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Remote Control

Hue & Cry

Article from Phaze 1, July 1989

brothers patrick and gregory reflect on the pitfalls of early success


AFTER "ONE YEAR OF HELL, ONE YEAR OF CONFUSION AND ONE YEAR OF CONTROLLED COMPROMISE", HUE AND CRY ARE NOW IN COMPLETE CONTROL OF THEIR CAREER. BUT AS MICHAEL LEONARD FINDS OUT, IT HASN'T BEEN EASY GETTING THIS FAR.


"WE'VE GOT TO COMPETE with the Kylies and Jasons and the Brother Beyonds" says Gregory Kane. "It's a good test for your music. We're trying to appeal to an older audience and put a lot of musical and lyrical thought into our songs, but we've also got to compete with simple, 'bash you over the head' melodies. And if we can compete and succeed, as we're doing just now, we'll be happy."

With the release of their second album Remote, Hue and Cry found their music put to this market-place test. And they've not just managed to survive, but have asserted themselves as one of Britain's brightest young pop bands. With their Seduced and Abandoned debut album going silver, and their second album doing the same and spawning the hits 'Looking for Linda' and 'Violently', well, times could be harder. As they near the end of a sell-out UK tour, Pat and Greg Kane seem happy with their lot. But it wasn't always so straightforward...

In 1982, brothers Pat and Greg had their first demo played on local radio in Scotland, as part of a local band, The Winning Losers. "Pat sang, and I played sax" remembers Greg. Not coming from a particularly musical family, their parents didn't exactly "rise to the occasion" in Greg's words. "They didn't really know anything about the music business... and neither did we!" But this business naiveté didn't stop them signing a publishing contract for their first tentative career step as a duo.

"We were recording demos with our manager, who used to own a studio" says Greg. "We used to pay for the sessions out of our own money, but eventually he said, 'don't worry about paying, I like what you do and I can get you a publishing contract'. So he did! We signed the contract and Pat and I were on about £50 a week for 18 months. This was before we got a recording contract. Our mum and dad weren't too impressed. The worst time for Hue and Cry was that time between signing a publishing contract and getting a record deal... just trying to keep our spirits up."

With childhood influences like Duke Ellington and Count Basie, it might seem unlikely that the young piano and vocal duo managed to make any impact at all in the faddish pop world. But one thing they've always managed to do is make a selling point out of whatever circumstances they find themselves in. "We only played as a duo 'cos we didn't have any money back in those days" Greg admits. "But it was well planned by our manager. Rather than stick us on stage on our own, he'd book us in the middle of a multi-band lineup, with four or five bands trying to thrash it out. With Pat and I stuck right in the middle, the crowd loved it — it was like a breather. So that's how we got the attention."

After about twelve months gigging they recorded a latin dance track called 'Here Comes Everybody' which Circa Records heard, and Hue and Cry secured themselves a record contract. Simple eh?

"Well, it was just as well" admits Greg, "because it was about to fall on it's arse at that point!"

But don't let anyone tell you getting a record contract is "success" - it was then that the hard work began. The band recorded 'I Refuse', their first single for Circa in London with London session men.

"It cost a lot of money and it was just a nightmare. Pat and I were not in control whatsoever and it turned out horrible, not how we envisaged the single at all."

Greg grimaces as he recalls times which he obviously doesn't hold too fondly. But through a few record company connections, Hue and Cry ended up recording on Broadway with the cream of America's session musicians. Harvey Jay Goldberg, who was Island Records' in-house remix specialist was called in to try and salvage something from the 'I Refuse' sessions. When Goldberg and the Kane brothers eventually met, the American producer suggested the duo come to New York to work with himself and James Biondolillo, a horns and strings specialist who'd worked with other not so young hopefuls like Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand. With the backing tracks for the first album having been recorded in Glasgow, Hue and Cry headed for the Big Apple with wide eyes.

"We were just in awe of New York from beginning to end" admits Greg. "I was there for a month and a half and I did feel quite intimidated. I was only 19 years old!"



