Saturday, October 11, 2014


Gang of Four found that rare essence of commodified contradiction in the jagged funk punk deconstruction of these danceable damaged goods.  The group was started at the University of Leeds by Andy Gill and Jon King.  Gill reveals:  "When punk started, Gang of Four were already writing songs and doing stuff.  By the time we came to make our first recordings in '77, we'd already assimilated the punk thing and got a take on that element.  But we were never really 'punk.'  People used to call us 'post-punk.'  It was in the same way that Talking Heads was not a punk band so Gang of Four wasn't either.   Obviously, it had some kind of relationship to punk but wasn't that in itself...Leeds certainly at that time ('76-'78) was, especially if you didn't have a lot of money, fairly bleak.  I guess we had a boring student kind of existence.   I think Leeds was not a very comfortable place to be.  There was fairly constant strife between National Front representatives and people on the Left, which on many occasions broke out into street violence or violence in pubs...Me and Jon King had known each other before Leeds University.  We were both at Leeds doing fine arts and we started writing songs together.  We then decided to turn it into a group.   We came across Hugo (Burnham) who said he was a drummer.  Then we put an ad out for a bass player and got Dave Allen.  That's how we put it together...We'd been friends for quite a while and we talked about things all the time.  We bounced off each others' view of the world.  Jon has a great imagination and a great grasp of imagery and finding quite lateral, unusual ways of depicting situations.  We were just entertaining ourselves, coming up with these things.   Sometimes we'd sit around playing chess and drinking and writing songs all at the same time in extended sessions.   That's the kind of thing I guess you can do when you're an art student! (laughs)...You don't have too many lectures to go to so you do all that stuff.  They give you studios so you can go and rehearse there and you have a built-in audience.   I think that's why you get so many musicians in Britain that have come out of an art school background...Art schools, in university or college, provide you with some kind of studio where you're supposed to do your work in, whether it's painting or sculpture or whatever else.  Of course, those things can very often double up as rehearsal spaces." 

Their first single was the classic 'Damaged Goods' B/W 'Anthrax' on the Edinburgh Fast Product label.  Two appearances on the John Peel show led to a deal with EMI and their debut album 'Entertainment!' was recorded at The Workhouse on Old Kent Road in London with Gill and King co-producing the sessions with Rob Warr.   The album features Hugo Burnham on drums and vocals;  Dave Allen on bass guitar and vocals;  Andy Gill on guitar and vocals;  and Jon King on vocals and melodica.  King looks back:   "I remember when we were finishing Entertainment!, we were a just couple of songs short of a full album and so we took ourselves to a farm in Wales and stayed there for a couple of months to write, and Andy and I came up with Return The Gift down there, so it was obviously worth our time getting out of the studio. But I think very interesting things happen within a band when you've got a deadline. I think all creative people to some degree need someone indirectly involved intelligently managing time for them. I'm like the painter who stands around all week looking at the walls and then on Friday at 5pm works frantically throughout the weekend to get it all done in time...I always say - though it’s probably quite wrong - what we do is kind of like jazz, you know where you improvise and try and push things...Songs that have so many trigger points telling the artists where to come in and what to do next aren't terribly interesting to me...When I see artists who I admire, like Bob Dylan, they don't respect their own material.  Dylan when he plays, will change the melody line, the chords, the whole phrasing of his songs and often not care much about getting the words right either. I think that to me, even beyond his natural ability as a performer, is the most entertaining thing about his shows. We're not quite like that, in the sense we try and keep true to the essence of the songs… what I mean is there's no point in playing a song about aggression in a kind of pussy like way, you know what I mean?" 

Gill:   "If you at the Sex Pistols as a kind of archetypal punk band, it's not that different from Black Sabbath.  It's rhythmically unsophisticated.  It's really on-the-beat rock drumming.  Same with the guitar- plug it in and turn it up to full distortion.  The main difference is that you don't really have so much in the way of guitar solos, the singing tends to be more of a shouty-screamy kind of nature, rather than tune-orientated.   But there again, it's not a whole lot different from a lot of your heavy metal acts.   Gang of Four was radically different from that.   The guitar was very staccato, very stripped down, very repetitive, loop-based.  The drumming was basically funky but not through copying various icons of black music.  (It was) more through simply deconstructing the nature of drumming and where you place the beats.   It was like starting from ground zero with the drumming.  Hugo and I would argue endlessly about what the drum parts would be like. Anything that sounded like rock drumming, I would change. In conventional rock drumming, you just play the snares on the 2 and the 4 and the high-hats are either doing fours or eights and then a big fill or rollaround on the toms.  In what we were doing, the tom parts were being incorporated into the drum pattern.   Some tom beat would be thrown in somewhere in the bar.  It would end up inevitably with some kind of syncopated, funky vibe that didn't sound like any of black music or Little Feat.  It sounded like something else basically.  The same thing happened with the melodies.   The tunes had vocals to it but it was very rhythm and phrase related.  You could tell by listening to Gang of Four music that punk had happened.   But it definitely wasn't punk music." 

King:    “It was really funny revolution. Situationism was full of gags...So we were surrounded by these people who were good friends, but they were obsessed with very, very archane quasi-religious positions - and we were a rock band, we weren’t part of that, we were trying to say something that didn’t necessarily screw down the meaning completely. Anthrax, the first time we thought we’d nailed something, was being changed every time we performed it by the simple device of improvising the guitar so the music was never the same exactly - well the bass and drums stayed the same, and my vocals, but Andy’s improvised guitar meant that every performance was unique and therefore the meaning itself…my lyrics are basically about having a hangover and regretting it - that moment when you wake up and think: ’What the fuck have I done? And you question everything about your grubby existence - and then Andy’s doing his sort of commentary, sometimes about the room we were in, the people in the audience…So if you’ve got those positions, where there’s absolute certainty in there. Absolutely you know which side you’re on, you’re not on the side of oppression and war, you’re on the other side, but you can’t pin it down to a manifesto type thing, it’s quite complicated. Art is stimulating when it has multiple meanings and musicians aren’t the best people to tell the audience what the meanings are.” 

'Entertainment!' went to  number forty-five in the UK and thirty-nine in Australia. 


Damaged Goods

full album:

01. Ether (00:00)
02. Natural's Not In It (03:50)
03. Not Great Men (06:57)
04. Damaged Goods (10:03)
05. Return The Gift (13:30)
06. Guns Before Butter (16:36)
07. I Found That Essence Rare (20:22)
08. Glass (23:37)
09. Contract (26:06)
10. At Home He's A Tourist (28:47)
11. 5.45 (32:17)
12. Anthrax (36:01)
13. Outside The Trains Don't Run On Time (40:26)
14. He'd Send In The Army (43:42)
15. It's Her Factory (47:24)
16. Armalite Rifle (50:34)

 2 July 1979 for the John Peel show on BBC Radio 1

1. Natural's Not In It (0:07)
2. Not Great Men (3:26)
3. Ether (6:52)
4. Guns Before Butter (10:53)

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