WARREN CANN INTERVIEWED BY JONAS WÅRSTAD (The following is the result of a series of interviews I conducted with Warren Cann via email over the course of several months. Questions have been removed for the sake of narrative flow.)
I answered a 'drummer wanted' advertisement in 'Melody Maker' and sent a very cheeky reply containing a lot of attitude; I had previously had nothing but bad experiences with this forum and had decided that being modest wouldn't get me anywhere! I forgot about it until some weeks later when I ultimately got a phone call from Dennis Leigh (later aka John Foxx). We met and he played me a few of his songs on acoustic guitar. I liked the songs and I liked his lyrics, it seemed promising so I agreed to meet the others.
We became a band when I joined which was in May-ish, 1974. Until then, there was only Dennis, Stevie Shears, and Chris Allen (later aka Christopher St. John, then Chris Cross). They hadn't done any gigs, just the occasional rehearsal in one of the halls at the Royal College of Art where they were storing their equipment. I went there to see them, set up my drums, and we played for awhile, I think they were impressed that I suggested we actually start work on one of their songs, rather than just jamming. John's enthusiasm and Chris' bass playing caught my initial interest and I thought I'd stay for a while and see what, if anything, would happen. After a few weeks of rehearsals it became apparent to me that there was definitely something there worth pursuing.
As a fledgling band with no resources other than our enthusiasm, we were very lucky in one respect - we had a place to rehearse that was conveniently located, available to us most evenings, and free! A friend of Dennis', named Ronnie ( I don't remember his last name, but he was from Scotland), ran a business refurbishing store display manikins and he very kindly didn't mind if we went in after working hours and used the place to rehearse in. It was called 'Modreno' (how apt) and was in a business 'yard' near Kings Cross station, we could make noise without disturbing anyone and it only took five minutes to walk to the trains (we'd have to stop each evening in time for us all to catch the last tube home - none of us was wealthy enough to run a car, otherwise we'd have been at it all night!).
It was quite a scene; us in the midst of all of these bits and pieces of nude female bodies, some with wigs, some bald, some upright, and many just stacked here and there like stray firewood. It was such a sight we had some of our first photos taken there.
We always told our friend that we'd reimburse him "when we made some headway"... when we signed our first record contract we were all very pleased to be able to do just that. I cannot stress how important it was for us to be able to rehearse and write songs undisturbed for three, four, or five nights a week. It gave us our start and we were grateful.
Our very first gig of any kind was in Chorley, Lancs. We needed a warm-up/ice-breaker of some description just before our first official gig which was at the London Marquee supporting the 'Heavy Metal Kids' (week of Aug.24/74). Dennis had a home-town connection, arranged a gig in a local youth club's hall, and a week or so before the Marquee date we drove up there for our first public appearance.
Our second 'proper' gig was shortly afterwards, also at the Marquee, supporting Chris Spedding's band, 'Sharks'.
We did these gigs as a four-piece. Billy Currie was not yet in the band, he didn't join until some months (Oct./Nov.?) later. As a result of these first gigs, we realised that we had a rather more ambitious sound in mind than a single guitar/bass/drums outfit could put out. We started looking for another member and eventually found Bill.
He initially just played the violin in a few songs, we didn't know that he could also play a piano... "You can?! Why didn't you say so!?" Shortly after we found out, we did that 'Ain't Misbehavin' thing so as to get the money for Bill to buy a 'Crummar' electric piano (it did the trick at the time, but what a piece of junk that was!). The whole band used to go through Stevie's 'Selmer' guitar amp.
There was an interview in 'Melody Maker' dated March 1, 1975 (page 24#), where writer Karl Dallas talks about the film and talks to Dennis Leigh. Two weeks later, there was a review in 'Melody Maker' (dated March 15, 1975, page 14#) of the single. It was tipped as being one of the weeks 'HITS' (as opposed to being rated a 'MISS'! ...we didn't have many reviews like that!).
As this was the first published review we ever had, I shall quote it in it's entirety for you:
TIGER LILY : Ain't Misbehavin' (Gull) One of those Temperence Seven-type things that crop up from time to time. The Fats Waller classic deserves more respectful treatment and doesn't lend itself easily to such juvenile behavior, but fact is it's a compulsive song and this becomes more interesting with the addition of a fiddle and a more beaty approach as the song progresses. With the current interest in the film, I have a sneaking suspicion this might stand a chance. Hit.
