The Pop Group

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The Pop Group
The Pop Group in 2014
The Pop Group in 2014
Background information
OriginBristol, England, UK
Years active1977–1981, 2010–present
LabelsFreaks R Us, Rough Trade, Radar Records
MembersMark Stewart Gareth Sager
Bruce Smith Dan Catsis
Past membersSimon Underwood
John Waddington
WebsiteOfficial website

The Pop Group are an English rock band formed in Bristol in 1977 by vocalist Mark Stewart, guitarist John Waddington, bassist Simon Underwood, guitarist/saxophonist Gareth Sager, and drummer Bruce Smith.[5] Their work in the late 1970s crossed diverse musical influences including punk, dub, funk, and free jazz with radical politics, helping to pioneer post-punk music.[1][2]

The group released two albums, Y (1979) and For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? (1980), and singles such as "She Is Beyond Good and Evil" and "We Are All Prostitutes" (both 1979), then split in 1981. Its members worked on a variety of subsequent projects, including New Age Steppers and Rip Rig + Panic. In 2010, the band reunited, touring and releasing new material as well as reissuing their back catalogue on Freaks R Us. Stewart and Waddington both died in 2023.


Original run (1977–1981)[edit]

The Pop Group was formed in 1977 in Bristol when teenager Mark Stewart set out to start a funk group with schoolmates John Waddington and Simon Underwood.[5][6] Inspired by the energy of punk rock but feeling the style to be too conservative, the group drew influence from the avant-garde, black music styles such as free jazz and dub, and radical political traditions.[2][6] Guitarist Gareth Sager and drummer Bruce Smith were eventually added to the group.[6] Soon after forming, they began to gain notoriety for their live performances and were signed to Radar Records.[6] They appeared on the cover of the NME.[7] The band donated the proceeds from their first high-profile tour to Amnesty International.[8] They issued their debut single "She Is Beyond Good and Evil" in March 1979 and their debut album Y in April of that year, both to acclaim.[9] Regardless, their moderate success was sufficient to convince Rough Trade to sign the band. During this period, Dan Catsis replaced Underwood on bass.[9]

The band's career with Rough Trade began with the release of the single "We Are All Prostitutes." This was followed by the release of their second album For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? (1980). Shortly afterwards the Pop Group released a split single, "Where There's a Will...", with the Slits, a band with whom they shared a drummer (Bruce Smith) and manager Dick O'Dell. The band's last live performance was in 1980 to a crowd of 500,000 people at Trafalgar Square as part of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament protest.[5] They split in 1981 after legal wranglings and internal disagreements. Members of the group collaborated and joined bands such as Pigbag, Maximum Joy, Head, the Slits and Rip Rig + Panic, the latter notable for the involvement of Neneh Cherry.[9] Stewart subsequently embarked on a solo career and went on to collaborate with Adrian Sherwood and On-U Sound, prior to a series of albums on Mute Records.

Reformation (2010–present)[edit]

In 2010, The Pop Group reunited for a special edition of ATP festival curated by Simpsons creator Matt Groening, with members Mark Stewart, Gareth Sager, Bruce Smith and Dan Catsis. [10] Over the next few years the band engaged in a prolific series of releases on the label Freaks R Us. The 1980 LP We Are Time was reissued worldwide on 20 October 2014, and the band released a compilation of rarities titled Cabinet of Curiosities. In support of the reissues, the band undertook a seven-day tour of the UK, and in February 2015, released Citizen Zombie, their first studio album in 35 years.[11] They then went on a worldwide tour with dates in the U.S., Japan, and Australia, followed by an extensive European tour culminating in festival appearances, including two live sets at Glastonbury.[12]

In February 2016 For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? was rereleased on CD and released digitally for the first time. This was accompanied by the release of a colour vinyl edition of "We Are All Prostitutes," referred to by The Vinyl Factory.[13] A previously unseen video for "We Are All Prostitutes", shot at the Electric Ballroom in November 1979 but thought to be lost, was recovered from the attic of video artist Chris Reynolds and unveiled.[citation needed] In May, the band released a collection of live recordings titled The Boys Whose Head Exploded. Throughout 2016, the band worked on new material with producer Dennis Bovell,[14] and in October Honeymoon on Mars was released.[15] In 2019, the band's debut album Y, produced by Dennis Bovell, was reissued by Mute Records with unreleased live and studio recordings. This was followed by Y in Dub in 2021, a new dub-focused interpretation of the album, once again produced by Dennis Bovell.

