Just for a few years at the end of the ‘80s, Hue and Cry bothered the charts with a classy fusion of pop, jazz and Latin.
I recall singer Pat Kane saying at the time that they wanted to create a musical mix of Scritti and Sinatra; they almost pulled it off with the excellent Remote, released in December 1988.
They also pulled off the Steely Dan-ish trick of singing about subjects which might seem unsuitable in a pop context (domestic violence on ‘Looking For Linda’, corporate sexism on ‘Dollar William’, Latin-American poverty on ‘Three Foot Blasts Of Fire’, the dawning of the Web on ‘The Only Thing More Powerful Than The Boss’).
‘Guy On The Wall’ is a witty portrait of a perpetual party wallflower set against a ‘Word Up’ groove and brilliant Salsa horn arrangement.
And yet there was always something about Hue and Cry that seriously wound people up, an almost imperceptible naffness. When they emerged on the scene in 1987, they rode a wave of goodwill thanks to their clean-cut looks, anti-Thatcher politics and dynamic ‘Labour of Love’ single (though that’s surely one of the decade’s worst videos).
But by the time of Remote, the tide was turning. Hue and Cry’s relatively soft, ‘aspirational’ sound was anathema in the bombastic late-’80s. It was too jazz for the yuppies and too pop for the jazz revivalists.
Maybe the fact that they’re brothers never helped too – The Proclaimers were the more acceptable face of Celtic brotherhood, more meat-and-potatoes, more reliably blue-collar. In 1995, Q Magazine wrote a cruel but witty hatchet piece about them entitled Britain’s Most Hated Band, offering them ‘a crisp tenner’ to split up (it didn’t do the trick…).
Whatever. I love this album. Recording Remote in New York gave the Kanes access to some amazing guest musicians – Ron Carter and Michael Brecker play beautifully on the very pretty ‘Where We Wish To Remain’, and Pat’s excellent vocals demonstrate a big Mel Torme influence.
The prime NYC rhythm section of Wayne Braithwate and Dennis Chambers supplies a 24-carat groove on ‘Three Foot Blasts’. ‘Sweet Invisibility’ puts a fantastically exciting Latin horn arrangement right upfront in the mix, beating David Byrne at his own game.
Bassist Will Lee delivers beautifully measured performances on ‘Ordinary Angel’, ‘Dollar William’ and ‘Looking For Linda’, offering a subtle commentary on the songs back in the days when a musical performance was supposed to have some narrative development and couldn’t just be ‘cut and pasted’ together.
It’s quite funny to hear legendary jazz trumpeter Jon Faddis play a stratospheric solo on the otherwise very soppy ‘Violently’. Pat Kane sings well throughout the album, with great phrasing, inventive ad-libs and excellent melodies.
But YouTube live footage from the Remote era hasn’t aged well and demonstrates why they were such a Marmite band, all cheap suits and wacky horn sections. I saw them at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1989 and struggle to remember anything about the gig.
Even they seemed to sense which way the wind was blowing; they disappeared for far too long after Remote, issuing the stripped-down Bitter Suite live EP and disappointingly brittle Stars Crash Down in 1991. The momentum and recording budget had gone.
But Hue And Cry did well to ride the pop bandwagon for a few years and sneak some sparky jazz, Sinatra and Latin licks into the charts. And because in the main they lent towards jazz and Latin rather than funk and soul, they avoided the all-too-audible mistakes of contemporaries like The Blow Monkeys, Style Council, Climie Fisher and Johnny Hates Jazz.