Some artists in the 1980s pop firmament (Paul Weller, Everything but the Girl, Simply Red) got away with marrying ‘aspirational’ music with supposed ‘socialist’ principles.
But Hue and Cry (brothers Pat and Tom Hanks-lookalike Greg Kane) had a tougher time. After their first two years of hits (‘Labour Of Love’, ‘Looking For Linda’, ‘Violently’), somehow their marriage of Sinatra-meets-Steely music and ‘political’ lyrics started to seriously wind people up in the age of grunge and Britpop.
Their 1988 album Remote (featuring an astonishing lineup of guest players including Michael Brecker, Tito Puente, Roy Ayers and Ron Carter) is certainly a desert-island disc but, by their third collection, 1991’s low-key Stars Crash Down, the momentum had been lost, typified by a famous hatchet job in Q magazine’s 100th edition begging them to split up (‘Britain’s Most Hated Band’!) – though it’s oft forgotten that the Melody Maker, NME, Sounds and Smash Hits quite liked them during their pop peak.
Since then, Radio 1’s loss has been Radio 2’s gain. The brothers Kane have ploughed on, recording the occasional album, generally eschewing the 1980s ‘nostalgia’ tours in favour of regular, relatively low-key live work. The duo format seems to be suit them very well – see 1989’s excellent Bitter Suite – and it’s been their preferred modus operandi over the last 20 years or so.
This Pizza Express gig was your correspondent’s first time seeing them live for 35 years, and anticipation was quite high, though I don’t exactly have happy memories of their 4 December 1989 gig at Hammersmith Odeon complete with ‘wacky’ horn section and less-than-stellar musicianship.
It’s not enough for 1980s acts to just play live now – the audience wants stories, and these boys have some good ones. But first Pat – in excellent voice throughout – laid down the gig’s house rules: 1. Things will only progress at a stately pace. 2. If you DON’T film our best songs and post them on twitter, you’re out.
Pat revealed that two of their early singles were written as a result of ‘being educated by a triumvirate of feminists at Glasgow University from 1981 to 1984’: indeed ‘I Refuse’ and ‘Violently’ were revelatory here. ‘Looking For Linda’, meanwhile, concerning a ‘Northern powerhouse’ who has never revealed herself to the Kane brothers since the song’s success, was a winner but missed a few neat chord changes/modulations from the original.
Their penchant for winding people up – gleefully acknowledged by Pat – emerged with new song ‘Everybody Deserves To Be Loved’ which sounded like The Blue Nile doing EDM, and there were less than essential covers of ‘Black And Gold’ and ‘Take Me To Church’.
But their best songs were harmonically-interesting, subtle explorations of adult relationships. Comparisons with Bacharach and David’s work wouldn’t be out of order. ‘Long Term Lovers Of Pain’, the ‘comeback’ single from Stars Crash Down, might just have been a Deacon Blue-style hit, but their luck had run out by then.
‘Just Say You Love Me (You Don’t Have To Mean It)’ and ‘Pocketful of Stones’ sounded every inch like modern standards, while excellent new song ‘Heading For A Fall’ borrowed verses from ‘The Message’ and ‘Inner City Blues’ – ‘three for one!’ trumpeted Pat.
The Kane brothers ended with a medley of ‘Shipbuilding’ and ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’, showcasing Pat’s rich, expressive voice to great effect. While Hue and Cry’s catalogue is unlikely to reach the critical heights of those songs’ classic status, this enjoyable gig shone a light on some underrated gems well worth discovering/rediscovering. There’s life in the duo yet.