On 21 April 2023, Mark Stewart died at the age of 62.[16][17]

John Waddington's death was announced on 21 June 2023. He was 63.[18]

Style and influences[edit]

The Pop Group have been called pioneers of the late-1970s post-punk movement.[1] The Guardian wrote that the Pop Group "almost singlehandedly effected the transition from punk to post-punk," noting that they "– ahead of Gang of Four, PiL, A Certain Ratio and the rest – steered punk towards a radical, politicised mash-up of dub, funk, free jazz and the avant-garde."[2] Louder Than War called them "one of the most wildly innovative and barrier-shattering bands to emerge from the late ’70s post-punk era."[19] Rolling Stone described the group as "an explosive mutant gene," asserting that "among their rabble-rousing post-punk contemporaries, none boasted as much sheer musical inventiveness and audacity."[5] Theorist Mark Fisher described their sound as "both cavernous and propulsive, ultra-abstract yet driven by dance music’s physical imperatives."[20][21]

The group was inspired by diverse musical sources as diverse as Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, Captain Beefheart, King Tubby, Miles Davis, Pharoah Sanders, Sun Ra, John Cage, Debussy, Neu!, Funkadelic, Television, the New York Dolls, Jacques Brel, The Who, Subway Sect and Steve Reich in addition to non-musical sources such as French romanticism, Antonin Artaud, Beat poetry, Comte de Lautréamont, Jean Baudrillard, the Situationists,[7][22][23][24][25][26][27] and existential philosophy.[21][28] Addressing the group's shift toward an agitprop sensibility on their second album, released during the rise of Thatcherism, Mark Fisher wrote that the group's goal was "emotional engineering, a jolting out of the ideological trance that accepts injustice as inevitable."[29]

Influence and legacy[edit]

Their music inspired and influenced many bands and artists that followed them. They are cited as an influence by artists and bands like Minutemen, Primal Scream, Sonic Youth, Steve Albini of Big Black,[30][31] Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and Massive Attack.[32][33]

The Australian artist Nick Cave attended a gig of the Pop Group and was so inspired by their performance, he stated that: "...It was one of those moments we just feel the cogs of your mind shift and your life is going to be irreversibly changed forever."[34]

David J of Bauhaus named the group as one of the "few bands on the [post-punk] scene at the time to whom we related".[35]

American artist St. Vincent performed a cover of "She Is Beyond Good And Evil" on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. The song also was a regular on her Strange Mercy Tour.

Outside of music, The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, is a fan of the band and instigated their return when he invited them to reform for All Tomorrow’s Parties in 2010.[36]


Studio albums[edit]



