Focus on the new, not the past

By MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

“Entertainment,” the seminal album by pioneering punks Gang of Four, is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

And when the group, led by original member Andy Gill, hits the shores of Australia in March, they will be playing the album from the beginning to the end for fans.

But don’t expect the same nostalgic set list from the group when Gang of Four arrives in Connecticut to play the Space Ballroom, the group’s guitarist said.

When Gang of Four takes the stage, Gill said the group will be putting the focus on its latest effort, “Happy Now.”

Typically, Gill said, the decision to play “Entertainment” from beginning to end typically comes following a the request from a promoter. And Gill said they have played the album in full plenty of times through the years.

But “Happy Now,” which will be released on March 29, is the British band’s raison d’etre for traveling across the pond.

The new album’s title, with its lack of punctuation, is ambiguous. And Gill liked it that way.

In one respect, it could be a question, “Are you happy now?” But punctuated in a different manner, it can be a declaration, “I am happy now.”

The declaration of “I am happy now” when directed at himself, said Gill, runs counter to most people’s expectations. Calling from Los Angeles, he said, he has a reputation of being a “miserable bastard.”

Meanwhile, the question of “Are you happy now?” plays into the state of current politics, said Gill. In the U.K., the nation is dealing with the mess of Brexit. And in America, the nation is dealing with Donald Trump. (Trump figures in Gill’s songwriting these days, invoking the president’s daughter in the song “Ivanka ‘My Name’s On It’” on “Happy Now”).

Are the people happy now?

When Gang of Four played the Space Ballroom a few years back, there were many fans who clearly were old enough to have known the group from its “Entertainment” and “I Love A Man in a Uniform” days. However, Gill noted, the group also has been drawing an army of younger fans – born long after the group first drew the attention of punk across the world.

Gill said the attention paid to Gang of Four by a younger generation is due to current pop royalty paying homage to the group, which now includes Thomas McNeice, John “Gaoler” Sterry, and Tobias Humble. Gill said singers Pharrell and Frank Ocean, among others, have publicly name-checked the band.

When Gang of Four originally hit the scene, they were known for their left-wing, socialist slant that ran counter to the U.K.’s march to conservatism under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. “I Love A Man In A Uniform” was banned by the BBC in the wake of the Falklands War.

Asked if a group like Gang of Four could be signed by a label today, Gill stepped around the question of the politics of the group in its earlier days.

Instead, Gill focused on the changes in the business of music from 1979 to 2019. Technology such as streaming music has brought the record companies “to their knees,” Gill said. And bands are being paid mere pennies, he said, to have their music played on streaming services. It’s not financially feasible, said Gill, for a young band “to make a go of it.”

Gang of Four will be making a go of it the Space Ballroom, 295 Treadwell St., Hamden on Wednesday, Feb. 20 in an all-ages show. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show is at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25.

For more information, go to spaceballroom.com or gangoffour.uk

Gang of Four is in Connecticut Feb. 20.

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