Andy Gill, radical guitarist with Gang of Four, dies at 64
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Andy Gill, radical guitarist with Gang of Four, dies at 64
Performing with the Gang of Four at the Metro in Chicago on 11 February 2011. Photo: Robman94.

by Jon Pareles

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE ).- Andy Gill, whose slashing, dissonant guitar playing in Gang of Four inspired waves of post-punk to come, died Saturday in London. He was 64.

The band announced his death on its website. A band spokesman said the cause was pneumonia.

Gang of Four’s music was stark and bristling, yet danceable. Reimagining punk, funk and reggae with analytical rigor, the band set telegraphic lyrics and shards of guitar noise against austerely propulsive beats and syncopated silences. Its brusque, angular style would directly or indirectly influence post-punk and indie-rock bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers (who chose Gill to produce their debut album), the Jesus Lizard, Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Franz Ferdinand and Protomartyr. Michael Hutchence of INXS once said that Gang of Four’s music “took no prisoners,” adding, “It was art meets the devil via James Brown.”

Andrew James Dalrymple Gill was born on Jan. 1, 1956, in Manchester, England. He was an art student at Leeds University when he started Gang of Four with lead singer and main lyricist John King, bassist Dave Allen and drummer Hugo Burnham. (It was named, mockingly, after the Communist Party leaders who ruled China during its Cultural Revolution years.) He and King, friends from high school, had used travel grants to visit New York City’s burgeoning punk scene in 1976.

From the beginning, Gang of Four was determined to avoid all clichés, musical and verbal. “You could tell by listening to Gang of Four music that punk had happened. But it definitely wasn’t punk music,” Gill told online music magazine Perfect Sound Forever in a 2000 interview.

“Every part of it had to be radical. It was building musical tension in a precise way,” he told The New York Times in 2005. “It would be the juxtaposition of tight, fixed patterns that were very physically energizing and relentless, which would largely be supplied by the bass and drums, and the guitar, which would sometimes completely go along with that and sometimes not. If you took one of these elements out and made it ordinary, the whole thing would lose its authenticity.”

The band matched its caustic music to lyrics that confronted sociopolitical power structures as much as personal impulses. Its debut single, “Damaged Goods,” released in 1978, was an anti-romantic song about sex and consumerism; its debut album, “Entertainment!,” released the next year, included “At Home He’s a Tourist,” an anatomy of alienation, and “Not Great Men,” a ground-level theory of history. Onstage, King would often add to the band’s percussive attack by slamming pieces of scrap metal.

Gang of Four made an immediate impact in British and American punk circles. Its original lineup lasted for one more album, “Solid Gold,” and Gill and King went on to work with other musicians while Gang of Four’s music began adapting some pop elements. Its 1982 album, “Songs of the Free,” included “I Love a Man in a Uniform,” its closest approach to a pop hit, with backup choruses sung by the band’s bassist at the time, Sara Lee. In Britain, the song was banned from BBC playlists as the Falkland Islands war began.

Gill and King led Gang of Four on the 1983 album “Hard” before going their separate ways. Gill, who had shared production credits for Gang of Four, produced other acts, including Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1984, and released a solo EP, “Dispossession,” in 1987.

He and King regrouped to lead Gang of Four for two 1990s albums, “Mall” and “Shrinkwrapped,” before another hiatus, during which Gill returned to producing, including a 1997 EP by the Jesus Lizard, the Stranglers’ album “Written in Red” (1997), Michael Hutchence’s posthumously released 1999 solo album and the Futureheads’ debut album, released in 2004.

Gill, who lived in London, married Catherine Mayer, a journalist who leads the Women’s Equality Party in Britain, in 1999. She survives him, as does his brother, Martin Gill.

In 2004, Gang of Four’s original lineup regrouped, touring (including a performance at the 2005 Coachella festival) and releasing new recordings — on better equipment — of songs from its first albums. The full reunion didn’t last, but Gill and King made one more album together as Gang of Four, “Content,” in 2011 before King chose to give up touring. Gill continued to lead Gang of Four, with John Sterry on lead vocals.

The group released two albums, “What Happens Next” in 2015 and “Happy Now” in 2019, still making political statements, and toured until late 2019. The band wrote that Gill had been listening to mixes of an unfinished album while hospitalized.

Gill’s “final tour in November,” the band wrote in its statement, “was the only way he was ever really going to bow out: with a Stratocaster around his neck, screaming with feedback and deafening the front row.”

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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