The line-up was; Dennis Leigh [vocals], Stevie Shears [guitar], Warren Cann [drums], Christopher St. John [bass], Billy Currie [piano, violin].
We had a tentative some-time manager, a friend of mine named John Marshall, who seemed to be the only person about at the time who expressed any faith in us whatsoever and we were content to let him drum up any interest or work that he could. Through his contacts, he discovered the film and talked someone into letting us do something for the soundtrack.
When he told us that it was a movie about "blues greats and vintage porn", it sounded cool enough. We wouldn't have agreed to do it if it was some really boring, straight film. We were surprised, however, when he told us that we'd be covering a Fats Waller song, rather than us just doing our own material.
The 'plus' side to this was that the studio time would be paid for, a record release (though just a one-off) would happen, and (best of all from our point of view) we'd actually be getting paid some cash for it. That consideration overcame our reservations about recording a song that wasn't our own so we said we'd do it. It was only a few hundred pounds but we knew just what we were going to do with the money - buy Billy an electric piano so he wouldn't have to stand around during the majority of our repertoire when he wasn't playing violin.
We worked on our version at Modreno's. It didn't take too long to come up with an arrangement that we were satisfied with, then we worked on polishing up our arrangement of the B-side [Monkey Jive]. We were much more excited at the prospect of recording one of our own songs and seeing it on a record!
I think we recorded it at the famous Olympic Studios. I remember walking in and feeling like I was treading in the hallowed halls where so much great music had been recorded.
I have never seen the movie so I don't know how or where in the film the single is used, or even if it's used in the movie at all! George Melly also recorded the song at that time and I have a suspicion that his was the version that was ultimately used. Still, they paid for it, I'd be surprised if they hadn't used it in the movie somewhere.
The album was from a series called "Front Runners", it's title is, "Rock & Reggae & Derek & Clive". I checked the information from it's advertisement in 'Melody Maker' the week of October 2, 1976. The record contained a track each from Island Record's artists and was available as a special offer sampler, in conjunction with 'Melody Maker' music newspaper, for 65 pence. The other artists on it were; Robert Palmer, Bunny Wailer, Max Romeo, 'the Upsetters', Burning Spear, Justin Hines & the Dominos', Peter Cook & Dudley Moore, Sandy Denny, and 'Eddie & The Hot Rods'.
Our 'spot' on the sleeve was indicated not by a photo of the band or a photo of our upcoming album sleeve, but by a large Question mark because we hadn't given them a band name to use, we were still dithering over what we would choose as our penultimate name. We had been going through various phases ever since we'd formed and 'Tiger Lily' had long been dropped. So had, 'The Zips', 'Fire of London', and 'London Soundtrack'... we were even called the 'The Damned' for a week or two until we discovered another band had beaten us to it! We knew that whatever we told them would be the name we would be branded with forever and we wanted to be sure we were happy with our choice of new name. They had to get the record out and couldn't wait for us to make up our minds, hence the "?" for us beside 'The Wild, the Beautiful, and the Damned'. I've got a copy of this record somewhere back in England.
I will quote the text of the advertisement here, verbatim...
"Rock & Roll & Derek & Clive" is the title of this week's album in the MM's fabulous 65p Front Runners records offer. This is week three of the unprecedented collectors' item project that bring readers thousands of albums of the top names in pop - LPs which cannot be bought in the shops. Island Records have compiled a unique album starring tracks by top names from their all-star roster. They include: Bunny Wailer, Max Romeo, Upsetters, Burning Spear, Justin Hines & The Dominoes, Peter Cook & Dudley Moore, Sandy Denny, Robert Palmer, and Eddie And The Hot Rods.
The section on us, read:
Name Unknown: "The Wild, the Beautiful, and the Damned". The first time the band have been heard on record. They are a brand-new British group whose debut album, from which this track has been taken, is currently being produced by Brian Eno. The band is as yet unnamed.
See... there they go, doing it again! Or, for the first time - depending how you look at it. WE produced the record, gave Steve Lillywhite and Brian Eno credit as co-producers, and all they ever say is "produced by Eno." It makes me angry because it is no more accurate than it is true. The record company had a 'name' involved with the record, so that's what they pushed in order to boost it's interest and sales.
