The Kane Gang

TrackAlbum / Single
Brother BrotherKitchenware Records SKK 5
Small Town CreedThe Bad And Lowdown World Of …
Respect Yourself The Bad And Lowdown World Of …
Take This TrainThe Bad And Lowdown World Of …
How Much LongerThe Bad And Lowdown World Of …
Closest Thing To HeavenThe Bad And Lowdown World Of …
Gun Law Live At Strathclyde University 17/11/84
What Time Is It?Miracle
King Street RainMiracle

The Kane Gang photo 1
The Kane Gang l-r: Paul Woods, Martin Brammer, Dave Brewis – Capitol Records press photo by Chris Cuffaro 1987




Kane Gang playlist



Contributor: Dave Ross

Twitter can be a force for good if you curate it carefully, find like-minded souls and keep away from those subjects. At least that’s what I’ve found and so it proved again when, after seeing a tweet from The Kane Gang celebrating 40 years since the release of Small Town Creed, I idly suggested that I would make The Kane Gang my next Toppermost. I tagged singer, songwriter, hat wearer Martin Brammer with the thought that he might like to contribute. To my delight and surprise Martin responded that he’d be happy to and we arranged to chat over the phone. We spent over an hour discussing everything from his early years in Seaham through to writing songs for the likes of Tina Turner. Along the way we discussed a joint Kane Gang top ten. It was fascinating and illuminating and I’d love to share it all with you.

Unfortunately, my call recorder recorded but played back only silence. Therefore, the following is selected highlights from my hastily scribbled notes along with Martin helping me fill in the gaps later for which I am incredibly grateful. Post interview I bemoaned my stupidity and amateur efforts back on Twitter. Martin, ever the gentleman, was at pains to point out that Orson Welles (all-round genius whose Citizen Kane was the inspiration for the band’s name) had thoughts on professional vs amateur. Thank you, Martin. I’m getting this on my headstone …


The Kane Gang released two albums in the 80s; a third completed album featuring Martin and Dave Brewis was never released. More on that later. They are one of those bands that always draw a positive response. However, their critical acclaim always seemed to exceed their commercial success. I loved them then and The Bad And Lowdown World Of The Kang Gang from 1985, and 1987’s follow up Miracle, have remained constants in my life for 40 years. I’ve recently become aware of a live album recorded at Strathclyde University in 1984 which showcases The Kane Gang in all their raw glory. A thrilling mix of old school soul, funk and 80s pop with a message. Very much in that Style Council, Blow Monkeys mould with voices to die for. Of course I’m a fan.

I started by asking Martin to tell me a bit about his early life.

“I was born in Seaham just outside Sunderland. It was a pit town. Dad was a miner, grandad was a miner, his dad was a miner. That’s all there was. The miners’ strike changed everything. As a teenager I was into football and music. I had an older sister and an older brother so I would hear these songs like Purple Haze and bands like The Yardbirds and I guess they had an influence. My Dad was an accordion player but never taught me. I’ve still got it. It all seems too complicated to me.” He laughs.

This all made sense and you can hear all of that in the early Kane Gang songs. Not the accordion, obviously.

I wanted to know how The Kane Gang came to be.

“I met Dave (Brewis) aged 11 at secondary school. Later, we just started writing songs together using two tape recorders. We tried a huge mix of styles: James Taylor, Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan and Marvin Gaye.”

Like a jigsaw puzzle all the pieces started falling into place for me. This is a guy who knows his music and has allowed all these artists, along with his small mining town background, to inform his own songwriting.

Martin explained how he and Dave met Paul Woods as teenagers through mutual friends and started working together more and more as the years went by. Ten years after getting together, and even at one time trying a sound like The Jam, they finally had that ‘this is us’ moment when they came up with their first single Brother Brother which was also Martin’s first choice for this list. Talking to Martin, I could tell it was a real breakthrough for the band in terms of what they wanted to achieve. This Melody Maker article from 28th April 1984 explains exactly what it meant to Martin at the time. Asked if they’re going to make a record for the miner’s struggle, Martin explained:

“All we try and do is to see basic things, get right down to the gut feeling. It’s the same with Tony Benn – he gets right down to the basic human emotion. Is it right or wrong? So we write things like Brother Brother. You know, ‘let’s get together for a life worth living’. People say that’s a woolly statement but Christ it’s true y’know!”

