Hue and Cry: Why music's still a labour of love for these Eighties icons
Ahead of the band's Belfast gig next month, Greg Kane of Hue and Cry tells Edwin Gilson about hitting the big time with a song about domestic violence and the reason he always demands a hotel room far away from his brother Pat.
As I wait to speak down the line to Greg Kane, one half of Hue and Cry, I am witness to a touching moment.
Cannily, Hue and Cry’s management company play a recording of one of their client’s live shows as hold music. A song finishes and Greg’s brother Pat, singer of the duo, gratefully accepts the audience’s rapturous applause. Then, with evident pride, he exclaims: “Ladies and gentleman, please give it up for the man on keyboards: my brother Greg.”
It hardly needs to be stated that bands made up of brothers don't always end well. Yet, Scottish brothers Kane have been creating and performing their self-proclaimed 'indie jazz' music for more or less 30 years now (with a short hiatus in the early 2000s), and don't look to be stopping any time soon. Greg playfully goes along with the notion that the best way to maintain peaceful relations with his older sibling, after all this time, is to give him space – and vice versa for Pat.
"The first thing Pat and I do when we check into hotels nowadays is say to the receptionist 'Can you make sure our rooms are as far away from each other's as possible?' We spend an awful lot of time together, and my brother listens to the TV really loud. He also performs vocal warm-ups ridiculously early in the morning. It's not good."
Greg and Pat – who will play an acoustic gig at Belfast's Waterfront Hall on April 15 have another brother, Gary John, who is the touring bassist for The Proclaimers. When he's not playing with that set of Scottish musical siblings he sometimes travels with his own kin. "Three brothers on the road can get a bit much sometimes, depending on how tired we all are," says Greg, "but really we all know how lucky we are to have brothers who share the same passion for music."
Greg's solid relationship with Pat was tested during the recording of Hue and Cry's new album.
The record is a reworking of the duo's brilliant 1988 record Remote, but the Kanes are treating it as a fresh entity. The new package, released on March 17, is entitled Remote: Major to Minor and features the original album alongside the reinvented one. While it's clearly a risk to place new work next to seminal material, thus inviting comparison, Greg is proud of the end product. Getting there, however, was, he says, "one of the hardest things I've ever done."
"When reworking Remote, Pat and I had about four or five false starts," explains Greg, "and we had a huge fight where we scolded the life out of each other. We split up in front of a BBC interviewer, which was slightly uncomfortable.
"Halfway through the process Pat started to think it was too difficult to pull off, but I insisted we had to finish what we'd started. We had to put a shift in, big time. It was very emotional at times and at the end of it all we gave each other a big hug and said 'Right, let's never do that again!'"
When Greg revealed his plans to rework Remote to a psychiatrist friend of his, he was strongly warned against the idea. "He said we were basically unplugging everything in the last 25 years of our lives, or rewinding it almost, and that it was no surprise I was so unhinged! I think we could have been used as a case study for Harvard psychology students."
About six months into the project, Hue and Cry were getting nowhere. Then, "out of pure frustration", Greg tried an "old jazz trick". As a musician with a strong interest in jazz ("Don't get me started on John Coltrane because I'll bore you to death," he warns) Greg knew that by playing a relative major or minor chord, it would be simple to turn a happy song into a sad song, and vice versa. He applied this technique to Looking for Linda, one of the hits of the original Remote, and so the premise of Remote: Major to Minor was born.
Greg insists that "nobody has ever done this before for a whole album," but concedes it might be "disturbing" for die-hard Hue and Cry fans to hear "a song that was once so happy be transformed into something so sad".
This potential disorientation doesn't worry Greg, though; indeed Hue and Cry have never been a band to be governed by the expectations of their followers. Greg seems perpetually surprised at having any fans at all.
"We don't go for the big sell; we never have done," he ponders."In our early days, I was shocked that we had hit records. Pat was leaping about as usual, but I was just thinking: 'God, we've gotten away with that one'."
The big-sellers Greg refers to include Violently, Looking for Linda and the tune that reached number six in the charts in 1987 – Labour of Love.
All of these songs' lyrics tackle issues not often featured within the boundaries of a pop song; emasculation, domestic violence and the right to strike respectively.
"The song that launched us was Labour of Love," says Greg, "and I thought it was a miracle it became a hit given its topic. I didn't think anybody would be into a song about domestic violence either, that's for sure."
The commercial success of Labour of Love allowed Hue and Cry the financial freedom to make second album Remote, and it was that record that "changed our lives completely because of the amount of copies we sold".
However, relative hardship was just around the corner. Hue and Cry were on Circa Records, a small label that was part of the larger Virgin company, until, as Greg puts it: "Richard Branson sold Virgin Records to go off and buy his planes.
The new owners of Virgin obviously didn't like us so we were turfed out," he admits.
Greg says that the commercial popularity of Remote "paid for our homes and lifestyles now," but really the Kanes are not far from where they started, geographically at least. While Pat splits his time between London and Glasgow, Greg and his family are firmly placed in the latter after moving from his birthplace, local suburb Coatbridge, 20 years ago.
"I spent six months living in London which I hated, and rushed home as soon as possible," laughs Greg. He enthuses about Glasgow as a location to raise his 13-month-old daughter, refuting the idea that a city is no place to bring up a child. "Pat has two children that grew up here and they've turned out fine."
Another advantage of living in Glasgow is its Royal Conservatoire, which sees world-class jazz musicians regularly pass through its doors. Naturally, this delights Greg.
"All these great jazz players hang around the bars and the jazz clubs and they're more than happy to help us out; in fact we used a lot of them on the new record. Some musicians are lovely and some are loaded with issues. All of the musicians I know are all over the place."
As for Greg's relationship with his big brother, things are rosy again after that little hiccup.
"Pat's the singer, and he's been singing for 30-odd years, so I feel like I must take care of him," says Greg affectionately.
"We still love each other and we're coming to Ireland to play some gigs, so as far as I'm concerned all is well."
Oh brother ... has it really been 30 years?
* Hue and Cry formed in 1983 in Coatbridge, Scotland
* Their first single, Here Comes Everybody, was released in 1986 and attracted the interest of Virgin Records' subsidiary Circa who signed the duo that same year
* The following year they released their second single, and biggest hit, Labour of Love
* Their career continued throughout the Nineties with 1991 album Stars Crash Down and a brief chart revival in 1993 with the release of compilation album Labours of Love – The Best of Hue and Cry
* The duo made a comeback in 2005 when they won the fourth-week heat of the ITV1 pop-competition show Hit Me Baby One More Time with a cover of Beyoncé's Crazy in Love, only to be beaten in the final by Shakin' Stevens.