Sunday, June 28, 2009

Hue & Cry's Labour Of Love Pays Off

A few years back, a whole spate of various artist compilation style music DVDs hit the market, courtesy of the Disky label. As far as I can tell, Disky Comm. were based in the Netherlands, but the song selection on most of the DVDs featured mainly British hits. Aside from being very reasonably priced, the series of DVDs caught my eye at the time because I’d developed a keen interest in tracking down as many classic popular music videos as possible. The volume, ‘Best of New Wave’, didn’t exactly adhere strictly to the spirit of ‘new wave’ artists, but was pretty close to the mark with the likes of Adam Ant, Duran Duran, XTC, China Crisis, Classic Nouveaux and the like. One artist that arguably falls outside the ‘new wave’ classification, was the Scottish duo Hue & Cry, who put together a string of hits on the U.K. charts during the late 80s/early 90s.

Hue & Cry were part of another ‘wave’ of British talent that emerged during the second half of the 80s. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, there were a number of groups of that era who shared common ground, in terms of their chic high fashion image, slick production values, and a music style infused with an 80s brand of ‘northern soul’. The likes of Johnny Hates Jazz, Living In A Box, The Kane Gang, Blow Monkeys, Swing Out Sister, Go West, When In Rome, the re-invented ABC, Breathe, Danny Wilson, Hipsway (see previous posts), Curiosity Killed The Cat, Wet Wet Wet (see future posts) and The Big Dish (post on Rave & Roll blog - see ultra cool links). All (or most) managed to enjoy varying degrees of success Stateside, with their British brand ‘white soul’, but for Hue & Cry, the U.S. market remained an elusive one, in terms of chart success. Actually another band that emerged from that era, with similar brushstrokes of ‘northern’ soul in their musical palette, who also didn’t crack the U.S. market, were the brilliant Deacon Blue (see previous posts).

Hue & Cry also shared common ground with Deacon Blue (and Wet Wet Wet) in terms of their heritage. All three acts hailed from the musically fertile city of Glasgow. Now, chances are that if you’re not already familiar with the duo of Hue & Cry, that you’re thinking it comprised of two musicians with the surnames of Hue and Cry. A reasonable assumption, and one that I confess I too originally made. But Hue & Cry were in fact brothers, Pat and Greg Kane. Multi-instrumentalist Greg represented the Hue part of the act, whilst vocalist brother Pat was Cry. The Hue & Cry moniker was inspired by the Latin ‘hutesium et clamor’, meaning ‘a horn and shouting, which related to the idea of alerting the public to a criminal act (though I’m uncertain about the Kane brothers fugitive status).

Back in 1983, the brothers’ Kane started writing and performing music together whilst still in their teens. Pat was at University and already taking a keen interest in politics and the media, whilst younger brother Greg, fresh out of high school, had already received training as a classical pianist. One of Greg’s earlier gigs as a professional musician, came via a stint as a saxophonist with the band Valerie and the Week of Wonders, an outfit which also featured guitarist Brian McFie, future lead guitarist with The Big Dish.

Hue & Cry gained their first break during 1986, when the small time Glasgow label, Stampede, released the single ‘Here Comes Everybody’. The song didn’t manage to crack the local charts, but it did attract the attention of a bigger label fish (as opposed to babel fish), in the form of Circa, a subsidiary of Virgin Records. During the same period, Hue & Cry also appeared on a compilation album called ‘Honey at the Core’, compiled by John Williamson (not of the old man emu variety). It was a low budget, cassette only release, that featured many of Scotland’s finest up and coming artists, including Wet Wet Wet, Deacon Blue, The Bluebells, and The Big Dish. Hue & Cry contributed the track ‘Dangerous Wreck’, further solidifying their already growing profile on the Scottish music scene.

The Kane brothers entered the recording studio during the first half of ‘87, and their debut single on the Circa label surfaced soon after, in the form of ‘I Refuse’ (UK#85). Hue & Cry followed this up with a song which would prove the biggest hit of their career. ‘Labour Of Love’ was a funk inflected exemplar of pop brilliance, but beneath its snappy synth-driven funk surface, lurked an acerbically sharp set of politically charged lyrics. The song was written from the perspective of a downtrodden working class stiff, who has realised the falsehood in the Tory mantra of working yourself into the ground for a proud, individualist Britain - a lot of pain for not much gain. The song encompassed the duo’s basic left-wing, anti-Thatcher stance, and served to illustrate the concept behind the name Hue & Cry, which was to let people know they were being politically duped. ‘Labour Of Love’ received a major leg up via a last minute call up for Hue & Cry to appear on the BBC’s ‘Top of the Pops’ (in place of a visa-less Los Lobos). The song was already lurking around the fringes of the British charts, but soon exploded into the top ten mid year (#6). It was also backed by a very clever promotional video - they knew how to make music videos in those days. Hue & Cry explain on their website, that the fusion of smooth sounding pop-soul music with politically charged lyrics felt perfectly natural, and the two needn’t be mutually exclusive. Whilst not as overtly political as the likes of Bob Dylan or Billy Bragg, Hue & Cry still managed to lace their lyrics with intelligent, socially relevant, and politically insightful subject matter. More common ground with the likes of Deacon Blue, in that regard.

