Gang of Four in their earlier days, but I've always been a fan.
Hailing from Leeds, they came up in the turbulent 70s when the
country was on the verge of societal collapse and fascists marched
in the streets, while students (like vocalist Jon King) marched
against them. Named after the Chinese Maoist political faction,
they were made up of members King, Andy Gill (guitar), Hugo
Burnham (drums) and Dave Allen (bass), Gang of Four was urgent,
powerful and original - full of social comment and critique of
capitalism, meritocracy, colonialism, and consumerism. In 2023, we
find ourselves in much the same place as then and I guess that's
why, in part, that their music still sounds so vital and relevant.
members changed over the years, with King and Gill eventually
going separate ways over the direction of the band. Gill took his
own live line-up out on the road - in fact the only time I'd
previously seen Gang of Four was in this form at the Oslo in 2015.
So, I was quite excited to attend this gig, though slightly
questioning the lack of a new album to promote. I mean, whatever
- I was just thrilled they were playing! They are legendary,
one of the most influential bands to come out of post-punk and and
their influence on post-punk (and everything coming after it)
cannot be underestimated. With the current roster of singer Jon
King, drummer Hugo Burnham, previous bass player Sara Lee and
David Pajo (Slint) on guitar, London was the penultimate of their
seven date UK tour.
The crowd was in a great mood, the vibe was joyous, flags
lined the top of the stage, pointed out by King as representing
the band: UK and American, New Progress Pride, and
Woman-Life-Freedom. A vase of daffodils placed on the drum riser
was Burnham's personal nod to Ringo Starr, and the coat hanger
which he eventually placed his outer shirt onto a nod to his other
influence Charlie Watts - beautiful and meaningful touches. The
merch on offer was reasonably priced and straightforward.
Four certainly did not disappoint, feeling fresh, sounding tight
and immediate. Jon King brought huge amounts of energy, writhing
and bouncing with intensity, and spreading his attention to
every corner of the venue. He looked us all in the eyes and
reminded us what's what, and we were right there with him. Sara
Lee and Jon Burnham laid down a solid percussion section and
Sara in particular looked like she was having a blast, with
their backup singers proving a very capable and enthusiastic
Andy Gill, who sadly passed in 2020, missed? Hell yeah - and
while many would say it's not Gang of Four without him,
David Pajo did a fantastic job of bringing the angular razor
wire guitar sound which is one of their signatures. Kudos to
him for masterfully filling some very big shoes indeed.
Tracks like We Live As We Dream Alone, Love Like
Anthrax, and I Love a Man In Uniform had the
crowd singing and jumping along. Paralyzed saw King
providing an appropriate accompanying rhythm of a baseball
bat on microwave oven (which was available for sale after
the gig for a mere £30).
Built up cathartic release came at the end (as it
should), particularly with To Hell With Poverty!
and Damaged Goods. It was absolutely fantastic to
hear these all of these songs live, they were like burning
hot gunpowder firecrackers, the kind that blow your
fingers off if you hold them too long. From the outside,
one might think that due to the (ahem) higher ages of most
people present (myself included), this was pure nostalgia.
I can say, it categorically was not.
This was channelled anger, and we've got decades
of build-up showing us that King was right all along, and
the things he said then are the things we still need to
hear now. The feelings haven't changed one iota, and the
mirror they raised to society still hangs. Their last
release was the Gang of Four: 77 – 81 box set. I
don't know what they've got in the works, but I certainly
hope this isn't the last we see of them - they've still
got plenty to say and plenty of fight. Next year marks the
45th anniversary of their debut album, so maybe they'll be
back to celebrate with us.
Vive le Gang of Four! 9/10
Return the Gift (2005), Not Great Men, Outside the
Trains Don't Run on Time, We Live As We Dream, Alone,
Ether, Paralyzed, Love Like Anthrax, He'd Send In The
Army, I Parade Myself, What We All Want, I Love a Man In
Uniform, At Home He's A Tourist, Natural's Not In It, I
Found That Essence Rare, To Hell With Poverty!, Encore:
Capital (It Fails Us Now), Damaged Goods
Gang of Four - Heaven, London - 2 February 2011
Gang of Four (Meltdown 2008) - Royal Festival Hall,
London - 20 June 2008