Join The Undefeated
The Pop Group live at Sticky Mike's
The Pop Group

Sticky Mike's, Brighton - 25th October 2014

When we first heard The Pop Group, it destroyed all our conceptions of what music should be. Even before Public Image Limited led us to new horizons with the immense Metal Box, The Pop Group had preceded this by some seven months with the incendiary Y. An amalgam of deconstructed funk, dub and punk, infused with new wave's dismissive contempt for established formulas and no little political bite, this was music from a different planet. Gareth Sager played guitar like no one on earth, Bruce Smith's drums didn't keep time but went straight for your throat, and Mark Stewart's vocals were not just howls of protest, but an almost hypnotic call to arms. Imposing and inspiring, they burned far too brightly and far too quickly. They were elusive and difficult to catch live and within four years they were gone, leaving only a handful of recordings to savour; even those quickly becoming difficult to find before turning into gold dust.

It was with no little excitement, then, that we read of the group's reformation, with three original members, and the announcement of a first ever UK tour coinciding with the re-release of 1980 compilation We Are Time, a mixture of live tracks and unreleased studio takes, together with Cabinet Of Curiosities, another collection of singles and rarities. Produced through the aid of a fan pledge site (to which we of course contributed) the campaign began slowly but steadily built in momentum before finally smashing its goal, setting all the lights to green and the Isolation crew off on a journey to Brighton's Sticky Mike's (never our favourite venue as the stage is impossible to see from the back).

Having waited so long for this day, we make sure we glue ourselves to the front row in order not to miss the action. This is probably a good idea as there is no stage at all this night, only monitors separating the band from the audience, perhaps a necessity in the low venue given the height of the imposing Stewart. With it being some thirty years since these songs were last performed, the singer has the lyrics of the songs close to hand on laminated pages in a ring binder, but if he looks at them at any time during the evening it certainly doesn't notice as he gives an impassioned performance that has the proverbial neck hairs at attention and the pulse racing.

With the tour set up ostensibly to feature We Are Time, the evening kicks off with the stuttering 'Trap' before working through the first seven tracks of the album in the correct order, with the addition of legendary 1979 single 'She Is Beyond Good And Evil' splitting 'Genius Or Lunatic' and 'Colour Blind'. The audience is hungry, caught up quickly and helplessly in every word, every pulsing note of the bass and the stabbing ferocity of the guitars. It is impossible not to be thrilled by the disconnected rage of 'Thief', the bouncing confusion of 'Spanish Inquisition' and the compelling defiance of 'Where There's A Will There's A Way', an independent singles charts number two in 1980, with the audience singing and dancing along with barely controlled enthusiasm. Two tracks from the album are then skipped over with the band concluding their set with 'We Are Time' before returning amid much encouragement to play the remaining one of their three singles, 1979's stunning 'We Are All Prostitutes'.

It used to be the rule never to go back, but so many great bands have reformed in the past couple of years who clearly still have much to offer. The music of The Pop Group is as powerful, animalistic and challenging as ever it was and the gig is no less than a triumph. An important band, an important night ... and a bloody enjoyable one to boot. We're getting bored of saying we never thought we would see the day ....

Campaign Against The Arms Trade


The Pop Group live at Sticky Mike's
Words: Adam Hammond
Reviews July to September 2014
At The Edge Of The Sea
Southsea Fest 2014
John Peel Night 2014
Inca Babies Interview
Facebook Link
Isolation Home