The Pop Group, Mono, Falmouth, 28 June 2015
In retrospect it is easy to place The Pop Group on a line from punk to
funk to dub; in hindsight there are clear links to what came before and
after. We might reconsider Pigbag, The Higsons, James Blood Ulmer’s
‘Funk Is The Teacher’ on Rough Trade, and the very wonderful Pinski Zoo
as fellow travellers. We might have noticed Rip, Rig and Panic, Massive
Attack, Tricky, and Adrian Sherwood are all there in the mix if only
we’d known at the time.
But we didn’t. What we got was messy white boy noise with political
angst and conspiracy theories chanted over the top. We got a band
trying to play what they couldn’t yet manage, we got vitriol, despair,
statistics, semi-improvised rants. We got a band who wanted to change
the world, and wanted us to change it with them. We got attitude and
ambition. We got more than we deserved.
Decades later, The Pop Group are at the end of a small tour. They look
knackered: two sets at Glastonbury have done them in, all that fresh
air can’t have done them any good. And what a contrast: a small black
room above a trendy bar is the setting for tonight’s gig, with local
boys The Isabelles warming up the small crowd with some adventurous
indie drone rock. They’re good, reminding me of Loop, with lots of
meshed guitars, subtle rhythms and a nervous edge.
After a beer break, The Pop Group shamble on to the stage. I’d
forgotten how tall Mark Stewart is. He can comfortably touch the
ceiling above the stage, and he dominates the venue physically and
vocally as they launch into ‘Nations’, one of a number of tunes from
their recent comeback CD Citizen Zombie. They are on fine form from the
off, and it only gets better as they take apart ‘Thief of Fire’ and
then lurch into ‘Citizen Zombie’ itself, with Stewart zombie walking
across the stage, then off the stage, as the band go into freefall.
In truth this is the way they structure their set: new songs with just
enough old favourites to keep everyone happy. This band know how to
groove, how to skank, how to deconstruct, skitter, scratch and play off
and across the beat. They know how to work the rhythm, work the crowd,
push noise where they want it, play on the edge of chaos and cacophony
and then pull back from the edge. So we find ourselves dancing as
Stewart spits out lyrics about social decay, verbals fired at those in
power, and socio-mystical works like ‘Beyond Good & Evil’, which is
before too long followed by ‘We Are All Prostitutes’.
We probably are: we’ve paid to get in, we buy the beer on offer, and
take band t-shirts home, with the elongated encore of ‘We Are Time’
ringing in our ears. This band are fantastic, and to see them once more
in a small black room with seventy others is beyond belief. The Pop
Group will never be a pop group, but they deserve all the fame they can
get, all the acclaim they deserve. Being magnificently angry and
concerned 35 years on is no mean achievement; to play live like this is
genius. Long live The Pop Group!
© Rupert Loydell 2015