The Pop Group finished only their second ever UK tour at The Kazimier, the post-punk legends’ first gig in Liverpool for more than three decades. This is a slightly extended version of my review for Getintothis.
First on were local mainstays Strange Collective, who have moved on a lot since I last saw them at the Getintothis relaunch party in the Kazimier Garden last year – see my review here. Back then, there seemed to be elements of Allah-Las, DC hardcore punk, Scientists and surf music in their hard-to-pin-down sound.
This time, Pixies and Creedence Clearwater Revival were added to the mix as they battled with some ongoing sound issues in front of a small but enthusiastic crowd. After playing what was proudly introduced as their first ever single, Sun, they closed with the epic Super Touchy.
The main support was Zun Zun Egui, described by The Pop Group’s Mark Stewart in my recent interview with him for Getintothis as “like a weird mix between jangular Television and mad Afrobeat chanting”. There were also elements of post-punk, soul, hard rock and many other genres besides in their free-wheeling sound. They were like Malcolm McLaren’s wet dream from the early 1980’s for the future of pop, to the nth degree.
Mauritian guitarist and singer Kushal Gaya, in fetching brown boots with orange laces, began the set with some Creole audience participation, jumping off the stage to gather those nearest the stage around him for some traditional chanting.
They successfully overcame the hindrance of having drummer Matt Jones and Japanese keyboard player Yoshino Shigihara placed up high on a different level of the stage to the rest of the band. Their last song epitomised their range as it started off quite like Cornershop before a bass solo from Luke Mosse, then going all reggae and ending in a guitar frenzy.
The Pop Group originally formed in Bristol in 1977, releasing three seminal albums before disintegrating in 1981. They reformed in 2010, releasing a new album, Citizen Zombie, earlier this year, to widespread critical acclaim.
The current line-up is basically the same as on second album For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?, led by singer Mark Stewart, a real bear of a man who dominated the stage, with his bandmates largely constrained to their own square foot to avoid his exuberance.
Guitarist Gareth Sager, who also added occasional, intriguing electric clarinet, Dan Catsis on bass and drummer Bruce Smith were joined by newcomer Alexi Shrimpton on guitar.
The whole band looked thrilled to be treading the boards again throughout their searing hour-plus set, which went well past the official curfew due to over-running sound-checks led to the venue opening its doors around 45 minutes late, meaning they didn’t hit the stage until about 10:30.
Their set was a mix of tracks from the new album and classics from their time as post-punk trailblazers, as promised by Mark Stewart when I spoke to him. They opened with the angry, largely spoken word Nations off the new album which was greeted as enthusiastically as the following Thief Of Fire, the opening cut from their debut album Y.
Words Disobey Me off the same release was introduced as having been played at Eric’s the last time they performed in the city, while the 1979 single We Are All Prostitutes was winkingly dedicated to “comrade Pete Wylie”.
1980 single Where There’s A Will There’s A Way took on extra poignancy post-election with its chant-along lines “No one is defeated until they’re prepared to admit defeat… join the undefeated”. All the new songs went down almost as well as the old with a crowd that included a healthy quota of old school punks, as well as those much too young to have been born first time around (including someone clutching a skateboard!).
A rousing We Are Time was an apt encore, with its “no fear of tomorrow” line that encapsulates much of what the band was, and also now is, about. I had to make a hasty exit in order to catch my last train, missing the end of the song.
It was absolutely fantastic to finally get to see The Pop Group, even though they’re a band I admire more than love on record. They’re certainly made to be heard live and certainly still have the fire and passion they had back in the day. Long may they continue.
I wore my red Guided By Voices t-shirt, while I spotted a good mix of other bands on shirts, including hoary old punks UK Subs, Low and The Rolling Stones, with a couple of roadies sporting new local-ish band Spring King and straight edgers Chain Of Strength.
Here is some of the set list: