Andy Gill: Gang of Four founder whose jagged guitar sound spawned many imitators

Gill’s band blended funk and rock and helped to define the post-punk era

Garth Cartwright
Friday 07 February 2020 20:03 GMT
Andy Gill in 2005: Gang of Four inspired bands including Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Franz Ferdinand
Andy Gill in 2005: Gang of Four inspired bands including Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Franz Ferdinand (Getty)

Andy Gill, who has died aged 64 after a brief respiratory illness, was one of the most influential musicians of the post-punk era, leading his band Gang of Four to huge acclaim with his intense, angular, staccato guitar work that blended rock with funk.

Andrew James Dalrymple Gill would describe his childhood as one consumed by rock music – his love of Jimi Hendrix and The Velvet Underground pointing towards what he wanted to do – and it was as a pupil at Kent’s exclusive boys-only Sevenoaks School that he met Jon King in art class.

Here the visionary art teacher Bob White insisted his pupils deconstruct the arts they were most enthusiastic about and, in 1976, Gill and King headed to New York City, supposedly to carry out research on the visual arts they would be pursuing at Leeds University.

Instead, they immersed themselves in the music scene then emanating from CBGB, a dive bar on the Lower East Side where the likes of Patti Smith, Television, Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads were shaping a new kind of rock music.

Back in Leeds, Gill and King teamed with bassist Dave Allen and drummer Hugo Burnham to form a student band that mixed punk and funk with Marxist aesthetic critiques. Nicknamed the “Gang of Four” after the Chinese political faction by The Mekons, another Leeds University band who shared a liking for avant-pop and left-wing polemic, their distinctive sound won a local following.

Their debut 45, the Damaged Goods EP, released in October 1978 on Scotland’s Blast First label, received extremely positive reviews from the music press while John Peel regularly played it on Radio 1. In 2009 Gill told The Independent’s Andy Gill (no relation): “We’d be off doing gigs with Siouxsie and the Banshees by night, and by day I’d be writing my dissertation, painting my final show, and in between we’d be writing songs. It was hard work, but stimulating … things would cross-fertilise, ideas from one would end up in the other.”

Signing to EMI, their debut album Entertainment! (1979) won strong reviews and is now seen as one of the great statements of post-punk rock, its powerful rhythms, dense lyrics and Gill’s stabbing, abrupt, often atonal guitar work opening up rock’s possibilities. Entertainment! reached only No 45 in the UK charts and the band scuppered the offer of a Top of the Pops slot to perform their current single “At Home He’s a Tourist” when the programme demanded they change the word “rubbers” to “rubbish”.

In 1981 the band released their sophomore album Solid Gold. Poor UK sales led the band to focus their activities on the US, but constant touring took its toll, with Allen then Burnham leaving. Attempts to make a slick, radio-friendly album with 1983’s Hard won the band withering reviews and no new fans.

Gang of Four subsequently split but their influence was beginning to show – in 1984 the Red Hot Chilli Peppers invited Gill to produce their eponymous debut album. The sessions found the brash American youths clashing with their patrician English producer and the album was regarded as a failure by all involved, yet its strong sales, once the Chilli Peppers became huge, provided Gill with a solid royalty stream alongside more production work.

In 1991 Gill and King reformed the band, releasing the albums Mall and 1995’s Shrinkwrapped. Critical and commercial failures suggested a band bereft of inspiration and they split again.

By the start of this century a new generation of bands were championing Gang of Four as an influence with Gill a guitar hero of sorts, his staccato style having influenced everyone from Rage Against the Machine to Franz Ferdinand. The original line-up of King, Gill, Allen and Burnham reformed in November 2004 and toured internationally.

In 2011 the band, again comprising King and Gill from the original members, released the album Content and won their best reviews since Entertainment!. Not long afterwards King left: Gill continued the band, releasing the Happy Now album in April 2019.

He is survived by his wife Catherine Mayer, journalist and co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party.

Andy Gill, musician, born 1 January 1956, died 1 February 2020

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