The Kane Gang article 1


Early on in our chat Martin told me how his parents had instilled a ‘no religion’ ethos in him from a young age. Just one look at the news today would tell you the relevance of that belief and how the song Brother Brother is perhaps more prescient now than 40 odd years ago.

The build up to the release of Brother Brother and their big break began following a visit to Durham Dome Festival in 1980 where the fledgling band witnessed another new band from the North East, Prefab Sprout. Martin enthused about them:

“They blew us away. Anyone who knew even the slightest thing about music could see that they had it. They already had songs like Faron Young and they were just so talented.” Following that gig things moved on and everything came together.

“There was about a year of going to Sprout gigs and becoming close friends. We were hanging out and planning Candle, our own label. Prefab Sprout’s debut single Lions In My Own Garden was recorded and released in ˈ82 leading to Sprouts hitching to Kitchenware, leading to The Kane Gang following them. We recorded Brother Brother early in ˈ83 with Kitchenware leading to a deal with London Records prior to release in August ˈ83”.

It’s a great story and another example of how bands needed a break, a connection and a bit of luck in a world prior to social media.

Martin’s second choice was Small Town Creed and I asked if we could address the Gary Davies sized elephant in the room.

“As was normal for bands at the time we were invited to Radio 1 to record a selection of indents. We did about eight versions. Ooh David Jensen, ooh Richard Skinner. You know, the DJs who’d championed us. We were just packing up when the producer asked if we could do Gary Davies. We were like, Gary Davies? Anyway, we did it and off we went and that was the one that took off.”

The fact it’s still being used 40 years later says something. Small Town Creed is such a tune. A six and a half minute funk, soul, pop masterpiece. Are they rapping? The Sugar Kane Gang perhaps?

Before we moved on, I asked Martin if we could include a cover version. I’m so glad I did. He went for Respect Yourself, originally by the Staples Singers. He explained:

“We were working with people who’d also worked with Sade and Grace Jones. We had PP Arnold doing backing vocals on Respect Yourself. It was only years later that a friend told me about this article in Blues & Soul magazine where Mavis Staples name checked us and said how much she liked our version of her song.”

The Kane Gang article 2


Critical acclaim and recognition from peers and heroes. Not bad for three lads from the North East. Years later, while recording in New York with Dave Brewis for the third album, in a moment of serendipity Martin was talking to backing singer Vaneese Thomas about the story when she told him Mavis Staples was her godmother. As she’s the daughter of Sun Records and Stax legend Rufus Thomas it is a highly plausible claim.

As our chat turned to live shows, including the show at Strathclyde University, Martin reminded me that he had a Billy Mackenzie story. Of course I had to hear it.

“Billy was at the Strathclyde gig. It was the first time we got to meet him. Such a lovely man. Our paths crossed a few times. One time we had to get from London to Edinburgh for a gig but there was terrible snow. We’d been doing Crackerjack in London so it was a Friday. Keith Harris was there and he’s the only showbiz type I ever saw who became less showbiz to perform. He arrived in leather trousers and changed into regular clothes for Crackerjack. Anyway, we finished and our flight to Edinburgh was cancelled. We managed to get a flight into Glasgow and like everyone else we were trying to get on to Edinburgh by road. As luck would have it Billy was in the front of the taxi queue and recognised us. He let us take his cab as he realised our need was greater than his. A wonderful man. He came to one of our gigs in Glasgow another time. Such a loss.”

Martin Brammer meets Billy Mackenzie. Can you imagine the sound those two voices could have created together? As an aside, Martin dropped into our conversation that he still plays football, as do I (we’re almost friends). He then went on to tell me that in the late 90s to early 2000s he regularly played football with another of my musical heroes Mark Hollis as well as Martin Fry and Richard Drummie. Martin told me:

“Mark was very quiet and kept himself to himself. I didn’t realise it was him at first.”

