After the passing of Gang of Four’s leader and guitarist Andy Gill earlier this year, fellow axeman Tom Morello praised Gill as a major influence with his “industrial funk deconstructed guitar anti-hero sonics and fierce poetic, radical intellect”. ‘Anti Hero’ is fittingly the title of this posthumous, celebratory 4-track EP from Gang of Four.
‘Forever Starts Now’ is the last piece of music to be written by Andy and singer John Sterry collectively. Andy’s wife, Catherine Mayer recalls the “healthy scepticism” that he had about politicians and deemed figureheads. This punchy track with a belting bass-line from Thomas McNeice contains a final blasting of celebrity impermanence and anti-establishment zest from Gill –“He’s a man who desires and aspires. She’s a woman who requires to be admired / When her compliance is gone, she won’t sing along with his song”. It merges their early post-punk sound and evolving electronic back-beats which has seen the band persist through six decades.
John Sterry, who goes by JJ Sterry for his solo output, joined the band in 2012. Sterry’s ‘Day Turns to Night’, written only days after Gill’s death, is a eulogy full of respect and love for Andy as a person and a pioneering musician – “First I was nobody, ’til you gave me the key / opened the door for me, then I was somebody”. The song begins with screeching guitar feedback that Gill himself would have had fun with. In the relatively short time that Sterry played with Gill, his friendship was clearly solid with mutual admiration – “You brought me along for the ride / Took the world on, side by side. So long. Goodbye”.
‘Change The Locks’, originally released on the 2019 album Happy Now has gone through a re-work here, resulting in a rockier, fuller sound. This is especially notable through the verses. Sterry proclaims, “Bang bang on the drum” and drummer Tobias Humble duly obliges. “Do what you want, you won’t be found out. You’ll never be held to account” – Andy Gill; consistently relevant in social and political matters.
The EP closes with a remix of ‘Glass’ which featured on Gang of Four’s seminal, debut 1979 album Entertainment!. The new version could be seen as somewhat less edgy, losing some of its raw punk-inspired energy compared with the original. In any case, it is a welcome reminder of the tremendous impact that this album, the band and Andy Gill have had on so many other artists through the subsequent decades.
Some of these same musicians that he influenced, Gill went on to produce records for, such as Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party and The Futureheads. Anti Hero gives a snapshot of the energy that was evident in the band’s live performances, something which they were still renowned for, right up until late last year. Mike Mills of REM said, “He (Andy), and the rest of the Gang, changed how we attacked the live show, gave us a bar to try and rise to. And so much metallic volume”.
Gill himself curated elements of the album cover on Entertainment! and in a tribute to his legacy, the Anti-Hero EP features a cover portrait of Andy by American Shepard Fairey (the brainchild of Barack Obama’s ‘Hope’ artwork during his 2008 presidential campaign), who was an admirer of Andy’s artistry, outspoken political awareness, integrity and musicianship.
Everyone who worked on the album provided their services for free. All net receipts received by Gang of Four from sales and streams of the forthcoming EP and associated singles will be donated to Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, who valiantly battled to save his life and care so humanely for him in his final days.
In writing this piece, it has also been a mini-journey of discovery for me also, in terms of how Andy and the ‘Gang’ energised so many artists. Flea from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers sums this up shortly after Andy’s death – “Go listen to ENTERTAINMENT right now. Turn that shit up loud and rock the fuck out. Dance. Think. That’s a record that changed my life forever and was massively influential on my development as a musician and showed me what a rock band could be. There is nothing else like it. It cut a fucking hole right the thick LA smog that I wanted to jump through”. A powerful testament.