TWTB&TD was one of the very first songs we wrote. Because we weren't doing gigs (we didn't want to play live until we were able to do it OUR way and were determined to not get caught up in 'pub rock', which we hated... we later modified our stance slightly and played in some pubs - we were just too curious to see how our stuff would go down in front of an audience), we wrote scores and scores of songs during our Modreno phase. We'd write a song, try to perfect it, then move on to another song, then we'd go back and dissect the previous song and either make it better or salvage it's best elements and proceed to incorporate them into the newer song, leaving the shell behind. It was great experience at the art & craft of song writing. TWTB&TD came together after a week or two of constant experimenting with it's essential elements, but once we felt we had it, that was basically it and it never changed after that. We felt that the song represented at the time, as much as any one song could, what we were all about. And we always knew it would be a 'must choice' when it came time to record an album.
Brian Eno was a very interesting gentleman and a great character, our experience of working with him was quite enlightening and a pleasureable experiment. I do not regret it and I'm sure the others would agree. But it was absolutely NOT what we had actually envisaged. We had been under the impression, due to Brian's image from Roxy, that he was a real 'technical-type' who had all sorts of tricks up his sleeve regarding the studio and in the realm of production technique. We were hungry to learn how to push the boundaries of the studio environment and we thought that he would be just the man to show us how to go beyond the conventional guitar/piano/bass/drums approach that was so prevalent at the time. We wanted to pick his brains.
What we discovered was that Brian was - AT THAT TIME - actually quite naive in the area of technical expertise, it was not his forte. In the first days in the studio together (Brian came in after we'd already recorded the bulk of the material), I remember looking at his Mini-Moog synthesizer. It was the first one I'd ever gotten my hands on and he had all these little pieces of tape stuck by the keys with the names of the notes written on them, plus little pictures stuck on adjacent to some of the control knobs. I pointed to a cute picture of a sheep and asked, "What's that mean?" He replied, "Well, I don't know what that knob does but, when I turn it, it makes the sound 'wooly', so the picture of the sheep (sheep...wool...get it?) reminds me..." I was quite taken aback, I didn't know what to say to that! I think I just nodded and said, "Umm... good idea!" From that moment on, I had a very strong suspicion that Brian was not the technical master we'd had in mind!
Eno was far more of a conceptualist, an ideas man. He was quite bold about not giving a damn about what the final result sounded like, he was only interested in the process. (Which is great for learning and fine if your musical future doesn't hinge on public, rather than private, reaction to the 'final result'.) While we immediately acknowledged the importance of 'the journey' as opposed to 'the destination', in our case we were more pragmatic - the 'final result', which would be released for people's listening pleasure, mattered very much to us! We agreed that it was very cool to do all sorts of unusual things via the recording process, but it still had to end up sounding good. There wouldn't be a second album for us to make if the first one was less than we were capable of and all we might say was, "But it was a gas to make!"
We had our most productive and interesting times together when the tape wasn't rolling, when we would just sit round in the control room and talk about music and art... we appeared to be very much on a similar wave-length as each other, but he was far more articulate in his expression of the turmoil of emotions an artist has to contend with. He seemed to have thought matters through much further than us, whereas we were still trying to put all the pieces together. We loved listening to him and I believe that it was, overall, a very good idea. He only worked on three of four songs at the most, and we didn't use any of his mixes (we thought it polite not to mention it).
To be fair, his name DID help bring about some attention that might not otherwise have been paid to us concerning that first album, but it had never been our intention to do that.
It's just very irritating when critics later stated, regarding particular songs, "The hand of Eno is stamped all over this track, blah-blah-blah..." when, in fact, the song was written and performed with no participation by Brian at all. Lazy journalism strikes again.
The Feb.26th/77 'Sounds' review said...
"Debut Single & Eno Production of the Week. Dangerous Rhythm (Island). They might be rather like a younger early days Roxy Music but, oh my, what a good model to copy. And their very youth bestows upon them a direct brashness missing in the recent Roxy. Rich emetic bass, precise Ringo drums, synthesiser cascades and Eno's hand in the production make this the best and most confident debut single since 'Anarchy'."
