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Are Kane Able?

The Kane Gang

Article from One Two Testing, April 1985

mutiny makes good

What's the closest thing to the Kane Gang... a Tokai Strat, a CZ101 or a TR909? Nope, Jon Lewin because he did the interview. Jon Blackmore sidled within a few feet for the pix.

Picture the scene: the star-studded and sparklingly clean canteen of the Nomis rehearsal studios complex in west London. Banshee Budgie is playing the fruit machine; his companion is drinking his third cup of tea. The only other occupant is the journalist, hunched silently over a book, waiting for a member of Kane Gang to show up.

Despite being dispatched to the interview at short notice, I'd had sufficient time to familiarise my tender ears with the Kane Gang's fresh new debut LP. Casual exposure to their singles had left me unscathed — their new soul vision lacked the necessary bite to attract attention — but the album seemed a far more fluent work. Although they still suffered from a rather cloying fullness of sound, the songs were clean and taut enough to interest me in the processes that went into the making of 'The Bad And Lowdown World Of The Kane Gang'.

The Kane Gang are a trio. Martin Brammer and Paul Woods are the vocalists and lyricists, while the man I spoke with, Dave Brewis, writes most of the music, and programs drum machines whenever necessary. Dave and I huddled around my cassette in Nomis' dining area and thrashed out the various ways the three work together. (By the way, that crashing noise in the background is Budgie winning the £2 jackpot — again.)


"Martin generally does the lyrics first, before I start putting the music to it. At the moment we're writing songs towards the next album; Martin's busy with lyrics, and I won't do much with them until he's finished about six songs, then we'll start to fit them together over any ideas I might have had. Tunes come second, usually as a sort of collaboration between what I want to write, and what Martin feels comfortable with — because he's more of a bluesy singer, he can't sing very elaborate lines, so we end up stripping them right down to very basic simple tunes. Obviously he can put more into something he feels at home with."

What's Paul's contribution to the proceedings if Martin writes most of the words? "Vocals are split pretty much 50/50 between Martin and Paul. With songwriting in mind... Paul's always there when we're doing it. Sometimes he's come up with titles that have inspired a song, like 'Take This Train' for example. He actually wrote the music for 'Losersville' — I wasn't involved in that, except to put the Duane Eddy guitar solo in."

Do you demo songs before recording them? "We write songs on to a Portastudio. In future we're going to try and keep them as basic as we can. In the past we've tended to bounce and bounce and bounce until we've ended up with a full arrangement, which gets pretty hard to change — you can spend all day trying to reproduce a sound that took 10 minutes at home; the danger is that you just end up chasing your tail.


"Getting the basic rhythm of a song is becoming increasingly more important. As there's only the three of us we use a drum machine to sort out the basis rhythmically; then we can start to flesh it out, see whether it needs a middle eight. Generally we don't have to think too much about chords and structures, because we've been writing songs for years and years, and it's second nature for us to harmonise with each other."

Which drum machine do you employ? "The Roland TR909. The sounds are barely acceptable, but it's so very easy to work. The first day I got it, I did 'Gun Law' in about two hours."


"I think everyone prefers the sound of real drums. But on 'Gun Law', it needed the sound of a rhythm machine, just to keep it ticking along. The 909 gave it that electro, artificial sound. But we prefer to work with a real drummer most of the time.

"Having said that, another number we used drum box on was 'Smalltown Creed', which is just a basic sort of plodding eighths rhythm. Martin had this piece of paper with 'papapapa ooh ooh ooh' written on it, when we were looking for something to start to write a song. We had a Drumatix at the time, so I programmed that back into it, and we made the song up from there. It took about 25 minutes, though there is only one chord, and we're just shouting all the way through!

"Some songs have taken more... like 'How Much Longer?' on the album. We recorded it in June, nearly finished it on multitrack, then we went back in December and redid all of the chorus-changed the words, and the melodies, harmonies, everything. It's a much better song now, as it just wasn't quite ready.

"It was good to go back and redo a lot of the instrument parts as well, as we had learnt a lot more about guitar sounds, and how to construct choruses over those six months."


"It's very easy to do the obvious thing, so we try and be a little bit different. Martin has phases on what sort of guitar sound he likes — when we were doing 'Gun Law' he was into the heavy metal guitar sound, hence the solos. He was on about the Rolling Stones this week, but I don't know what that'll end up on.

"The guitars I actually use on the album are a Tokai Strat on 'Losersville', and 'How Much Longer?', there's a Musicmaster, and a Jazzmaster that I borrowed for the Duane Eddy bit in 'Losersville' — real Deep Surf Guitar, that. My main guitar is one of those Gibson 25/50 Anniversary Les Pauls. That's got coil-taps, and a lot of variation in sound; it's a really good instrument. I've also got an oldish Gibson 345, and a Hagstrom EDR 46 with a Bigsby on it — y'know, one of those shiny topped guitars that Roxy Music used on that sleeve. It only cost £80, but it's in such good nick I daren't take it out of the house."


