The Pop Group – O2 ABC, Glasgow

I never, ever thought that I would see The Pop Group. One of the most influential bands ever to come out of Britain, despite only lasting a couple of years and producing two albums, they took the British post punk scene to new levels of musical and conceptual sophistication, and we’re still feeling those effects today.

Mark Stewart takes to the stage, commenting that the last time he played in Glasgow was 34 years ago with The Slits, a gig that would be for Glasgow the equivalent of the Sex Pistols’ Free Trade Hall for London, and the bomb that would ignite Scotland’s post punk scene. Some brief nebulous noise, then he launches into a blistering version of We Are All Prostitutes that has all the effect of a true dub pressure drop.

This is the effect they’re after, because going beyond rock music – no band has ever been more ironically named – using startling live overdubs to transform Stewart’s screaming vocals while free jazz saxophones screech against some of the funkiest bass lines ever committed to music is what the Pop Group always did, and are still doing better than just about anyone else today.

Has it been so long ago that Stewart has forgotten his own lyrics, or is clutching lyric sheets while lurching menacingly around the stage (he’s a big guy) another prop used as alienation technique? After all, situationism has always been an integral part of the Pop Group, and Stewart’s musical rationale, displayed nowhere better than on She Is Beyond Good and Evil, the ultimate musical tribute to the Thatcher era.

Yet, unlike many of their now barely remembered contemporaries, the Pop Group were always more than mere agit prop. Real beauty and humanity intrude on Colour Blind; Words Disobey Me is impassioned and anguished.

Where There’s A Will remains one of the most danceable calls to arms ever written, and by this time I am not alone in dancing my ass off. They encore with a jaw-dropping version of We Are Time, and don’t follow it. I don’t think any band COULD have followed that.

Re-entering a musical and political landscape very different from the one they abandoned 33 years ago, the Pop Group prove they are timeless. In an era of hipster blandness, when the veneer of democracy really is starting to fade, the Pop Group are more anomalous, more dangerous and more necessary than ever.

Written by Brian Beadie

Venue: O2 ABC, Glasgow
Support Band: none

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