Tuesday, March 01, 2011

I Found That Essence Rare... The Story of Gang of Four & Show # 341

In 1977, Jon King (vocals), Andy Gill (guitar), Dave Allen (bass) and Hugo Burnham on drums formed a group that would be known as Gang of Four. Meeting at Leeds University in England, (although King and Gill knew each other from their school days in Kent) the group would have a very definitive sound that would be eventually described as Post-Punk. The sound of the band can be best described by their jagged guitar like sounds, which has been said to have been influenced by the guitar stylings of Wilko Johnson (of Dr. Feelgood). Combined with elements of Funk, the Staccato playing of Andy Gill would be coupled with the prominent bass and drum combo of Dave Allen and Hugo Burnham for quite a unique sound. There was also a large political element attached to the bands lyrics, their music could perhaps be best described as political essays with musical backdrops. The bands name originates from a newspaper article about the intra-party coup Gang of Four, that was decided upon while driving around with a member of The Mekons, who has been said to have named the band.

The bands first release was the Damaged Goods EP, which featured the songs “Damaged Goods”, “Anthrax”, and “Armalite Rifle”. The songs were recorded in June 1978 and produced by Bob Last, Tim Inman, and The Gang of Four. When the single was released in December 1978 on the Fast Product label based out of Edinburgh, it went to number one on the UK indie charts. The title track on the EP, “Damaged Goods” is a slow, Funk rhythm fuelled song, mixed in with Andy Gill’s Staccato, Jagged guitar sounds. It differs from the version that would be later found on their full length debut Entertainment! The song is essentially a love song lyrically, but with words dealing in sexual politics. “Anthrax” is the second track on the EP. It is a song with primarily bass and drums, and noise filled distortion floating in between the rhythm at varying points. The song starts off with Psychedelic feedback before setting into the funky bass and drum rhythms of Allen and Burnham, it also features Jon King singing in one channel, and Andy Gill in the other causing a dizzying effect for the listener. The third track on the EP “Armalite Rifle” is the anti-gun, anti-violence song which contrasts deep Soulful basslines with ragged Post-Punk guitar chords.

In 1979, Gang of Four began making recordings for what to was become their first full length album, Entertainment! The album was released in September of 1979 on EMI Records in the UK and on Warner Brothers in the US. Entertainment! addressed many issues of a political nature, often attacking the commercial media. Musically, the album harnessed the energy and influence of 70s Punk while incorporating elements of Funk, and subtle influences of Dub and Reggae. As with the bands debut Damaged Goods EP, bass is very prominent in the mix, there is also the unique angular staccato guitar style of Andy Gill that at times sounds like jagged shards of glass, coupled with Jon King’s politically charged lyrics.

Songs such as “Natural’s Not In It” adheres to themes of anti-consumerism, “Not Great Men” discusses Great Man Theory, which is a concept that relates to history being impacted by “great men” or heroes resulting in control over the average person, “Return The Gift” poses the problem of what do with ones leisure and the commercialisation of it, and “I Found That Essence Rare” deals with the selfishness of media and politicians. The album also features re-recordings of the songs “Damaged Goods” and “Anthrax”, which ends Entertainment! in its Psychedelic noise and lyrics which compares love to being “Like a beetle on its back”. The first single released form the album, “At Home He’s A Tourist” features lyrics addressing youth culture, fashion, and its commercials aspects that dance amongst the heavy bass, drums and harsh guitar tones. It went to number 58 on the UK singles charts, but caused some conflict when the band was asked to appear on the Top of the Pops television program. They were asked to change the word “rubbers” to “rubbish” to avoid offending others, Gang of Four refused to change the lyrics and as a result their appearance on the program was cancelled.

