I’d been dining on a mix of punk/rock/metal so when The Tube came kicking and screaming onto our TV sets on 5 November 1982 it opened up a gateway to a world of different sounds – and sights.
Broadcast from Newcastle, I was lucky to get audience tickets for the live music show and a band who appeared a few times were The Kane Gang, who in 1984 released three classic singles. I got in touch with Dave Brewis from the Gang who remembers those times.
We played live on The Tube a number of times, four I think. But the music video for Respect Yourself was filmed partly on the River Tyne at Wallsend near Swan Hunter’s, also on Newcastle Quayside during Sunday market and maybe in a room at Kitchenware. I think they did some camera shots on the Metro going over the bridge from Gateshead. I was wearing my Dad’s heavy overcoat that he bought in 1953.
Smalltown Creed was filmed in Seaham Harbour and at the Vane Tempest social club along the road where as 15 year olds we once rehearsed. Some other shots were done in and around Seaham, like on the Avenue and around and about. It was very true to our roots I suppose. Top of the Pops had to wait until our third single Closest Thing to Heaven, which we did twice.
One Tube show included Newcastle based independent label Kitchenware records. The programme featured interviews with Keith Armstrong from the label management team and performances from Hurrah, Martin Stephenson & the Daintees, an earliest known TV appearance from Prefab Sprout and The Kane Gang.
That first Tube thing was filmed in the Barn restaurant in Leazes Park Road. We had nobody managing us until our friends in Prefab Sprout mentioned Keith Armstrong who had already formed Kitchenware Records with some partners. He offered them a record and management arrangement, and originally our two bands were going to work on a label together.
So if Keith liked us we would go along with him, apparently he knew the business on a national level. Kitchenware were also established at promoting gigs that were seen as hip or different, so that was good – eventually he offered to work with us.
When I was three or four I heard a song on the radio called Singing the Blues, possibly Tommy Steele’s UK hit, Guy Mitchell also done a USA version. But that was it for me I wanted a guitar and wanted to play Singing the Blues. My cousin loaned me a plywood guitar, it was taller than me and it made a noise.
Then I heard The Beatles and I wanted a bass like Paul McCartney’s, then when I saw The Who on the telly I wanted to do all that. Then Jimi Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac and so on.
There was a school band that included a lad from Seaham called Martin Brammer who was a really great singer. We were maybe 15 and talked about writing our own stuff. We were serious.
Around the late 70’s early ‘80s I was offered a gig with North East band The Showbiz Kids – going to London to make it. I didn’t know them or why I was asked, so it seemed a crazy idea and definitely not up my street. Plus no way was I going to abandon what we were already doing.
I always hated the idea of going to London, it seemed really old fashioned and rock-ist. Nothing against London, but sharing rooms and having no money to live on was not my idea of being a musician. It seemed to be a rite of passage for a lot of bands who were the music press darlings, so we were against the grain. Plus we held the opinion that the London scene wasn’t what it used to be. It was changing and going through a dull patch.
GANG OF THREE
Maybe we were a generation that didn’t think that playing rock n roll for a pub audience was something with an artistic future. Although I thought we were a great live band, it just wasn’t all about the live thing for us. We wanted to make records, get on radio and in magazines.
After listening to Roxy Music, 10cc, Steely Dan, and Hall & Oates, live work for its own sake was not on the menu. But making a great album was. We figured we could do it if we didn’t compromise. I don’t think we ever doubted we could do it. We worked hard at writing our own songs and trying to be as good at it as the artists we admired.
Over the years Martin Brammer and I wrote together under various names then hooked up with Paul Woods and some other musicians and did some North East gigs. I had been to college in Newcastle and picked up work playing bass for local dance bands – four hour gigs after a full day’s work.
We were always working on our own stuff until 1982 when we became The Kane Gang and played an open air gig on Newcastle’s Town Moor as a three piece with backing tapes.
The Kane Gang didn’t want to tour until we were ready to headline, we didn’t fancy the thankless slog of being a support band, so it was after our first couple of records, just before our first album when we did tour, although we did several local one off headline gigs before that, like Newcastle Tiffany’s.
WELCOME TO THE MACHINE
First experience in a recording studio was fascinating and a little intimidating. When I was 18 I used to rent a couple of hours now and again in Spectro Arts Centre, Newcastle, where they had a synthesiser and a four track machine.
Our first real recording experience as The Kane Gang was in Palladium Studios, Edinburgh. It was run by a musician so very easy to fit in. Everything seemed to have a million different coloured knobs, and looked very complicated but I knew how tracking and overdubs worked from listening to records.
