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Pop Group

I managed to see the Pop group several times :

At ULU, London. They were absolutely terrific, but unfortunately they came on late and we left after about 6 songs to get the last train home. A decision that I and my mates have always regretted.

At City University, London. It was a good gig, but not as great as it could have been because Mark Stewart was not with them. Apparently, he had felt compelled to go Cambodia and try to help - this was quite soon after Pol Pot had been overthrown and the scale of the atrocities were becoming known to the rest of the world - nobody could doubt his conviction! They had several of the "The Pop Group friends" augmenting them on keyboards, brass, etc. but they weren't fully able to make up for Mark Stewart's usual imposing presence. It was still a "special" gig, because no other band were doing things quite like the Pop Group!

CND Rally, Trafalgar Square, London. This was a free gig for a huge rally of several thousand people. The march was from Hyde Park and ended up at the Square. We arrived to find them already playing and the set was quite short at about 40 minutes, with a "dodgy" sound system, but they were excellent. The non-Pop Group fans, ie 99.9% of the crowd, seemed very perplexed or totally indifferent to them! We loved it.

At High Wycombe Town Hall. This was a weird one - It must have been their last tour. They were absolutely terrific. We went along quite early as we hadn't got tickets in advance. We managed to freely wander in through the side entrance! We then proceeded to feel really guilty as only about 100 people turned up to see them in a 1,200 capacity hall. From the stage, Gareth Sager (I think) even had a dig at "everyone that had got in for free" which made us feel really bad, even though I am sure he was referring to people on the guest list! They had a lot of friends playing/jamming with them so there was a lot squealing brass and improvisation happening. Mark Springer (piano) was also there. I particularly recall that someone else started the gig on bass guitar, but when Dan Catsis took over about half way through the second song the whole band sound and that "Pop Group dance feel" just "took off" - absolutely stunning. One of the best gigs I have ever been to, ever.

I also saw Maximum Joy about 3 times but never really got into them. They were trying to get well away from the whole guitar hero thing by choosing some particularly unforceful guitar/amp sounds, but instead I thought it just came over as wishy-washy white boy funk really - all a bit lacklustre with none of the drive or experimentation of The Pop Group. They were OK, just disappointing really.

I also saw Rip, Rig & Panic once, but did not particularly like them either. I found Mark Springer tended to dominate the band's "sound" with his piano playing and his is not a style I like; although I had loved his playing live with The Pop Group! Gareth Sager was as terrific as ever, if a bit more restrained than usual.

Tenuously linked to the Pop Group were The Transmitters. They managed to poach Rob Chapman away from the Glaxo Babies just before they were due to record the Glaxo's second album. This is why their Nine Months to the Disco album has no vocals! I think most Pop Group fans would probably like the Glaxo Babies and Transmitters so I recommend looking out for their records. I managed to see the Transmitters about 6 times.

Lastly I have a couple of questions that have always intrigued me :

1) What happened with Radar Records? The Pop Group fell out with them quite spectacularly with a lot of animosity apparently. My recollection is that the Pop Group were known as a terrific live act that had a huge amount of good music press on their side. Then they went and recorded Y! This was deemed "rather difficult listening", and I know that they "didn't get on" with Dennis Bovell the producer during recording. The album certainly sold poorly. Within about 6 months of release I was finding it in many bargain bins, several copies at a time and at a very cheap price. So were they just dumped? What happened? Does anybody know?

2) What is the story behind the distinctive "Cross" used on their badges and other promotional material? I vaguely recall somebody saying it was a French Freedom Cross, perhaps used by a resistance movement at some point in history. [answer here]

Paul Atton
21June '02

Pop Group