1999 : SHACK - LOADED, JULY

Somewhere down the line I’d heard that Mick Head of Shack, whose forthcoming album, HMS Fable, is the best thing I’ve heard in months, didn’t give good interviews. Too rambling, my source told me – he’s all over the place.

Worried, I asked Mick’s press officer if, when Shack played London’s Notre Dame Hall, I could just dump the interview and just hang out with them.

“You can’t do that,” he nervously replied.

“Why not? I’ll just melt into the background.”

“No way. They’ll get you in a pub and get so pissed the gig will be a disaster.”

I knew he was right. Two years ago I saw Shack at London’s Jazz Cafe. It was a big gig for them. Their excellent album Waterpistol had bolstered Head’s reputation as a songwriter and a lot of record companies showed interest. Mick’s time, it seemed, had come. By the time they hit the stage, though, Shack were spectacularly off their tits.

Mick wasn’t worried, he’d been here before. He’d first surfaced in the early 80’s with The Pale Fountains, fusing his main musical influence, the 60’s group Love, with cool latin sounds. They did a Peel session, played some gigs and the next thing they knew, an A&R man was banging on the door of their Hackney squat. He took them back to his flat and showed them porn films all night.

They finally signed with Virgin, but things went pear-shaped after two poor-selling albums. Mick moved back to his native Liverpool and formed Shack with his brother John on lead guitar. The Lightning Seeds’ Ian Broudie produced their first album, Zilch, but nothing happened, so Mick began writing the Waterpistol album, and created a gem.

In an incident typical of Shack’s luck, however, the album came close to being lost forever when the studio burnt down and the only surviving tape was stolen in America. Amazingly, it surfaced a few months later, by which time Mick was busy taking lots of drugs, DJing at Liverpool’s Earthbeat club and writing more songs.

The making of HMS Fable seemed similarly blighted when the first producer, Hugh Jones, exasperated by Mick’s drug binges, walked out. He was replaced by Youth, and Mick swore to clean up his act. He did, and the result is one of the best records you’ll hear this year. Mick Head is a craftsman. He deserves his place in the sun.

Mind you, playing a warm up gig in Camden the night before the Notre Dame Hall show, Mick showed he’d lost none of his devil-may-care nature. He took to the stage shitfaced, made up songs on the spot, went off on perplexing verbal journeys but somehow brought it all together for the slightly bewildered audience.

“The thing is,” Mick reveals, “when I woke up the next morning, I thought: ‘What a great gig.’ I bounced into breakfast smiling and there was my manager with a real gob on him. I went: ‘Oh shit’.”

And Mick Head laughs – the sound of a man who knows his time has finally come. Hopefully.

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Zilch (1988)
1. Emergency (listen)
2. Someone’s Knocking (listen)
3. John Kline (listen)
4. I Need You (listen)
5. Realization (listen)
6. High Rise Low Life (listen)
7. Who Killed Clayton Square? (listen)
8. Who’d Believe It? (listen)
9. What’s It Like… (listen)
10. The Believers (listen)