John Dugan interviews Dave Allen, bassist from reunited punk-funk godfathers Gang of Four.Published: January 9, 2005
Time Out Chicago: Were Gang of Four's politics exaggerated by the media?
Dave Allen, bassist: It was overblown in that the people and the media would say, "They're a communist band, they're Marxists, they're Maoists." As you probably noticed, historically, we never really played that down. We were definitely left-of-center politically. In the early days, we were supportive of Rock Against Racism and the women's-rights movement in England. But if you think about it, in America, that's just being liberal, isn't it? If you did delve into our lyrical content, we were just challenging this assumption that you had no control over your life. We were labeled an ornery, didactic, agitprop outfit, and the label stuck.
TOC: What were you reading and listening to when you formed? We've heard the band looked up to the British pub-rock act Dr. Feelgood.
DA: All the lyrical content has a lot to do with [singer] Jon King. He was into Situationism and still is, and that formed a lot of his thinking when it came to lyric writing. As for the music, we could agree on Dr. Feelgood and their guitarist, Wilko Johnson. But we were all heavily into what we would back then call "black American music," hot on Funkadelic and Parliament and reggae greats like Lee Perry. We spent a lot of our time in Roots, a reggae club in Leeds where they used to play some incredible dub plates. As a bass player, I was always into the whole reggae style. I liked playing the off-beat more than the on-beat. So we were not your average rock band. The Sex Pistols basically took from New York Dolls and the Stooges, and without Johnny up front, they would have been a pretty ordinary band. We didn't want to do the three-block-chords-and-a-spikey-hair thing.
TOC: Gang of Four had a '90s version with just Andy and Jon. How did this reunion come about?
DA: It happened over the last ten years. I was living in Los Angeles and working in the music business and everyone knew who I was, so I kept getting managers or promoters saying "Hey, it's about time you guys got back together." Eventually, I was intrigued enough to call Andy and give him the lowdown on the pressure that was building on my end. Last November, the four of us all convened for the first time in 20 years in a room in London with a video camera—you know, the old fly on the wall—and agreed if we could be awesome live, then we'd do it. I like the fact that bands are like teams, that there's a camaraderie. If we could rekindle that, then I figured we could win.
TOC: Does the reunion put a lot of pressure on the band?
DA: We were out on stage in London in front of 3,000 people at a show that'd been sold out for weeks and had huge expectations from the press. My wife was freaking out and I told her to have a drink—I didn't feel the pressure. The one thing we agreed on was that if we are not 101 percent, then we can't do it. It meant some serious critiquing of each other in the rehearsal room, but we coalesced into a really tight unit again. When we played originally, all I recall is white heat. We were intense. That was the challenge, and we pulled it off. I know in the back of my mind we're going to give people some serious rock & roll.
Gang of Four plays Metro Wednesday 11 and Thursday 12.