Here is the 'Record Mirror' March 12th/77 singles review...
"Dangerous Rhythm (Island WIP 6375) Cosmic reggae, if that's possible. Heavier than lead bass and ice-cold vocals. Very weird and wonderful. ++++" (four stars)
The New Musical Express said...
"By far their most memorable number, a reggae abstraction, mesmeric, simple, and subliminal, with Ferried vocals."
It appears they don't hate us quite yet, I wonder what it was we said later on...?!
Dangerous Rhythm was a fun song and enjoyable to play live. I believe it was one of the songs on the demo tape which first got Island Records' attention. I remember the first time we recorded it; it was a demo which we did with Steve Lillywhite at the old Phonogram Studios just down from Marble Arch. He had been working there, alternating between engineering Status Quo one day and Rolf Harris the next. I had met Steve after being introduced by a mutual friend. He only looked about fifteen! He used to bring us in on the weekends and we'd 'borrow' the studio to try out some of our songs, we'd just do whatever we wanted - we learned a lot about the recording process doing that.
The studio was full of fantastic equipment; wonderful old analogue gear with huge dials and levers that looked like they belonged on a car transmission, people would pay a fortune for it all now. Their reverberation effects, rather than being digital, were generated via huge steel and 'gold' plates hidden in a chamber deep beneath the building. It was the smoothest and greatest reverb I've ever heard, then or since. We experimented a lot and did our best to learn how to use it all. The tape machines were in an adjacent room to the control room and the main mixing board; in those days, there were no remote controls for operating the 24-track tape machines - you had to have someone sit there and manually run the machine as instructions were shouted out to 'Stop!/Record!/Fast Forward!/Rewind!', etc. We used to take turns being the 'tape-op'.
Phonogram Studios had a good atmosphere and we decided to go back to it to record our second album, 'Ha! Ha! Ha!'. We had a real attitude at the time of "F*** everyone!" and were keen to record it with just us and Steve. It felt very satisfying to return as a proper, paying client... no more looking over our shoulders! One day, as I was going into the studio, I saw the gorgeous actress who starred in a lot of the early sixties 'Carry On' movies, Fenella Fielding, coming down the steps. She lived in a penthouse flat above the studio somewhere... she looked extremely glamourous wearing a long black plastic coat and a huge droopy-brimmed black hat. I stepped aside and held the gate open for her. She purred, "Mmmm! Thank you, dear boy..." in her inimitable husky voice. I'd have driven her anywhere she wanted to go, if I'd had a car...
Our environment and life style was our subject matter - almost everything on the first album is about what it was like to be living in London at that time; Wide Boys, Sat'day Night, TWTB&TD, I Want To Be a Machine, in particular.
The version of Sat'day Night in the City of the Dead that went on the first album was the second version we cut. The first version is essentially identical except that it's shorter by about 40 seconds or so... We were keen on it being a single but were told by the record company that at 2 min. 10 seconds-ish it was far too short to be a single! It would interfere with the DJ's playlist times (all revolving around that 3 min.20sec average) and throw them out of sync with a minute of dead space or something... whether it was true or not, I don't know (And who's to say? In those days, there was a lot of weird stuff to contend with!!), but - rather than try to edit something together - we just recorded it again and made it longer by putting in another verse or chorus or something, perhaps it added around 20-30 seconds.
'Lonely Hunter', 'Life at Rainbow's End', 'I want To Be a Machine' (another of our earliest songs), and 'Dangerous Rhythm' were all written and performed 'live' long before we had our Island Records contract. They were, in fact, many of the songs which we performed at the private 'showcase' gig we did on Island Records' own premises (their conference room, I believe) which helped us secure our deal - they'd liked the demos we gave them but wanted to see us play, we didn't have a gig lined up so they said "...ok, bring your equipment here and play." That sort of thing doesn't happen much any more.
'Slipaway' was a more recent song, as was 'Wide Boys' and "Sat'day Night'; we had either written them recently or were in the process of writing them as we got our contract. Since we were told we'd be signed, we went into their basement recording studio at Island Records, Hammersmith, and started recording the album before we'd even seen the contract. I recall that eventuallly we interrupted a session one day to go upstairs and do the contractual business. 'My Sex' came about while we were in the studio.
