The Age of Miracles
Mark Stewart

The Pop Group

The Haunt, Brighton - 5th May 2015
Bit like London buses this Pop Group: wait thirty-five years to see them play live and then they're back again six months later. The difference this time around is that this appearance at The Haunt, a step up in size from last year's outing at Sticky Mike's, comes on the back of the release of Citizen Zombie, the band's first album since 1980. Also now they have become veterans of the touring circuit, having been playing around the globe virtually uninterrupted since they first decided to hit the road. It seems so strange that a band of such influence and reputation never toured in their original incarnation, simply playing the occasional 'event', and there's little doubt they missed out every bit as much as their potential audiences did.

The Pop Group's first time around in Brighton saw of necessity a 'greatest hits' set, ostensibly featuring songs from the newly re-released 1980 compilation We Are Time, but adding and subtracting the odd song here and there. Tonight it is the best of the past mixed with the best of the new. It is a surprise when they open with 'We Are All Prostitutes', the band's glorious second single from 1979, and it is really difficult to take it all in. Despite many reformations and much raising of the eyebrows over the past couple of years, it remains incredible that it is possible to stand in front of the stage in 2015 and watch The Pop Group playing this song. Though singer Mark Stewart claims in a recent interview that there is no post-punk revival, he's a bit off the mark. This is renaissance. Young musicians are looking into the past to drag out the best elements with which to build a future. Things have not just changed over the past couple of years, the whole music scene has turned a billion degrees; great new bands are springing up everywhere while the old pioneers are looked upon with reverence. This is why all of these bands are returning to the fray with such positivity. There have been some great eras in musical history over the years, but perhaps we are entering the finest ever, where you can absorb the old and the new without any of the inherent snobbery that used to predominate.

Indeed, the present has made idiots of all of us who used to believe that nobody over thirty was worth listening to: juvenile punk values long since brushed under the carpet. The Pop Group are a phenomenal live band and with the larger stage to play around on are able to show plenty of animation. Guitarist Gareth Sager roams to and from the lip of the stage firing out stabbing punk chords or slapping away at his strings in the band's funkier moments; it's difficult at times not to picture him as part of Level 42 (apart from him not being shit). Stewart later adds to this allusion by playing air bass with his thumb; it's a gesture aimed at the grooving Dan Catsis (who isn't playing with his thumb) but it a heartwarming affirmation that Jack Daniels hasn't quite addled the brain. Indeed Catsis continually draws the eyes with his remarkable playing: funk and dub and punk and soul, the man has the lot. And nobody is grooving more than drummer Bruce Smith who bounces around, sings along and occasionally fails to remain seated as the beat consumes him. Always great to watch, the man has one of the best CVs in post-punk history, having also pounded the skins for The Slits and PiL.

Stewart is also a great performer. Being a big man, he doesn't move particularly gracefully, but he has a fine mic stand action and vocally is terrific, whether singing or howling in a typical Pop Group way. Before 'Citizen Zombie' he does his best Shaun of the Dead impression and he flaps a towel around daintily after drying his face (please don't try rhythmic gymnastics), but with the mic stand in hand and lost in the moment he throws himself around with some conviction which only emphasises the power of his vocals. He doesn't talk much to the audience, offering the odd mutter of thanks, and that is how it should be. Not all punk values were mistakes.

The band play the title track, 'Mad Truth', 'Shadow Child', 'Nowhere Girl', 'SOPHIA' and 'St Outrageous' from the new album, as well as a part of 'Nations' which comes as a surprise but it actually works very well. They throw into the mix the aforementioned 'We Are All Prostitutes' along with 'Thief Of Fire', 'She Is Beyond Good And Evil', 'Words Disobey Me' and end with 'Where There's A Will' before an encore of 'We Are Time'. It all adds up to a tremendous set and a quite brilliant performance. Once upon a time it was so difficult to see this band or buy their music, now you can do both. Count your lucky stars and don't miss them for the world.

Mark Stewart
Mark Stewart
Bruce Smith
Dan Catsis
Words by Adam Hammond
Photos by Guy Christie
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