The Corner of Miles & Gil (2006)

1. Tie Me Down
2. Butterfly
3. Cup of Tea
4. Shelley Brown
5. Black & White
6. New Day
7. Miles Away
8. Finn, Sophie, Bobby & Lance
9. Moonshine
10. Funny Things
11. Find a Place
12. Closer

THE CORNER OF MILES & GIL, STYLUS MAGAZINE (NICK SOUTHALL), 23rd MAY 2006,

It’s both premature and presumptuous to be saying things like “album of the year!” in May, and generally I’m not keen on “albums of the year!” either because consensus almost always dictates that something everybody quite likes rather than something that a few people really love ends up taking the plaudits. That’s democracy for you though.

Nevertheless, …The Corner of Miles and Gil probably will end up being my album of the year come December, with Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins’ marvelous Rabbit Fur Coat close behind. Because it’s that good.

This is the point where I talk about lost master tapes, drug addiction, burning studios, collapsing record labels, gigs with Arthur Lee, and how Shack would be huge if only none of the above had happened (except the Arthur Lee thing—although, thinking about it…), how they’re the best, and I really mean The Best, post-Love, post-Byrds, post-Nick Drake, and post-Beatles band to do that post-Love, post-Byrds, post-Nick Drake, and post-Beatles thing. And now they’ve added post-Miles Davis and Gil Evans to that list. I’ll explain in a bit.

It’s evident though, that despite their brilliance, Shack need a helping hand from their more successful peers. Last time out, …Here’s Tom with the Weather was released by (ex-Stone Roses guitarist) John Squire’s North Country records. This time it’s the turn of Noel Gallagher to play philanthropist, and Shack’s fifth album in 18 years (counting 1997’s Strands project as Shack) comes out on his Sour Mash imprint. Two northern brothers, classic songwriting… it makes sense. But Shack are better than Oasis have ever been.

It’s important to stress that Shack are actually a band and not just two brothers (Mick and John Head) and whoever else turns up—sticksman Iain Templeton has played on every record they’ve released including The Magical World of the Strands, even if they have had more bassists than Spinal Tap had drummers, and while the supporting cast of trumpeters, flutists, string sections and producers might change every record too, the Shack “sound” could be patented tomorrow pretty much, so strong is their aesthetic. It’s in the way they strum their guitars, perhaps.

This time the evergreen trio are joined by Pete Wilkinson (formerly of Cast) on bass, but the real addition is the Tarleton & District Brass Band and the Light Fantastic String Quartet. The album title is to be taken literally, you see—…The Corner of Miles and Gil is an album of classy, outrageously tuneful Liverpool+West Coast guitar pop augmented by that classic 50s Miles Davis massed-jazz-band sound. Factor in Mick Head’s predilection for lyrical vignettes about dirty suburban characters and that means that, yes, opener “Tie Me Down” actually is a song about S&M done in a Sketches of Spain style, as crazed as that seems.

…The Corner of Miles and Gil isn’t just about distant, rousing trumpets and string sections though—there are a plethora of extraordinary guitar riffs and fills from younger Head John too, particularly the thrilling, triplicate “8 Miles High”-meets-”Your Mind & We Belong Together” break on “Black & White,” and the irresistible lines of “Cup of Tea.” But there’s also the hushed and delicate beauty of “Shelley Brown,” the slow-burning, mysterious epic scale of “Find A Place,” and the beguiling paean to Aussie soap Home & Away that is “Finn, Sophie, Bobby & Lance.” When the Miles & Gil influence does kick in properly though, such as on the exultant “Moonshine,” it really takes your breath away. The nearest comparison is probably Nixon-era Lambchop.

As if this wasn’t enough, it’s all beautifully recorded too—location-specific rimshots and fingerclicks as lovingly positioned as caterwauling sax solos, and the usual Shack guitar sound present as ever, lovingly rich and emotive. …The Corner of Miles and Gil is comfortably better than …Here’s Tom with the Weather and HMS Fable. It’s probably better than Waterpistol too, and might just be as good as The Magical World of the Strands. I love this record already, even after just a few days.

