Shack’s Mick Head has had a few plaudits hurled his way: in 1999 the NME put him on the front cover and billed him as “England’s greatest songwriter”. In Manchester, midway through his band’s first appearance in some time, someone in the audience shouts out: “You’re a genius!” Head flinches in mild embarrassment.
Shack’s story is a classic rock’n’roll hard-luck tale. When Head and his guitarist brother John were in the hotly tipped 1980s band the Pale Fountains, the group collapsed when Chris McCaffrey, the bassist (and Mick’s best friend), died from a brain tumour. The trauma contributed to a drug problem that dogged the Heads for years. Each time they appeared on the brink of success as Shack, disaster would strike: their studio burned down, and shortly after that NME cover, their record label folded.
Next month, however, they are releasing a new album, Here’s Tom With the Weather, which may be their finest yet. This tour unveils its hauntingly uplifting songs, which somehow sound like a modern mix of Love and the Beatles.
On stage, Mick gets the attention but John’s sparse, hallucinatory guitar style is central to the band’s sound. Mick repays the debt with Byrds Turn to Stone, an impassioned ode to John and their adventures in music. There is no “show” at a Shack gig, just the narcotic swirl of tunes delivered with passion and loving care. However, Shack’s audience appreciate the irony of such supernatural songs emanating from a band led by a ridiculously down-to-earth Scouser. “It’s nice to be back in Manni, it’s bin yis,” says Head. “Speak English,” cries a fan.
Even without props or pyrotechnics, the crowd’s fervour makes this return gig feel like an event. Song titles are shouted out and the band respond by roaring through their back pages, with 1999’s Comedy particularly exquisite. No less than six encores, peaking with the new Meant To Be, suggest that, for the umpteenth time, Shack are on the brink. The stage does not collapse and Mick Head is not suddenly struck down by a bolt of thunder. Even geniuses are due some good luck.