Gang of Four, one of the most influential late-Seventies post-punk groups, are set to play their first shows with their original line-up in over twenty years. Known for their politicized punk-and-funk sound, the Brits will perform five U.K. dates in January, with possible gigs to follow in the U.S. this spring.
This will mark the first time the band — singer Jon King, guitarist-vocalist Andy Gill, bassist Dave Allen and drummer Hugo Burnham — performs together since 1981. Over the years, the group was approached with reunion offers, but with the influence of the Four apparent in newer bands such as Franz Ferdinand and the Futureheads, the timing seems right now.
“The interest is certainly stronger than it’s ever been,” says Burnham from his home in Massachusetts just before heading over to London for rehearsals. “There have always been acts — whether it was R.E.M., the Red Hot Chili Peppers or even Kurt Cobain — clearly acknowledging the influence we had on them and how excited they were by what we did. What we did creatively still resonates with people. So the four of us decided, ‘Well, maybe we could make this work this year.'”
“We all agree that it had to be fun,” Burnham continues, “and that it had to work around our individual lives to make it worthwhile. We have a strong creative legacy, and the last thing we wanted to do is go out and fuck that up by doing a half-hearted job.”
The set list for the U.K. shows — beginning on January 23rd at the Manchester Academy, and wrapping up on the 28th at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire — will mainly draw on material from the Four’s early albums. “It would be folly to go out and try to foist new music on people because we’re not usually together all the time,” says Burnham, who has no plans to head into the studio. “What resonates is the old stuff, and we need to go out and do that. After all, the crux of it is the four of us onstage playing, making loud rude noises and running around furiously.”
Gang of Four formed in 1977 when the members were university students in Leeds. Their full-length debut, 1979’s Entertainment!, is now considered a classic (Rolling Stone named it one of the 500 greatest albums of all time). “It wasn’t defined by the times,” explains Burnham on why the album still holds up. “We weren’t screaming about Margaret Thatcher. It was emotional politics — the personal dynamics and issues, empowering yourself and questioning what’s going one. That doesn’t change.”
In 1981, after their second album, Solid Gold, bassist Allen left the band, followed by Burnham two years later. The Four called it quits in 1984, but in the Nineties Gill and King resurrected the band with new members for two albums that were met with mixed reviews. Since then, Gill has become a producer, collaborating with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, late INXS singer Michael Hutchence and the Futureheads; King has done soundtrack work with Gill; and Allen has been a member of the groups Shriekback and Low Pop Suicide.
Burnham worked at several record companies before moving to Massachusetts to teach at a college, which he still does today. Having been away from music for a long time, he initially had some trepidation about the reunion gigs. “I was terrified,” Burnham confesses. “Getting back into that was a real challenge, physically and emotionally. But it’s great.”
As for his expectations for the upcoming performances, Burnham just hopes fans won’t be disappointed. “I want people to dig it and have fun and go, ‘Yeah, that was good!'” he says. “That hasn’t changed from the first time around.”