The artwork to Entertainment! was designed by Jon King and Andy Gill. It emphasizes the lyrical content harnessed on the album, but also at the same time makes a point in describing the social political conflict often found in mainstream media, using the metaphor of “Cowboys and Indians”. In addition to the political themed lyrics on Entertainment!, it also draws on common relationships, but they are brought up in a different way. The album also conveys how a lot of things in life can be seen as entertainment whether it is war or politics, which the band alludes to with an insightful nature. Entertainment! lives up to its title. It went to number 45 on the UK album charts, and in 1980 the second single from Entertainment! “Damaged Goods” was released. It went to number 39 on the US singles charts. In 1980, Gang of Four also released a four track EP that is referred to as the Yellow EP. The four songs featured on this album are “Outside the Trains Don’t Run On Time”, “He’d Send in the Army”, “It’s Her Factory” and “Armalite Rifle”. The last track is a re-recording of the song the same name originally found on the bands Damaged Goods EP in 1978.

With 1981’s Solid Gold, Gang of Four drove deeper into to a Funk and Dance based musical groove with radically charged political lyrics. There are songs such as “What We All Want” that questions the consumption of consumer based products, with lyrics like “Could I be happy with something else?/I need something to fill my time” that float in amongst the funkified basslines and chugging guitar work. The song would also go to number 30 on the US Hot Club Dance Play charts in the US when released as a single. “Cheeseburger” is a song that attacks the consumerisation of American fast food chains with its stop and start rhythmic patterns and razor sharp guitar parts, “A Hole in the Wallet” tackles the monotony of the 9 to 5 job and adheres to a slower groove musically, “He’d Send in the Army” is found in re-recorded form here with its military like intro and guitar parts that sound like rifles, lyrically it addresses questions posed by warfare. Other tracks such as “Why Theory?” and “Paralyzed” help to define this album. As a whole Solid Gold further develops the ideas that were introduced on Entertainment! in an intelligent, uncompromising manner with a new Dance like musical palate. Solid Gold would go to number 52 on the UK album charts and to number 190 on the US Pop charts.

In January of 1982, the Another Day/Another Dollar EP was released in the US. The EP featured two tracks that were previously only available in the UK (“To Hell With Poverty”, “Capital (It Fails Us Now”), "History's Bunk!" the B-side of the “What We All Want” single and two live recordings. “To Hell With Poverty” is an extremely catchy track with an unavoidable groove to it, while lyrically it contextualizes the frustration of the working classes. The melodic elements of this song can be seen as a sign of things to come for the band musically. Following an American tour, bassist Dave Allen exited the group, he was replaced by Busta “Cherry” Jones who would only be in the group briefly before being replaced by Sara Lee, who was a bassist in Robert Fripp’s League of Gentlemen. With Lee’s bass and singing ability, which would be evident on the bands next release, Gang of Four moved forward with their third full length album, Songs of the Free that was released in 1982.

With Songs of the Free, Gang of Four created what many have said to have been their most commercial sounding effort. Produced by Mike Howlett, the album brought more of a Pop based nature to the bands sound while at the same time further incorporating Dub and Funk into their already established hard edged sound. The album contained songs such as “Call Me Up (If I’m Home)”, “It Is Not Enough”, “The History of the World”, and “Muscle For Brains” that contribute to the albums unique atmosphere. “I Love A Man In A Uniform” is a standout track contained on this album. It is the ultimate Pop song Gang of Four style, with its off kilter drum beats, soulful bass and female back up vocals and Andy Gill's guitar that lurks in the background. Lyrically is just as vicious as any of the bands songs. When released as a single in the UK “I Love A Man In A Uniform” went to number 65 on the UK singles charts, but the song was banned very shortly after its release due to its lyrical content and due to the fact that Britain went to war in the Falkland Islands. When released in the US, the song went to number 27 on the US Hot Dance Club Play charts.

Songs of the Free displays a version of the Gang of Four that was evolving that could be described as being more soulful. The lyrics are at times poetic, the songs are longer, the guitar is at times low in the mix and the album does feature a bigger production sound that has been often associated with the 80s, but as a whole Songs of the Free is just as interesting as the bands first two musical outputs despite being negatively received by critics, and it is often cited by fans as one of their favourite albums from the band.

