GANG OF FOUR – ” The Album’s 77-81′ ” Box Set “

Posted: October 29, 2020 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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We’re very pleased to announce the new Gang of Four 77-81 Limited Edition Boxset, out on Matador Records on December 11th, available to preorder now here: gangoffour.ffm.to/boxset.ofp

The boxset features:- Entertainment! (Remastered) LP- Solid Gold (Remastered) LP- Exclusive Singles 12” LP- Exclusive ‘Live at American Indian Centre 1980’ Double LP- Exclusive Demo Cassette Tape of Outtakes, Rarities and Studio Demos- 2x New Badges- 100 Page full-colour Hardbound Book curated by Allen, Burnham and King.

“I stumbled upon a copy of Gang of Four’s Entertainment! accidentally and it went on to become one of the most influential records of my life as a producer, lyricist and fan of music in general. Their sparse, unorthodox, riff heavy guitars and nasty, funky, in-the-pocket rhythm section drew me in, but it was their questioning of the world that kept me listening as I grew. I consider them a seminal band, whose influence and effect permeates the music world in a deeper way than many realize. Thank you, Gang of Four, for existing.”

The box set contains “Entertainment!’ and ‘Solid Gold’ (both remastered from the original analogue tapes), an exclusive singles LP, and an exclusive double LP of the never officially released ‘Live at American Indian Center 1980’. Additionally, the package includes two new badges, a C90 cassette tape compiling 26 never-before-issued outtakes, rarities and studio demos from ‘Entertainment!’ and ‘Solid Gold’, and an epic 100-page, full-colour hardbound book.

The book details the history and legacy of the original Gang of Four with never before seen photos, contributions from surviving original band members, rare posters, ephemera, flyers, essays, artwork, liner notes and more. It also marks the first official publication of their lyrics.

Gang of Four was formed in Leeds in 1976 by bassist Dave Allen, drummer Hugo Burnham, guitarist Andy Gill, and singer Jon King. The band pioneered a style of music that inverted punk’s blunt and explosive energies — favouring tense rhythms, percussive guitars, and lyrics that traded in Marxist theory and situationism. They put every element of the traditional “rock band” format to question, from notions of harmony and rhythm to presentation and performance. This original line-up of the band released two monumental albums, ‘Entertainment!’ (1979) and ‘Solid Gold ‘(1981). A third, ‘Songs of the Free’ (1982), was recorded with bassist Sara Lee replacing Dave Allen. After ‘Songs Of The Free’, Burnham departed the band and Andy Gill and Jon King continued on to release Hard in 1983. After this release, the band broke up. In 2004, the original quartet reformed for tour dates and released ‘Return The Gift’ (2005).

Gill’s untimely death in February 2020 was cause for many to once again re-examine the group’s catalogue and the legacy of these early releases was widely cited. Not only did Gang of Four’s music speak to the generation of musicians, activists, writers, and visual artists that emerged in the group’s immediate wake, but the generation after that. And the generation after that, even.

In the last few years, their songs have continued to resonate with and been sampled by artists far afield including Run the Jewels (“The Ground Below”) and Frank Ocean (“Futura Free”). Now forty years since the original release of ‘Entertainment!’, Gang of Four’s legacy cannot be overstated.

Music, specifically pop music, is as much of a commodity as pork bellies. It’s bought, packaged, sold, traded and has as little to do with the Platonic triad of beauty, goodness and truth as, well, pork bellies. And it hasn’t just become this way. It’s been this way. From its inception to now, its value is what’s made it significant in the marketplace. But pressed against a wooden stage in New York at Hurrah’s in the late 1970s, what stepped out on stage had nothing to do with any kind of commercial calculus. That I could see.

See, in 1979, after a steady diet of The Ramones, the New York Dolls, Klaus Nomi, fer chrissakes, and on the strength of the name alone, a single, the press and the locale, the Gang of Four was a must see. But wrapped in the earlier vaudevillian aspect of punk rock, new wave, no wave, and a sort of well-meaning but very extant schtick, expectations were in keeping with what had already been seen. But what had been seen would in no way prepare you for what you were about to see.

Four Brits, no leather jackets, no make-up, and outside of an opening song with about two minutes of unremitting feedback, no schtick.

“We all grew up around vaudeville. It was part of the zeitgeist,” said drummer Hugo Burnham, from outside of Boston where he toils in academia and presently makes his home. But Gang of Four? “It was anti-schtick. And it was somewhat deliberate because we were serious about what we were doing but we weren’t dour. We didn’t go as far as the shoegazing thing.”

