The Gang of Four returns to San Francisco during a US tour – Santa Cruz Sentinel

British post-punk band Gang of Four are currently touring the US for 28 days including a concert at The Independent in San Francisco on Monday. John King sings again after a 20-year hiatus and original drummer Hugo Burnham joins Sarah Lee on bass and David Bago on guitar. They will mainly perform songs from their first three albums.

Gang of Four was formed in 1976 after John King and Andy Gill traveled to New York and witnessed the emergence of punk rock at CBGBs. Burnham and Dave Allen joined as original drummer and bass player. The band subsequently went through major changes and until recently Gill was the only original member to tour as the Gang of Four, a decision King disliked. Jill died at the start of the pandemic due to long-term lung problems and COVID-19. The Sentinel recently spoke with lyricist/singer John King about touring and the politics of punk rock.

Gang of four

Q: “Tell me about the current line-up for the Gang of Four tour.”

A: “I hadn’t really thought about playing shows again, but Dave and Hugo and we get along really well. It turns out Dave can’t do the tour because he’s busy, so the obvious choice was Sarah Lee. Sarah played bass on the ‘Songs of The Free’ albums ( 1982) and “HARD” (1983) and we toured together. She played on “I Love a Man in a Uniform.” We were good friends back in the day, and then Sarah joined the B52s and played on the “Love Shack” album and had a great career with Indigo Girls,” King said.

David Bajo plays guitar with us. He’s played in Zwan and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. He’s such a great character and it’s extraordinary how he got to work on Andy’s guitar parts. We spent three weeks rehearsing in Massachusetts in January and David focused on doing Andy’s parts really well King continues. “Modern guitarists are so lucky to have Andy’s vocabulary. And I’m very fortunate to have David Bago on this tour with us and he’s soaked it all in and adds something incredible.”

In my opinion the albums in our collection that were released last year (“77-81”) are Andy’s best recorded work. I think 99% of audiophiles would agree that Andy’s guitar on “To Hell with Poverty” and “At Home He’s A Tourist” is very exciting. He had a non-technical approach and has now influenced two generations of guitarists,” King explained. “On this tour, we’re playing songs from our first three albums; Entertainment!, Pure Gold and Songs of the Free. The song “Elevator” is on cassette inside the box set and we might play it if we get the encore. It’s a good punk rock song.”

Las vigas

Q: “The box set is beautifully designed and the book is full of great stories and pictures.”

A: “The albums and the book tell a really interesting story about what it was like to be in the band at the time and to be in America. (1980) is very much about that wonderful experience,” King recalled. “I am so glad I was nominated for a Grammy Award for that box set! However, I am not going to the concert, because it will be in Las Vegas in April. It was due to be in LA but COVID made everything go away. I don’t like Las Vegas because it means Staying in a gambling hotel and eating in gambling restaurants. It’s not an attractive place if you don’t like all this kitsch and if you don’t like gambling. So, I’m not going.”

Sitting bull

Q: “The album cover art for All Entertainment! depicts the exploitative relationship between cowboys and Indians. I know Native American culture was important to you and Andy.”

A: “I drew those pictures of Karl May, who was the world’s biggest selling author ever in Germany. He wrote Western books and had never been to America. It was always the story of a perfect relationship between Europeans and Native Americans. We’re told they stepped up. It’s The big lie is because that’s not how Europeans actually behave.It’s entirely possible that there were places where Europeans and Native Americans interacted somewhat like “dancing with wolves.”But most of them ended in tragedy.

On the box set, the live album was recorded in San Francisco at the Indian Indian Center, which, of course, is an off-kilter name. But at the time, there was the American Indian movement and it was shortly after they occupied Alcatraz. (1969-1971) It was a great show. for Gang of Four (1980)

Andy (Gill) was particularly obsessed with Plains Indian culture. When we got on stage at the American Indian Center there was a poster on the wall behind us of Sitting Bull, the great Lakota war bandanna. Under it it said “Owner”. “I was really thrilled to be playing at this place,” King said. “We’d been paying homage to something we’d appreciated since we were teenagers. Andy and I felt a great affinity for Native American culture and it was a great place to put on a show. The album cover for the live album is my design, but it’s based on the Four Winds flag of the Native American movement.” (The show was recorded by Terry Hammer for KALX)

Kidnapping and transfer

Q: In the past two years, there have been important movements to address systemic racism globally and to remove symbols that glorify Aboriginal genocide and slavery. In Santa Cruz, the last of the three mission bells were recently removed.”