A cab from Billy Mackenzie and football with Mark Hollis – now we’re into dreamland fantasy supergroup territory. Back to the top ten …

Martin’s final choice was Motortown from the second album Miracle. It’s a song I’ve always loved. It has that open road driving feel captured by Tears For Fears on Everybody Wants To Rule The World.

“It was our biggest song in the US, making the top 30. I wanted it to sound like Steely Dan. Simon Potts, who had originally signed Simply Red in the UK, was from Gateshead and had contacted us before signing to London Records. He was now head of A&R for Capitol Records in LA so the second album Miracle was signed with Capitol Records in the US.”

We then went through my choices …

Take This Train from The Bad And Lowdown World is like a lost soul classic. I think I embarrassed Martin here by eulogising about his voice but honestly on this song it is extraordinary.

Closest Thing To Heaven was described by someone on Twitter as the greatest song of the 80s after I posted the live version from The Tube. It’s a big shout but if anyone can explain why it stuck at number 12 on the charts, I’d be grateful.

How Much Longer is, lyrically, typically 80s in its anti-Thatcher sentiment. The sort of thing you’d absolutely expect from sons of miners. Less so, the fantastic Nile Rodgers and Chic guitar that pulses all the way through. Some song this.

Next, I chose the live version of Gun Law from the Strathclyde gig. It absolutely kicks and showcases what an incredible live act they were. I’m so grateful that the album is available and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

I had to have What Time Is It? from Miracle. It holds some very personal memories for me as well as being a brilliant song. I love the Jam and Lewis style production. It’s heartbreakingly beautiful.

I think we’ve lost somethin’
Yeah, we’ve lost our nerve
How can we believe
Second best is all that we deserved?

(What time is it?)
It’s not too late, too late, to put things right
(What time is it?) Whoa-whoa
If we lift up our heads, we will surely see the light

The final choice is King Street Rain. This made Martin chuckle as he remembered how the song came into being:

“Ah the King Street Social Club. I was driving past one night and there it was in the rain and I knew it would make a great song.”

I love this. It shows an ability to pick a song from the mundanity of day-to-day life and create something really special. It’s lyrical art, painting a perfect picture of what Martin saw that night.

This is the deep end
Holding the water still
Sometimes its feeling hits me
We can’t reach heaven from here
Good luck is just passing through
On the way to somewhere else
It’s me and you with
Nothing to do but
Count the rain drops
King street rain keep falling down
King street rain
Washes nothing away


Conscious of time, I wanted to ensure I got to ask Martin about his post Kane Gang life. Back to Twitter again and I’d become aware of Martin’s later songwriting career thanks to this exchange with Pete Paphides. I think Pete nails it. As usual.

The Kane Gang twitter

So I had to ask.

“Through contacts I was asked if I’d like to write for a Newcastle band. As a songwriter you’re always looking for new ways to write something. Lifted came to me as another way of saying take you higher, everything can be better and it just came from there.”

I’m happy to say I’ve always loved the song and never fully understood some of the anti-Lighthouse Family rhetoric. Martin confessed it’s not his favourite song but …

“It was the first song of a new publishing deal. The old deal would have earned my old publisher a lot of money. This deal was much more in my favour.”

I’ve searched out some more of Martin’s songwriting credits and I was fascinated by Time Bomb from the 1991 album What Comes Naturally. How did you end up writing for Sheena Easton? You and Prince …

“Ha ha. One degree of separation. This was actually my first song for another artist. It’s a strange feeling not knowing how they’ll interpret it. It was a small but important start.”

Along the way there’s been ex-Take That members who needed songwriting help. Stories which will remain between me and Martin unless he chooses to share them one day. There are many, many more songs that Martin has written. One day I’ll do a playlist. It’s been a successful career for Martin. We’d previously discussed Tina Turner and I wanted to know more.

