By Benji Chapman, Co-Deputy Music Editor
Failing to mention Gang of Four’s significance in the cannon of post-punk would be a failing to mention post-punk itself. The unshakeably influential band, now on their 47th anniversary, came to the O2 Academy with wholesomeness, humour and a timeless punk-rock attitude.
As me and Susie are handed our press-tickets, and given ominous “after party” wristbands, I can’t help but feel a little out of my depth. Formed at the precipice of a British political transformation, Gang of Four have overseen both huge political and anthropological shifts in the U.K. whilst writing music along the way. I owe a lot to the band who paved the way for one of my favourite genres. Passing an eclectic merch table full of poker chips, T-shirts and a mysterious, heavily bludgeoned microwave there is a twinge of excitement mixed with fear as I mentally check my kitchenware is safely secure at home.
Miki Bereyni of Lush fame is playing as the second opener when we arrive. Her set is equal parts ethereal and cheeky, playing tunes back to back which predate the explosion of British shoe-gaze yet were essential in its inception. Between moments of awe, the ambient magic is broken as Miki shouts she was “too happy on the wine” last night and is now paying the consequences. Fumbling to fiddle with her effects pedals she pays tribute to the band- who she first saw when she was 15, “this is a bit of a dream come true,” she says between songs. It's good to know I'm not the only one humbled to be in the same room as the band.
After a while Gang of Four stampede out: an orchestral introduction plays over the loudspeaker which segues into a speech by Greta Thunberg. The four flags behind the stage are illuminated as each member takes their place. David Pajo- who is one of the musical mercenaries enlisted on this project- launches into a blisteringly shrill rendition of Return the Gift. In lieu of the passing of David Gill, Pajo has taken the mantle of lead guitarist and it’s staggering how well he has learnt to recreate the sonic nuances of Gill’s playing. Pajo elegantly moves the guitar around the air like a paintbrush on canvas to create sweeps of feeback, utilising a kill-switch to produce a hypnotic stuttering effect.
Jon King, one of two founding members of the current line-up, watches gleefully as Pajo instigates the distorted cacophony. He takes his spot by the side of the stage, next to Sara, remarking, “This is David” before lovingly pausing- “he’s very, very attractive.” Between more flirtations, with the audience this time, King scuttles around the stage in a dance somewhere between Chuck Berry and an inebriated beetle. His enthusiasm is infectiously youthful and King’s lyrics remain as poetic as they were almost 50 years ago. Engagement with the crowd is consistent and there’s time to recollect his last time playing in Bristol at what was once the Colston Hall (now the Beacon.) He grins, “so I cheered when they chucked his statue in the river!” We cheer too.
Between destruction of more kicthenware, the set draws to a close and a cover song is dedicated to the Mekons, another punk monolith from Leeds. I can feel the shared love of punk in the room as the band pay tribute to all of the greats: there are older listeners wearing beaten band-shirts that have certainly seen a mosh or two, hidden between glimpses of a crisp Murder Capital t-shirt. Standing in my Black Midi shirt, I feel as if I’m part of a larger celebration of British punk rock. It’s a lot to take in between the thundering smacks of an aluminium baseball bat crushing an oven, but oddly profound.
As the band take a bow and filter away, the venue clears whilst me and Susie sheepishly wait by the bar for the mysterious “after party.” Standing between friends of the band, I feel somewhat out of place and have to stifle an urge to gasp when David steps out. Not only has he killed it tonight, but Pajo is also the original guitarist of Slint- of whom I am a massive fan. There’s time to thank him for an incredible gig whilst he reminisces with me over his time in Slint. He says "a lot has changed" in the city, he also comments on how Gang of Four were ironically what he was listening to before the inception of Slint- yet they have ended up being his newest project. I play it cool whilst we discuss stompboxes, Steve Albini and guitar technique.
After our chat I awkwardly shuffle away, hiding a grin of disbelief. Catching a glimpse of King donnned in his now sweat drenched maroon shirt, I make my getaway in total disbelief but with a revitalised sense of hope in British punk rock.
Featured Image: Benji Chapman
Have you seen an oven destroyed onstage?