Interview by John Malkin
British post-punk band Gang of Four returned to North America for a twenty-eight-day tour that included shows in New York, Chicago, Nashville, Los Angeles, Vancouver, British Columbia and at The Independent in San Francisco on Monday, March 21, 2022. Jon King was singing again after a twenty-year hiatus and original drummer Hugo Burnham joined Sara Lee on bass and David Pajo on guitar. They performed mainly songs from their first three albums; Entertainment!, Solid Gold and Songs of the Free (1982).
Gang of Four was founded in 1976 after Jon King and Andy Gill traveled to New York and witnessed the emergence of punk rock at CBGBs. Hugo Burnham and Dave Allen joined as original drummer and bass player. The band later went through big changes and until recently Gill was the single original member touring as Gang of Four, a decision King disliked. Gill died at the beginning of the current pandemic due to long-term lung issues and Covid.
INTERVIEW WITH JON KING, singer & lyricist for UK post-punk band GANG OF FOUR (MARCH, 2022)
GANG OF FOUR – 2022 NORTH AMERICA TOUR – JON, HUGO, SARA, DAVID
JM: “Tell me about the current band line-up for this Gang of Four tour.”
Jon King: “I hadn’t really thought about playing shows again but Dave (Allen), Hugo (Burnham) and I get on really well. It turns out that Dave can’t do the tour because he’s busy, so the obvious choice was Sara Lee. Sara played bass on the albums Songs of The Free (1982) and HARD (1983) and we toured together. She played on “I Love a Man in a Uniform.” We were very good friends back in the day and then Sara joined the B52s and played on the “Love Shack” album and has had a fantastic career with the Indigo Girls,” King said.
“David Pajo is playing guitar with us. He’s played in Zwan and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. He’s a remarkable character and it’s extraordinary how he’s managed to work out Andy’s guitar parts. We spent three weeks rehearsing in Massachusetts in January and David focused on playing Andy’s parts really, really well. Modern guitarists have the good fortune of having Andy’s vocabulary. And I have the great fortune of having David Pajo on this tour with us and he’s soaked all that stuff up and adds his own incredible thing.
It’s my view that the albums in our box set released last year (“77-81”) are Andy’s best recorded work. I think 99% of music fans would agree that Andy’s guitar on “To Hell with Poverty” and “At Home He’s A Tourist” is sensational. He had an approach which is not technical and it’s now influenced two generations of guitarists. On this tour we’re playing songs from our first three albums; Entertainment!, Solid Gold and Songs of the Free.”
LAS VEGAS KITSCH AND GAMBLING
JM: “We spoke a year ago about Andy dying and you showed me the Gang of Four box set you put together. Of course, I bought one. The design of the box set is great and the book is full of great stories and images.”
Jon King: “The albums and the book tell a really interesting narrative about what it was like to be in the band at that time and be in America. (1980) It’s very much about that wonderful experience,” recalls King. “I’m very pleased because I’ve been nominated for a Grammy for that box set! I’m not going to go to the ceremony, though, because it’s going to be in Las Vegas in April. It was going to be in Los Angeles but Covid made it all go away. I don’t like Las Vegas because it means staying in a gambling hotel, eating food in gambling restaurants. So, I’m not going. I didn’t know how to break the news to Taylor Swift, that she won’t be able to get a selfie with me.”
JM: “Las Vegas is one of the weirdest places on the planet. I used to go near Vegas in 1990 and ‘91 for protests against nuclear weapons testing, which happens near there.”
Jon King: “That’s just up the road. It’s not an attractive place if you don’t like all that kitsch and you’re not into gambling. That is its raison d’etre.”
SONGS OF THE FREE
JM: “The box set obviously doesn’t include Songs of the Free. I never want to be forced to choose, but I think that’s my favorite Gang of Four album. So, I’m glad to see that you’ll include that album on this tour 77-83.”
