The Pop Group – We Are All Prostitutes

24th November 2022 · 1970s, 1978, Music

The Pop Group never sold many records but their legacy has been huge in their influence on other bands. Nick Cave, whose band The Birthday Party was very much in their image, acclaimed this song as their masterpiece.

“It had everything that I thought rock’n’roll should have,” said Cave. “It was violent, paranoid music for a violent, paranoid time.”

Back before every Tom, Dick and Harriet described themselves as post-punk, the term meant music blending punk and funk, usually involving ethnic-sounding percussion and jagged guitars, often produced with elements of dub reggae.

In the case of The Pop Group (whose name was richly ironic) you could throw in Mark Stewart’s explosive political ranting. The result was what Bryan Ferry might have envisaged when he sang of “a danceable solution to teenage revolution.”

The Pop Group formed in 1977 in Bristol when the teenage Mark Stewart set out to start a funk group with schoolmates John Waddington and Simon Underwood. Inspired by the energy of punk but finding it too musically conservative and limiting, the group drew influence from the avant-garde, black music styles such as free jazz and dub, and radical political traditions.

Guitarist Gareth Sager and drummer Bruce Smith were eventually added to the group. They began to gain notoriety for their live performances and were signed to Radar Records, who released their first single She Is Beyond Good And Evil and debut album Y. Both were produced by British dubmeister Dennis Bovell, as was this, their second standalone single.

A savage indictment of capitalism called We Are All Prostitutes, its B-side was the powerfully self-explanatory Amnesty International Report on British Army Torture of Irish Prisoners. The Pop Group didn’t just talk the talk; they walked the walk, donating the proceeds from their first high-profile tour to Amnesty.

Guitarist Gareth Sager explains that the band was “trying in an inexplicably naive manner to combine Patti Smith’s Rimbaud ramblings, James Brown, the Stooges, Roxy Music, T. Rex and classical aleatoric music, going on to bring in other influences: Ornette Coleman, King Tubby, Funkadelic, Debussy, Jacques Brel, Fela Kuti and Steve Reich.

They split in 1981 after playing to the biggest audience of their career, 500,000 at a CND rally in Trafalgar Square, and members joined Pigbag, Maximum Joy, Head, The Slits and Rip Rig + Panic while Stewart forged a career as a solo artist and with a new band, Mark Stewart’s Maffia.

In 2010, after a gap of almost 30 years, The Pop Group reformed and began recording new material which showed that, astonishingly, they had not remotely mellowed with age, remaining as committed and controversial as ever.