Gang of Four’s 1979 debut, Entertainment! opens with “Ether”, a song that commits to both the political and abstract. Vocals call and respond. Bass and guitar and drums work together equally, reflecting the group’s attempt to make music where every instrument and player was an equal contributing to a whole. “Dirt behind the daydream” repeats, building up tension before the repetition of, “There may be oil!” and the response, “Under Rockall!”, the drums mimicking the vocal delivery at the climax of this tune.
Rockall is a small island in the North Atlantic Ocean that’s only about 100 feet wide and long that falls within the Exclusive Economic Zone claimed by the UK, granting it the right to any oil on or under Rockall.
“H-Block, Long Kesh” another lyric and repeats references a prison in northern Ireland where prisoners convicted of ethno-political crimes were granted Special Category Status which provided them the same privileges as prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention in 1972. Under SCS, the prisoners didn’t have to wear uniforms, were housed with their fellow faction members, and were given extra food and visitation rights. By 1974, the prisoners used the advantages to fuel a violent rebellion. Long Kesh was burned down, and six of the prison’s staff were killed.
By 1976, considering research done by the Gardiner Committee, SCS was eliminated. The prison was rebuilt and anyone convicted of a terrorist offense was to wear prison uniforms and do prison work in the prison’s “H-Blocks.” Kieran Nugent, a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, was the first convicted under the new terms. Nugent claimed he was a political prisoner and refused to wear the prison garb. He wrapped himself in a blanket instead. By 1978, about 300 Republican prisoners refused the prison uniform.
Nearly two years after the release of “Ether”, in 1981, Republican prisoners were protesting with a hunger strike. Ten prisoners died.