What about the keyboards on the LP? There seems to be great diversity of noises going on. "They're a hybrid between what I played on the demos, and what Pete Wingfield (who produced most of the tracks) played, and what Wix did."

Who is Wix? "Wix is a sort of live addition — he's just a well-known session musician. He worked with us when we were recording with Robin Millar, doing 'Gun Law' and 'Take This Train'. He's a fantastic traditional piano and Hammond player, and he's also good at programming the PPG Wave, and the DX7. It's him playing the Hammond organ on 'Take This Train'. He's a really good all-round player and arranger, so he helps us sort out the live band." (Judging by the personnel in the band — Cornell Hines of Central Line on bass, Donald Johnson of A Certain Ratio on drums, Jeff Hammer on second keyboards, and E-Von Everly on percussion — this is not an arduous task.)

You have confessed to being influenced by electro music, though there's not much evidence of pounding sequencers on the LP. "No there isn't. We've had a couple of people doing sessions with us who can play in that style manually, and we've done some triggering off drum machines, but only occasionally and mainly just on arpeggiators. We've had a Roland MSQ700 (the big Roland sequencer) for about six months, but we've never used it. "I'll probably sell that because we've just got a Casio CZ101, and I know they're going to bring out a keyboard with a large memory sequencer built-in — I'll probably get that, as I prefer the more modern sound of the Casio, which has a brighter, cleaner sound. Analogue synths can get very 'stodgy' sounding. We did have a JX3P, but it got smashed up on the last tour."


"With Pete Wingfield, who did most of the album, we were recording in Chipping Norton. With Robin Millar, we used his studio, the Power Plant.

"I think we prefer residential studios. If it's two in the morning and you can foresee a cab ride back to a hotel, you'll not be keen on carrying on. But if you've got a bed upstairs, you're more relaxed about that extra half hour or so. We've only been in a handful of studios, though — there's a lot more we'd like to learn."

Why use two different producers?

"After we'd done two groups of sessions with Pete Wingfield, we found that we didn't have the same approach to recording a track. He had a very old-fashioned approach, which is good for a lot of things where you layer up the song, putting little noises in where you need them.


"But we prefer to work with a solid arrangement, where you don't have things appearing for ten seconds, then you never hear them again. We like a basic band sound going through the whole track. I think that was the fundamental difference between us. And he tends to double all the lead vocals, which Martin's not very keen on.

"We wanted to break the mould of everything sounding soft and inoffensive, when it should have been more aggressive. We still haven't found the total formula we're completely happy with. Robin Millar works more with the band — he doesn't play on any of the records he produces — he draws what he wants out of the band. Pete's contribution, the way he recorded, got to be a bit predictable, which annoyed us, as we like to do each song different from the last.

"We hate to rely on one person totally to shape our sound, so we're trying to learn more about production ourselves. We normally have a fairly strong idea of how we want things to sound, though there is always room for improvement and new ideas — that's why we used Wix on the last few tracks. He knows more about keyboards sounds than we do."


For a debut LP, "The Bad And Lowdown World Of The Kane Gang" is a very lush and expansive sounding record. Disappointingly, it lacks the roughness and corresponding edge of excitement that normally typifies a group's first records. I asked Dave about this.

"The LP does sound a bit soft, overall. That's partly the production, and partly our own naïveté about studio techniques."

How long have the Kanes been a Gang? "Martin and I have been playing together since schooldays, and we've known Paul almost as long. We all used to be in groups together."

Were you ever a punk band? "We always concentrated on songs, which ruled out the sloganeering crap like Sham 69. We were more interested in Talking Heads — the intelligent side of that sort of music.

"When we started writing songs that the three of us liked — really in a soul direction — the drummer and bassist didn't like it and left. We evolved into the Kane Gang over a couple of years. We used to do silly covers — good songs, though like Abba's 'SOS', and 'Walk On By' before the Stranglers did it. It's good not having a full line-up band as you don't have to keep letting the sax player do his bit. We're more flexible like this."

How did you get round to recording the Staples Singers' "Respect Yourself"? "It wasn't originally intended to be a single. With the album half recorded we thought we'd try a cover version, as we hadn't done one in such a long time. We had a shortlist of Walt Jackson's 'Easy Evil', Sly Stone's 'Stand', and 'Respect Yourself'. I think we chose it because it's our sort of title.

"Pete Wingfield just wanted to re-record the original, while we wanted to come up with something a bit more modern, a bit different. We never thought it would do so well."


The one major criticism that has belaboured the Kane Gang is that they are imitators, that working as white boys in soul music, a genre that is black by birth right, they lack true soul. Ignoring the racism of this inference, I prodded Dave about it all. His answer was obviously well-rehearsed, but no less effective for that.

"The word we use is 'Soulful'. We're really a pop band, in that we concentrate more on songs. We just try to write the best songs we can. We're a soulful pop band."

Which sounds pretty good to me.

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Publisher: One Two Testing - IPC Magazines Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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One Two Testing - Apr 1985

Donated by: Colin Potter

Interview by Jon Lewin

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