Monday, 28 September 2009

Musicians must get paid!

UK music posted a newspaper ad yesterday which really connected with me. It reproduced a blog from Falco, whose recent recording was illegally posted on the internet 8 weeks before scheduled release for so-called fans to download this for nothing. This totally devalued their work, destroyed any potential spike of interest in the band, meant they had no subsequent increase in audience, sinking any boost to their gig fees and ruined their hopes to make their mark from their music. I don't know Falco's work , but I felt for these guys. It's wrong.

Falco is just one of many victims of the rip-off notion that creative people's work doesn't deserve to be paid for; that resisting filesharing is luddite and old school; that simply saying that filesharing is wrong is somehow uncool (typically advanced by crews who've already made a career packet and are established live acts commanding decent fees) ; that the music industry ( whatever that is, these days ) has only itself to blame , so who gives a toss; and that it's right that a Mars bar is paid for but not a song.

The winners are criminals and new technology bores who think talking about new distribution paradigms will help musicians make a living, but really make an income from talking themselves into some blogosphere media guru commentariat rep. It's contemporary vicious capitalism at work by guys in sloppy tees and jeans masquerading as hipsters. Filesharing is not about friends swapping song lists or copying tracks they love to their buddies. It's about the bulk transfer of masses of data - songs! - facilitated by crooks & ISPs for misguided fans.

The pathetic recourse proposed last week by FAC ( the Featured Artists Coalition) is to send a warning letter - scary! - to the worst offending filesharers to tell them to stop . But if they ignore this, and the theft persists, they'll get another letter! Whoah! & third strike, they'll support squeezing their bandwidth! Strong stuff! It's pathetic. It's like saying that restricting shop hours would limit shop lifting! Musicians' livelihoods are at stake along with their support networks, roadcrews, suppliers, set designers, sound engineers , studio owners and myriad others. I have contempt for the apologists who won't stand up to this organised theft.

Gang of Four is lucky. Last month we got a gold award for Entertainment! celebrating the sale -the sale! - of 100, 000 units in the UK over the last 30 years. Are we the last generation of non-pop bands who'll ever again be able to do this? We earned little bits here and there when we started, which meant we could afford to keep at it, get signed , make records and attract an audience so that relatively early on we earned a wage & could do the job fulltime. Technology creep is dooming musicians to perpetual dayjobs. To hell with poverty! Say no to illegal filesharing! Don't do it!

Monday, 21 September 2009

Eddi Reader has an adventure with the Gang

Last week we played Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leamington spa The Forum, London, and appeared on BBCTV's " Later with Jools Holland" . On LWJH's Friday show we played 2 songs formerly banned by the BBC, "Tourist" & " I Love a Man in a Uniform ". The first because of the sexually licentious "rubbers" word. Saucy! The second , because it linked joining the army with lack of job opportunities. Get away! And shagging, of course. Just like back then, with the Falklands war, in a sea of unemployment, army recruitment is booming and disadvantaged working class boys are sent off to do our bidding in Afghanistan, and are abandoned when they come home.

Eddi Reader guested with us on BV's for these gigsShe's a wonderful singer, and a lovely person, and musical royalty in Scotland, laden with Brits & Ivor Novello's & MBE's & sunglasses & golden shoes. GOF was her first professional gig many years ago, when she bunked off from her factory job in Irvine New Town to audition for our "Songs of the Free" US tour. Her home town was famous for two things:

1/ Robert Burns lived there
2/ It had Scotland's dirtiest beach.

We discovered Eddi after a miserable couple of days fast-forwarding through the wierdo and wannabee auditioneers who want to be in a band but have zero ability and don't bother to learn the songs. You see this every week on the X Factor, but in real life it's hard to be nice to these timewasters, like Cheryl Cole is. I never had the eye lashes , either. Eddi walked in, all arms and legs, sang a verse and chorus and got the job. She was on The Old Grey Whistle Test the following week and in the US the week after , to be supported all around the States by our young buddies REM, before they were famous. Her first gig with us was in the mammoth 250,000 audience "US" festival with The Police, B52's, Talking Heads etc.

We've had a fine time this week. Teenagers in the mosh pit, oldies in the seats ( and on stage) . Mark Heaney's been sensational, solid, funky , on it. Thomas McNeice's bass super cool; funky but with the heart of a rocker. Gill trademark magisterial. Here's Friday's set list! Guess the rock'n'roll reference in the pic! Points mean prizes!

