Forged in the crucible of late 70s Leeds student politics, marked by a determination to think beyond the badly-played heavy metal that passed for much of punk, and owning a Funkadelic album or two, Gang Of Four were among the first punk-funkers.
Capable of starting an argument in an empty room, Gang Of Four sought to make sense of life in a decaying Britain by looking through a Marxist filter – critiquing everything from Northern Ireland’s political violence (Ether) to romance (Anthrax) on their 1979 album, Entertainment.
The most impressive track on the album – At Home He’s A Tourist – was issued as a single, but encountered censorship issues over its pre-AIDS reference to prophylactics (“rubbers”).
Like Joy Division and The Fall, Gang Of Four wrapped up their monotone mithering in danceable riffs, though lyrics like “fornication makes you happy/no escape from society” (Natural’s Not In It) weren’t likely to endear them to the Club 18-30 set.
But the early 80s weren’t kind to Leeds-based Marxist situationist funk outfits. Down the road in Sheffield, Heaven 17 had taken that template and welded synths on it, while in London, Margaret Thatcher was tearing down heavy industry with glee.
Still, Gang of Four soldiered on, mixing wry socialist commentary with the kind of white-boy funk they had helped make de rigueur.
Their 1982 album Song Of The Free featured the tongue-in-cheek single, I Love A Man In Uniform, which seemed destined for chart success until it disappeared from radio station playlists in the wake of the Falklands conflict.
Original drummer Hugo Burnham was fired in 1983 and a three-piece line-up completed Hard with various session musicians. This disappointing album made little difference to a group unable to satisfy now divergent audiences, and they split up in 1984.
Following several rather inconclusive projects, Jon King and Andy Gill exhumed the Gang of Four name in 1990.
Andy Gill died on 1 February 2020, aged 64. The cause of death was listed as multiple organ failure and pneumonia, although it was later suggested he may have been an early victim of COVID-19, following a music tour to China in November 2019.
Busta Cherry Jones