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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
Gang of Four  

Shepherds Bush Empire
Friday January 28th 2005

by Nick Morgan

Men, according to some marketing bloke I once met, trade information with their friends as part of shared exchange of social currency. So, a malt whisky hoodie might say, “Hey Serge, have you tasted the latest McRobbem and Pisonem’s Hazelburn 1977, it’s ace!”

In music the fab factoid of the moment seems to be, “Hey Serge, don’t you think that Franz Ferdinand’s guitar sound is deeply influenced by the Gang of Four's Andy Gill? It’s ace!” As a non-participant in such dialogues I’m surprised. I always thought that Gill’s stuttering and sometimes painfully spare style was a reductio ad absurdem of the machine-gun licks of Wilko Johnson. But obviously the PR driven princes of British pop, darlings of the liberal media, prefer to plant their roots in the milieu of maverick Marxism that the Gang represented (albeit briefly), rather than with the deeply unfashionable proletarianism of the King of Canvey Island rhythm an blues. C’est la vie Serge. History is always the victim of the progress of capitalism.
Anyway, the result of all this highbrow chattering is a renewed interest in the Gang of Four’s early work, and an unstoppable GOF speedwagon of consensus about their influence on today’s coolest practitioners of rock and roll. So it is that we find ourselves crammed into the second balcony of the Bush for the last night of a short tour by the original four Grumpy Old Men. Older, wiser, greyer and fatter (and that’s just the audience) we’re here for a no-frills economy trip to a twenty-year time warp – ninety minutes of sheer bliss – the majority from the Gang’s first album, Entertainment (of which more later). The visceral energy of Gill’s fractured and alienating guitar; huge Hugo Burnham’s driving rhythms (like a drum machine on steroids); Dave Allen’s abrupt and pounding bass lines; Jon King’s vocal wails, epileptic dancing and Neanderthal ramblings (too much time in male-bonding sessions?). Oh yes, and the ritual, and rhythmical, destruction of a portable TV (or was it a microwave – I really can’t remember if we had them in 1978?); “Zut alors”, I muttered to my companion, “tres intellectuel n’est pas ?” As fresh, fierce and frenetic and the same as it ever was. Simply nothing quite like it, before or since.
Gang of Four   Now, if you don’t know, the Gang of Four released their first defining and groundbreaking EP, Damaged Goods, in 1978. Ask anyone who was there and they’ll tell you. It blew the door open wide on the parameters within which contemporary music operated, and showed that the rare essence of rock and roll could be taken to a different and sublime level, both musically and politically. They could, and perhaps should, have stopped there, “at the top of their game” as the soccer pundits like to say. But there followed the bizarre signing to EMI (less like taking over the means of production than buying a substantial shareholding in it) and the first album Entertainment, notably shorn of that most seditious of songs from the EP, ‘Armalite rifle’ (which caused the BBC even more angst than 10CCs ‘Rubber Bullets’) and featuring the hit single ‘At home he’s a tourist’ (more angst from the BBC over an unacceptable reference to ‘rubbers’ – condoms that is, not ammunition).
Gang of Four's Andy Gill
That’s when I first saw them – in Glasgow – and it was clear that something was already going badly wrong. Self-delusion, acrimony, musical differences, egos, political realignments, departures – they did the whole thing, ending up losing their edge, as impotent as a beetle on its back.
But tonight is a feisty flashback, not to what could have been, but to what was. And if only half of the bandwagoners who claim GOF as a seminal influence are genuine, then it’s still a testament to how much two small pieces of vinyl, and a little bit of guerrilla war struggle, can change the face of entertainment. Oh yes – talking of vinyl – I note that the first GOF EP is worth around ten quids. So to boost my Whiskyfun expense account (current balance zero quids) I’m giving readers the opportunity to buy my own, very special rare, unique and quite collectible pressing, on Robert Thorne’s Inconceivable Records. Come on Malt Maniacs, anyone want to invest in some real damaged goods? - Nick Morgan - 'Tickets + Lagavulin' picture by Nick, Andy Gill's picture by idle time.

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