Jon King: “Well, that’s good. Sara plays on it and had Dave felt he wanted to do the touring, we probably wouldn’t have done that. It would have probably all been about the 77-81 stuff. Naturally, because Sarah did play on “I Love a Man in Uniform” and “Call me Up.” She’s a wonderful musician. I hadn’t seen her for about twenty years before January. We’re such good friends and we’ve got on like nothing had happened. The other great person on the tour is Dolette McDonald on backing vocals, who toured with us on Songs of the Free. They’ll be some quite surprising people popping up for a bit of fun.
When I wrote “Uniform,” it was very much about the chorus. It’s more of a conventional song structure; Dominant / sub dominant / tonic kind of chord progression. Which is quite nice to have that mixed with the other songs like “Poverty” which has no change in it at all. It has starts and stops. Yes, Songs of the Free is exciting. We wanted to re-release that this year and I was looking at doing a special thing around that. But it’s impossible to get hold of vinyl. I think we were very lucky with the box set because we’d reserved the vinyl and the pressing plants in advance so we were able to make it.
Our record company Matador and I agreed that the best printing shop in the world was in the Czech Republic for the book. At any one time in the first flush of Covid between 30% to 40% of their staff were off sick. So, it was quite a lot of ducking and diving. And getting hold of the paper. I wanted paper that’s got a nice little snap to it. It feels quite nice, doesn’t it? Yeah, so I spent a lot of time trying to find the right sorts of paper. And paper is rationed, effectively, at the moment. So, it’s kind of thing.”
JM: “Obviously, it’s impossible to replace guitarist Andy Gill, who passed away on February 1, 2020.”
Jon King: “He’s a wonderful guitarist, but he and I had been very seriously estranged for a long time. I hadn’t spoken to him for years. I didn’t like him using the band name. We fought out about it and I said, “Johnny Marr wouldn’t go out as The Smiths and Noel Gallagher wouldn’t go out as Oasis. You don’t need to go out as Gang of Four, because you’re fantastic.” But he even released records under the name Gang of Four. He was really in a bad place with alcoholism. But I don’t want to dis him because we did some fantastic work together,” King remembers. “Andy dying was very upsetting. He and I was joined at the hip for a long time. It’s quite complicated when you lose someone who you’ve had such a profound relationship with, even if you’re estranged from them. It was very, very sad when he died.”
TOURING DURING PANDEMIC
JM: “You’re planning on getting on a plane and traveling in this pandemic time, when shows are sometimes happening, sometimes not. You have to wear a mask, there’s sometimes limited audiences. It feels a little bit like war time, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, where you’d go in a store and there are empty shelves where there had been pasta and beans. It’s a little weird. What’s on your mind about traveling and performing now?”
Jon King: “Musicians have had a terrible time during the pandemic. Not just musicians, but creative people have had the most miserable two years. I’ve had the good fortune of having been a songwriter. So, I get some income from publishing, or when songs are used in a movie or something like that. But the majority of musicians don’t get paid very much. And, of course, we’re all collectively being ripped off by Spotify who pay naught point naught, three cents per play. It’s a terrible rip-off. The only way that most creative people can make money is by doing shows. Of course, they were canceled on us, and also the technicians.
Although I have some sort of anxiety about it, I have been triple-vaccinated. So, I’m as protected as I can as I can be. But I figure that if it’s possible to do the tour, and all of our crew and everyone in the band is American, and we’re going to play out there, then I think it’s not an obligation, but it’s sort of kind of like a duty, if you can, to have a go at it. It’s not like being in a giant band where you’re trying to fill stadiums. We’re trying to do it for people who like what we do. San Diego sold out, Los Angeles sold out, Brooklyn sold out, Toronto sold out. So, we know that people are interested.
We’re traveling on a big US tour bus, something I never thought I would do! You know, with the beds in it all that kind of thing. That’s to avoid checking in and out of hotels. So, the 28 days we’re away, it’s 20 nights on the bus. As far as possible, we want to play the whole tour. And the only way to do that is to sort of be separate. So, no one’s allowed in the dressing room. But we’re going to do a thing, which I never really liked in the past, which is go up front after the shows in some sort of controlled way so we can talk to people. I think we’re ‘gonna do as much as we can to speak to people who come to the shows, which is kind of new to me, because I used to sort of disappear. To say thanks, really.”
