Gang of Four

Let’s close September menu with the tastier of desserts.
Gang of Four is arguably the only other English band with Joy Division which can be defined influential without any shade of doubt over the last 30 years.

Luckily all the members are alive and doing well so if their myth couldn’t spread as it happens when some rockstar dies the plus is that they can still delight our ears playing live which is a much better option than seeing useless bootlegs made official to earn easy money.

That said, the occasion this time wasn’t just a gig, but the unmissable gig. A secret show in a pub in Hoxton. A warm-up for the upcoming tour which touched London just few days ago.

The Macbeth main room is so small that I probably have never been so close to a band before. Not such a legendary band at least.

Everyone entering the place looks around in surprise. The expression in their face hides thoughts like “are they really playing here”?
I notice a stool standing empty next to the small mixer desk with a sticker on it saying Andy Gill. I though it was for some of the guitarist friends, instead I realized, two days later, it was for the other Andy Gill, my favourite Independent music journalist famous to have written the best criticism to a band I ever read: “Why I Hate Coldplay” should be taught in schools.

I promise myself to go back to say hello but it’s packed and I am loving shooting the entire set.
He may hate Chris Martin but clearly loves his homonymous guitarist and the band he’s been fronting for 30 years There is no need of a long critical essay to explain “why he loves Gang of four”.

When this gang of four guys jump on stage the excitement of the all-ages audience is at the stars. The same stars that Jon King tries to touch climbing the scaffolding with the spotlights clamped on.
Punk may be dead, but post-punk is alive and kicking.

Return the Gift is the perfect song to start a gig that indeed is a gift. The opening riff shows the emblematic stage presence of Andy Gill (the guitarist): standing still, staring his imaginary horizon, showing off his is dry, neat staccato a key part of the “influential” adjective that goes with the band. Where do you think Franz Ferdinand or Block Party guitar riff origin? Have a guess, or better a listen to Entertainment! their landmark debut.

I was expecting an Entertainment! Night since they will be touring the album in its entirety, instead we have been treated with a greatest hits set which in the end was even more tasteful.

We Leave As We Dream, Alone followed and emphasizes the other half of the band. Jon King incisive, sharp lyrics. You can’t fully appreciate Gang of Four without reading their lyrics. King put together Marxist theory mixed with cynical English humour. As influential as their music, bands as different as Rage Against The Machine and Fugazi have been spending quite some time reading them.

“The city is the place to be
With no money you go crazy
I need an occupation!
You have to pay for satisfaction
We live as we dream, alone
To crack the shell we mix with the others
Some flirt with fascism
Some lie in the arms of lovers”

Ether the opening of Entertainment! is another example of acute writing sang in an overlapping duet over the unmistakable sound.

This music has never sounded so actual

“Trapped in heaven life style (locked in Long Kesh)
New looking out for pleasure (H-block torture)
It’s at the end of the rainbow (White noise in)
The happy ever after (a white room)
Dirt behind the daydream
Dirt behind the daydream”

They are in wonderful form, supported by two young guys, who replaced the original rhythm session the energy springs.

A recent song, Second life introduces an oldie, Not Great Man that, after the unique guitar and the clever lyricism, emphasizes the third aspect of Gang of Four ground breaking music: the pulsing, funky bass that for the first time in UK came out of the speakers so prominent.

A use of the bass as this hasn’t just influenced a band but an entire music trend blossomed the other side of the world. Flea from Red Hot Chilli Peppers always repeat that his life has changed after listening to Entertainment! Living Colours, The same Rage Against The Machine and back to Waes with Future of The Left all have been inspired by Dave Allen bass. Funnily enough tonight he is replaced by a young, good looking, dreadlocked guy who could clearly come from those sunny shores.

“No weak men in the books at home
The strong men who have made the world
History lives on the books at home

It’s not made by great men


The past lives on in your front room
The poor still weak the rich still rule
History lives in the books at home”

The formula is working and needs nothing more than keep going to enrapture anyone present, but there is more. The moment that sign epochs, the icing on the cake arrives.

Andy Gill assault his guitar for the first couple of minutes of Anthrax inundating the Macbeth with waves of feedback. Breathtaking, one of my favourite songs of all times. A lesson on use of noise in music. It goes without saying the Kafkian inspired lyrics suit the sonic attack perfectly.

“And I feel like a beetle on its back
And there’s no way for me to get up
Love’ll get you like a case of anthrax
And that’s something I don’t want to catch”

Break needed. Break achieved, Gang of Four open a window on Solid Gold their second album playing the two opening songs Paralysed which indeed gives a sensation of paralysis. It slows down the mood just those three minutes to let us retouch the ground and the guitar/bass/drum attack of What We All Want takes no prisoners.

