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
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
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
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
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