ROCK AGAINST RACISM
JM: “Looking at the book you put together reminded me of Rock Against Racism and Rock Against Sexism. I did an interview with one of the original organizers of Rock Against Racism, Red Saunders. In your book Andy is saying that Gang of Four was probably the most identifiable band with the ideals of Rock Against Racism. What do you remember about how important Rock Against Racism and Rock Against Sexism were for you and Gang of Four?”
Jon King: “Well, very important. It’s sadly relevant in that Eric Clapton, who was the man who made comments supporting a white supremacist politician in the 1970s – Enoch Powell – which led to the formation of Rock Against Racism, is now doing exactly the same thing again. I really would’ve hoped that this would have all become a memory. But it’s not a memory, it’s really relevant.
I would have to say, more or less every British musician revered black music, particularly in punk rock – but even Led Zeppelin, The Who and obviously Free – was black music. The most important popular music forms in the world have come from African American culture. Jazz music, of course, which is revolutionary and utterly happening, and rock and roll. And then of course, funk leading into hip hop and reggae. The greatest contribution to world culture in music has come from the African American tradition. We loved and adored that stuff. My heroes were, un-originally, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown and Motown Records; anything that came out of Detroit. We even toured years later with Public Enemy when we did the tour with Public Enemy and Sisters of Mercy. (1991) I enjoyed going out with those guys.
So, it was necessary to have something like Rock Against Racism to say it was really uncool to be a white supremacist. You can’t stand up and say that’s what you’re like when your music is all about the African-American, Afro-Caribbean experience. I’m not belittling African music, but that’s not something I know very much about. We had lots of black friends; we lived in parts of Leeds which had very integrated and mixed community. We loved dancing, so we would go to the funk dance sessions and after Gang of Four I tour managed Aswad, the world’s then-greatest reggae band, around America. We all revered that.
The Rock Against Racism tour was a really good format. You had a reggae band, a punk band, and then I think we were called a post-punk band. We toured with The Ruts, and Misty in Roots. We went with loads of stuff on the back of trucks and it was quite lively at times. It was a bit of a thing. I’m surprised actually that there hasn’t been a revival in music with the Black Lives Matter thing. But that’s coincided with Covid, so maybe that made it not possible.”
JM: “Here’s a two-part question; How revolutionary do you think punk rock has been? How much change of minds and things in the world have happened because of this music? And where is the music now about the U.S. torturing people, drone warfare, constant surveillance, police killings of black people? I think of the Gang of Four album cover for Entertainment! which is very unique. At that time, most band members wanted their faces on the covers of their albums, and you decided to use your first album cover to talk about the genocide of Native Americans.
And I just wanted to relay a story to you, because things have changed a lot since 1979. But things have also not changed at all in terms of racism. Here in California, there’s hundreds of bells that are on top of posts along the coast highway called mission bells. They were put up to signify and symbolize the beautiful relationship – a fictitious relationship – between the Catholic mission colonizers and the Native Americans. They were torturing and killing these people.
Here in Santa Cruz, there was a big fight to remove the local bells and they were removed. It was a big controversy and the local Native American tribes removed them. That just happened last year. And then last week, there’s a town not far from here called Gilroy and they just installed for the first time one of these mission bells.
In the past few years in the United States there’s quite a bit of activity around; “Why do we want to have this statue of a slave holder in our town?” Or, “Do we want to take it down?” People are arguing about these things a lot. Just to go back, I want to hear your thoughts on how revolutionary do you think Gang of Four, punk rock, Rock against Racism have been? And where are the voices about that stuff now?”
