There’s been many mentions on this blog about Kitchenware Records, including a guest ICA by David Ashley back in June 2018. I’ve reflected a fair bit on Prefab Sprout and Martin Stephenson & The Daintees, but there hasn’t, until now, been a posting solely on The Kane Gang.
David’s ICA opened with a track by The Kane Gang and he summarised things by saying they were a three piece and much more soul than jangly guitar based, while making the observation that some of their songs hadn’t dated well.
He’s bang on the money with the former in that the trio are one of the few white acts to ever enjoy success on the American Black R&B chart but maybe a tad harsh about the songs dating, notwithstanding there is very much an 80s production style to the fore, as some of their numbers still fit in perfectly nowadays with the music you hear on easy-listening stations such as Smooth Radio.
So….who were the Kane Gang?
They were a trio of lads from the north-east of England, consisting of vocalists Martin Brammer and Paul Woods, plus multi-instrumentalist Dave Brewis. The three had been together from school, originally as The Reptile House and then as The Kings Of Cotton, the latter playing live around the Sunderland area with the aid of backing tapes. They eventually attracted the attention of the 23-year old Keith Armstrong who had not longed founded Kitchenware Records and thought their take on soul and gospel music had commercial potential.
Their debut 7” single, in 1983, was fourth release on Kitchenware (it had the catalogue number SK5 but that was because SK1 had been a video of a live gig featuring none of the band of the label!).
Like all the early Kitchenware releases, it didn’t do very much in terms of sales outside of the north-east but the follow-up, in reaching #60 in May 1984, provided the label with its first taste of chart success, albeit minor:-
It was a song that, in part, celebrated their northern roots and the fact that singers and bands didn’t have to venture to London anymore in order to get music out to the masses. There was an eventual downside to this song in that a Radio 1 DJ, who attracted a large audience to his daily lunchtime shows, felt there was a great jingle to be made out of the chorus and, rather sadly, it is that snippet of music that most folk will recognise rather than any of their songs.
Just two months later, Kitchenware finally hit payola when The Kane Gang took a mournful and soulful ballad, complete with tear-jerking harmonica moments into the Top 20:-
The trio were already at an advanced stage with their debut album but instead of it being released in time for the Christmas market, a decision was taken to delay it until early 1985 and instead to go with a further single in November 1984 around which they undertook a live tour, including a gig at Strathclyde University Students Union that I managed to get along too. The new single, which would peak at #21, was a cover of a song by the Staple Sisters, an American gospel/soul band who had enjoyed commercial success in the last 60s and throughout the 70s:-
I was really excited about the gig at the student union as it had been announced beforehand the trio would be accompanied by a full band, including Donald Johnson from A Certain Ratio on drums. It turned out to be a disappointment and my overwhelming feeling from the night was one of boredom and being underwhelmed. Maybe the expectations were too high and I was anticipating some sort of fast-paced and energetic show from start to end, but for a group who had been in the singles charts for the best part of the previous five months, there felt like there was a lack of conviction or belief in the performance.
Having said that, maybe I was in the minority as it turns out that a recording of the gig was made available many years later as a bonus disc in the 30th anniversary re-issue of their debut album.
The Bad and Lowdown World of The Kane Gang hit the shops in February 1985. It’s a decent enough record but the problem was that it contained only nine songs, of which its three strongest had all been released previously as singles. It did enter the charts at a respectable enough #21 but quickly dropped away, with the accompanying flop single not doing much to help matters:-
mp3 : The Kane Gang – Gun Law
The strange thing about The Kane Gang is that as they drifted further away from view in the UK, they began to make inroads in the USA.
The follow-up album, Miracle, didn’t appear until August 1987, on the back of what had been another single that stalled outside the Top 40:-
The single did go Top 40 on the other side of the ocean and its follow-up, a cover of a single by Dennis Edwards (ex Temptations), took The Kane Gang to the top of the R&B charts:-
Things somewhat stalled after that and the trio called it a day at the beginning of the 90s. Martin Brammer has now forged a career as a songwriter for hire, being responsible for chart hits by the likes of Lighthouse Family, Mark Owen, Rachel Stevens, Tina Turner, James Morrison, Beverley Knight, Ronan Keating and Olly Murs, all of which means he could have a Golden Hour on Smooth Radio devoted entirely to his work. Not that I’d be tuning in…….