Gang of Four: A note to journalists, gig-goers & all the folk who keep messaging me
No. I don’t share your excitement about the start of a tour, later this month, by a band called Gang of Four. Nor would my late husband Andy Gill, the band’s co-founder, driving force, visionary and co-writer or writer of all the tracks and its only consistent presence for more than 40 years, up to his death in 2020.
His feelings would be... mixed.
It’s not that he’d object to seeing former Gang of Four bass player Sara Lee back in action. He thought her fabulous, and he also adored her successor Gail Ann Dorsey, as he did the longest-serving Gang of Four bassist, Thomas McNeice.
It’s unlikely he’d argue with David Pajo’s Gang of Four debut, though he might struggle to accept the idea of anyone standing in for him. Andy’s guitar-playing, much imitated and nonetheless inimitable, was ground-breaking—and he never subscribed to false modesty. On the other hand, he’d have been interested to see what Pajo would contribute. He always regarded a change in band line-up as a creative opportunity.
In different circumstances, he’d be happy to see the return of two of his original co-founders, Jon King and Hugo Burnham. He’d surely have raised an eyebrow at the pre-tour announcement that Dave Allen wouldn’t be joining them. The line-up featuring Andy, Jon, Hugo and Dave—always described as “original”, though Gang of Four actually started with a different bass player—existed, but for a fleeting, fractious 2005 reunion, for just four years of the band’s four decades. Dave left in 1981, Hugo in 1983. Nevertheless, the narrative put forward by their lawyers during the last year of Andy’s life and in the aftermath of his death positions that line-up as somehow the most authentic one.
Andy never agreed with the idea that authenticity resides in a lack of change, that bands are more legitimate if they grimly hang on to the same members, repeat the same schtick, the same setlists. For him, Gang of Four was a project that moved forwards, refreshing, learning and never getting lost in nostalgia.
So many people inspired him along the way. John Sterry came on board as Gang of Four’s singer after Jon left the band in 2011. John Sterry and Andy sparked off each other, wrote together, as Andy and Jon once had. John and Thomas and drummer Tobias Humble kept vigil at Andy’s deathbed. I didn’t invite Jon King or inform him that Andy was sick. I couldn’t. Andy insisted that I keep his hospitalisation a secret from Jon, Hugo and Dave.
I might have described the fracturing of Andy and Jon’s friendship as one of the saddest things I’ve seen had I not lived through much and deeper sadness. When Andy died, he and Jon no longer spoke except through intermediaries, mostly lawyers. Probably the situation was irretrievable, but who knows. As I explain in my memoir Good Grief, “Andy and Jon used to love each other and, certainly on Andy’s part, continued to do so—a love to some degree to hatred turned, but, at cellular level, still very much love. Had Andy lived, there might have been a reconciliation, a rekindling. He didn’t and there wasn’t.”
When I sat down to write a chapter about Gang of Four for the newly published paperback edition, it was with a view to telling a story I knew Andy would wish to be told—and I also hoped, I suppose, for a kind of closure. I’ve overseen the finishing and releasing of The Problem of Leisure: A Celebration of Andy Gill and Gang of Four. I’m figuring out what to do with the huge trove of music and other materials and memorabilia Andy left. I battle grief every day. I don’t want to have to fight Andy’s corner too.
So I hope that this post will allow me a little bit of peace, by making something clear to people who haven’t read the book, whether journalists covering the tour or fans attending gigs or buying the Matador box set of early Gang of Four music.
I have no objection to this tour and indeed, I wish Jon and Hugo and Sara Lee and David Pajo all the best.
That’s not the same as wanting to hear about it, much less being confronted with misleading messaging via Gang of Four social media that rewrites the history of the band. (Along with the Gang of Four name, I handed over the socials to Jon King, Hugo Burnham and Dave Allen as part of a legal settlement.)
It was tough enough to get through the second anniversary of Andy’s death earlier this month. This video by Hugo on behalf of the others and posted on all Gang of Four feeds and of course generously shared with me by many well-meaning people ladled on the pain—because it would have upset Andy. The text of the book included in the box set does that too, and also implies Andy’s participation in the box set. In fact, Andy died without knowing of the plans for the box set and distressed that Jon, Hugo and Dave, without his approval, had exercised a provision of US copyright law to remove North American rights to the early Gang of Four output from Warner Bros.
A pattern was set within hours of Andy’s death when Jon, Hugo and Dave launched a Facebook page emblazoned with a new logo, “Gang of Four 77–81”, and issued a joint statement: “Andy was our brother”. Perhaps so, but in the spirit of Cain and Abel or Michael and Fredo Corleone or William and Harry. Yes, I’m joking, but at the end there was no love lost between Andy and those other three Gang members because love had been lost.
This isn’t a blame game. In my book I acknowledge the complexities of relationships, of all kinds and within bands, and the way grief plays with memory. I understand the impulse to construct a more comfortable narrative. The funny thing is, I think I can help with that. I’ve invited Jon and the others to meet up with me, talk about old times, celebrate Andy, Gang of Four, and the friendships that once were—and accept history rather than rewriting it.
And that, in a nutshell, is all I ask from journalists and gig-goers and music fans too.
The order of service for Andy's memorial, fashioned as a record sleeve, with insert
Andy's socials are:
Facebook: Andy Gill Music
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Words and photos © Catherine Mayer 2022