“I wrote the song Open Arms in 2000 with an artist called Colette van Sertima. Four years later the A&R guy Jamie Nelson, who was in charge of choosing songs for the new Tina Turner Greatest Hits collection, remembered the song. Not only was it chosen, it went on to be the title track of the album. It’s even used in the theatre production Tina.”

Such a great story that took another turn when Martin explained:

“I have a friend Alan Jackson who I’ve known since he interviewed us in the 80s. Alan was interviewing Tina and Open Arms came up in conversation. Tina said to him ‘Oh that’s such a great old Al Green song.’ Alan had to tell her, ‘Actually, that was written by a mate of mine from England, Martin Brammer.’ Tina still thought it was a great song.”

I guess at that point Martin would never need his songwriting validated again, if indeed he ever needed to in the first place. One soul legend thinking his song was written by another soul legend.

So as our conversation came to a close, I asked what’s next for Martin Brammer and The Kane Gang?

“I was back in Sunderland last week meeting up with the guys from Field Music. They were doing some gigs with bands from the area and I did get up and do Closest Thing. Yeah, I nailed it (laughs). I won’t be around in another forty years so I’m definitely thinking why not do something to recognise the last forty years. There’s work underway on possible Kane Gang shows at the end of ˈ24 and maybe the start of ˈ25. Hopefully some new material. There is a completed, unreleased third Kane Gang album from the 80s just sitting there. Maybe I should do something with it. It was just me and Dave but, yeah, why not. There’s some stuff on there I’m very proud of.”

Dear reader, I struggled to contain my excitement at this bombshell and I assure you I did all I could to encourage it all. I know how much love there is out there for The Kane Gang and I’m sure new, music, new old music and gigs would be welcomed by many. If I can play just a small part in reigniting people’s interest in The Kane Gang with this top ten/interview, I’ll be very happy.

For the last 40 years Martin Brammer has been that guy from The Kane Gang with that incredible voice and I’ve often wondered what happened next. Now I know. I also know he’s one of the good guys who has fully earned and deserved his success. I thought I’d blown this opportunity but from the depths of finding out my call recorder hadn’t worked to being really happy with the finished piece, I’d like to thank Martin, Orson Welles and The Lighthouse Family.

As I said earlier about Lifted, Pete Paphides nailed it. “It exists merely to make the world feel like a slightly kinder place.”

Feels like a good place to finish.

When it all gets darker then
The whole thing falls apart I guess
It doesn’t really matter ’bout the rain
‘Cause we’ll get through it anyway
We’ll get up and start again

‘Cause we could be lifted …







The Kane Gang photo 2
Cherry Red Records 3CD deluxe edition of this album (2014) features additional material including previously unreleased demos, non-album tracks, remixes and the 1984 gig at Glasgow’s Strathclyde University.


The Kane Gang Facebook

The Kane Gang at Discogs

The Kane Gang Official YouTube Channel

Martin Brammer songwriting credits

The Bad And Lowdown World Of The Kane Gang – Gary Crowley Lost 80s Series (Translucent Green Vinyl)

The Kane Gang biography (AllMusic)

Dave Ross lives near Windsor and hides under his online pseudonym @DaveAmitri to talk mainly about cricket and music. He has written a drama “Jimmy Blue” featuring the music of Del Amitri and has recently published his first book “12 Bowie Albums In 12 Months” based on a series of posts on The Afterword website. Follow him on twitter @DaveAmitri. His other posts for this site are on The Associates, Rick Astley, The Blow Monkeys, The Coral, Justin Currie, Nick Heyward, The Lotus Eaters, Tears for Fears, Then Jerico, Thompson Twins, Wham!.

TopperPost #1,116


  1. David Lewis
    May 24, 2024

    Excellent article. Am very much enjoying the insights from Martin Brammer and the playlist. Yet another band to dig right into.

  2. Carl Parker
    May 26, 2024

    An excellent piece on a band I loved a lot back in the 80s. I never got to see them live, unfortunately.
    Well done on securing Martin’s input.
    My only quibble – how could you leave out Crease In His Hat?

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