The Gang kick up a storm

Steel Pulse at The Rainbow, London - gig review

Lynden Barber in Melody Maker

27 September 1980


Gang of Four / Steel Pulse / The Mekons / Au Pairs

The location: an old cinema in Finsbury Park, 6,000 seats in serried ranks and bouncers with a reputation for keeping people in them. The bands: feet moving, physical, stomp and sway, leap and beat music.

Nobody in their right mind would want to put on this bill at the Rainbow. Promoters Final Solution would agree - they'd originally signed a contract with the Lyceum, but the Lyceum refused to sign it, saying they would be 'treading on too many toes'. This meant Final Solution had to book the Rainbow with only a few days to publicise the gig. Ah, the joys of free competition.

In the end it didn't matter so much, with Steel Pulse and Gang of Four transcending the limitations of the venue, bringing the punters out of their seats. The sufferers were the Au Pairs, who had the difficult task of warming up a cold, sedentary audience. They did it amazingly well. I can forgive Paul Foad's liberal burglaries from Andy Gill's guitar style when he makes such a joyous brick and chisel scrape. The Au Pairs chopped and divided the air into narrow strips with a passion, the quiet Jayne Munroe laying down bass unobtrusively in the background while Foad jerked around in time with the music's spasmic thrust. Singer/guitarist Lesley Woods was great, too, holding the stage and injecting her voice with rich self-confidence.

It's a pity they were followed by the Mekons' shambolic downer music. There were odd moments of scary ferocity, but mostly they were muddy and incoherent, with gritty scrunches of distortion fighting to get out of the speakers. The bass rumbled like a steamroller down a sewer while doodly keyboards went off for a walk and the rest of the band leapt about in grey suits getting excited about nothing in particular.

Returning to my seat towards the end of the interval there was a surprise - the purple suited 'Blonde on Blonde' fizz of John Cooper-Clark, rasping and spewing through Beasley Street and Kung Fu International, Final Solution's free gift in the packet.

Steel Pulse followed - and how! Dressed like boiled sweets, their irresistible lilt and sway had the seats emptying and the aisles filling in a matter of minutes - and not a bouncer to be seen. The Rainbow was transformed into a dance hall with virually everybody on their feet after the first few numbers. Steel Pulse were dynamic, melodic and charismatic. They played committed songs like George Jackson - Soledad Brother, Jah Pickney RAR and Ku Klux Klan. The overwhelmingly white audience wanted them to go on and on. This really was rocking against racism.

I didn't envy the Gang of Four's task of preventing the audience from slipping down but, incredibly, they took us higher. They did it by taking chances - coming on in darkness with a new song centred around a malevolent bass funk riff. But that shouldn't be too much of a shock - the Gang of Four have never been a safe band. Unlike Tom Robinson, they've proved that leftist words are at their most subversive when linked with subversive music. The Gang kicked a storm, mixing several newer songs with more familiar material, Dave Allen's bass constantly thrusting to the fore while Andy Gill tore strips off the lobes.

I don't know if GIll was aware that the day was the tenth anniversary of Hendrix's death, but his feedback solo during Anthrax was a pefect tribute, a reminder that it is possible to draw from Hendrix and still have both feet planted firmly in 1980. The rock in opposition crashed on through Ether, At Home He's A Tourist and another new song with the athletic Jon King beating a flight case with a baton. The only sour note came at the end of their encore, Damaged Goods, when Gill and King started shouldering into each other violently, unsightly example of the macho posture which they profess to despise. But they were probably just playing up to the cameras that were shooting the gig for Michael White's 'Urgh!' film.

Text copyright Melody Maker 1980, used without permission.

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