Photo by D.J.Markham, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42939061
Rising out of the tail-end of the late 1970s Great Britain music scene (thus earning the “postpunk” label), Gang of Four combined dub reggae and punk, with funk undercurrents. The Leeds quartet provocatively named themselves after the cadre of Chinese Communist Party officials who wielded power in the 1960s. And while Gang of Four have often proclaimed their political point of view in their lyrics, they’ve always made sure that listeners could dance to the music.
Save for a couple of changes in bass players, the original Gang of Four lineup held together through four excellent studio albums: their 1979 debut Entertainment!, Solid Gold (1981), 1982’s Song of the Free and Hard from 1983. The first three charted in their native UK, and all but the debut album reached the US album charts. Many of the group’s best moments from that era are collected on the 1990 best-of set A Brief History of the Twentieth Century.
Lead vocalist Jon King and guitarist Andy Gill would revive the group for nearly a decade (1987-97), releasing two more albums before splitting again. But in 2004 the duo re-formed the original quartet (with bassist Dave Allen and drummer Hugo Burnham), recording a disc of old songs for 2005’s Return the Gift. Gang of Four subsequently changed up its rhythm section again, and after 2011’s Content, founding member King left the group, leaving only Gill from the original lineup.
The Andy Gill-led Gang of Four released What Happens Next in 2015, an album that – while it received mixed reviews on release – still displays the passion and energy of their earliest efforts. The newly-release lived album Live … in the Moment documents their current show, an effective mix of What Happens Next tracks and favorites from their early days; the latter includes the classics “At Home He’s a Tourist” and “To Hell With Poverty.” Gang of Four’s insistent, throbbing bass lines, martial drums and stinging, slashing guitar lines all work in support of Gill’s impassioned and declamatory vocals.
While Gill was all of 23 when he co-wrote “Damaged Goods,” at 60 he leads a Gang of Four that’s every bit as filled with crackling energy as it was nearly 4 decades ago. In this politically-charged season, there’s always a place for politically-focused music, especially when you can dance to the dialectics.
This essay appeared previously in NewCity.