Monday, September 8, 2008

The Kane Gang Command Respect In Motortown

One of the many vinyl 45 singles I purchased during 1987 was the beautifully crafted soul-pop song ‘Motortown’ by the Kane Gang. The song didn’t do a huge amount of business here in Australia (#87), but received more of the recognition it richly deserved on its U.S. (#36 Hot 100, #12 Adult Contemporary Chart) and UK (#45) releases.

I knew of the Kane Gang from their Australian hit single ‘Respect Yourself’ of a couple of years previous, but didn’t know anything about the band itself. The Kane Gang were a soul styled pop trio hailing from Newcastle, England, taking their name from the title of the legendary Orson Welles’ film ‘Citizen Kane’. The trio comprised Martin Brammer (vocalist/songwriter), Paul Woods (vocals), and David Brewis (multi-instrumentalist/songwriter), and started in earnest during 1982. They initially signed to the indie label Kitchenware (alongside label mates Prefab Sprout - see future post), but after a couple of low key but well received single releases, the Kane Gang were signed up to a deal with London Records during 1984.

Their first single for the label was ‘Small Town Creed’ (UK#60) in 1984 which, though not a major hit, exposed the smooth soulful pop groves of the Kane Gang to a wider audience. It was also adapted into the jingle ‘Ooh Gary Davies…on your radio’ for BBC Radio 1. But it would be their next single that would give the band the biggest U.K. hit of their career. ‘Closest Thing To Heaven’ wasn’t the Kane Gang’s best song in my view, but British record buyers thought otherwise, pushing the song to a peak of #12 in early 1985 (OZ#57). The inspiring soul cover ‘Respect Yourself’ was the next single, reaching #21 in Britain and #19 in Australia in early 1985. It was a cover of the #12 U.S. hit from 1971 by female R&B/soul group The Staple Singers. A couple of years after the Kane Gang’s take, actor Bruce Willis took the great song and managed not to ruin it, well at least sufficiently enough not to prevent it from reaching #5 in the U.S., and the late great Robert Palmer (see future post) recorded his own version in the mid 90s (UK#45).

Both Kane Gang hits were lifted from their debut album ‘The Bad And Lowdown World Of The Kane Gang’ (UK#21/OZ#65), which was released under the title ‘Lowdown’ in the U.S. The album was produced by Pete Wingfield (1975 hit ‘Eighteen With A Bullet’-US#15 and later producer for The Proclaimers - see future post) and yielded one more minor hit in ‘Gun Law’ (UK#53). The Kane Gang also benefited from the sublime backing vocals of P.P. Arnold (1967 UK#18 hit ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’) and the next big voice on the British soul/R&B scene Sam Brown (see previous post).

The group kept a low profile over the next couple of years before re-emerging from the recording studio in August 1987 with their sophomore album ‘Miracle’ (UK#41/OZ#82/US#115). The splendid single ‘Motortown’ hit the charts in late 1987, and was followed by ‘Don’t Look Any Further’ which was remixed to reach #1 on the U.S. Club Play Singles Chart (#64 Hot 100) and #52 on the British charts. ‘Don’t Look Any Further’ had been a minor U.S. hit (#72) in 1984 for singer Dennis Edwards (formerly of The Contours), his version featuring vocals from Siedah Garrett.

For some reason the Kane Gang’s career stalled thereafter, with vocalist Paul Woods departing to pursue a solo career during 1991. Woods and Brewis continued work on a new album, but it joined countless other sets throughout pop history to be consigned to the ‘never saw the light of day’ warehouse (I’m picturing something like those huge secret government run warehouses you used to see on the X-Files).
Martin Brammer continued a very productive career as a songwriter for other artists, including ‘Lifted and ‘Raincloud’ for Lighthouse Family and more recently ‘Undiscovered’ for James Morrison. Both Kane Gang albums were re-released on CD during 2007 by the group’s original label Kitchenware Records.

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