A: “I live in Bath, which is very close to Bristol, where we had a great episode atop the Edward Colston statue,” King said. “In the eighteenth century, he was one of the richest men in the world as a slave trader, and was responsible for the kidnapping and transportation of hundreds of thousands of people. I agree that it is not right to celebrate people like that. Therefore, the names of streets and buildings have now been changed because they are obscene.”

A rock against racism

Q: “In the 70s, the Gang of Four played many rock-against-racism and rock-against-sexism concerts. How important was that to you?”

A: “Very important. And that unfortunately is still relevant. Eric Clapton’s comments supporting a white supremacist British politician in 1976 – Enoch Powell – led him to form Rock Against Racism. And now Clapton is doing exactly the same thing again. I wish this would become It’s all a memory, but it’s not.

“We all revere black music. We lived in parts of Leeds that had a very integrated and mixed society. The most important forms of popular music in the world came from African American culture,” King said. “Jazz, of course, is revolutionary and quite modern, and rock and roll. And then of course, funk leads into hip-hop and reggae. My heroes were people like Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, and whatever came out of Detroit. We toured years later with The Public Enemy and the Sisters of Mercy. (1991) It was a really good format; A hip-hop band, a punk band, and then we were called a post-punk band. I’m really surprised there hasn’t been a political revival of music with Black Lives Matter. But that coincided with COVID, so that probably made it not possible.”

Political hip hop

Q: “I wonder about that too. Where are the political voices in music now?”

A: Political voices in music tend to be in hip-hop. I think it’s a rock phenomenon, to break away from that narrative. If you think about the ’60s, even people like Kenny Rogers could write a song about a Vietnam veteran coming home who was in a wheelchair and unable to have a sexual relationship with his wife, so I came up with — “Ruby.” Elvis Presley had a hit song, “In the Ghetto”. You want people to get excited and dance to your songs. It’s supposed to be a thrill. “Nothing is more exciting than saying things that are in plain sight,” King said.

He continued: “For example, on the second album (Solid Gold 1981) there is a song called In the Ditch that talks about the absurdity of living in anticipation of a nuclear strike between the Soviet Union and NATO forces.” “Being in Britain, we were about 20 minutes by plane from East Germany. So, there wasn’t much time between launch and landing. And a pamphlet was sent out to every household in Britain, ‘You and the Bomb.’ In Leeds we got ‘Leeds and the Bomb.'” I found these useful bits of literature really silly. Remember, you only have a 20-minute window and the advice was to whiten the insides of the windows, fill large plastic liners with clothes, put them on top of a table to absorb the radiation and get under the table. It’s quite a lot to do in twenty minutes I mean, I tried putting up the racks and it took me over twenty minutes to find a screwdriver!” The King laughs. “The big joke at Leeds was if a nuclear bomb went off, how could anyone tell the difference before and after?”

Andy Gill

JM: “It is clearly impossible to replace guitarist Andy Gill, who passed away on February 1, 2020.”

A: “He’s a great guitar player, but we’ve been so far apart for a long time. I haven’t spoken to him in years. I didn’t like him using the band name. We quarreled about it and I said, ‘Johnny Marr won’t go out like The Smiths and Noel Gallagher won’t go out as Oasis.'” You don’t need to come out as the Gang of Four, because you’re cool. But he even released records under the name Gang of Four. He was really in a bad place with alcoholism. But I don’t want to get rid of him because we’ve done some great work together,” King recalled.

“Andy’s death was very upsetting. He and I had been joined at the hip for a long time. It’s so complicated when you lose someone you had such a deep connection with, even if you were far away from them. It was so heartbreaking when he died.”

Listen to this interview with John King this afternoon on “Transformation Highway” with John Malkin on KZSC 88.1 FM / kzsc.org.

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