Jon King: “The global appeal of hip hop has been remarkable. The political voice tends to be in hip hop now. I think it’s a phenomenon of rock music, to have separated itself from that sort of narrative. If you think in the ‘60s, even people like Kenny Rogers could write a song about a Vietnam veteran coming home who was in a wheelchair and unable to have a sexual relationship with his wife, and she goes out; “Ruby.” Elvis Presley had a big hit song, “Within the Ghetto.” So, there’s been a kind of separation of the narrative.
From our perspective, punk rock wasn’t very musically revolutionary. MC 5 or The Stooges were obviously one of the first proto-punk bands. The British punk rock tradition was very much about amateurism. Philosophically it was saying that if you reduce the palate enough, anyone can become a musician. It was more like Dadaism in art, then something else. A lot of it hasn’t aged very well. “Never Mind The Bullocks,” which was a thrilling record at the time, is like speeded up Black Sabbath. And I’m saying that with all reverence because I love Black Sabbath! But if I compare, say, one of my favorite rock tracks, “Back in Black” by AC/DC, with say, “Holidays in the Sun,” the lyrics are great, but the music is really uninteresting. And I’m not comparing it to One Nation under a Groove.
From a punk perspective – and have a distance from punk the last years – you can actually intervene yourself. With the minimum amount of stuff, you can do something interesting. It’s why, say, soccer is the world’s game because all you need to play soccer is a ball. You don’t need anything else; you don’t need any more equipment. You don’t need tennis rackets and you don’t need stuff; you just need a ball. It’s so popular because it’s so simple. Punk is on that side. The side to it that’s very interesting is in fashion. The really enduring part of the punk rock look is quite exciting. I think it’s more or less invented by Richard Hell or the New York Dolls. But that’s been thrilling. Fashion is really exciting because the transgression of it is to identify itself as not being part of the vocabulary of other stuff.
For the cover of our album Entertainment! I took those pictures from Karl May, who was the world’s biggest selling author of all time in Germany. He sold hundreds of million books. This is the equivalent of like “The Da Vinci Code.” He wrote Westerns but he’d never been to America. But anyone in Europe will have known about his work. He was massively popular in the late 19th century and there have been any number of films made of his books with his character Winnetou. That’s where that picture came from.
And like you said about the mission bells, it was always the story of an idealized relationship between European and Native Americans; that they got on, even though they were kind of alienated from the world. And there were these heroic people fighting injustice, a bit like the Kung Fu TV series when David Carradine would go into town and they’d treat him really badly. And then he would do his thing. It was that sort of narrative, but wrapped up into it all is the big lie. Because that’s not the way Europeans actually behaved at all. It’s entirely possible that there were places where Europeans and Native Americans interacted a little bit more like Dances with Wolves. But actually, most of it ended up in tragedy.”
JM: “The cover art for the first album Entertainment! depicts the exploitive relationship between cowboys and Indians. I know Native American culture was important to you and Andy.”
Jon King: “I drew those pictures from Karl May, who was the world’s biggest selling author of all time in Germany. He wrote Westerns and had never been to America. It was always the story of an idealized relationship between Europeans and Native Americans; we were told that they got on. It’s the big lie because that’s not the way Europeans actually behaved. It’s entirely possible that there were places where Europeans and Native Americans interacted a bit more like “Dances with Wolves.” But most of it ended up in tragedy,” offered King.
In the Gang of Four 77-81 box set you’ve got there; the live album was recorded at the American Indian Center, which of course is a non-woke name. But that was the name of the American Indian Movement. The center was in San Francisco and it was a breakthrough show for Gang of Four. (1980) And it was shortly after they’d occupied Alcatraz in the harbor.
Andy (Gill) particularly was obsessed with Plains Indian culture. When we went on the stage at the American Indian Center there was a poster on the wall behind us of Sitting Bull, the great Lakota warchief. Under him it said “Landlord.” I was really thrilled to play in that venue. We were paying homage to something we’d appreciated since we were teenagers. Andy and I felt great affinity with Native American culture and it was a wonderful place to play a show. The album cover for the live album is my design, but it’s based on the Four Winds flag of the Native American movement.”
