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Friars Interviews

Andy Gill
Gang of Four

friars appearances 25/11/78  10/11/79

Andy in his studio. (www.recordproduction.com)

The Gang of Four played Friars twice in 1978/1979 and enthused with their style and lyrics. Banned by the BBC twice, they are still relevant today.

We spoke to Andy Gill in August 2010.

Friars Aylesbury Website: Andy, welcome to the Friars Aylesbury website! Actually I know you met David Stopps again relatively recently didn't you?

Yes, at a recording of Later with Jools Holland. We got chatting and it brought back good memories of playing at Friars.

Your first appearance at Friars was in 1978 supporting Penetration around the Damaged Goods period. I don't think I can ask you to remember the specific gig, but the band was on the rise, so this must have been an interesting time for you?

Actually, I do vaguely remember it (the gig) and playing with Penetration on a few occasions and I do remember Friars. Friars was a good gig in that it wasn't your standard little club and it wasn't a sit down theatre, it was somewhere between the two. It was a nice space and kind of wide which is always good rather than being long and deep like a cinema. We felt that was good from our point of view as you could reach the audience. Whereas, playing a place that's long and deep, it's hard to reach those at the back in a way. It's easier with the Friars set up as you can reach everyone. It had a great ambience and we loved playing there.

Many artists have said that there was something special about playing Friars. It wasn't too far from London, journalists could easily get out here and take notice of what was going on. You headlined at Friars in November 1979, A gig I remember very well. Entertainment was out by then, so this must have been a good et of gigs round this time with the band getting noticed. At this time of course, it wasn't easy for 'alternative' bands to break the charts and get noticed. So the reaction must have been great....

Well, it was certainly a different world to what we have now. It was like a musical apartheid. It was difficult to get your music played because there were so few outlets (then). So you had John Peel.....

....and not much else! To get noticed, aside from Peel there was little on TV aside from the Whistle Test and a couple of other things like So It Goes and Revolver. But then in saying that, there was the famous incident with Top of the Pops wasn't there (where Gang of Four were asked to change the "rubbers" reference in At Home He's a Tourist and refused)?

Do you ever look back on this and think what might have happened or do you still stand by what you did at that time?

I think at the time....we thought yes if you do TOTP, we know certain things could follow on from that and we know it now, but I think....you feel you have to draw a line and be true to yourself. It was like that really. The thing about the Gang of Four was that we weren't any old band in it for having a laugh, that was never quite Gang of Four. Of course if you could have a laugh and make some bucks and be artistically valid, then great and I am sure wouldn't have done it for five minutes if we weren't having a laugh or a lot of fun. The lyrics we talked about and the artwork and everything we did, we did instruct a kind a methodology that we would have torn up if [we had let] the producers TOTP talk us into singing any old nonsense.

The bizarre thing is that the lyric the BBC got themselves into a lather about...nobody would have batted an eyelid five years later would they?

That's right. Gang of Four are nothing if not prescient. We were talking about contraception. Now that was responsible! We got our wrists slapped and told to go home!

One of the things about the Gang of Four...I've never really understood musical "tags"..the Gang of Four have been described as 'radical', 'minimalist', 'post-punk' etc. I can understand the minimalist thing to a degree - what did you see your influences as? For example, I can hear influences of the likes of Television in some stuff.

All those terms in varying degrees are applicable but it does get silly when people try to call you one thing...I suppose the post-punk thing is the one that sticks the most. We have some relationship with punk. But then people call Joy Division post-punk. When we were writing songs, we were not interested in being another three chord Clash style punk band. The most obvious thing that differentiates us from other bands at the time....I hated it when bands filled every space, we stripped it down a lot. We had a rhythmic funk that other bands didn't. Jon (King) and I were into disco and if you said that at the time, people would say "that's horrible".

You mention the disco influences.....and you are considered quite influential in the post punk movement, whatever that is supposed to mean. How do you see that? Today for example, bands such as Rage Against The Machine and the Red Hot Chili Peppers cite Gang of Four as amongst their influences. Must be a great compliment in many ways?