Their next single, ‘Strength To Strength’ (UK#46), didn’t exactly live up to its title so far as chart performance goes, but it did serve as another aperitif for Hue & Cry’s debut album, ‘Seduced And Abandoned’, released in November of ‘87. The album was greeted warmly by British fans, with sales pushing it to a peak position of #22 on the charts, early in ‘88. ‘I Refuse’ was re-refused, or at least re-released, during the same period, and second time around worked its way up to #47. In October of ‘88, the single ‘Ordinary Angel’ hit the British charts (#42), by way of lead in to the release of Hue & Cry’s sophomore album ‘Remote’. The duo retained the production services of Harvey Jay Goldberg and James Biondolillo, but their in-studio confidence was growing, and the Kane boys co-produced several tracks. The early ‘89 single, ‘Looking For Linda’, became the second British top twenty hit for Hue & Cry, peaking at #15, and no doubt aiding in sales for the ‘Remote’ album reaching a peak at #10. The album spawned two more hits, with ‘Violently’ (UK#21), and ‘Sweet Invisibility’ (UK#55), keeping the Hue & Cry brand of politi-pop well and truly in the public eye throughout 1989. In true late 80s style, the obligatory ‘remix’ album surfaced in December of ‘89, and ‘The Bitter Suite’ set (UK#47) was later packaged with the ‘Remote’ album as a double album.

Whilst Hue & Cry had been raiding the pop charts, citizen Pat Kane still maintained an active role on the Scottish political scene, and in particular was an outspoken advocate for Scottish political independence (he and Sean Connery would get on famously). In respect of their musical style, the Kane brothers opted to stretch their wings a bit on the next Hue & Cry album. 1991’s ‘Stars Crash Down’ won almost universal acclaim for its seamless melding of a myriad of musical styles, from folk, jazz, Latin, and country, whilst retaining elements of Hue & Cry’s much refined pop-soul fusion. ‘Stars Crash Down’ delivered the duo their second British top ten album (#10), though surprisingly only yielded two minor hits, with ‘My Salt Heart’ (UK#47), and ‘Long Term Lovers’, the latter featured on the EP release ‘Long Term Lovers Of Pain’ (UK#48).

Pat and Greg Kane, then fired up their own record label, Fidelity, via which they released the appropriately titled album ‘Truth And Love’ in August of ‘92. ‘Truth And Love’ gained a berth on the British charts, but unfortunately not in the first class, or even top ten sections (#33). It yielded only one minor hit in ‘Profoundly Yours’ (UK#74), and it appeared that the halcyon days of commercial success were now a thing of the past for Hue & Cry. Their old label Circa gave the duo’s bank balances (as well as their own) a short sharp boost via the April ‘93 release of the compilation ‘Labours Of Love - The Best Of Hue And Cry’ (UK#27). A remixed version of ‘Labour Of Love’ registered Hue & Cry’s last incursion into the British charts (#25), but the Kane brothers were already committed to moving beyond pop parameters with their next project.

In 1994, Hue & Cry collaborated with acclaimed jazz arranger/ composer Richard Niles on the album release ‘Showtime!’. The album, and accompanying single ‘Just Say You Love Me’, may have missed the pop charts, but the Kane brothers had displayed a daring to diversify into new, and for them, exciting areas of musical expression. The title of Hue & Cry’s 1995 album, ‘Piano And Voice’, pretty much defined the musical offering within. In 1996 they signed with the Scottish based jazz label, Linn Records, on a three album deal. For their next project, the Kane brothers enlisted the services of some world class jazz players, who happened to be in town for the 1996 Glasgow Jazz Festival. The resultant album, ‘Jazz Not Jazz’, a brew of pure jazz, watered down with other musical styles. Hue & Cry’s next move came with 1999’s ‘Next Move’ album, which saw the Kane’s push stylistic boundaries to near breaking point, with an audacious blending of ingredients. The album featured a radical ‘bebop’ style reworking of Prince’s ‘Sign ‘O’ The Times’. A financially strapped Linn Records meant a planned third album release remained indefinitely shelved, and now label-less, Pat and Greg Kane took the decision to put Hue & Cry on long term hiatus.

Over the next few years Greg Kane focussed on his first love of studio related work, producing work for other artists, and DJing on the side. Throughout the Hue & Cry years, Pat Kane had maintained an active profile on the political scene, and soon established a career as an arts and political journalist across a range of media. He was one of the founding editors of the Sunday Herald newspaper, and a columnist with The Guardian. In between guest lecturer gigs, freelance writing, and an award nominated series for BBC Radio, Pat Kane found time to write the 2004 book ‘The Play Ethic: A Manifesto for a Different Way of Living’.

But the lure of making music together was ever present, and by 2005 Hue & Cry were back, via an appearance on the television show ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’. They turned in a stellar rendition of ‘Labour Of Love’, but lost out in the final to one Shakin’ Stevens (see recent post). Not to worry, the Kane brothers interest in live performing had been rekindled, and over the next couple of years Hue & Cry started appearing at various festivals. Paul and Greg Kane had accumulated a wealth of new material, and in 2008, Hue & Cry released their first studio album in nearly a decade, with ‘Open Soul’ (UK#130), followed up by a sell out British tour.

For more insight into the career and works of Hue & Cry, check out their official website here:


Walter said...

OMG! Hue and Cry! NO-ONE remembers them. Except me - and now you.
This is the best website ever!

A. FlockOfSeagulls said...

Many thanks for the comment Walter. One of the things I enjoy about writing this blog is rediscovering some of the fine artists of years gone by - it's always great to hear from other people with like appreciation for, in my humble opinion, timeless music.