We had the studio from noon to midnight, then the Rolling Stones had it from midnight till noon, they were listening to their 'live' tapes to vet which tracks would be 'possibles' for inclusion on a live album. One day we walked in and Keith Richard was soundly asleep in the control room chair. We tried to wake him but he was really out of it. We didn't know what to do; we wanted to work, but we didn't want to disturb him and we certainly weren't about to kick his chair and shout, "Wake up!!!" Finally we decided to just start working around him... As the tape was rolling, I could see his foot tapping to the music. I thought, "Fantastic! Keith's foot is tapping to MY snare drum!!" After about half an hour, he suddenly woke up. He sat bolt upright, looked around for a second, said, "Ahh...sorry!", grabbed his bottle of Jack Daniels and was out the door.
We recorded two other songs which were not included on the final release. 'City Doesn't Care' and 'Car Crash Flashback'. They were both two new songs but they didn't make the cut because we felt we'd moved on from the feel of the two tracks, they weren't as relevant as the final choices. By the way, throughout the band's history we never made a habit of recording lots of extra material so this sort of thing didn't happen often. We'd work on material until we were happy with it and it was either ready to release, or it was erased.
One further thing regarding the 'Ultravox!' album... There is an interesting story regarding our name which has never really seen the light of day. As regards to the Island sampler having to put a Question Mark on the sleeve, instead of our name, it's been explained that it was because at that late date we hadn't finalised amongst ourselves what name we would use. We knew that "this was it, we'll be stuck with it" and wanted to make a good choice. Obviously, our choice appears to have been a good one and I've personally always liked the name. What isn't known is what happened shortly after that...
There was a collective sigh of relief from Island when we told them we'd finalised upon a name. Still, while we were working away in Island's basement studio, the suits upstairs always kept calling down for further information for the record sleeve, i.e., our names.
Chris decided to have some fun and elected to call himself 'Chris Cross', while Bill and Stevie stayed with their real names. I was undecided as yet. During one of our sessions, the phone rang and Dennis picked it up. I heard him say to the caller, "I haven't quite decided yet, I'm thinking about perhaps using 'Johnny Vox' or maybe 'John Vox'..."
I could hardly believe my ears. The second I heard that I thought, "Argghhh!! If he does that, we'll forever be known as his backing band." I was very upset about it and knew that my personal pride in the band and our collective morale was on very thin ice. (Shades of things to come...) I had to think fast... I called over to him and said, "Tell them I'm thinking about using 'Warren Ultra'...!"
Only when it was clear that Dennis had opted for 'Foxx' did I state I'd use my real name. I think you get the picture...
Ha! Ha! Ha! (pun intended)
While not specifically about us personally, 'Young Savage' was quite autobiographical; it was our take on the maelstrom we were in the centre of. It was one of my favourite songs and, though I usually always have various criticisms and reservations about any of our recorded works, both the 'studio' and 'live' versions of that song are just about spot on. Play it loud! Then turn it up some more...
I don't recall much about the recording of 'Young Savage' but I remember us having a lot of fun playing it... that song was like a big Harley, you'd get on it and kick it and rev it up until you were going like hell. There were times during playing 'YS' - especially during some of the Marquee gigs where we had the place crammed to where the Fire Marshals would have fits - that due to all the people, heat, and smoke, that I wished I'd had an oxygen mask to take hits off of... Those gigs were so intense and we were so wound up that when we came off, the backstage dressing room looked like the boiler room of a torpedoed ship. Even the metal fittings on all our equipment became pitted and rusting.
This was also approximately during the peak of the audience-gobbing-spit-onto- bands phase, whenever we swung into 'YS' the ever present hail of gob turned into a torrent. It's insane to look back and know that this disgusting practise was actually supposed to represent praise...! There was an occasion when I noticed, as I played away, that there was one bugger in the audience down at the front who was not spitting away willy-nilly with abandon in the heat of the moment, he was calmly and calculatedly targeting Chris Cross. He'd repeatedly hit him in the face then work up his ammunition for another salvo. Poor Chris was so into playing and singing (rocket scientists will acknowledge that you have to open your mouth wide to sing... ugh!!!) that he was oblivious to it. I couldn't very well go over and sort him out as I didn't want to stop the song, so I let fly with a drumstick and caught the moron straight in the face with it. Stunned, he looked at me as I gave him the evil eye. He got the message and disappeared into the crowd. I don't think I told Chris about it until some considerable time after!
