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When the Beat (known as the English Beat in the U.S. only) split in 1983, it came as a surprise to guitarist Dave Cox and bassist David Steele.
The first time they realized that the group's vocalists, Ranking Roger
and Dave Wakelin, had gone off to form a group without them was when
their accountant phoned to finalize the divorce. While the defectors
had formed General Public, Cox and Steele set about creating something
new of their own. Apart from not wanting to repeat the mistakes the
Beat made, and a vague notion of adding both jazz and soul to the
Beat's ska roots (they also decided to feature a strong vocalist),
there was no real master plan.
The latter proved harder than they could have imagined. More than
500 potential singers auditioned, before, despairing of finding
someone, they decided to seek out a singer whose band had once
supported the Beat. They found Roland Gift
singing with a barroom R&B band named the Bones, looking like
Sidney Poitier but sounding like Otis Redding. He was everything they
had remembered; he was their man. Gift had spent his teenage years in
youth theatre, until the advent of punk made music his main passion. As
punk gave way to the two-tone ska which gave rise to groups like
Madness and, ultimately, the Beat, Gift took up saxophone and singing
in a local band.
Keeping live work down to just the occasional on-off date, the Fine
Young Cannibals signed to London Records in early 1985. Their name came
from an obscure 1960 film starring Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood.
Resisting the record company's attempts to team them up with a producer
determined to make the group a product of her sound rather than theirs,
the Fine Young Cannibals released a demo version of "Johnny Come Home"
as their first single. Its instant success allowed them to team up with
a compatible producer, Robin Miller, for the first Fine Young Cannibals
album, also containing the group's trademark overstated version of
Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds." For the Johnathan Demme film
Something Wild, they reached back into Gift's punk past with a version
of the Buzzcocks' classic "Ever Fallen in Love." Five years later, a
second album emerged, The Raw and the Cooked, the raw side made up
mostly of songs the group had contributed to Barry Levinson's film Tin
Men. The single "She Drives Me Crazy" was a worldwide number one hit.
Since then, the Fine Young Cannibals have remained elusive. Cox and Steele continue to work together under various names, while Roland Gift's hoped-for film career never quite took off. The Fine Young Cannibals have never officially broken up, and rumors of reunions and recording sessions have persisted. Their 1996 greatest hits album, The Finest, featured the newly recorded track "Flame."
Ed Nimmervoll - All Music Guide
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