  1. ^ a b c Everhart, John (24 February 2015). "Review: The Pop Group makes a triumphant return · Music Review · The A.V. Club". Retrieved 26 March 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d Lester, Paul (26 February 2015). "Have the Pop Group finally become a pop group?". The Guardian.
  3. ^ Neate, Wilson. "Learning to Cope with Cowardice – Mark Stewart / Mark Stewart and the Maffia". AllMusic. Retrieved 12 January 2016.
  4. ^ Kaye, Ben (26 July 2016). "The Pop Group reunite with producer Dennis Bovell for new album". Consequence of Sound. Retrieved 13 January 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d Gehr, Richard (7 November 2014). "The Oral History of the Pop Group: The Noisy Brits Who Were Too Punk for the Punks". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d Dougan, John. "Artist Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  7. ^ a b Reynolds, Simon (2012). UK Post-Punk: Faber Forty-Fives: 1977–1982. Faber & Faber. ISBN 9780571296538.
  8. ^ Silverton, Peter. "The Pop Group: 'If people think we're full of shit, they should come and tell us'". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  9. ^ a b c Strong, Martin C. (2000). The Great Rock Discography (5th ed.). Edinburgh: Mojo Books. pp. 757–758. ISBN 1-84195-017-3.
  10. ^ "Update: The Pop Group to reunite". The A.V. Club. 24 May 2010. Retrieved 24 May 2010.
  11. ^ Michaels, Sean (26 November 2014). "The Pop Group announce first album in 35 years, produced by Paul Epworth". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  12. ^ "Premiere: The Pop Group – "Citizen Zombie"". 25 November 2014. Retrieved 27 November 2014.
  13. ^ "The 10 best vinyl releases this week (22nd February)". 22 February 2016.
  14. ^ "The Pop Group – Back in the Studio with Dennis Bovell & Hank Shocklee". Archived from the original on 4 September 2016. Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  15. ^ "The Pop Group announce new album Honeymoon On Mars". FACT Magazine: Music News, New Music. 31 August 2016. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  16. ^ "Mark Stewart Twitter".
  17. ^ Beaumont-Thomas, Ben (21 April 2023). "Mark Stewart, Pop Group frontman and revered countercultural musician, dies aged 62". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 23 April 2023.
  18. ^ Monroe, Jazz (21 June 2023). "The Pop Group's John Waddington Dies at 63". Pitchfork.
  19. ^ Manchester, Guy (2014). "Legendary Post Punk Band The Pop Group Release Video for Colour Blind". Louder Than War. Retrieved 11 September 2014.
  20. ^ "Stealing Fire: The Pop Group'S 'Y' Lp: Fact Magazine". Archived from the original on 18 March 2008. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
  21. ^ a b O'Hagan, Sean (14 September 2010). "The Pop Group: Still Blazing a Trail That Makes Rock Look Conservative". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 September 2014.
  22. ^ "THE POP GROUP – Freaks R Us". 6 August 2020.
  23. ^ Reynolds, Simon (2006). Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978–1984. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-21570-6.
  24. ^ "Mark Stewart – Biography, Albums, & Streaming Radio". AllMusic.
  25. ^ "Mark Stewart (The Pop Group) Talks". Ransom Note. The Culture Space Ltd. Retrieved 10 October 2020. Growing up in Bristol, from a kid onwards I was just going out dancing to really heavy funk and going to reggae dances and we just thought we'd bring in some of the stuff we were really into like Sun Ra and whatever.
  26. ^ "Bristol Fashion: Mark Stewart Of The Pop Group's 13 Favourite Albums". The Quietus. 22 March 2012. Retrieved 10 October 2020.
  27. ^ Lester, Paul (26 February 2015). "Have the Pop Group finally become a pop group?". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 November 2020.
  28. ^ "The Pop Group Are Back and Fighting Against the "Warm Bath of Apathy"". NOISEY. 20 October 2014. Retrieved 27 November 2014.
  29. ^ Fisher, Mark (8 February 2016). "The Great Refusal: Mark Fisher on The Pop Group's enduring radicalism". Fact.
  30. ^ Leland, John (August 1986). "SPIN - August 1986". SPIN Media LLC. p. 12. Retrieved 13 January 2021. "What I think of as a sort of an analog to what we're doing," says Albini, "is something like the Pop Group, where there was an obvious political or social undertone, but they put so much effort into the music that it was obvious that was what was inspiring them, and they were not just creating a backdrop of their images. I just like playing guitar."
  31. ^ "Coney's Loft In Conversation With Mark Stewart". Freaks R Us. 3 May 2017. Retrieved 13 January 2021. Mark Stewart: "One of the best things I've heard about The Pop Group, Steve Albini called us non-linear…"
  32. ^ Thomas H. Green (7 March 2015). "theartsdesk Q&A: Musician Mark Stewart". Retrieved 13 January 2021.
  33. ^ Richard Gehr (7 November 2014). "The Oral History of the Pop Group: The Noisy Brits Who Were Too Punk for the Punks". Rolling Stone. By Richard Gehr. Retrieved 13 January 2021.
  34. ^ "Nick Cave on The Pop Group (1999)". YouTube. Archived from the original on 21 December 2021. Retrieved 13 January 2021.
  35. ^ David J. Haskins (2014). Who Killed Mister Moonlight?: Bauhaus, Black Magick, and Benediction. Jawbone Press. ISBN 9781908279675. There were only a few bands on the scene at the time to whom we related. Joy Division, Pere Ubu, Devo, Gang Of Four, Cabaret Voltaire, and The Pop Group come to mind.
  36. ^ Lester, Paul (26 February 2015). "Have the Pop Group Finally Become a Pop Group?". The Guardian. Guardian News & Media Limited. Retrieved 13 January 2021.

External links[edit]