INFLUENCES: "As a keyboard player, Stevie Wonder, 'cos he's the king. Rhythmically, he's way out. He sits at the Rhodes and plays the song, no other instruments. Then he adds the drums, bass, everything — and it's all locked in. Stevie Wonder's just phenomenal."


Too much, too soon? It probably was. But there was worse to come. 'Seduced and Abandoned', the duo's debut album, went silver in a week, due largely to the success of their summer '87 single 'Labour of Love'. The single's sales introduced Greg and Pat to the delights of the pop world in a big way. The problems they encountered were accentuated by the fact that the people around the band were equally inexperienced of the big time.

"The whole thing about the feuding brothers was just a result of being in a situation we didn't know how to handle. The record company didn't know how to handle it — because Circa was only five months old then. Our manager didn't know how to handle it — he was just one of our mates, he wasn't a big cigar-smoking London manager, so all of us had to just muscle in as best we could. Schedules got tighter and tighter, and our tempers got shorter and shorter. It was a natural reaction — it's very uncomfortable to be on 50 quid a week, and be at number six in the charts. It's like 'where's the limos, where's the big hotels??' We were staying in horrible hotels in London and being on 'Top of the Pops' three weeks in a row. It was a very strange situation to be in.

"And we made so many compromises — spoke to people we shouldn't have spoken to, did things we shouldn't have done. On these kiddies TV shows they say 'Can you juggle Pat, can you juggle Greg?' and you just think 'I'll juggle you mate! The reason you've asked me on this show is because of my music. Ask me about my music'."

So were they disappointed with these undesirable trappings of success?

"We did it all to begin with because we thought that's what you had to do. But we soon found out it's just horrible, and the worst position to be in. We did some of these big business lunches, Pat and I doing just piano and vocals and feeling completely uncomfortable, but we got shoved into it by the record company to promote the band. After the success of 'Labour of Love' we just said, 'No way, we're not doing this anymore, no more Smash Hits, no more No.1.'"

This sort of attitude didn't make a lot of sense to their record company. With just one hit under their belts, there was a danger that the public would toss Hue and Cry onto the slagheap of white soul along with the Blow Monkeys and Go West. Both 'Strength to Strength' and the remake of 'I Refuse' peaked at 41 — the band could've done with the extra publicity. But they said no to Wac-a-day and the rest, and they meant no. So the record company told them to go and write an album that would form an image that was more grown up.


The pressure on Greg and Pat was daunting, but they managed to turn it in their favour, as Greg explains.

"At this point the media were ruining our lives. Parents, friends and relations were getting bugged by the papers, so we told them we'd split up."

With claims that brotherly love was not high on the Hue and Cry agenda previously getting substantial column inches, it was a story the papers swallowed. But rather than tearing each other's throats out, Greg and Pat were hard at work on Remote in the studio. Greg admits that they matured a lot in this time, and although Seduced and Abandoned is an accomplished debut, it's eclipsed by the cool confidence of Remote.

"You never know what your first album's going to be like, or how you're going to go about it. Pat and I wrote some of the songs when we were 14, so it's a bit... you know! First albums are always a diary of the previous five years, and as an initial statement we were very pleased."

That's hardly surprising seeing that it went silver in the week of release. But when it came to two young lads working on such a big production, their youthful enthusiasm got the better of them.

"To use a metaphor, we had all the musical 'tools' we wanted on the first album, but we didn't know how to use any of them. On Remote we hired the best musicians in the world. We still had the same musical tools but we weren't as selfish about the musical input. We wrote all the songs, but we'd rather sit back and watch these incredible musicians play them. That's why it sounds a bit more confident."

Remote is a great leap forward for the band. The album features the talents of some of the most respected names of the New York Scene, from the keyboards of Barry Eastmond (producer for Billy Ocean and Freddie Jackson) to the horns of Michael and Randy Brecker. It must have been a great luxury to be able to work with such people.

