Gang of Four was the best British neo-marxist funk rock band in the world. They came out of the wave of UK bands after the initial punk explosion and thus often got pegged as new wave, but they were really quite unique, powered by Andy Gill's ridiculously huge sounding guitar and Jon King's anguished vocals. The group's bleak lyrics seemed appropriate for the bleakness of the UK and then global recession, the beginning of the Thatcher years, soon to be followed the next year by the Reagan years. I saw them live a couple of times, probably in 81 and 82, and they were fantastic. King and Gill had such total conviction and the band had a tight massive sound. I love the way they played "Paralyzed" in near darkness before roipping into more uptempo tunes. One tour I saw them after they had replaced their original bassist and had Busta Jones playing bass, and when King and Gill started flying around the stage with this huge angry distorted guitar sound, Jones looked like he didn't know what the hell was happening. No problem, he just stayed in his groove and the band killed. I remember at one point near the end Gill was playing his spastic whack distorted guitar and he started doing it with a beer bottle. The sliding distortion sounded even more intense and strange, but I was up close and could see that he was doing it with his stage beer and it was rather full and the top was off, so while he was tearing off his clippy distorted stuff the beer started foaming out of the top of the bottle. This seemed to inspired Gill, who never broke a smile the whole concert, to jab at his guitar with the bottle even harder, which produced even more foam! Those were great shows that I can remember the feel of thirty years later.
GOF have reformed a couple of times, and very recently Gill and King were out with a new rhythm section. Their old music still sounds fresh; what high praise that is after 31 years.
Check out a rolling Stone review of them playing in 2011:
Early in the set, singer Jon King recalled being there when the venue was called the Ritz – three decades ago. There was also the eerily identical resonance of the rallying choruses and aggro-dance relief in the band's reignitions of the 1979 single "At Home He's a Tourist" and the metallic '81 goosestep "To Hell With Poverty": howling broadsides against unchecked greed, suffocating conservatism and narcotic pop culture. In King's chanted provocations – from the blunt helplessness of "Not Great Men" on Gang of Four's master argument, 1979's Entertainment!, to the furious entrapment in "Do as I Say" from the group's new album, Content (Yep Roc) – little had changed, except for the worse.
In the music, little has changed, because it is unnecessary." read the rest HERE.
So I've been trying to find as much video from their heyday, and there isn't a lot easily available, but enough to remind me of what I saw.
I love Gill and King on this clip from British TV's Old Grey Whistle Test (1981, I'd love to see more of this). Sadly, the drummer and bassist screw up the break (the bastards!).
At Home He's a Tourist (1980)
Damaged Goods (low quality) 1980
Not Great Men from Atlanta, 1980:
He'd Send In His Army (1981) Badass intro:
What We All Want (1982)
I love a Man in a Uniform (1982)
At Home He Feels Like a Tourist (1983)