JM: “I didn’t hear about Karl May until I went to Europe when I was twenty-three years old in 1986. Growing up in America, being raised Jewish, I heard a lot about the Holocaust and the Jewish genocide. And in literature, films and TV every German character was a Nazi. So, when I went to Germany it was a little weird. I ended up living in West Berlin. And there I was listening to John Lydon on my Walkman while I’m running around the city with the Berlin wall and he’s singing, “I’m not going to go over the Berlin Wall.” And in Germany I met people my age, in their 20s in the ‘80s, and we’d talk about the Holocaust and they’d say, “Don’t criticize us about this genocide that happened before I was born. Your country hasn’t even begun dealing with the genocide that happened there.”
Jon King: “Yeah. I admire what has happened in in Germany. I was in Berlin shortly before Covid happened and you have the little brass insets in the pavement, where it memorialized a family or an individual who had been taken off to be slaughtered in Auschwitz, Birkenau or wherever. I respect the concerted effort over many, many years to embrace the atrocity… not embrace the atrocity, but for the atrocity to be recognized. It was ordinary people taken away to be slaughtered because of their race.
I’m British, and the English came over to America on a mission. So, we have the same issues about memorializing this stuff. I live in Bath, which is very near Bristol, where we had a great episode of the Edward Colston statue. In the 18th century, he was one of the wealthiest men in the world. He was responsible for hundreds of thousands of people being abducted and transported. I think it is not right that people like that should be celebrated. So, the names of streets have been changed – Colston Hall and Colston street – all this kind of stuff are being removed. Because it’s obscene.
But from my lyrics side of things, I haven’t seen myself as a political commentator. It’s not like some of the early Bob Dylan songs, you know, where he’d be talking about the murder of civil rights movement people. I didn’t see it in that kind of way. I always wanted to deal with the sort of the conundrum of how to get by, when you know that you’re not being consistent, and you’ll wonder if you’re a collaborator, after all. You wonder whether you’re going to try and be a good person. Can you be a good person? What does that even mean?”
IN THE DITCH
JM: “I appreciate your lyrics and the music of Gang of Four a lot. There have been points where there were specific mentions in your lyrics of political situations or people, like the U.S. war in Vietnam and Manuel Noriega being supported by the U.S. But you’ve more often been criticizing systems and ideologies. Early on, when I was in high school, someone said, “Have you heard this band? They’re Marxist!” And in the United States to talk of caring about other people who are strangers, and maybe that everyone should have access to health care and education, well that’s leaning into socialism, communism or Marxism. We’ve been taught here that those are evil things. It may have been Joe Strummer or someone in the Clash who described the Clash as a “news band.” They’re singing clearly about specific events. You were different, but you were also singing about the structures of capitalism and militarism.”
Jon King: “On the second album there’s a song called “In the Ditch.” When I was putting the book together for the box set I wanted to make sure there were finally versions of the lyrics which actually were correct. I was never quite sure actually what the lyrics were and in a lazy way, when I was putting the book together, I thought I’d look online. But I was disappointed how bad the versions of the lyrics were online. I wanted to make them the authorized stuff.
In the book with each set of lyrics, there is an anecdote from someone or other who’d been around at the time, whether it was one of our friends or a fan or their band members, and then a factoid about the trigger off. Because like many writers, you get triggered off by a line in a song or something you spot. Like, whenever I hear Joni Mitchell’s “This Flight Tonight,” I just think the genius of her! I’m just hypothesizing because I don’t know if it’s true. But one of the opening lines says, “Look out the left, the captain said. Down there is where we’re going to land.” And I’m sure that if that wasn’t said, it could have been said. It’s a banal thing. “Look out the left, the captain said,” and then you trigger off. She actually writes about how she wishes she didn’t get on the plane. And she wishes the relationship was different to what it was.