"Well, we afforded that luxury", asserts Greg. "Producing the band paid for itself and although 'Labour of Love' didn't make us a lot of money, what we did make we kept. We were very sensible in what we did. I'm still on £50 a week" he jokes... I think.

"Pat and I get completely self indulgent in the studio. We needed a latin horn section, so we hired the biggest and the best. We needed a percussionist so we hired Tito Puente, who's a legend in South America. But it became a great promotion angle for the record — you know, 'if you want to hear some of the world's greatest musicians playing with these two young guys from Scotland, then listen to Hue and Cry'."



ACID HOUSE MUSIC: "Have you ever been to the Hacienda in Manchester? Oh Jesus, that bass drum! Every song is exactly the same — but I don't suppose it matters if you're stoned out of your mind. We do a good acid jam at rehearsals though, if we get bored. We just take the piss out of it. Stupid, stupid music."


All this self-indulgence doesn't come cheap though. One 'jazz legend' (who shall remain nameless) was offered $1200 to do one solo. He didn't like the song, so he would only do it for $1600. And taking a full band on the road is costing Hue and Cry a fortune.

"If I knew I was going to end up with an eleven piece band I would have recorded 'Remote' on just piano and vocals" says Greg. "This tour is costing £150,000 for just sixteen nights!"

But with technology now offering a cheaper alternative to full-blown horn and percussion sections, have Hue and Cry always invested in 'real' bands?

"When we came back from America after the first album, we did three gigs with tapes and samplers. I spent a whole week programming the things — sampling, looping, the whole bit. When we finally got it together the band were so staid, so half-hearted. Everyone's major concern was just to play in time with these bloody machines! It was just me and Pat, guitar, bass and drums but it lost so much life. We told the record company we wanted a band and they said, 'It's your money, all we are is a bank. If you think you can make the money back, then go with a band'."

After playing with the world's best session men, the problem was then to find somebody who could step into their shoes in a live situation.

"We didn't want some 40 year old session man who'd be travelling in separate cars and be completely out of touch with what we do. The only other person who could handle all these horn charts was Tommy Smith."

Ah, Tommy Smith. If you're a fan of the British jazz scene, you'll be familiar with its rising young star. After a TV documentary focussing on the young saxophonist, the people of the Scottish town where he lived saved up enough money to send him to study at Berkeley in America. When Gary Burton heard him he asked Tommy to join his band at the tender age of 18. Now, he is leading the Hue and Cry horn section. Greg takes up the story.

"When we first approached him he was a bit funny about it, because he's a real jazz purist. At first he was very uncomfortable with the pop style. I think record company pressure had a lot to do with it. EMI saw the success of Courtney Pine and they thought 'Tommy! Get on that Hue and Cry tour!"'

Live, Tommy certainly proves his worth. Hue and Cry's three piece horn section drive the band along as no sampler could ever do, and the whole performance is a glittering display of musicianship. But Greg seems keen not to push the "muso" angle too far.

"A bad song's a bad song if a good band play it, and a good song's a good song if a bad band play it. The songs make the album, not the playing. Pat and I are writing stronger material for the third album than we did for Remote. So no matter how the songs are portrayed, whether it's through an Irish folk band, or a Memphis country band, which is what we're thinking of for the next album, the songs are the important factor. They'd still work with just me and Pat on piano and vocals."

Indeed they do. And the live set also includes a show-stopping duet version of Kate Bush's 'The Man With The Child In His Eyes.' Greg reveals that he and Pat still like to perform as a duet, getting away from more elaborate stage productions.

"Sometimes in Glasgow, we'll just turn up at this little cafe near the studios and ask if we can play. People recognise us and get on the blower to get all their mates down. But it's important to get that reaction at grass-roots level."

Although their tours involve them playing to increasingly larger audiences, Greg doesn't see touring as too remote an experience.