Thursday, 17 September 2009

A playlist for today ( but only today)

Gill & I were asked to come up with a 20 song playlist the other day. Here it is. It’s hard to put the music you love into a bag. Today’s list won’t be the same as tomorrow’s. But today, and every day, there is Jimi Hendrix , all time greatest guitarist , taking us to a place beyond language, where every note, chord, squawk and feedback squeal meant something urgent, existential, real . An artist whose take on the US national anthem leaves no doubt that this product of an instant - the pure beautiful sound of metal strings vibrating in a magnetic field- means No! to the Vietnam war ( and by extension all unjust wars ) and racism and oppression and Yes! to beauty and freedom and the possibility of justice.
Here are artists who carve words into sparkling mountains of and wit and insight; Joni Mitchell’s morose beat memoire with its eccentric phrasing and vocal swoops ; Robert Johnson, buddy of Beezelbub , who slept with every woman he minded to and whose music, the fount of all rock and roll, travelled by freight train from the Delta to Chicago to be electrified by Muddy so that middle class Brit white boys like the Stones could invent their louche wall of doped out devilry. And Bob , on a highway , too, who inspired me with this song, aged 11, to want do something with my life that wasn’t straight or square or boring. A song of pure genius funny, clever and sour as a lemon squeeze.
Pop is a wonderful thing : Kylie’s superb piece of brainwashed dancerama, Marvin’s Gaye’s joyous masterpiece, I-Roy’s brilliant cover of the schmaltzy classic and the Beach Boy’s classic confection of rehab miserabilism .
And music now is so good. Hail The Stripes & I Heart Hiroshima & MC5’s mutant grandchildren, The Hives! Kick out the jams and enjoy!
1. Voodoo Chile ( slight Return ) Jimi Hendrix
2. The last time I saw Richard Joni Mitchell
3. DVNO - Justice
4. Back in Black - AC/DC
5. One nation Under a Groove - Funkadelic
6. Death from Above- Smashing Pumpkins
7. Hate to say I told you so - The Hives
8. Highway 61 revisited - Bob Dylan
9. Ain't No Mountain High enough - Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
10. Cross road Blues - Robert Johnson
11. Work it - missy Elliot
12. Sympathy for the devil - stones
13. Star spangled banner - jimi
14. Honey bee - muddy waters
15. First cut is the deepest - I ROY
16. If You See Her, Say Hello - bob D
17. Surf’s up - beach boys
18. 7 nation army - stripes
19. sisters - I heart hiroshima
20. Kylie - can’t get you out of my head

Monday, 14 September 2009

The studio is a poisoned chalice

Writing and routining new songs at Gill’s studio over the weekend, and worrying over a noisy pot on the mixing desk that just wouldn't quieten down, we got to talking about Les Paul , and his genius. As Brian Eno pointed out , the three greatest leaps forward in the creation of music over the last two hundred years were the invention & perfection of the piano; the creation of the Symphony orchestra and the invention of the multi-track studio

Les Paul invented the third, a curse that cost him his mojo. Recorded music more or less stopped being being about performances in real-time and became constructions over time. Every snap, crackle and pop of imperfection could be tweaked and smoothed. You could, finally, the dream of A&R men everywhere, polish a turd. Steely Dan and Coldplay became possible. Sometimes, you wish you could just roll back the clock.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Entertainment, Track by track

We recorded Entertainment! in The Workhouse, a studio on the Old Kent road , then a seedy highway through a depressed South London , but still glamorous compared to the misery of Leeds. We’d routined the songs for a week or so in a residential farmhouse with rehearsal room attached , where we also wrote Great Men. Going into the studio, we knew exactly what we would do, as the songs were all nailed and road tested . We recorded them fast , just as they were. Gill & I produced the session , alongside our manager Rob Warr, in only 3 weeks start to finish. We wanted the songs to be authentic and capture a moment in time with no decoration or overdubs or tracking or FX. We argued a lot about not using any outboard effect that might colour the performance in a misleading way so that what we did was real . When we finished it sounded like itself. EMI left us completely alone and , when we’d finished, after the playback, said only, in a mystified way: “ Is this the demo?” to which we said “No. It’s the album” . To the record company’s credit, that was that. And it was put out without any polishing.

Love Like Anthrax

This was the first song Andy & I wrote where we felt we’d got to where we wanted to be . We were big fans of Godard’s movies , & loved the split screens and off-screen commentaries about what was going on in his great film “Numero Deux”. It seemed like a modern way to describe things, how stories can’t always be decoded from a single point of view and, among all the conflicting narratives, a story’s sense changes depending on where you sit. We played with ideas like this on the inside sleeve art, too. I’d written some words , a paean to a traumatising hangover – inspired by Raymond Chandler’s brilliant morning after description: “I woke up. An Axe split my head” - and , having talked about it for a while, wrote down on paper how the song would be before we ever played a note. Our plan was : heavy funky drums & bass throughout , 2x slabs of improvised guitar and two vocal sections where I sang fixed words and Andy commented on the words or wherever we were or whatever we were doing or whatever he was thinking about. This to make every performance different and not handcuff meanings. Andy’s guitar is brilliant, an echo Hendrix at Rainbow Bridge, working the tremolo, schmoozing the pickups, bending the neck; and , live, sometimes, destroying the guitar when the neck gives way under the assault. To me, the song's a moment in time freezeframed.

