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Gang of Four, Heaven | reviews, news & interviews

Gang of Four, Heaven

Gang of Four, Heaven

Post-punk icons raging against the machine again after three decades

Gang of Four vocalist Jon King remembers the last time he was in Heaven – the venue, not the celestial aftershow party. It was the night of the Great Hurricane of 1987 and as he walked down nearby Villiers Street later that evening two trees blew past him. "It was a gusty night," he recalled onstage with a smile last night. The question was could the latest Gang of Four line-up blow up their very own storm in WC2?

The answer is a defiant yes. With a decent first original album in 16 years, Content, under their belts, original members, King and guitarist Andy Gill, plus new boys Mark Heaney on drums and Thomas McNeice on bass, had plenty to shout about. Apart from a few early microphone issues, their show was a masterclass in rocking out while also remembering to be funky. And after opening with the Content track "You'll Never Pay for the Farm", it was also a masterclass in knowing what the fans want – hammocking new songs between old faithfuls from their earliest albums, particularly 1979's Entertainment! and 1981's Solid Gold.

Then and now was pretty seamless though. The new Gang of Four still sounds very much like the old Gang of Four thanks to the virtuoso trademark style of Gill, which still draws on the spirit of axemen past to create something truly special. One moment he had the same demented stare as Wilko Johnson and was firing out similar choppy, staccato riffs, the next he was bashing his Stratocaster on the stage as if channelling Hendrix and Townshend.

Gill sharply contrasted with vocalist Jon King who, while resembling a passably successful architect who has taken a midlife crisis sabbatical to pursue his rock fantasies, waved his arms about, smashed merry hell out of a microwave – I hope a Risk Assessment was carried out, chaps – and at one point did the kind of gloriously silly forward roll I have not seen since primary school PE. The original members worked best of all, however, as a vocal double act on "Anthrax" during which King and Gill stood ramrod rigid and intoned parallel texts while lit starkly on either side of the stage like a post-punk Gilbert and George.

The band's notorious left-wing politics are clearly still intact, even if King and Gill's accents were a reminder that they were utterly middle class – this was surely the only punk-inspired band whose drummer was unashamedly named Hugo. The economic strife today is not far removed from the downturn when they first started, as they were quick to point out, talking of the current government "crushing the poor" before hurtling headlong into the 1981 single "To Hell With Poverty". Elsewhere the anti-machismo, anti-militarism of "I Love a Man in Uniform" was still resonant nearly three decades after its debut.

If their new material lacked quite the same knockout impact of something like the sparse funk-twang of “Paralysed”, on which the rhythm section was particularly effective, it still packed a punch, with the jerky pop of "Do As I Say" standing out. It is hard to imagine another band of the same vintage sounding quite as vital, though this jittery, experimental and always interesting side of punk clearly endures. On the other side of London last night, Gang of Four’s equally venerable contemporaries Wire were also playing, while this gig was part of the NME's current Shockwaves Awards season. I suspect the youthful King and Gill were quietly delighted that a large chunk of the crowd was not born when they first formed.

In fact it was hard to believe that the senior partners in this band were both over 50. Until towards the end at least, when King was clearly so exhausted after 90 minutes of Olympic standard arm-flailing, he had to have a good sit-down before an encore which included a triumphant rendition of their very first single “Damaged Goods”. Some comebacks are embarrassing affairs that dent rather than enhance reputations. The only thing dented last night was the bashed-up microwave.

Gang of Four perform "I Love a Man in Uniform" in 1982


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