Re: 'Slipaway' (Live at The Rainbow) [the B-side]
When we formed the band, we were sick of the bloated virtuoso musicianship and forty minute songs many of the big 'respected' groups had made their stock-in- trade. We worked exclusively on short songs with structures influenced by classic '50s & '60s pop; we were trying to achieve a twisted but seamless alchemy between melodies reminiscent of the high drama of Roy Orbison, the rawness and aggression of the Stones or The Velvets, and lyrics beyond Bowie or Bolan. As we worked through that phase, we began to develop past the 'two and half minute/ three minute single with a four bar solo' (8 bars max!) to more intricate and extended arrangements of five minutes or so; "I Want To Be A Machine' and 'Slipaway' were among the first of these.
Naturally, this coincided with the time everyone else seemed to belatedly discover the joys of the short succinct pop song and we got slammed for not playing material that consisted of a verse and three choruses!
The Rainbow Theatre in North London had been a long established rock venue, lots of very famous bands played there and when we were told we'd be playing the Rainbow (albeit as support for Island's 'Eddie & The Hot Rods') we felt like we'd really arrived. This would be the biggest gig we'd ever played.
Someone, somewhere, had ordained that the gig would be recorded. It was still a time when mobile recording technology was the purview of heavy-duty money and influence, I was very impressed to hear that the Rolling Stone's 'mobile' studio was to be used. We'd never even seen one before, let alone been recorded by one.
We were at the gig early in the afternoon, we were keen to look around and take all of this grand experience in! It was also vital to be available to jump in at a moment's notice to take our soundcheck... we wanted to be at our very best. We ended up sitting around all day for hours and hours as the mobile's engineers fiddled and flaffed about setting everything up. I lived only a relatively short distance from the Rainbow and had been constantly assured that we'd have several hours to kill after our soundcheck, before the gig, so I hadn't brought my stage clothes.
Time dragged on... and on... and on... but still no soundcheck. Finally, it was obvious we weren't going to get one. Typical. At this point, I still had plenty of time to drive home and get my things so I said I would be 'back in an hour.' I picked up my clothes but - guess what?? Halfway back to the Rainbow, the petrol pump on my old banger of a car died and I was stranded! Desperate to get back to the theatre, I tried hitching a ride as I walked but no one would pick me up. And there were no taxis to be seen... Not good. Not good at all!
By the time I got back to the gig I was frantic and well late... we'd been due to go on about half an hour earlier and when I tore into the backstage area I could hear the audience was very restless. The rest of the band were standing by their gear going crazy as I literally ran up to my kit and ripped off my jacket as the curtain began to rise. The stamping and chanting crowd was READY!!! But they were ready for Eddie, not us! It's the fate of every support band.
Between my mad dash to try and get back to the theatre in time, and the rest of the band's worry, anxiety, and anger, we were so vibed up and full of adrenaline when the curtain opened that we hit the first song like a downhill runaway train.
It was quite a show and probably one of our best gigs till then.
The whole of our set was recorded; while it's remotely feasible that some of the first numbers may have been unusable due to the engineers still getting the balances together (a common occurrence), I'm fairly certain it was alright from the very start. I recall us only bothering to do a 'rough mix' of the songs for listening purposes which somehow, ultimately, ended up being the mix(s) which were used... I think we never did any 'proper' mixes of the Rainbow gig. It's probably better that way.
I have a cassette dated 19/2/77 from that session in the studio, the songs
are; Life At Rainbows End/Came Back Here To Meet You/Wide Boys/Satday Night/Lonely Hunter/Modern Love/
Dangerous Rhythm/Slipaway/TV Orphans/The Riff/ The Wild, The Beautiful, & The Damned.
It's a fun tape, perhaps one day the songs will be released in their entirety.
Last update 1997-12-10. No portion of this interview may be published in any form.
Copyright (c) 1997-10-30 Warren Cann and Jonas Wårstad.
Last update 1997-12-10. No portion of this interview may be published in any form.