I found that Essence Rare

There was a cheesy magazine ad for a perfume, I forget which it was, that used this line. It summed up that lonely desire we all have to find something permanent and real and transformational in the middle of the relentless , oppressive programming and oppression we go through. Somehow we all end up doing, thinking and believing the same as everyone else but knowing at the same time it’s all lies and a conspiracy. That all the words we use lock us further into our own little jails of which we, of course, hold the keys. But don’t dare escape from. Discovering this line helped the rest come fast: “See the girl in the bikini, she doesn’t think so but she’s dressed for the H-Bomb” etc. It seemed just right that a two-piece swimsuit was named after nuclear tests in the Pacific. The tune, of early birth, goes: verse bridge chorus, verse bridge chorus middle 8 chorus out! Hugo wrote this in felt pen on his floor tom during the recording to remember it. Essence rocks, in a not entirely formulaic way. EMI loved it and wanted Essence to be the first single from Entertainment! Never missing a chance to miss a chance, we said no way, the song was too commercial ( duh!) and wasn’t representative. We refused the release and succeeded in pisssing off our A&R team and lable manager. They moved their affections, what little they ever had any for us, to their new signing Duran Duran. Oh, Rio!

Corked up with the Ether

There’d been a report published in the mid 70’s that found the British Government guilty of torturing IRA suspects. They used to, among a smorgasbord of cruelties, make suspects stand up for hours in hoods while white noise was played at gross volumes to break their will. The Americans , years later, tweaked this format by playing hard rock to the holed up General Noriega in Panama until he surrendered. As US Sergeant Mark Hadsell said at the time: "These people haven't heard heavy metal. They can't take it. If you play it for 24 hours, your brain and body functions start to slide, your train of thought slows down and your will is broken. That's when we come in and talk to them.” Yeah, dude.
Whatever, the report on what was being done in our name was shameful; reported back to us on TV, alongside some other world atrocity , while we were enjoying ourselves, unwinding at the end of the day, getting ready for fun and games. So the notion was for 2 voices , telling scripted parallel stories. One voice, the one who’s living his fine life , says “ Locked in heaven’s lifestyle” while the other, at the same time, says ” locked in Long Kesh” ( the prison for IRA & UDF members in Northern Ireland). Etc. You get the picture. This one does this as the other does that. The run out chant “ There may be oil in Rockall!”, was based on our paranoid notion that the reason the British annexed, in 1955, an ugly & tiny rock in the deep Atlantic was less about stopping the Russians spy on NATO missile tests than the fact there might be oil about to pillage . And it came to pass ! In 2007 the Brits announced a claim to vast swathes of the Atlantic for 350 miles around the rock! The first example of eco-colonialism!

Damaged Goods

Saturday afternoons, we wandered, walleyed, through the sun-bright aisles of Morrison’s supermarket in Leeds, looking for a 2 -4 -1 bargains and generic baked beans. The hopeless in-store slogan at the point of sale was: “The change will do you good” meaning “change” as in money and “change” as in switch store. Someone got paid for this rubbish!. I found this good starter for words about a doomed relationship where legover had become, maybe, too much of a good thing. Or at any rate, a thing. Andy punctuates the main lyric with a call and response thing and sings the iconic mid section “Damaged goods, send them back” words . The music’s cute: alternate the guitar and bass duh duh dink! Duh duh dink! & build the song around this R&B clatter among dynamic drop outs where everyone got to feature. We didn’t want a pop structure. We’d had it with dominant, subdominant , tonic chord progressions. So we had none, instead. The song was on our debut Fast product EP, which became a big indie hit . But we weren’t paid a cent for our work, majorly ripped off, so we re-recorded it for Entertainment! I regret not punching out the bloke who ran the label. ( Note to self: do this before you die ) We’re often asked “why did you sign to a major label if you’re so alternative?” One answer : EMI at least paid us for the records it sold.


The melodica’s a fine instrument: a signature sound, cheap and disposable and not part of rockism. I have a red one. Augustus Pablo had one, too. Reggae music, in the late 70’s, was the most innovative pop music around; pushing the latest technology, playing with form, talking about daily life; it just owned guitar chords on the offbeat. We didn’t want to copy this but were inspired by dub. Here, we’re, again, singing about how it is to watch TV and just there on screen a few feet away-there!- are people being shot, abused , wailing, suffering, while we’re in party hats. Andy says: “ How can I eat my tea, with all that BLOOD flowing on the television”. It’s a good question. I don’t know the answer. Villains need to be taken to the tumbrils, still. & “ Guerrilla War struggle is the new entertainment!”.