I could pick out different guitar and keyboard lines and figure out harmonies. I had studied arranging too, so that side of it was ok. I knew how to play along with tracks and layer sounds, but I had little idea about shaping the sounds, in those days the engineer did that for you.
We recorded our first single there in a day, three tracks and mixed a week later. These days it’s easy recording on a laptop, and costs nothing. Thirty odd years ago it cost serious money per day and was concentrated work. You had to get it right on the day, no fixing it later. And it had to sound great.
SONGS FOR EVERYONE
Sometimes writing came quickly or was a lot of work. Martin and I wrote and re-wrote Brother to Brother the first Kane Gang single, several times. That was our first proper song that was original to us. Then we found a style to work on and wrote when we could.
Smalltown Creed was a lot quicker but a different kind of thing – more funk and hip hop than anything. One day Martin had a piece of paper that had the words Papa papa, ooh ooh on which I thought was great and took to it immediately. It was unlike anything else.
Closest Thing to Heaven existed as lyrics first, Martin based it on a title suggested by Paul. We were trying to write a different song one night when we came upon a musical idea that worked for that lyric. It fitted really quickly and we had the basics of a song in an evening. It was developed and finished off over a few other sessions.
But the song in recognisable form took under an hour – we were certainly in the pub for 9.30pm. I know you don’t get awards for writing a song in half an hour but it would be great if you did. I thought it was a cracking record.
Having said that the more you write the smoother the process, but most songs took quite a few sessions and quite a bit of homework and fine tuning to get them to a state where we were happy.
Kitchenware manager Keith Armstrong asked if we could re-mix Brother, Brother and the label would release it as an indie single. We did and Keith got us a singles deal with London Records.
The record went from a local pressing of 1,000 copies to major national distribution within a couple of months. That led to more songs being recorded and after a couple of hits our first album was planned, which seemed hard to get organised with London Records.
It seemed a no brainer to us, we already had two hits and six more songs recorded, and there was only a few more tracks to finish the album. The album was almost ready for November 1984 but was delayed, and the planned release was April ‘85 as there’s always a three month build up for reviews, interviews etc.
But seeing the finished thing was really nice, I think I popped into every shop I knew to see it in the racks or a poster on the wall advertising it. Yeah very satisfying after years of imagining to see it there.
By now we had London Records promo team, what an incredible and nice bunch they were. The promotion was all over Europe and we always seemed to be going to a TV studio or a radio interview. We did TV shows for Brother, Brother and on Channel 4 which seemed amazing. Then on the second single Smalltown Creed, we did lunchtime BBC1 shows and more Channel 4 and got lots of radio plays.
We made a video for most singles and filmed a couple in the United States where we also done a Top of the Pops version, and Soul Train. Looking back it happened pretty fast – it was surreal at times.
As our single Respect Yourself was going up the charts we almost didn’t make the first gig of our premier UK tour in 1984. It was all planned for Edinburgh on Friday then Glasgow on Saturday – what could go wrong ?
We were booked on BBC1 TV show Crackerjack live with presenter Stu Francis, other guests were Keith Harris and his duck Orville. After we played the production team let us out early. The limo raced down to Heathrow because we were late – then the Friday rush hour ground to a halt as the airport was fogbound – great.
Eventually we got there and after jumping the queue we got on our flight which was a Tristar plane which luckily could take off in fog. We arrived in Edinburgh and went for a taxi but there were dozens of people ahead of us. Thing was the show had a curfew where you had to be on and off at a certain time and that was 30 minutes from where we were – and about 5 miles.
Next in line for a taxi was Billy McKenzie of The Associates and he heard our distress as we were offering anyone with a car £50 to get us to the show. Kindly he gave us his cab and we arrived exactly the time we were due on stage. We ran on still in our coats and started playing. I can’t remember the show – I think I was toast by then.
A week later it happened again at a Top of the Pops live appearance, we had to be in Sheffield the same night. Seven of us in a car screaming up the M1. 5 minutes to spare.
Now I’m recording some tracks with Paul Woods as Autoleisureland, a new project we hope to get out there soon. We haven’t worked together much, it was around 2018 when we met up and talked about recording and writing together again. Prior to that I was lecturing on a degree course at Gateshead College, and doing sessions and theatre shows, plus buying and selling guitars.
I’ve also made an instrumental album and two other Leisureland albums with Dean Newsome. I played bass for the lovely Ben E. King on his very last UK tour – that kickstarted me into wanting to write and record again.
Interview by Gary Alikivi June 2021.