Music interview – Hue and Cry: ‘We thought it’s not a problem for a man to bare his soul in public on a record these days

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When it came to deciding which musical direction they wanted Hue and Cry’s most recent studio albums to take, brothers Pat and Greg Kane had a simple method of deciding: the toss of a coin.

“We thoroughly respect each other’s opinion and about five years ago I wanted to do a big ballad record and he wanted to do a hot New Orleans funk record so you either have a schizophrenic record or you toss a coin – and he won the toss,” says singer Pat. Hence the pair made Hot Wire in 2012. Last year they followed it with Pocketful of Stones, a collection of songs inspired by contemporary artists such as James Blake and Hozier making balladeering successful again.

“We thought, ‘Do you know what, it’s not a problem for a man to bare his soul in public on a record these days’. It seemed to be something that could work. That was the context in which we did it as well.”

Pat, now 54, attributes some of the brothers’ early musical influences to their father who “loved the great jazz tradition, singers like Tony Bennett, Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday”.

“But on the other side the first I heard Earth Wind and Fire’s Star or Stevie Wonder’s Don’t You Worry Bout a Thing the hair stood up on my arms. I could remember it as a wee boy. So we are luckily strung between jazz and soul and funk.”

As a measure of the band’s duality, he points to their very first record. “The A-side sounds like Quincy Jones and the B-side sounds like Tom Waits.

I moved to London in 1986 and my first gig was for the NME as a music and media and film reviewer then a year after that we were on the cover of the NME – that was weird.

Pat Kane

“We have a little bit of a test,” he continues. “If a song can survive at a piano and vocal level no matter how you’re arranged it, whether you’ve done it as a funk song or a rock song or as a Latin song, then it’s robust.”

Pocketful of Stones was written against the backdrop of the Scottish independence referendum. Its opening song, It Happened Here, is independence supporter Pat’s reflection on “community and taking control” but he says it seemed to take on new meaning when fans heard it live as the UKy was debating Brexit. “A song can be wise and bigger than the songwriter,” he says. “If you write it well enough it can mean multitudes.”

Pat believes there’s “a lot of humanity” in the album, adding: “We just think everything is grist to the mill of trying to write a great song.”

In the songs The Way She Flies and Let Her Go (which features Pat’s daughter Eleanor) that extends to him sharing his feelings on his children leaving home. “I don’t really care for country music as a sound but I do love new country in particular for the way it can take on adult themes,” says Pat. “I think you have to be careful when you write and sing about family because not everybody has family or can have family. I love the idea of family as a verb rather than a noun, the way you build loving relationships with the people that you live with. The ways in which our emotional and social relationships are formed with people is very important and I think it’s always been a subject I’ve been interested in.”

The Kane brothers might have had their differences over the years but Pat says things have changed significantly in the past decade. “Gregory and I turned to each other and said, ‘What is it that you do?’ Actually the way it’s worked out is him and I have been able to work out the big changes in our lives between us and we keep having small victories. There’s a lot of sibling tension out there and it’s just the way things fall but by luck and by strategy it’s fallen the other way with this record.”

Alongside music in recent years, Pat has had a parallel career in journalism. It was, he points out, something he did before he became a pop star. “I moved to London in 1986 and my first gig was for the NME as a music and media and film reviewer then a year after that we were on the cover of the NME – that was weird.”

“The best thing that was ever done for me, skill-wise, was my mother forcing me to learn touch-typing at the age of 16. It meant I could log myself onto any computer and get on with it very quickly. Writing and singing are just something that I love.”

This month Hue and Cry are on tour with fellow 80s pop star The Christians. Pat says he doesn’t mind nostalgia for the era, believing that having grown up through punk “that environment engendered a lot of pop ambition” in 80s groups. A certain brashness encouraged bands to think they could “get their message across no matter where people were singing and dancing and jumping along”.

In the days before rave, he says, “we were the last individual artists that delivered pop songs whereas music shifted into being anonymous collectively...that’s why songs from that era are so memorable”.

Hue and Cry and The Christians play at Warehouse 23, Wakefield on Friday May 25. www.hueandcry.co.uk