All John (Du) Cann ever wanted to do was play guitar.|
In his early teens, he lived for the visits of his sea-faring cousin, who would arrive with a collection of American 45s under his arm...
He set off for London in 1966, aged only 16. By night he was slogging it out playing cover versions to little aclaim, while during the day he was working for amplifier manufacturer Selmer, testing the equipment as it came off the production line. Though the wages were hardly massive, but it was a dream job in that he was being paid to practice all day!
He blew quite a significant chunk of those wages on a Fender Telecaster, and continued to play around London for any bands who needed a fill-in. This early experience must have certainly contributed to his remarkable ability to play in many styles...
The Attack was the band with which he began his professional career. Even at this young age, Cann's skills as a songwriter were extraordinarily evident. Vocalist Richard Shirman was blessed with a remarkable voice, so the combination (Cann also has a creditably polished singing voice) with Du Cann's aggressive fuzz guitar made for ... The tragedy of the story is that record company Decca were so committed to their policy of 4 singles -> no hits -> drop band that they let something very magical slip through their fingers.
Luckily for all of us, John Du Cann has kept recordings of his work throughout the various stages of his career, and consequently a number of The Attack's recordings, including the unissued fifth single, have been released by Angel Air Records in 2001 as Final Daze.
The Five Day Week Straw People was recorded in a single 4 hour recording session, and is a loose, trippy, floating album. Recorded along with flatmate Mick Hawksworth on bass and Jack Collins on drums, the album was commissioned by the budget record label Saga, who had requested Du Cann create a "psychedelic album", and that is exactly what he did. The ten songs tell the story of a typical weekend of everyday people. What makes it all the more compelling is that the lyrics are a sarcastic commentary on those very people who would actually be grooving to it, "...for straw people have no brains...". Amazingly enough, particularly considering the poor quality of the pressing, original vinyl copies of the album change hands for very large sums of money.
Du Cann and Hawksworth (and, for a while, Collins, until he was replaced by Ian McLane) went on to collaborate on what I consider to be an absolute masterpiece - Andromeda. Another fantastic band who were stifled by record company indifference. There have been a number of issues and reissues of Andromeda's recordings, with the most extensive being the Angel Air double CD release from 2000, Andromeda - Definitive Collection, with detailed liner notes. The first CD is the album as it was originally issued, plus bonus tracks, and the second CD is alternate takes, additional songs, and a short live recording. It's the ultimate for a compulsive completist like me.
For me just to live an existance
And not need any assistance
Would mean everything to me
All I want is just to be free... Return to Sanity by Andromeda (music and lyrics, John Du Cann)
From the flower power euphoria of The Attack to the world-weary cynicism of The Five Day Week Straw People and Andromeda, it was only a short step to the dark, nihilistic world of Atomic Rooster.
Vincent Crane saw Du Cann playing with Andromeda and asked him to join Atomic Rooster. With the bass player unexpected leaving as Du Cann joined, the band became a trio, with Paul Hammond on drums. Cann brought his extensive song-writing skills to the band, and two of his songs became hits, Tomorrow Night and Devil's Answer. Their first album together was Death Walks Behind You, complete with a reproduction of a William Blake painting on the front cover and an evocative black and white portrait within the gatefold sleeve, shot within a graveyard (all the more significant since John Du Cann is now the only one of the trio still alive). The same atmospheric photographic session produced the picture which graced the Devil's Answer picture sleeve (at left).
After departing Atomic Rooster, with Paul Hammond reputedly resigning in protest, Du Cann joined bass player John Gustafson (ex-Big Three, ex-Quatermass) and vocalist Al Shaw in Daemon. After releasing the album The Entrance To Hell, Shaw left, and the trio renamed themselves Bullet, only to invoke the ire of a similarly named group. They consequently became Hard Stuff, and called their first album Bulletproof in retaliation. Bolex Dementia was their second album. The venture was brought to a premature end when Paul Hammond was badly hurt in a car accident.
Du Cann recorded a solo album in 1977, with some members of Status Quo, only to discover that the record company had absolutely no intention of releasing it. This has subsequently been released, many years later, on CD as The World's Not Big Enough (Angel Air Records) or alternatively on Repertoire as Nothing Better. In this case, the Angel Air release is the better deal, as there are twice as many songs. Beware, however - though the track listing appears different, they are the same songs - almost as if someone was listening to the tracks and guessing what the names might be.
In 1979, he scored a solo hit with Don't Be A Dummy which was the jingle for a jeans ad. Like most jingles expanded out to single length, it became somewhat tedious at three minutes, but it attracted enough sales to enter the Top 30 and earn Du Cann an appearance on Top Of The Pops.
In 1980, he and Paul Hammond once again joined forces with Vincent Crane in yet another incarnation of Atomic Rooster. The recently released Live at the Marquee - 1980 showcases this particular line-up.
There has been an incredible wealth of John Du Cann material released on CD in recent years, mainly due to his collaboration with Angel Air Records. This has created a unique opportunity to hear the evolution of his song-writing skills, as well as his uncanny chameleon-like ability to change style from pop to psych to prog to hard rock to punk, and all the shades inbetween, often redoing songs over several different bands and line-ups and changing styles and rhythms and lyrics along the way.
To be continued...
A tribute to John Du Cann in Atomic Rooster and a link to the John Du Cann appreciation group on Yahoo.|
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Richard Shirman has gone on to form Hershey and the Twelve Bars.
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