Gang Of Four

Stage gimmicks cheapen an otherwise solid performance from the act that put the funk into punk

It’s difficult to overstate the influence that post-punk group Gang Of Four has had on popular music since the release of their 1979 debut album Entertainment!. The group’s combination of stripped down punk and ferociously funky rhythms on minimal guitar with a side of reggae produced results that turned the heads of their contemporaries and has been replicated ever since.

That said, with classic cuts from the group popping up in film and television, they’ve seen a revival that has produced new fans, prompting a recent album of new material and a slew of live shows with a revised line-up.

In support at the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival marquee are Belfast goth shoegazers Girls Names, who play in the same week as releasing their debut album, Dead To Me. For such a downbeat ensemble, they continue to get bookings for huge venues where they usually look rather uncomfortable.

Tonight though, drummer Neil Brogan beats a path toward the headliners, with bassist Claire Miskimmin gazing away and Cathal’s reverb-drenched vocals still very droll. Even in front of a sparse gathering, the growth in confidence is apparent and the trio sound downright fantastic.

The gothic ‘Séance on a Wet Afternoon’ is given an alternative take as Cully wrestles with the loop pedals and effects to create something not on the recording. A friendly, free-spirited dancer floats in front of the crowd throughout, summing up the vibe well; it feels a bit lonely in here, but the gathered are digging it anyway.

Gang Of Four make themselves known, launching into his year’s single ‘You’ll Never Pay For The Farm’ (listen below), which gets things started in rousing enough fashion, even if it does sounds a bit too much like U2 (which came first, the chicken or the egg?). The opener is followed swiftly by ‘Not Great Men’, in which singer Jon King starts to thrust wildly, his shirt getting ever looser with every jerking movement.

Fans appear more excited by early tracks including ‘Ether’, with King and guitarist Andy Gill delivering their politically-charged best with call/response vocals about prisoner torture and the greed for oil, before things get a touch weirder with King prowling menacingly, swinging his mic whilst holding one hip on ‘I Parade Myself’.

Showing more of their dub catalogue, Gill then takes the spotlight on speaking vocals with ‘Paralysed’, then it’s back to the new material from Content, as King returns, hands outstretched with the very odd ‘A Fruitfly in the Beehive’.

Following this, the cross chatter from Gill over King’s singing on anti-love song ‘Anthrax’ is an unsettling and perfect example of Gang Of Four at their most authentic and original, with King's fantastically unromantic lyrics ‘Love'll get you like a case of anthrax / And that's something I don't want to catch.’

Gill’s vocoder on ‘It Was Never Gonna Turn Out Too Good’ seems unnecessary and a bit old hat, as do the later stage gimmicks of a drawn out demolition of a technicolor microwave during ‘Do As I Say’.

An encore includes the classic ‘Damaged Goods’ and the supremely danceable ‘Natural’s Not In It’, which hasn’t lost any appeal and sounds as fresh today as it did over 30 years ago.

A larger turnout may have helped deliver more of a truly festival vibe in the marquee, but for a group as challenging as Gang Of Four to continue doing their thing after all these years is nothing short of astounding, and no doubt something that young bands today might learn from.

Check out our What's On listings for information on all Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival events.