Being an Art students is great. You look at pictures and films and events ,think about what stuff means, adopt mad points of view, and loaf around . We took this POV to our music. Rock music generally stays in its Pandora's box of love, good or bad, and kicking out the jams. Shagging, getting fucked up & fighting are great, of course ( the best ever lyrics on the holy trinity : Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle”- “ We gonna to break out all of the windows/we gonna kick down all the doors/We gonna pitch a wang dang doodle all night long/All night long, All night long, All night long” Brilliant! ), but it’s not all there is. Rock lyrics are so conservative . It’s the invisible 6th member of the band talking, the accountant, asking “ is this commercial?”. When we recorded Entertainment! , I was very interested in Situationism and Andy & I were excited by the ideas of Foucault & Lacan & behind all this how much of what we do or think is a construct. Our professor, the brilliant TJ Clarke, who later became a friend ,challenged us to deconstruct what we received and hunt down the meaning within the meaning. We use to have a running gag about what our songs would be if they were pictures. It’s not funny, unless you were there, and not even then, but Contract is , to me, Manet’s “Bar at the Folie BergĂ©re”. Are we the point or is the picture the point or is the point the point?


Musicians mostly start off working in genre. We did, anyway. It’s the path of least resistance; you knock out styles you’ve heard or copy the chops of musicians you rate. After a while you might push it a bit or , later on, file it all away for reference and do your own thing, because , while imitation's the best form of flattery, it’s a bit boring if that’s all you do. But mixing it up's fun, too, and here, we felt good that we’d written what we thought was a cool pop song, even though there’s no bridge or chorus like there should be and it doesn’t follow the Tin Pan Alley rules. Recording it, we wondered whether the fact that it carried a tune was something we could allow ourselves, like an extra slice of angel cake. Were these mellifluous notes a surrender , false consciousness, was a debate that ran & ran late into the night after Hugo & Dave had long gone from the control room. The great guitar riff's melodic , there’s a tune in the vocal and the rhythm section is solid. We knocked this out, like the others, in take after take, old style, until we’d nailed it. 2 inch tape could be cut up and spliced but it was bad news , especially with the disengaged sound engineer we’d been dumped with. So this take is a take.

Natural’s not in it.

No, it’s not. Nor is there a verse, bridge, chorus or key change. One monster R&B riff , relentless, drop outs, everyone gets a turn, the words self explanatory, on and on, until it stops. It was a hard tune to get down as it’s all feel and drive and energy and this is often hard to get in a studio without a crowd pushing you to it. At the right time, in the right place, it does the right thing. We’d played this one a few times and it was all there.

At Home He’s A Tourist

Sometimes, you get lucky and a line comes that makes everything easy. Suddenly getting the answer to a question when you turn off and think about something else. Thrown-ness - if that’s a word at all – was something we puzzled over. Why, if everything like it is, do so many things seem ersatz, phoney . But it’s not phoney if you know it’s phoney, as Truman Capote said of Holly Golightly “ she’s not a phoney because she’s a real phoney”
So, with this present from the ether in the bag, Gill was inspired and came up with the perfect existential squawl, different every time it’s played, but on Entertainment! This is what happened that afternoon in a single take. No assemblage, pro-tools confection, just the strings being hit and screaming in pain as they’re bashed and cajoled into a beautiful anti-solo that is all abot the now and no about the maybe. We thought this song was a mutant disco thing, at a time when it was not done to like dance music, when funk and rock had to be kept in separate rooms for fear of miscegenation. But the genie was out of the box! Ain’t no stopping us now! We even used a delay on the vocals!

Not Great Men

Written in an afternoon in wet Wales in the weeks just before the recording, this was the youngest song on the album. The song felt funky , rocky, tough. It is about what it is about.

Return the Gift

You know, you get these offers that promise so much and, to make sure you know they’re value , you can even send them, back. The advice here, just do it. But not like Nike! A signature guitar figure that propels the tune from here to eternity. We wrote this, I recall, on an acoustic guitar , playing it into a useless cassette machine that crunched tapes like they were dry roasted peanuts in a bar . Playing it back to the boys in the rehearsal room was an effort of hearing, the sparkling, bitter guitar notes transformed into a mush of middle frequencies. But they got it, and the rhythm section do everything that’s necessary to feel the funk

Guns Before Butter

Goebbels said “when I hear the word culture I reach for my revolver” . The inspiration was John Heartfield’s wonderful photo montages that undermined the vicious Nazi nonsense like this. Here a little guy is quaking in his boots at the lust for Blood & iron and order and control and wonders how he ever got sucked up into this evil. Sung over the relentless machine-like noise that will never end, except in hurt.