02nd Oct2009

History Lesson: Dave Allen

by Todd

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Is it hyperbole if it’s said with sincerity?  Even a cursory listen to the work of Gang of Four reveals two very simple truths.  This band who released their first album in 1979 made music that has been an influence on an amazing number of bands and some (like Bloc Party) owe their careers to the their innovative style.  Despite his modesty, bass player Dave Allen was part of one of the great rhythm sections of all-time.  Coupled with Drummer Hugo Burnham, they were not only talented musicians but had the ability to write music that showed those talents without shoving it in your face.

And with that, here is our love note/interview to/with Dave Allen…

TDOA: I’ve long regarded the rhythm section comprised of yourself and Hugo as one of the greatest of all-time.  I envision that most of the Gang of Four songs started with that rhythm section during the songwriting process.  Is that accurate or did songs ever begin with guitar or vocal melodies?

DA: I think it’s fair to say that we were a considerably good rhythm section – “greatest of all time” sounds somewhat hyperbolic though. The very essence of the songs on Entertainment! relied on a reliable and flexible drum and bass bed, and Hugo and I provided that very well. Most of the songs began at the drum part level with me finding my way into providing an angular rhythm to the bass line, but a song such as Anthrax was created from the idea of twin vocals and howling guitar feedback from the very start.

TDOA: Gill and King seemed to be more concerned about politics that you based on what I recall.  Is that a fair statement?  Whether it’s true or not, did any of you worry that politics would get in the way of reaching a larger audience because of the media’s potential reaction to it?

DA: We were all equally concerned about politics with a small ‘p’ as in personal politics more than party politics. We never worried about the impact of taking a political stance. Media always reacts the way media reacts.

TDOA: Entertainment felt like a very different record than albums like Solid Gold or Hard.  How different was the process of creating those later records and was their a conscious decision to move in the direction you went?

DA: I believe Solid Gold was a natural extension of our love of American R & B, bands like Funkadelic etc. I also believe that Solid Gold was as strong and groundbreaking as Entertainment! Just as Entertainment! inspired legion of post-punk bands, Solid Gold was the precursor to the early Factory Records sound which included bands such as A Certain Ratio. I was not involved in Hard, which is a blessing.

TDOA: I loved Oil & Gold and thought Shriekback were a logical point to continue from Gang of Four.  Did you find it creatively satisfying even though Hugo Burnham wasn’t playing with you?  I seem to recall seeing him at a Shriekback show in Detroit, so I think he toured with you in a different role.

DA: Oil and Gold was a career peak for Shriekback and was satisfying on many levels. Shriekback’s drummer, Martyn Barker, was a very different player than Hugo so there’s no comparison to be had really. As for Shriekback being a logical extension to my work with Gang of Four I would agree.

TDOA: How did your departure from Shriekback impact your relationship with Barry Andrews and do you two still keep in touch?

DA: All band breakups are difficult. Emotionally I would compare it to getting a divorce.  We keep in touch but very infrequently.

TDOA: Gang of Four had such a profound influence on the bands that followed you.  Was the reformation of the band based on the fact that the public seemed to appreciate this “sound” even more than they had when you first started?

DA: The reformation came about through many multi-faceted channels. I give thanks first to the lazy and ill-informed music journalists – by wrongly comparing Franz Ferdinand to Gang of Four they did us a huge favour. I think music fans are savvy enough to know that Franz Ferdinand, whilst being a half decent pop-rock band, didn’t have the lyrical or musical prowess to be contenders to our throne. Those journalists did them a disfavor. Yet they opened the doors to a very rewarding 3 years of touring with the original lineup.

TDOA: We occasionally contemplate whether bands ruin their legacy by reforming.  I haven’t heard GOF since they reunited without you and Hugo, but cringe at the thought.  Do you worry about the bands legacy or do you think people will see it for what it is?  Can its current incarnation be described as anything other than a “cash grab”?

DA: I worry deeply about the legacy and I was pained when I recently read interviews with Andy and Jon that do not pay deference to me and Hugo. The re-writing of history should have been left to Stalin. The original lineup is clearly far superior to any that followed, including the current version.

TDOA: You’re still deeply involved in music through your association with Pampelmoose.  Can you discuss how you decided to start this project and what your goal is with its existence?

DA: I have no goal with Pampelmoose other than to turn music fans on to what I consider the best new music.

TDOA: Obviously, you still care a great deal for current music.  Many of the artists we talk to who were in bands of the 80′s eschew current music, because it’s too similar to the music they created.  With so many bands emulating the sound of Gang of Four, Joy Division, Jesus and Mary Chain, etc., do you think music has become stagnant or do you think there’s room for a new generation to interpret the music that influence their youth?

DA: I believe John Peel was put on earth for a reason. He proved that age was no barrier to having an open mind when it came to musical taste. Music is as exciting today as it has ever been. You have to care to look for it. The Internet has opened us all up to such a huge resource of music; go digging and you will find a miraculous amount of great new music. Of course, with rock and roll being such a young art form there will be times that a new band will sound like a band from the 80′s. But those curmudgeons from the 80′s bands you mention need to stop complaining and do something interesting themselves.  There are no longer any barriers to entry.
TDOA: What are some of your favorite albums of 2009?

DA: How about I just list all the bands in my current iTunes playlist from the last few days?

Nurses, Portugal the Man, O+S, The Happy Hollows, Ume, Le Loup, Twin Tigers, Dr Dog, Florence and the Machine, We Were Promised Jetpacks, Lightning Dust, Arbouretum, Dirty Projectors, Weird Owl, Fever Ray, Slaraffenland and Sunn.

To purchase the albums of Gang of Four, click on the somber, yet enticing grey button below.

Gang Of Four

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