Back to Clients
With reggae titan Dennis Bovell fulfilling the production role, the album was rightly hailed as one of the great debut albums, an abrasive squall bristling with scorchers such as ‘Don’t Call Me Pain’, ‘Blood Money’, ‘Boys From Brazil’ and ‘We Are Time’. “By now the band was bringing in other influences,” recalls Sager, “including Ornette Coleman, King Tubby, Funkadelic, Debussy, Jacques Brel, Fela Kuti and Steve Reich.”
With Underwood replaced by Dan Catsis of Glaxo Babies, The Pop Group made its first incendiary statement for the Rough Trade label that autumn with the dissonant primal roar of ‘We Are All Prostitutes’ c/w ‘Amnesty International Report’. The A-side featured a guest appearance from free jazz cellist Tristan Honsinger, who had played with the likes of Cecil Taylor and Derek Bailey.
The single was followed by 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 urge to skin and sacrifice their sizzling skeleton grooves with free jazz skronk on tracks like ‘Communicate’ and ‘Blind Faith’, put the band in a similar orbit to James White & The Contortions, while other highlights included the anthemic ‘Forces Of Oppression’ and the reggae infusion of ‘There Are No Spectators’.
That same month, The Pop Group shared a 45 with The Slits, contributing the fractured future-funk of ‘Where There’s A Will’, described by Sager as “The group’s best attempt to mix a message with a groove plus some real free playing. If you are really unhinged you may be able to dance to this.”
The aforementioned We Are Time, named after one of their most infamous onslaughts, followed later that year. The limited 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. It’s full of defiance and the material demonstrates the band's staunch independence and our really early DIY ethic before the studio became another instrument.”
After the blinding supernova that was The Pop Group imploded, its members went on their respective creative paths. Mark Stewart’s solo career saw him pioneering further new genres, initially on Adrian Sherwood’s On-U Sound label with The Maffia (The Sugarhill house band). Further solo releases followed on Mute through the eighties and nineties and more recently on Future Noise Music. Stewart and Bruce Smith also participated in the New Age Steppers collective, while other TPG spin-off bands included Pigbag (Simon Underwood), Rip Rig And Panic (Gareth Sager, Bruce Smith), Float Up CP (Sager, Smith), Head (Sager), Maximum Joy (Catsis, Waddington) and Public Image Ltd (Smith).
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 Pop Group’s influence is far-reaching. They were admired by their contemporaries and have been acknowledged as influential by successive generations of artists such as Massive Attack and St Vincent. Their original material still explodes with an incandescent spirit and energy, to which many current bands aspire. The reformation has rekindled embers which had never gone out, flaming up in a new world which is even more deserving of their assault than back in the day.
“It’s one of those moments when the cogs of your mind shift and your life is going to irreversibly change forever”
Nick Cave on hearing The Pop Group for the first time.
“Without The Pop Group I don’t know what The Minutemen would have sounded like”
“The Pop Group’s life was brief and fierce. Begun in 1978, collapsing in 1980, the Bristol teenagers' insertion of black funk, free jazz, dub and political protest into post-punk seemed, like much of the era's music, to be a doomed experiment. And yet, with each passing year, the influence of The Pop Group and its leader Mark Stewart grows.”
The Independent 1998
“Cited as a key influence by Nick Cave and Primal Scream these wilfully discordant Bristolians unleash an exhilarating mash up of polemical lyrics, funk rhythms, free jazz and dub reggae with a tightness and ferocity that would challenge bands half their age.”
**** The Times 2014
“When the Pop Group close with the tremendous We Are Time, it's with the sense of a band that could and still ought to light a fire under guitar music's conservatives.”
***** The Guardian 2014
THE POP GROUP: ORIGINAL U.K. DISCOGRAPHY
She Is Beyond Good And Evil / 3’38 [Radar ADA 29, ADA 29(T), 1979]
We Are All Prostitutes / Amnesty International Report [Rough Trade RT 023, 1979]
Where There’s A Will (c/w In The Beginning There Was Rhythm by The Slits) [Rough Trade/Y RT 039A/Y1, 1980]
Y (Radar RAD 20, 1979)
For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? [Rough Trade/Y Rough 9/Y2, 1980]
We Are Time [Rough Trade/Y Rough 12/Y5, 1980]
THE POP GROUP: PERSONNEL
Mark Stewart (vocals, lyrics)
Gareth Sager (guitar, saxophone, clarinet, piano, organ)
Bruce Smith (drums, percussion)
John Waddington (guitar, bass guitar)
Simon Underwood (bass guitar)
Dan Catsis (bass guitar)