Below listen to the classic “She Is Beyond Good and Evil” from the band.
By Blurt Staff
The Pop Group, one of the most wildly innovative and barrier-shattering bands to emerge from the late ’70s post-punk era, are finally seeing their archives curated and reissued. After spending over a year collating original singles, albums and previously unreleased studio and live recordings, the band will put out a series of albums over time on the new Freaks R Us label via Kartel Label services and Amped. The first two come out October 21: a re-issue of We Are Time, a collection of early live and studio recordings and Cabinet of Curiousities, a brand new, nine-track compilation of radio sessions, live recordings, unreleased studio recordings and a long out of print 45RPM side. The group reformed in 2010 and have been playing key international festivals and gigs (including All Tomorrow’s Parties events, a New Year’s Eve show in London with Sonic Youth, Off Festival, Primavera, Summer Sonic and Celtic Connections), declaring “There was a lot left undone… We were so young and volatile. Let’s face it, things are probably even more fucked up now than they were in the early ’80s…and we are even more fucked off.” The band has just announced an October tour of the UK – details at the website.
The Pop Group was born in Bristol in 1977 out of a disenchantment with punk failing to bust out of its rock origins. While loudly supporting political and social action campaigns such as CND, The Pop Group wrenched back punk’s original mission away from the rock ‘n’ roll traditionalism which now seemed to be swamping it, rekindling a militant fire which had more in common with the Black Panthers and the liberated energy of free jazz. “It’s proper end-of-the-world music,” declared singer Mark Stewart. Finding early gigs supporting kindred spirits Pere Ubu, Patti Smith and This Heat, they progressed very quickly to headlining events such as 1978s Electric Ballroom line up of Nico, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Cabaret Voltaire. The Pop Group’s anarchic live shows alienated many audiences in the grand tradition of early Sex Pistols but was the foremost example of post-punk’s liberating ability to tap into other forms of music to convey a vital message. Later, in 1979, reviewing a Cambodia benefit gig at London University for which the band were supported by Scritti Politti, Nick Kent writing in the NME observed, “They project a very real sense of danger of the sort I’ve not experienced since the Pistols’ 100 Club days. But whereas the Pistols were more into conventional hard rock, The Pop Group are working in territory that is far from orthodox.”
“We wanted to use the energy that we drew from punk and make it more political,” explained Stewart in 1998. “After all the sloganeering of punk, we actually wanted to get actively involved in campaigns; Scrap SUS, the Blair Peach, CND. And the attitude was that if you’re being ‘radical’ with the lyrics, we should challenge the structure of the music, too. Punk was still rock ‘n’ roll based, no one was doing what we were doing. I was really into The Last Poets and the Watts Prophets, and the others were getting into free jazz. We were creating a wall of noise for the lyrics to fight against. It was all part of challenging the production process, disrespecting the studio machines. It may look naïve now, but we were hopeful as much as anything else.”
In March of 1979 they debuted on Radar Records with ‘She Is Beyond Good And Evil’ (declaring love as a revolutionary force) and instrumental flipside 3’38 (both in title and duration), and graced the cover of Melody Maker and Sounds in the same month, following with the release of their first album, Y, in April. The Pop Group followed that up with a single for the Rough Trade label that autumn ,’We Are All Prostitutes’ c/w ‘Amnesty International Report’. Next came March 1980’s For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?, the band’s first release on their own Y label in partnership with Rough Trade. (The album saw the funk element upped to red alert, displaying the influence of On The Corner period Miles Davis.) The aforementioned We Are Time followed later that year. The set rounded up unreleased early gems like ‘Trap’, ‘Genius Or Lunatic’ and ‘Colour Blind’. Stewart reflects on these seminal early recordings, “The Pop Group was mutating so fast right from the start that it was crucial to document those first experiments with this compilation. We Are Time is really ‘the’ teenage Pop Group album.” Sadly, though, the band then imploded, its members going on to such projects as The Maffia, New Age Steppers, Rip Rig and Panic, Float Up CP and Public Image Ltd.