“In the Ditch” was about the absurdity of living in Leeds, where we were all of us living under the expectation that there would be a nuclear strike between the Soviet Union and NATO forces. Being in Britain, we were about a twenty-minute flight time from East Germany. So, there wasn’t much time between launch and landing. And every single household in Britain was sent a pamphlet, “You and The Bomb.” I reproduced it in the book. We had localized versions of it, so in Leed we all got, “Leeds and the Bomb.” I found it really funny and absurd in a black way. Remember, you’ve only got a twenty-minute window. And the key USP of these really helpful pieces of literature was to whitewash the insides of the windows, fill up large plastic bin liners with clothes, put them on top of a table – because it will absorb radiation and get under the table. It’s quite a lot to do in twenty minutes! I mean, I’ve tried to put shelves up and it’s taken me more than twenty minutes to find a screwdriver! So, I thought that was actually really funny.
The book itself was really funny. It showed the different blast areas if it hit the center of Leeds. Because the big joke in Leeds was; “If a nuclear bomb went off, how could anyone tell the difference before and after?” So, you want to go to the blast area where everyone is vaporized because you certainly don’t want to be a survivor. The trouble is, you only have twenty minutes to get there. That triggered the writing of “In The Ditch.” It became a comical song.
On “Great Men,” I reference Bertolt Brecht. Those sorts of songs are not actually about events, although it kind of was, in the sense that we all expected to be vaporized. Or we all hoped to be vaporized, and not to survive! Because the only people who were ‘gonna survive were the billionaires down in their bunkers. Every song had a little trigger point.”
CHEESEBURGER TO GO
Jon King: “The lyrics for “Cheeseburger” came from when Andy (Gill) and I were playing pool in Barney’s Beanery in Los Angeles. We were quite good at pool because we’re musicians with nothing else to do. These guys we were playing were truck drivers and we’re playing winners stakes on the table, and it was fantastically fun and we enjoyed their company. I had a really nice evening with them and we took their money off them because we were better at pool then they were. Some of “Cheeseburger” is almost verbatim from the truckers; “I move from one place to the next. I hope they keep down the price of gas.”
JM: “And now the United States maybe going to war with Russia?”
Jon King: “This thing with Ukraine is absolutely insane. It’s shocking that’s happening right now. Anyway, there we are. The great power of rock and roll and punk rock is having fun. And of course, there’s nothing better than a really loud guitar and drums and bass in a hot club. Because no one wants to be lectured at. I really respect someone like Billy Bragg. I like his thing. But sometimes I found it was a bit too serious when I was in the venues. And I liked it when he leavened that with those wonderful love songs that he wrote. I love what he does but I think there’s a whole spectrum of things that are possible, if you want to talk about what life is really like, and not what we’d like it to be like. You mentioned in America it would be nice if the economic system meant that everybody was happy and had a good standard of living. I don’t know where America ranks in the world of individual average incomes; it’s not very high up. Germany and Scandinavian countries, Japan, Korea are all earning more money. Because the money’s all gone to digital billionaires and Jeff Bezos.”
OIL UNDER ROCKALL
JM: “Punk rock and Gang of Four came out of this time of imminent nuclear war, like it could happen any second. And I felt that way, too. In 1981, I graduated from high school and the one thing I stole from my school was a poster off the wall. Half of it was about what to do if there’s an earthquake, and half of it was what to do if there’s a nuclear war. And we were instructed to crawl under a table and put a paper bag on our head.”
Jon King: “Yeah, that’s really good advice! It’s remarkable nonsense and it’s actually blackly funny. There’s a mysterious line I always enjoyed at the end of “Ether” – “There may be oil under Rockall.” It came from a weirdly funny story which I saw in the newspaper, about this rock called Rockall in the middle of the Atlantic. It’s about the size of a small building. It’s really tiny. It’s about 200 feet wide and covered in guano. The British government landed some Royal Marines on there to live on it for a period of time, so they could plant the flag. You have to live on it to own it. It was so funny. And it’s been the subject of great disputes ever since with Denmark, Ireland and Iceland.
