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Punk royalty Gang Of Four celebrate 40 years of their seminal album Entertainment! this year, and while the album’s conception and content was heavy on the sarcasm, its socio-political themes were remarkably accurate for the time, and its disgruntled ambiguity remains just as relevant today.
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It’s a hard slog being a member of one of punk’s most successful bands. After 40-odd years, guitarist and founding member Andy Gill has plenty to talk about. “Yeah, yeah … There’s an awful lot of water under the bridge.” Indeed. Gang Of Four’s tenure has been nothing if not tumultuous, professionally and personally. But we’re not here to talk about all that, we’re here to talk about the fun stuff.
Gang Of Four rose from the underground of the British punk scene in the late 1970’s to become an unsuspecting voice for the frustrated youth of the time. When they released Entertainment! it boasted a disgust for capitalism, the opportunistic nature of politicians and the consumerism of society, and it sounded pretty damn good to boot. Of course, not much has changed over the years, which is why Entertainment! has been locked in history as an influential release for generations. All this success and reverence has afforded Gang Of Four the opportunity to return to Australia in March as part of their celebratory touring.
In the studio, Gill and co. are hard at work rehearsing Entertainment!. “We know Entertainment! pretty well,” he says, “Inside out, really. But there’s a few songs on there we don’t often play, 5.45 is one of them, and Glass, so we had to refresh our memories on that one, get it nice and sparkly.
“At the end [of the show] we’ll be playing some new songs, including from the new album, HAPPY NOW. Obviously, when you do it in the studio, you’ve got the luxury of working on your part, working out your stuff, but when you’re playing live, it’s more of a process.”
I spend a lot of time on the emails, on the phone, getting things organised. You don’t get a lot of time to sit around going, ‘Ooo, I’m a pivotal artist!’
[ Andy Gill ]
Gill is rehearsing stuff from a very long time ago alongside new stuff they’ve never played live, creating an interesting combination of events for the band, he says. “One of the things I’m always quite pleased and surprised about is how when we do a song from Entertainment! and then right after it we do something really recent, they seem to work well together, and in a way, inform each other.”
That’s a wonderful way of looking at Gang Of Four’s history. The two albums Gill has mentioned almost serve as bookends–the seminal beginning and the latest work in the catalogue. For Gill, the two albums complement one another, but the reception among Gang Of Four’s audience members, particularly those who have come up with the band, is an entirely different beast. “It’s quite interesting what marketeers call “the demographic”, who the people are who like Gang Of Four–who listens to the music, who comes to shows–I think we’ve been very lucky in that because so many much younger bands have referenced Gang Of Four, other people have noted that.
“So for example, not that recently but Franz Ferdinand or The Furtureheads, they introduced an audience much younger than the original audience. Then somebody like Annie [Erin Clark] from St. Vincent will give an interview saying that I’m her favourite guitarist–which I’m, of course, deeply flattered by–but that again introduces a contemporary audience.”
Ultimately, when you attend a Gang Of Four gig these days, you might see an attendee who’s 22 years old or 62 years old. A mish-mash of ages, as Gill puts it, an anomaly he really likes. Really, though, it’s a generational thing. There’s not been a band in each decade since the release of Entertainment! who haven’t cited Gang Of Four as an influence. Nirvana, Green Day, Rage Against The Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers; the latter of course, Gill was producer on their self-titled debut in 1984. “They told me that song [on Entertainment!] , Not Great Men, was the song that got them going as a band,” says Gill. “Tom Morello, from Rage Against the Machine, he said, ‘you’re a massive influence on us, Andy.’”
There’s a lot of people still in that circle of the influenced who lean toward the arsenal produced by Gang Of Four as an introduction to punk music. Still alive and kicking, still producing new music, Gill’s band are down in history as being pivotal–a surreal thought for Gill now and at the best of times. Chuckling, he says, “It’s like, from my point of view, when I’m not writing and working on the creative side, I spend a lot of time on the emails, on the phone, getting things organised. You don’t get a lot of time to sit around going, ‘Ooo, I’m a pivotal artist!’ You’re spending so much time with you head in, ‘Can we make this work? Is so-and-so gonna be free for this, that and the other? Are those t-shirts gonna be ready?’ Just the mundane stuff.”
The mundane logistics of rock stardom haven’t deterred Gill from the game. Performing Entertainment! in Australia will be cause for celebration, a celebration they made it through the hard slog, a celebration of a release that Gill, when he unsuspectingly first wrote those tracks could never have foreseen he’d be performing them again some 40 years later. Of course, if he could go back and tell his 20-year-old self about where he’d be today, he’d have some sage advice. “Train as a lawyer!” he laughs.
Catch Gang Of Four on the following dates:
Wednesday 20 March // Rosemount // Perth
Friday 22 March // Manning Bar // Sydney
Saturday 23 March //Croxton Bandroom // Melbourne
Sunday 24 March //The Zoo //Brisbane
Wednesday 27 March // San Fran // Wellington
Thursday 28 March //Tuning Fork // Auckland