ETHER / Gang of Four

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As an Irish, mostly political poet, I’d like to pay homage to an English work of art that has had a powerful  influence on my own artistic and political sensibility.
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It is the opening track of an acknowledged masterpiece, ENTERTAINMENT! by Gang of Four.
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‘Ether’.
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The music is unique, sparse, raw, clean. Everything counts, every bang of the drum, every thrum of the bass, every chop of the guitar and blow of the melodica.
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‘Ether’ is a risky opening track because it is so strange. The music slows down, the guitar clangs like church bells. and the melodica makes you feel like you’re sniffing petrol.
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But the fact that it’s a protest song about Ireland is what makes it so edgy. It’s an Irish rebel song by an English band. The lyrics were co-authored by Andy Gill and Jon King and are co-sung, almost as a call-and-response in the ancient troubadour tradition.
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Gang of Four lyrics in general are influenced by Situationism, but this track – it claims on Wikipedia – is about ‘special category status prisoners on Northern Ireland’.
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The style of the writing mirrors the style of political slogans, chanted at the barricades.
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‘Dirt behind the daydream’ is often the main point. English people go on with their daily lives unaware of the terrible realities of what historians dubbed The Dirty War and The Dirty Protest. The two voices reflect the parallel situations. Occupied Ireland. England with its own problems.
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Individual lines such as ‘H Block torture’ and ‘fly the flag on foreign soil’ cut to the quick and immediately take the listener out of the zone of anything remotely resembling ‘entertainment’. The listener becomes a victim of torture, drugged on ether, forced to listen to white noise.

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The denouement is brilliant, a single slogan which seems to ventriloquise the inexorable logic of the British government itself: 

there may be oil
under Rockall
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It’s an anti-imperial artwork of the first order, visceral and conceptual. Play loud!
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(Apologies for any adverts below. They’re obligatory. They don’t pay me. I’d have to pay WordPress for them not to appear.)

About Niall McDevitt

Niall McDevitt > poet > author of b/w (Waterloo Press, 2010) and Porterloo (International Times, 2012) > urban explorer > radical pedestrian who leads Shakespeare/Blake/Rimbaud /Yeats walks, among others.
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