If you want to know why I think Shack are the greatest enigma in UK music history then the evidence is on this tape. A lucky thirteen of the finest songs Mick and John ever wrote. All on a 1991 style ‘indie/homemade/ramshackle’ handwritten photocopy sleeve cassette tape probably bought ten-for-two-quid at Richer Sounds on Hardman Street – the little one on the corner spot. Somehow only five of these tracks, after more re-recordings of them all, finally made it onto Waterpistol: “London Town”, “Time Machine”, “Mr Appointment”, “Sgt. Major” and “Mood of the Morning”. The rest of that LP was recorded after this tape had been played to several movers and shakers in the industry. I recall playing it to East West and Warners but despite both loving it, they excused themselves largely on the ‘bad reputation’ of the band. I have always thought that the worst thing Shack did in my company was steal a whole smoked salmon and twelve pots of caviar from Rusty Egans nightclub kitchen one night in Nightingale Square (although we did also throw a signboard through the window of a peep show behind the Marquee one morning before zooming our transit up Tottenham Court Road). But just normal rock n’ roll stuff. It wasn’t like we were Evertonians.
I was managing this whilst we went through a succession of drummers – it made the old Spinal Tap gag true to life in all except explosions. Alan Wills certainly plays on several of these and on reflection if he had hung around the LP would have been done and out much quicker (and possibly forgotten and maybe there would be no shacknet) Alan thought his destiny lay with Top though and that was that. Like a five-a-side team losing its goalie the ship must have listed even though at the time I never thought it was a problem as the songs, Mick, John and Pete were enough no matter who was drumming. Naturally that isn’t right but a good few tried out and some held the chair for longer than others until Iain turned up and that was twenty years ago – so we got the right one in the end. He must have wondered what he’d walked into on some of these occasions though, and no doubt he’d tell it better than I.
“I Know You Well”, “Feel No Way”, “UP”, “Irish”, “Al’s Vacation” – what a five-a-side team that is. These didn’t make the LP and, to me, are the very essence of Shack. All of their influences are displayed here and if you only ever heard these five then you would know Shack were important. Most surfaced in some form as b-sides so are not lost forever, but “UP” in particular always caused a bloomin’ argument – Mick and John coming to blows in Break For The Border off Oxford Street after a heated debate about the track. It has caused trouble ever since and is a proper marmite moment for Shack fans.
“DJ Ace” and “Elizabethan Radio Star” were the oldest of the recordings and most dispensable, to me anyway. They felt like leftovers from an earlier time and had not been played live during my time with the band except maybe once or twice early on. The people at Ghetto Records had fondness for them, probably born out of familiarity as the band had finished them for some time and played them all the while. There was good support from Ghetto though and they made a good effort with “I Know You Well” as a single, but if they were hoping for the LP to come soon after then they were sadly disappointed and I suppose they must have run out of patience. After Rough Trade Distribution collapsed Ghetto tried to find someone to take it on, much like they had successfully done to Chrysalis with Lightning Seeds after the success of “Pure” – but Shack found little joy. I recall that there were some seriously interested labels but the money Ghetto were asking was colossal for a band with a ‘reputation’ and even Jeff Barrett wasn’t willing to do it (and he was more off his nugget than them!). It was 1991 and the whole country was pilled up and even these idiots thought Shack were too much of a risk. Maybe I am underplaying some of the madness here and maybe you don’t notice it when you are in the middle of it the whole while but I loved every day going to work with Shack. The best job in the world for me and then there’s that evidence I mentioned.
The last track on this tatty looking tape, track thirteen, was stuck away at the end and is perhaps THE greatest Shack recording there is. Yes. That good. “I Want You”. This version recorded at Air Studios back in 1991 has everything you could want from music in five glorious minutes. It has intrigue, insanity, humour, subtlety, melody and power all at the same time. It is fantastic and it is stuck away here not to be heard again until HMS Fable – and then nothing like this. So that’s what makes Shack special to me – the kind of band who had perfection in even the most hidden locations and could leave it all behind seemingly untroubled by any mislaid greatness.
– Andrew Erskine, 2nd March, 2011
How do I get a copy?
At midnight on Saturday 5th March 2011, in true Willy Wonka style, an invitation to download a free mp3 version of the cassette was sent by email to 100 lucky shacknet forum members.
The download link was active for 24 hours until midnight on Sunday 6th March.