Yes it's a compliment. So many bands have said things like that, be it U2 or REM or Rage Against The Machine and bands from that era and much more recently bands like Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand, even the Kaiser Chiefs. You kind of hear it everywhere - it's become part of a style or flavour. Especially the guitar ...not some of my more extreme moments but the funkiness and sound about it.

Talking of one of your more extreme moments....Anthrax....that's a little different starting with two minutes of feedback with a spoken vocal over the melody line. What was the influence or thinking behind that?

Hendrix has always been one of my favourite guitarists and there's no doubt that's a homage to Hendrix if you like with all the feedback. What we did conceptually was Jon and I sat down with a piece of paper and we drew a timeline....so the bass would come in and I would do a commentary. We were very much into the idea of one voice or character doing one thing, then another voice or character doing a commentary on that first one. That happened to various degrees. A bit of a theatrical idea in that different people did different roles. On stage, we wanted it to be a bit of theatre, kind of get people involved in thinking what was going on and would appreciate it rather than going on and doing a song. It's like Jimi Hendrix but in a different context. And a hypnotic and funky bass part and more feedback. It grabs people for some reason....

That's cos it's good! Musically, the stuff you have done has been striking, but lyrically, there's always been a high level of political and social comment in what Gang of Four have done, but going back again, you were quite unlucky with this one when you got nobbled by the BBC again for I Love A Man In A Uniform because of the Falklands conflict.

I think Gang of Four have been banned more than the Sex Pistols!

I can understand people's reactions to the Sex Pistols at that time, but this was a little bit different....

At that time, I knew various people who worked at the BBC including Gang of Four's ex manager, Rod Wall, and he showed me the memo that went round the BBC that said basically "we are expecting casualties in the Falklands and it would not be appropriate to play this song by the Gang of Four." There is no question that people got the idea that there was something critical about the song despite the fact it is a funky pop song and quite layered and spoke in code. But the clever boys and girls at the BBC knew we were up to something......

Yes, the same reason "Shipbuilding" (Elvis Costello/Robert Wyatt) got banned.

A bit of a leap here. The Gang of Four stopped in 1984 and came back in 2004. In that time though, you carved out a successful career as a producer with it must be said some top drawer acts such as the Chili Peppers and Killing Joke. Of all the production work, is there, aside from Gang of Four stuff, an artist or album you're most proud of?

I am very proud of the album of the solo album I did with Michael Hutchence. That's a long story though. I am very proud of it, I co-wrote the whole thing with Michael.

The Killing Joke album [I did] sound wise is extraordinary. It very much helped having Dave Grohl playing in it who is the best drummer in the world.

That helps! Am I right in saying that either you or Killing Joke asked Dave Grohl to play and he agreed if he could do the whole album?

Basically yes. I did a couple of the tracks with System Of A Down's drummer and it didn't really work. At that point Dave Grohl said he'd like to do it as it was great. We (I was the co-writer) wrote all of those songs in my studio starting with me programming a drum beat and Youth and Geordie would play on top of them. Then Jaz Coleman would get involved. It took ages, but we built up the tracks like that. Then we knew the drum programming needed a great drummer. In LA, Dave Grohl said that the drum patterns were great and he would make it 'live'. It was great. When I say Dave Grohl is the best drummer in the world, I don't really mean that...I mean Dave Grohl and Mark Heaney, drummer of Gang of Four as well!

I'll make sure that's very very clear!

We record we have just finished, which is coming out in January (and called 'Contact'), Mark has done some really sparkling drumming on it. He's brilliant.

To round things off, I was going to ask about the current and future plans for the Gang of Four. We know the album is out in January.

We are doing a few dates in the Autumn. We will be playing live a lot next year round the album. A couple of weeks in Australia, as couple of weeks in the States and there will be a lot of playing next year.

You did Glastonbury this year, how did that go?

Very well actually, but not the perfect time to go on stage, two or three hours after England fell out of the World Cup...! The audience was great and we were pretty good!

Andy, thanks very much for your time

Cheers!

Gang of Four official site

This interview and its content are 2010 Mike O'Connor/www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk and may not be used in whole or in part without permission.

 
 
 

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