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Gang of Four

Biography

Gang of Four
Haun/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images

The English-born Gang of Four played dissonant, dub-reggae-influenced, atonal funk with political lyrics. The band was extremely influential in the U.K. and a solid concert draw in the U.S. The group started at art school in Leeds in 1977, naming itself after a Chinese Communist political faction associated with Mao Tse-Tung's widow. Gang of Four released its debut EP, Damaged Goods, on the independent Fast Product label. Touring and the record, which became a hit at rock discos, brought the quartet a contract with EMI in Britain and, after a self-financed tour, with Warner Bros. in the U.S., which began a jumbled release schedule. (Entertainment! was released in Britain in October 1979 and in the U.S. in May 1980, for example.)

In the middle of the U.S. tour supporting Solid Gold, bassist Dave Allen quit; he was replaced on tour by Busta "Cherry" Jones, who had performed with Talking Heads and Chris Spedding. Later in 1981 bassist Sara Lee, who had been a member of the League of Gentlemen with Robert Fripp, joined the Gang of Four as a fulltime member. On its 1982 tour, the Gang of Four appeared as a five-piece group with vocalist Edi Reader. Although its music had apparently been too raw for U.S. radio, the group received extensive play in clubs for such danceable British hits as "At Home, He's a Tourist," "Damaged Goods," and "I Love a Man in Uniform."

In 1983 King and Gill fired Burnham and used a drum machine on Hard, ironically attacked by critics as sounding too soft. Drummer Stephen Goulding of Graham Parker and the Rumour was added for a tour, while Burnham became a record industry A&R executive (after stints at Island and Imago, he landed at Quincy Jones' Qwest label). Citing musical differences, King and Gill disbanded Gang of Four in 1984; Allen and Burnham played an encore at a London farewell show.

Dave Allen went on to form Shriekback (with ex-XTC and League of Gentlemen keyboardist Barry Andrews), King Swamp, and Low Pop Suicide. In addition, Allen founded the independent label World Domination; in 1994, that label released Allen's first solo album, The Elastic Purejoy.

Andy Gill produced the Red Hot Chili Peppers' debut album and worked on film soundtracks. (Allen and Jon King cowrote the music for 1984's The Karate Kid.) King formed two bands, Mechanic Preachers and King Butcher, before he and Gill re-formed Gang of Four for the critically well-received Mall (1991). The group —dubbed by critics the Gang of Two —also released Shrinkwrapped (1995), and toured as a four-piece that included Curve drummer Steve Monti, before moving on to other endeavors. A 1998 compilaton, 100 Flowers Bloom, put the band's history in context.

This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).

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