Why did Britain do it? Of course, in my Nostradamus-like prescience – “There may be oil under Rockall.” At the time, they claimed it had to do with monitoring Soviet bombers. Of course, it wasn’t about that at all. In fact, they have found that there may be oil in the shelf around this guano-stained rock, which has led to the dispute becoming even more intense with Ireland, Denmark and Iceland. But it was actually funny. And to lob that in at the end of the song as a sort of coda that contrasted leading our normal lives and then being locked up for your political opinions in Northern Ireland at that time, and then chuck in this thing about Rockall.
You want people to get excited and dance to your songs. It’s meant to be a thrill. And there’s nothing more thrilling than saying things that are there in plain sight, rather than something else. You mentioned that people are not necessarily doing it. Hip hop does talk about stuff. Certainly, some bands do try and take on things in an interesting way. But it’s very difficult now to be in a band, and just sort of get by. It’s a very tough thing.
Bands like Rage Against the Machine do that and I have great respect and admiration for their stuff. And I think it’s good, when bands really do try to take on these issues. I suppose we always tried to be not like a genre band. We wanted to do something which clearly grew from the black music we liked so much, but wasn’t like playing funk. We didn’t want to be like The Average White Band. Also, we didn’t have the technical skills to be like that! I did actually rather like the Average White Band. But you hear a song like the jewel “September” by Earth Wind and Fire. It’s one of the most incredible pieces of music ever made! And I think of Jimi Hendrix playing “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” the greatest guitar track ever.
But we didn’t want to be a genre band. Sometimes it becomes a bit boring when it’s all about genre and certain chord progressions; “Oh, yeah, it’s a 2/5/1.” Putting the Gang of Four box set together and re-cutting the albums from the original masters at Abbey Road, I realized I had sort of forgotten how some of the songs are quite eccentric. Jimmy Douglas and I used to have big disagreements when we were doing Solid Gold because he was used to working with Aerosmith and Slayer. He didn’t like any of the lyrics I wrote at all! He’d say, “This is schoolboy stuff.” I said, “No, it’s not schoolboy stuff.” I brought in a book of Bertolt Brecht’s poems. Really pretentious. I really was a bit of a wanker! But I just wanted him to know that it’s not intrinsically schoolboy to not want to write about falling in love. There’s nothing wrong with that. But yeah, it was a bit wanky.”
GANG OF FOUR ON JEOPARDY
JM: “I can’t wait to hear you and Gang of Four and I’m looking forward to hearing your cover version of “September Song” if you don’t mind.”
Jon King: “What we might play for a laugh is “Elevator” which is on the cassette in the box set. I have to say I still haven’t listened to the cassette because I inwardly cringe about it. But my manager and Hugo said, “”Elevator” is a really good song.” I listened to it and it is a good punk rock song. It’s incredibly good fun to play because it’s so simple. Within about forty seconds anyone in the crowd could sing along to it. So, we might play that if we get an encore. I love coming to America. I’ve been there ever since I was 18. I’m really thrilled to be back.”
JM: “I hope the tour is really exciting and fun for all of you. We’ve talked about a lot of serious stuff but there’s a couple things in the box set that are just hilarious. You included rejection notices that Gang of Four got from record companies. And there’s the image from Gang of Four appearing as an answer on the TV game show Jeopardy.”
Jon King: “Oh, that was a great high point of my career! The only regret I have is that we were I never cartoon characters on The Simpsons. I think that would have been the pinnacle. I think 10,000 Maniacs were on The Simpsons, weren’t they? And Radiohead.”
JM: “We have to start a campaign to get Gang of Four on The Simpsons.”
Jon King: “I think Marge would like it! Thank you, John. Alright, see you at the gig. Bring the book along and we can write in it.”
JM: “Sounds good. Thank you very much.”
A shorter version of this interview with Jon King was originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on March 16, 2022 and broadcast the same day on “Transformation Highway” with John Malkin on KZSC 88.1 FM / kzsc.org at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Photos by John Malkin are of Jon King and Gang of Four performing at The Independent in San Francisco on March 21st.