Warren Reginald Cann

Warren Cann

Warren Reginald Cann (born 20 May 1950, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada) is a drummer and drum machine programmer, best known as a member of the British New Wave band Ultravox.


When he left Canada for England in the 1970s, established himself in London, where formed his first band along Huw Lloyd-Langton, future Hawkwind member, on guitar and Rob Rawlins, later in Overnight Angels, on bass. By 1974, he intented to join Sparks, but only he got an interview with their leaders, the brothers Ron and Russell Mael. Shortly afterwards, the same year, contacted with Dennis Leigh (now known as John Foxx), who invited to add his fledgling band Tiger Lily (then only formed by Leigh, bassist Chris Cross and guitarist Stevie Shears), joning. In 1976, Tiger Lily name changed to Ultravox!, and later in 1978 to Ultravox.

His tenure with Ultravox lasted until 1986, when he was fired from the group. In retrospect, singer/guitarist Midge Ure (who replaced John Foxx in 1979) considers the firing unjust, unwarranted, and a result of misplaced tensions, according to his autobiography. Ure also describes Cann at the time as an avid gun enthusiast who frequently slept late.

Cann also worked with Zaine Griff and The Buggles, and formed in the 1980s a band called Helden with Hans Zimmer. One of his post-Ultravox bands was Huw Lloyd-Langton Group, with the Hawkwind member.

Cann currently lives in Los Angeles, California.

Technical innovations

Cann and his technicians were among the first to modify commercially available rhythm units or drum machines, so they could alter and override the preset manufacturer programs. This is notable on "Hiroshima Mon Amour", from the album Ha!-Ha!-Ha!. When Ultravox were recording Vienna, Cann's electronic ventures would become important for the Ultravox sound. The acquisition of a Roland CR-78 proved something of a headache for Cann, as he saw great sonic potential in it, but it had limited pattern programmability. In the process of adding some much needed practical customisations to the CR-78, Cann became something of a persona non grata at the Roland headquarters in the UK. This did not stop Cann from carrying out his plans, and the result proved to be a key factor in the overall sound of their signature hit song "Vienna".

The initial reaction to the usage of drum machines led to bewilderment among the audience, who wondered what Cann was doing during some songs. Among claims that he was doing nothing, he decided to equip his drum machines with clear perspex cases instead of wood panels, and mount a variety of LEDs inside them as a feature Cann himself described as "absolutely useless, but very impressive looking on a darkened stage; now it would be obvious I was actually doing something." (From Jonas Wårstad's interview at Discog)

In addition to his drum machine work, Cann designed several modifications for bass player Chris Cross' Minimoog, among them a primitive sequencer made from a series of toggle switches to add syncopation to the synthesizer's ability to create a stream of eighth notes, and a proprietary triggering system that allowed Cann and Cross to synchronise the Minimoog with Cann's drum machines, a feat performed almost three years before MIDI was officially introduced in 1983. According to Midge Ure's autobiography, when the Minimoog took a dump on tour, Ultravox borrowed one from The Cars, but it didn't help as it lacked the proprietary modifications.

Playing style

Cann made significant contributions to the drum sounds of New Wave music, both in style and execution. Around 1978, when Ultravox released the Systems of Romance album, Cann's style of drumming turned away from its rock roots and toward what was becoming the New Wave sound. He endeavoured to have extremely precise timing; this would make the songs with live drums match songs driven by electronic, programmed percussion. For an example of this, compare the song "Sleepwalk", where Cann plays live drums, to "Mr. X", where the drums are sequenced. Both of these tracks can be found on Vienna. Despite his machine-like timing, Cann would often do things that neither drum machines nor electronically sequenced percussion could do at the time. Specifically, he would often play very precise triplet fills and crescendos, especially on the snare drum. While these two techniques are easily accomplished by electronic instruments today, around 1979-1982 they were virtually impossible. In essence, it could fool the listeners to believe they were hearing a drum machine, only to prove them wrong through out-performing the rather rudimentary sequencing possibilities of the time.

From a technical perspective, Cann preferred a traditional grip. On the Quartet album and subsequent tour (1982), Cann employed several sets of Simmons SDS-V electronic percussion pads, even to the point where he had an extra kit consisting of the hexagonal Simmons pads, which he played standing up. This way of playing them is quite unique and Cann seemed to be using this setup for one song only, namely "The Song (We Go)" from Quartet.


With Ultravox

With Helden


If I Was... The Autobiography, by Midge Ure, Virgin Books

External links

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