulse. I remember that he asked The Mekons, who were our mates and who we hung out with in Leeds, if they wanted to do a record, and we thought, that was ridiculous. We went to Bob and said, listen, you've got the wrong band."

Entertainment's major-label release saw Gang of Four skim the charts with the still subversivesounding At Home He Feels Like A Tourist.

Fleshing out their trademark austerity, the band would go on to crack the American market before splitting in 1984.

King and Gill reformed the band with a pick-up rhythm section in 1990, only to split again in 1995. Since then, Gill has concentrated on producing the likes of Red Hot Chilli Peppers, as well as the debutalbum by Gang of Four-influenced Futureheads.


Last year's Return the Gift album saw Gang Of Four re-recording the best of their early work.

According to King, "It felt a bit like being an archaeologist. We were looking at some songs that are getting on for 30 years old now, but it was interesting to go back. Some people felt that we shouldn't have done it, but I had always had issues with the way parts of those records sounded, so I wanted to fix them so I could lay ghosts to rest."

Now, however, a new album is imminent. "Until 18 months ago, me and Jon hadn't seen Hugo and Dave for years, " King points out. "The last album, Shrinkwrapped, was in 1995, so the first thing we did was to see what it was like playing together again.

"That was good, so we decided to do Return the Gift, but sounding like we do now. That was good as well, so this is the next stage."

Maybe this time, they should leave the microwave in the kitchen.

The Herald, September 1st 2006

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