:: Article

They Found That Essence Rare

By Kate Picard.


Paul Lester, The Gang of Four: Damaged Gods, Omnibus Press, 2008

I was rather excited to read this tome on everyone’s favourite post-punk band, the Gang of Four, especially given that Paul Lester has a long history of quality music writing, and had direct access to the band whilst researching this biography.

Starting off with a history of each member’s background and how this impacted upon their attitude and input to the band’s sound and lyrics, it was interesting to learn that their social backgrounds were not necessarily as gritty as you might imagine; in fact three of the four members are decidedly middle class. It quickly became apparent in the band interviews that these boys had a real sense of humour in their approach to lyrics and live performance, despite that they might sometimes have given off an intense Ian Curtis- and Joy Division-like menace. It is fascinating to discover how their lives on the road – particularly in the States – affected their sound, cultural influences, and approach to production subsequently in the studio, especially on their second album.

Though this is a very interesting read, full of present-day interviews with the (now somewhat bitter in places) band members, there seems to be a rather heavy reliance on referencing other texts which have covered the post-punk genre, in particular Simon Reynolds’ excellent Rip It Up and Start Again, which is referred to time and again throughout.

I found this a very informative and readable biography, despite the feel here and there of patchiness in both coverage, and quality of editing and proofreading; there are a number of obvious content duplications, and typesetting errors.

I would certainly recommend this book as a good companion to discovering the Gang of Four’s work and wider influence on both the UK and US post-punk scenes.

Kate Picard is a co-editor for 3:AM and lives in London.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, March 26th, 2009.