Love is revisited for one of their better known songs Damage Goods and Jon King speaks it out clear

“Your kiss so sweet
Your sweat so sour
Sometimes I’m thinking that I love you
But I know it’s only lust”

I learn that Hero is a new song, nice to know they keep composing, while To Hell With Poverty is another example of Andy Gill mastering the art of feedback. He didn’t know he pioneered something years in advance, retrospectively you can see how ahead of times he was.

We got to the fake end, people call for more. The four leave the stage to the upstairs of the pub to come back in few minutes. I Love A Man In Uniform is one of their easiest songs of the post Dave Allen period, when Sara Lee gave to the sound a very 80s edge. it could have been an easy hit if it wasn’t banned by the BBC. It came out during the Falkland War and Mrs Thatcher couldn’t tolerate someone singing

“The good life was so elusive
Handouts, they got me down
I had to regain my self-respect
So I got into camouflage
The girls they love to see you shoot
I love a man in a uniform”

Natural’s Not In It is my favourite Gang of Four song. The song where they manage to best balance all their facets.
Tonight Andy Gill is on fire, the riff goes on and on, change of rhythm overlap with Jon King syncopated singing. I think how someone else, Anthony Kiedis, built a career taking inspiration from this song. The first Red Hot Chilli Peppers song was written in 1979, it would still be their best but it is not in any of their recording.

At Home He’s A Tourist marks a key point of their career. Invited to Top of The Pop to sing it, the band walked away when asked to change the word “rubber” to “packet”. The song was then banned from BBC, EMI dropped them to sign an emerging band: Duran Duran took their place. How couldn’t I love this four guys? How couldn’t I despise EMI?

“Down on the disco floor
They make their profit
From the things they sell
To help you cob off
And the rubbers you hide
In your top left pocket”

Cheesburgers and I Found That Essence Rare close the concert with the opening verses that make me realize even Manic Street Preachers have been influenced by Jon King writing.

“Aim for the body rare, you’ll see it on TV
The worst thing in 1954 was the Bikini
See the girl on the TV dressed in a Bikini
She doesn’t think so but she’s dressed for the H-Bomb”

This has been, no doubts, one of the greatest concert of the last few years. For its vibe, groove, energy, showmansip. My only regret, 5.45 was missing. One of my favourite lyrics which I paste it here for you:

“How can I sit and eat my tea,
with all that blood flowing from the television.
At a quarter to six,
I watch the news,
Eating, eating all my food
As I sit watching the red spot
In the egg which looks like
All the blood you don’t see on the television.

Still body now, no movement yet
Five men lie die flat on their backs
Were they born to lie in state
Defend the ever stagnate great?

Down on the street assassinate
All of them look so desperate
Declared blood war on the bourgeois state

Watch new blood on the 18 inch screen
The corpse is a new personality
Ionic charge gives immortality
The corpse is a new personality

Guerilla war struggle is a new entertainment”

Follow Gang of Four on their [website] [myspace] and if you live in the right country listen to everything they recorded on , if you don’t have it buy Entertainment! and make your album collection richer.

Photo Tip

A strange lighting situation at this gig, as you can see in some pictures.
Andy Gill was constantly under a very bright spot while the rest of the band was pretty much in usual concert darkness.

Photography in this condition is tricky.
You can’t let the camera decide the right exposure risk of over or under estimating the lighting is very likely.
You have to decide for what to expose (fix your average grey, zone 5, as Ansel Adams teaches) and handle the rest of the frame in order to avoid useless over or underexposure.

Most camera (even point and shoot ones) nowadays have a spot meter, which means they measure the light on a very small part centre of the frame.

Using this, remember two very important things.

If your subject is not in the centre, point at him than (read how to) lock the exposure on your camera, otherwise as soon as you point away from it to reframe, you loose the right measuring for the light your spot hits.

The spotmeter is not too clever. It doesn’t do what you have in mind, it simply measures the light of your selected spot and fixes it as the average. This means that using it you have to point at a region that you want to be average exposed, not too bright not too dark.
If you point it at your focal point but it is not lit “average” (as Andy Gill for example) you have to balance the measuring with the exposure compensation button. (read the manual).

To give you an example, I took the light on Andy Gill face, very bright, then I overexposed that measure one or two stops (+1/+2) in order to consider it was lighter than average. Basically you tell your camera, that you want his face 1 or 2 stops brighter than average. This allow the rest of the frame to emerge.

It is not a rigid rule, measuring it without compensating gives it well exposed and the surrounding comes out deep black, which could be good.

As always, it is not about applying the theory, but mastering it in order to control your results.

~ by Valerio on September 30, 2009.

4 Responses to “Gang of Four”

  1. Valerio, Thank you for the photos
    4th the most impressive

  2. Sorry to resurrect an old thread but the photo tip sounds counterintuitive to me. Surely you’d overexpose to make the face brighter and bring the rest of the frame out rather than underexpose?

  3. Phew! I thought I was going mad.
    I read the similar tip on the Elbow post and learned something new. When I read this one I thought I was missing something fundamental.

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