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Gang Of Four: Live In Manchester
Gang Of Four
The Ritz, Manchester, UK - 4th October 2023
Just recently in our house, my son and I have been having interesting conversations about who the most influential British bands of all time are. Beatles? Stones? Sex Pistols? Buzzcocks? Oasis? [STOP – noise of stylus being dragged across vinyl]. Well obviously, not the latter, unless you count the proliferation of Gallagher wannabees currently filling venues up and down the country. You know who you are!
The others have certainly left their legacy on rock music over the last 60 years or so, evident from the success of bands like Green Day, The Jam, and Primal Scream. Buzzcocks took punk and invented pop-punk without even realising they were doing so! The Sex Pistols incited artists as diverse as Joy Division, Mick Hucknall, The Smiths and The Fall to form, but in spirit only, not musical plagiarism.
So, when asked for who I think have been the most influential UK bands, my list invariably contains the likes of PiL, The Pop Group, Wire and tonight’s protagonists, Gang of Four. For without these four, the musical landscape would be pretty bland indeed. I’d put them in a blender and just sit back and enjoy the resultant mix.
If the Buzzcocks invented Pop-Punk, then Gang of Four gave birth to punk funk. From Andy Gill’s discordant angular guitar, sounding the equivalent of nails being dragged down a chalkboard, to Dave Allen’s funked up bass lines and Hugo Burnham’s precise percussion, the perfect platform was created for Jon King to express himself and educate us at the same time with his Marxist/Situationist lyrics, tackling alienation, challenging the traditional concepts of love and sex in songs like Anthrax and Damaged Goods, though most of us had no idea, it was just great music!
I first saw them in 1978 and have seen every single iteration of the band, including Gill’s own version, across the years. Entertainment is never far from my turntable, and Gang of Four are never far from my heart. Entertainment, released in 1979, just 3 short months before The Clash’s opus, London Calling, is No.483 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s all time Top 500 albums, and also sits at No.5 in their all time top punk album list.
Sometimes referred to as a “Leeds Band” (never let the facts get in the way of a good story Gill was born in Manchester, Burnham and King are Londoners and Allen is Cumbrian), along with the likes of The Mekons, Girls At Our Best and Delta-5, they introduced space and moments of silence, breaking away from the overly compressed sounds of what punk had become post-Pistols. Sadly, Gill passed away in early 2020, at the same time we left the EU. He’s widely thought to have been the UKs first death due to Covid-19, having fallen ill after returning from a tour of China in late 2019.
So back to the present! Tonight sees King and Burnham reunited with former bassist, Sara Lee, who took over when Dave Allen left and played on both Songs of The Free and Hard. Replacing Gill on guitar is an unenviable task, but in Dave Pajo (ex-Slint / Tortoise / Zwan), Gill and Burnham have pulled an ace out of the pack! Being billed as Gang of Four 1977-83 is slightly misleading, in that although that covers the first 4 albums up to Hard, sadly there are no tracks tonight from that album. Predictably the bulk of the set is taken from Entertainment, but I suspect nobody is complaining about that!
Opening with Return The Gift its great to see the band in such fine form. King is his usual animated self, even pretending to be a Space Invader at several points in the proceedings, and Hugo is a veritable Cheshire Cat, grinning out from behind his kit. There’s little point in breaking the set list down song by song, suffice to say that the only noticeable omissions for me were Armalite Rifle and Guns Before Butter, but that’s just me being greedy. What we do get is a set of some of the finest rock songs ever written, regardless of genre and we also get to witness Jon smashing the hell out of a microwave oven, yes microwave oven, with a baseball bat during He’d Send In The Army.
Love Like Anthrax is delivered faultlessly by Pajo and it was fitting to end the set with To Hell With Poverty, as the Tory conference left Manchester, to scuttle off back to the Home Counties, before pulling up the drawbridge somewhere near Birmingham! There’s a really nice touch that I genuinely have never seen at a rock gig, ever! Obviously pounding the drums for a band like Gang of Four, is sweaty business and at one point between songs, Hugo rises from his drum kit to take his jacket off and neatly places on the wooden coat hanger positioned behind him. Rock n roller! Ever the gentleman and not nearly as scary looking as when our paths crossed all those years ago.
Returning after a very brief retreat, they finish with a two-song encore of Capital (It Fails Us Now) and Damaged Goods. The power and the energy is still there and Dave Pajo delivers Gill’s guitar parts impeccably. The songs take on a whole new dimension when played live, and they are truly one of the few bands whose shows transcend the recorded versions. It’s music to be shared and enjoyed with others.
There may be the odd one-off festival appearances in the future Jon said after the show. I don’t think we’ll see any new material though. Tonight, has been just perfect, and for me a fitting end perhaps, as King and Burnham return to their day jobs, Jon creating soundtracks for TV and film and Hugo, Assistant Professor and Internship Faculty for The School of Performing & Visual Arts at Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts.
|Return the Gift|
|Not Great Men|
|Outside the Trains Don’t Run on Time|
|We Live as We Dream, Alone|
|Love Like Anthrax|
|He’d Send in the Army|
|I Parade Myself|
|What We All Want|
|I Love a Man in a Uniform|
|At Home He’s a Tourist|
|Natural’s Not in It|
|I Found That Essence Rare|
|To Hell With Poverty|
|Capital (It Fails Us Now)|