Looking For The Boys Again

I’ve spent some of the week just gone addressing storage issues- records and CDs, but mainly records, spilling all over the room and a shortage of shelf space. An Ikea Kallax shelving unit has been purchased and assembled and the order has been restored. Several years worth of record buying has been filed away- some of the ones at the back of the oldest unfiled stack of records dated back to 2012. The situation has now been resolved with all parties happy.

In a box of CDs, mainly discs given away free with music magazines, I found a freebie the long departed Select magazine, dating from December 1999. The CD was a tie in with Xfm (when I hear Xfm Manchester in the barber’s they seem to only have the songs of three artists and those artists are Oasis, U2 and Arctic Monkeys). Select did some really good CDs with remixes, B-sides and exclusives that were often worth hanging on to. This CD is not one those CDs so I couldn’t work out at first why I’d bothered to save it and why I still had it two decades later.

All the songs are radio sessions and the list of bands is a mixture of late 90s mainstream indie (Travis, Stereophonics, Reef, Gomez, Catatonia), American indie survivors (Sebadoh, The Flaming Lips, Guided By Voices, Mercury Rev), Suede, Skunk Anansie and two bands that I don’t know (Seafruit and Merz). None of which explains why this CD must have escaped several culls in the last twenty years. I can only assume it was this- Shack, live in the Xfm studio, playing Mick Head’s description of desperately trawling through Kensington, Liverpool, looking for heroin.

Streets Of Kenny (Xfm Session)

Adios Senor Pussycat

Michael Head and his Red Elastic Band played at Gorilla on Sunday night. I got an offer of a ticket earlier in the week and I’m really glad I said yes (despite trying to kick a cold that left me feeling shitty all weekend). Gorilla is a small venue underneath the railway arches on Whitworth Street, capacity 500 people (sold out, rammed and somewhat warm) and is the ideal place to see Michael Head in many ways- great sound, intimate and with a committed audience.

The Red Elastic Band comprise of two guitarists, a young long-haired Fred Perry clad bassist, a drummer, a cellist who makes a massive contribution to the sound and a trumpeter (who I’ve read today is Andy Diagram, formerly of James and also Mick’s first band The Pale Fountains- his trumpet parts make me wonder why every guitar band doesn’t have a trumpeter). The songs from last year’s Adios Senor Pussycat album sound wonderful, dynamic and full of life, influenced by Love clearly, but modern and sharp too, Mick’s familiar marriage of melancholy, warmth and bad luck. Picasso and Picklock stand out, beefed out by the players compared to the album versions. Mick is a charismatic and genial host, stumbling in his words occasionally between songs, but not in his singing and playing and the band are as tight as you like, changing tempo or direction effortlessly. The audience would no doubt have been pretty happy just to have heard the songs from Senor, of which we get plenty, but they are interspersed with songs from Shack and other periods of Mick’s life- opener is an unreleased beauty called Pretty Child (which has had several names over the years); an intense, survivor’s gallop through Streets Of Kenny; a clamorous Comedy as the only encore; Waterpistol’s Mr Appointment; and a brilliant version of 1991 psychedelic-Shack single I Know You Well. Back in the 90s an NME front cover proclaimed Mick Head as the best songwriter in Britain and over 90 minutes he goes a long way towards proving that opinion right- how he is playing in venues this small while some of his contemporaries play arenas and stadiums is a mystery, but we win, as we get to see him close up and with all the subtleties and intricacies that you get at small gigs.

I Know You Well (12″ Mix)

Adios Senor Pussycat


If indie guitar bands in 1987 wanted to sound like the band in yesterday’s post (The Motorcycle Boy) by 1991 things had moved on. A post- Madchester world had ambitions for a bigger, looser, different sound. In 1991 Shack recorded their second album Waterpistol. Mick Head was inspired by The Stone Roses, The Charlatans and Flowered Up and he was chasing that 60s psychedelic sound, acoustic and electric guitars, crossed with that early 90s groove. In an ideal world Mick’s song writing would set him apart. Unfortunately things went wrong- producer Chris Allison had difficulties getting Mick to finish songs and in late ’91 the recording studio burned down taking the master tapes with it. Shack’s record company went bust soon after. Chris Allison left the DAT tapes in a hire car while on holiday in the US. Bassist John Power joined The La’s. Mick got into heroin.

Waterpistol eventually surfaced in 1995 after Allison tracked down the hire car company and the lost DAT tapes, and a German label Marina put it out. By this point Britpop was at its height and Mick’s songs should have found an audience but despite rave reviews Mick and Shack remained mired in substance problems. In 1999 a reformed Shack released HMS Fable and began to reap a bit of what they had sewn but Waterpistol remains a lost gem. It’s been re-released a couple of times since, by different labels, with different sleeves and different numbers of tracks (mine has twelve songs, the Marina release with the smoking schoolboy on the cover). If you haven’t got it, it’s well worth tracking down- never has cosmic Scouser psychedelia been so well realised as on this album’s songs.


I Know You Well

It’s the last day of a pretty grim and depressing year if viewed through the TV news and the papers. Taking refuge in music, hiding from the storms (literally over the last few days) with the stereo playing and a drink to hand, might be hiding but it’s a decent form of escapism. This 1991 song from Shack, the great lost Liverpool band (it’s a cliche to write that but it’s true), is a beautiful gem. Scouse psychedelia with harmonies and trippy 1966 guitars but with all the benefits of a 1991 extended mix, a breakdown, 90s drums and outro. Sublime.

I Know You Well (12″ Extended)

Dad’s In The Navy So Use A Granny Knot

Liverpool’s Shack have had an up-and-down kind of existence with albums being raved over by the critics but largely ignored by the record buying public. At one point in the 90s the NME called Michael Head ‘Britain’s greatest living songwriter’ or something similar. Some of their albums have a kind of mythical status (Waterpistol for one). This song is from 2006’s The Corner Of Miles And Gil lp, and as a single peaked at number 114 in the charts. It’s a brilliant little song, lovely melody, sweetly sung, wonderful horns and catchy as anything. About bondage.