Which is almost right. Gone was the clever art school quirk of Talking Heads or the mordant rumble of a Joy Division, musicians framing what we were understanding about new music at the time. Replaced instead with something that was equal parts both cool and hot, and when they tore into their set that night it was with a life-changing brio. No “Hello Cleveland!” No foot on the front wedge rock god posturing, just songs and songs played like those that were playing them meant it. It, here, being coruscating takes on very precisely what it was we were doing while we were doing it. Again: not by accident. But very specifically, deliberately.

“We sat in pubs and talked about it,” Burnham said. Right down to things like, “No fucking feet on the monitors.”

What Burnham fails to mention and this is an amusing Rashomonesque feature of chatting with the three members still living – Burnham, singer/lyricist Jon King, and bassist Dave Allen – is that the no-feet-on-the-monitors “chat” didn’t happen in a pub. King, in a call from London, offers an alternate scenario. “It happened backstage after a show in what used to be Yugoslavia,” King laughs. “And it involved a fistfight.” So Gill and Allen settled things the old-fashioned way and while it’s unknown who won, at the Hurrah’s show there were no feet on monitors.

But first a little historical political perspective and a sense of the tableau upon which whatever Gang of Four was, was created. In the late 1970s in the U.K., there was 14 percent inflation, 18 percent in 1980, one in five adult males were out of work, interest rates were 14 percent, and there was massive industrial unrest. “In ’78 and ’79 it was called the Winter of Discontent,” King said of the hellscape that England had been even before Thatcher dug in. “There were piles of garbage four meters high in the street, people weren’t going to be buried because there was a strike of mortuary workers and grave diggers, there were dozens of IRA terror attacks in mainland UK, there were plotters looking to pull a coup d’etat, plus Russian SCUD missiles in eastern Europe and Americans sending Pershing missiles to NATO, so threats of nuclear attack. Songs like ‘In the Ditch’ on Solid Gold? That was the context we were working with.”

And given that context, a steadfast mark of Gang of Four’s genius that they didn’t zig into what was a popular pose at the time (and still really) and try to pull off the working class hero crap that had smart people dumbing down in the name of some sort of shopworn idea of what was authentic. That is, the Gang of Four were driven and obsessed with what middle class art school students should be obsessed with: making great music and art in and of the times they are living, fully realizing that you can’t fake authenticity. “Look, in looking back I have decided I really like this sort of troublesome 21-year-old me who wrote these totally un-commercial songs,” said King. But the charm, at least for the creator, is that “there’s nothing in it that is an attempt to pander to people. And it may sound kind of stupid but I kind of thought of us as like a blues band.”

“So I tried to avoid cliché, but it’s quite difficult trying to not write about things that everyone else was writing about,” King explains.” But there’s a reason hip-hop is the biggest genre in the world now and that’s because it’s got some authenticity about it; it talks about things that are actually happening. The world is a shit show now. To not write about it is a remarkable evasion of responsibility.”

Something that wasn’t missed in 1979 New York either with crime at an all-time high and the city collapsing financially. So mid-set when King dragged a metal crate on stage – “we later switched to a microwave,” Burnham said – and started blasting it with a drum stick it was both the sound of the city and the times all at once.

Adding percussive elements in and from trash, well in advance of Einsturzende Neubaten and even Stan Ridgway from Wall of Voodoo who Burnham initially thought they had lifted it from (“No,” corrects King), this was a perfect sweat-drenched statement of intent: Gang of Four absolutely were not fucking around.

And it was perhaps this quality specifically that drew the heavy. “We were political with a small P,” said bassist Dave Allen who followed a post-Gang of Four career with music tech gigs at both Apple and Intel, which is how he ended up in Portland. “But we were fighting Nazis. The fascists that came to the shows. They would jump onstage when we were playing in London, skinheads, and they had knives.” Allen, in general soft spoken, neither laughs nor smiles in the retelling. “The security guards would all run away. Having a big heavy bass in this instance helped quite a bit.”

But before reforming in 2005, Allen was the first to leave Gang of Four, in 1981, and his leaving was part of that whole not fucking around piece and almost perfectly Gang of Four-ish. “EMI were always pushing us. They wanted us to make ‘hits’. Be on the radio. Top of the Pops,” Allen sighs. “That’s not what we do. We don’t make pop songs. The 2005 reunion only lasted a few years, but Andy Gill continued with replacement musicians and died right in the midst of touring with them. He left giant shoes to fill. But even considering trying to fill them? A straight-up damn the torpedoes move. To which they are well matched. “When you try to audition a guitar player they just can’t do it,” Allen winds up. “They come in blasting thinking it is punk, but we were post-punk. It was us and Wire…”

On December 11th, Matador will release GANG OF FOUR: ’77-81”, a stunning, limited edition box set gathering Gang of Four’s influential early work.

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