Hard, released in 1983 was the first Gang of Four album to be released without Hugo Burnham on drums. With Burnham leaving to form Illustrated Man in the Spring of 1983 and Allen leaving the previous year going onto play with Shriekback, Andy Gill and Jon King moved forward with the band adding a drum machine to serve as a replacement for Burnham’s absence. Hard was panned by critics and fans alike upon its initial release. The album further developed the sounds found on 1982’s Songs of the Free, adding synthesizer Pop and Disco based sounds into the bands grooves. The political aspect that was predominately in all of the bands previous releases is less prominent on this album. Hard’s sound and lyrical prowess can be best described by the songs “A Man With A Good Car”, “Woman Town”, and the ballad “Is It Love”. The album went to number 190 on the US Billboard Pop charts and around 1984, The Gang of Four fizzled out.

Gang of Four returned to music with the 1991 album Mall. The album was smoothly produced by King and Gill (who were the only original members of the band to return at this point), and emphasized synthesizer and Funk based rhythms while adding more of their classic Political lyrical output to the songs. Shrinkwrapped was released in 1995, it built on the bands previous sounds, standing different from 1991’s Mall. In 2004, the original line up of Gang of Four, featuring Hugo Burnham on drums and Dave Allen on bass reunited for some live shows. In 2005 a new album appeared, but not an album composed of new material. An album was released featuring re-recordings of songs that were originally found on the albums Entertainment!, Solid Gold, and Songs of the Free, it was entitled Return the Gift, it was well received. The band continued to tour intermittently until 2008, where bassist Dave Allen left the group following Hugo Burnham who left the group in 2006. With Mark Hearny on drums and Thomas McNeice on bass, Gang of Four continued to tour off and on.

In January 2011, Gang of Four unleashed their seventh full length album titled Content. The album has been exclaimed as a return to form for the band, and that’s exactly what it is. The razor sharp jagged guitar playing of Andy Gill is there along with the many rhythms and lyrical content that helped the band to define Post Punk, which for the past three decades has gone onto to highly influential proportions in the Indie and Punk music genres. Several of the songs found on Content can be identified with previous markers that Gang of Four have set in the sands of the past, “I Party All The Time” has been compared to song structures originally found on the song “I Love A Man In A Uniform” from the album Songs of the Free, minus the 80s production, “Who Am I?” evokes a Motown influence and features lyrics such as “You can’t steal when everything is free”. “You’ll Never Pay For The Farm” is a standout track on the album,sounding like an outtake from Entertainment! The song questions the ludicrousness of everyday life in traditional Gang of Four social satire. Content while it does have elemental features of work the band has become known for in the past, it does not sound like another band going through the motions, instead it shows Gang of Four doing what they do best making music their way with their own style.

This Week's Play List:

1. Gang of Four - I Party All The Time
2. Luger Boa - Paralyzed
3. Motorhead - Rock and Roll Music
4. Eve Hell & The Razors - Big River
5. Johnny West - Purgatory Waltz
6. Johnny West - Everything Matters, Everyone Cares
7. Crissi Cochrane - Separate Cities
8. Dinosaur Bones - Royalty
9. Mother Mother - Simply Simple
10. Cut/Copy - Where I'm Going
11. Radiohead - Little By Little
12. Wire - Now Was
13. Gang of Four - I Love A Man In A Uniform
14. Gang of Four - Return The Gift
15. Tim Ray & AV - Quarter To Eight
16. The Subway Sect - Rock and Roll Even
17. The Prefects - Things in General
18. The Teardrops - Teenage Vice
19. Bok Bok - Come Back To Me
20. The Police - Truth Hits Everybody
21. The Adverts - One Chord Wonders
22. Gang of Four - Damaged Goods (EP Version)
23. Gang of Four - You'll Never Pay For The Farm

To download this weeks program, visit CJAM's schedule page for Revolution Rock and download the file for March 1. Or subscribe to Revolution Rock as a Podcast.

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