"When you make a record and it sells 200,000 copies in a month you think, 'great, people like me'. But you don't actually see people enjoying themselves, you just see them paying their seven quid. When you play the songs live you get that immediate reaction. It's an incredible experience — to play something you've created to someone who's obviously familiar with it, and to watch their changing moods. It's a form of communication that's always intrigued me, that I can 'talk' to someone on the other side of the world, and although I'll never meet them, I'll have come into their lives in a certain way that may actually change their lives."

Having shied away from the young teenybopper market that they were initially identified with, is it true that they might now be aiming for a particular audience?

"Oh no, we don't know who's listening to Hue and Cry", he says. "As long as they're ordinary angels and daily genuises... to coin a phrase. As long as they've got a bit of 'suss', and they're not coming to pose or to scream. It depends what you're in it for I suppose, but I think if you're in this business to be screamed at, you won't last very long. Nobody will scream forever — they grow up."



IMPROVISATION: "It's a romantic ideal to think you can just jam onstage. We've got eleven people and they don't all think the same. We rarely deviate from arrangements unless someone has a brainwave... Then there are lots of panic-stricken faces!"


Singer Pat Kane has been known to stop gigs in the past because of excess screaming from some of the band's fans. But Pat does have an image of being overly serious, if the tabloids are to be believed — a man finding it difficult to reconcile his radical politics with his celebrity status. Whether that's true or not, he doesn't have any difficulty in explaining his views on the position of politics in pop music.

"The politics of Hue and Cry are summed up by the meaning of the phrase 'hue and cry' - to make a popular noise and stir a popular emotion. One uses popular forms of music to do that as we like to communicate with people rather than embarrass or intimidate."

"And more people get to hear your message if it's music like ours" argues Greg.

"It's summed up in the relationship between the mainstream and the avant-garde", continues Pat. "I happen to think that common run experience is far more worthy to play to than marginal experience, which is what the avant-garde do. Feelings of continuity, dull feelings of hope and aspiration are far better emotions to appeal to than emotions of complete domination and complete subjection. So I have no problem in using these lyrics over music which is in itself consensual, accessible and well-structured. The politics of pop are the politics of daily experience. That's why I have so many story songs. It's more description of a situation rather than prescription for an ideal situation."

One of Pat's story songs, though certainly not political, was the one which reaffirmed their position - 'Looking for Linda'. While it was always intended to be released as single, Greg seems disappointed with their previous chart performances.

"I was really disappointed when 'Ordinary Angel' didn't chart," says Greg. "It got to 41."

That number again! This is something Hue and Cry seem quite adept at.

"Oh, don't talk to me about that. Every record of ours that hasn't been a hit has got to 41. It's caused so much heartache, so many sleepless nights, so many fights with my girlfriend — for me being all tense and nervous about these records."

This ambition to consistently dent the singles chart is a sign that the Kane brothers feel more at ease with their role as "pop stars". Now, they're not even averse to the occasional appearance on Wogan. They've made enough mistakes in the past to know their limitations, and to know when to say no.

"The best way to learn in the music industry, unfortunately, is by your mistakes. It's really horrible when they happen, but you've got to be taught the lesson. Now, I'm in complete control of what I do, but it's taken me three years to get this far.

"To begin with, the media slagged us off as teenyboppers who were in it just to become stars. When we didn't make it, in our second year, they called us prima donnas, and now we're painted as Misters 'easy to please', you know, 'we'll please you, we'll do what you want.' But we just looked at each other and said 'this should be fun. We're getting too precious, too soon. Let's get our bit of fame and then decide what to do'. You do need power to succeed in this business — not business power, but power in terms of popularity and credibility. So follow your own instincts, and if it falls on it's arse, then you know you've got it wrong."

It might be obvious but with the brothers going from strength to strength, it's clearly a lesson Patrick and Gregory Kane have learned. And people appreciate that.


More with this artist



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Choosing And Using

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Sequence Of Events


Publisher: Phaze 1 - Phaze 1 Publishing

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Phaze 1 - Jul 1989

Artist:

Hue & Cry


Role:

Band/Group

Interview by Michael Leonard

Previous article in this issue:

> Choosing And Using

Next article in this issue:

> Sequence Of Events


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