THE CORNER OF MILES & GIL, HECKER SPRAY (STUART HERITAGE), 12th MAY 2006,

It’s well known that anyone reviewing a Shack album is legally obliged to mention the band’s troubled past, so let’s begin there. In a nutshell, then: lost albums, studio fires, heroin addiction, Cast.

Now that’s out of the way, we can turn our attention to …The Corner Of Miles and Gil, the new album by Shack. It’s a album by a trad Scouse band on Noel Gallagher’s record label that was produced by one of Space, so it could easily be terrible. But it isn’t – …The Corner Of Miles And Gil is, in fact, a thing of outrageous beauty.

We thought we knew Shack from their 1999 HMS Fable album, a record that had journalists looping the loop about its brilliance, even though it was a mostly cack collection of smackhead sea-shanties. Now, though, we’re faced with …The Corner Of Miles And Gil – a majestic psychedelic guitar-soul record, like Forever Changes performed by monged-out Scousers.

Musically, …The Corner Of Miles And Gil is just gorgeous; light and jazzy with breezy trumpets and vocal harmonies exploding in every direction when you least expect them to. And then you listen to the lyrics and discover that things aren’t quite as sweet as you’d assumed.

First single and album opener Tie Me Down, for example, is about a woman asking her lover to strap her to the bed with some rope from the cupboard, while Finn, Sophie, Bobbie & Lance is about the abduction of four Home And Away characters. We’re clearly a world away from James Blunt here.

Picking stand-out tracks from …The Corner Of Miles And Gil is a difficult task, since the album fits together as one movement so well, but Cup Of Tea with its sighing “ohhhh”s and “lalala”s is the most immediate song in the collection – perhaps the most immediate song in Shack’s catalogue – so it doesn’t really matter that it’s about a fruitcake lodger spiking her landlord’s tea with acid. Find A Place, on the other hand, is a spooky, disturbing piece of atmospherics that would be depressingly off-putting if it wasn’t pulled off with such a light touch.

If we’d have been told that …The Corner Of Miles And Gil by Shack was a lost 40-year-old album by a band nobody remembers, we’d have taken the bait. As it stands, though, …The Corner Of Miles And Gil stands up against anything you dare stand it up against. It isn’t just the best thing that Shack have ever recorded, it’s arguably the best thing that Noel Gallagher has ever been associated with.

THE CORNER OF MILES & GIG, GIGWISE (NEIL CONDRON), 17th MAY 2006

Since even your grandparents probably have an acquaintance with the bones of the Shack story by now, we won’t bore you with yet another account of studio fires, lost master tapes, drug addiction and patronage from generous believers. A far more relevant story right now is how they have come full circle in their pursuit of that elusive, revelatory moment that gave birth to the chiming beauty of their masterpiece, Waterpistol, and have damn near recaptured that magic in the process.   If 2003’s Here’s Tom With The Weather captured a band a little too at ease with their art, The Corner of Miles and Gil captures Mick Head, his brother John, the bedraggled Ian Templeton and scouse rock uber-bassist Pete Wilkinson (reunited with the Head brothers for the first time since Waterpistol, and not without significance) rediscovering the music that brought them together in the first place and seeing into what wondrous shapes they can twist it.  Shack have always been a band to wear their record collections on their sleeve, but this has to be their most adventurous tribute to date.  Quite aside from the album title (a reference to the Heads’ heroes Miles Davis and his arranger Gil Evans), centre piece Miles Away (yes, we get it) lifts directly from the jazz legends All Blues (from the seminal Kind of Blue), whilst still keeping the raw acoustic soul of their band at the core.  It’s big, brave and gloriously out of sync with everything else that is being put out in 2006.    The same blue-note spirit weaves its way through all corners of this album, from John’s swinging solo chanson New Day to the mesmeric Black and White, where the psychedelic jazz-folk of The Byrds is set alight by John’s most incendiary guitar work since HMS Fable’s Streets Of Kenny.  Even the curious Funny Things invites Coltrane-esque sax lines into the mix, resulting in a dizzying blend of Gershwin and Zappa.

Of course, the genius of Mick Head is found in his simple, almost childlike, yet always mischievous approach to songwriting that makes his ongoing commercial failure so unfathomable. It’s in the way he can sing about your lover wanting you to tie her up (‘Dad’s in the Navy/So use a granny knot”, she says, ever so matter-of-factly) over the mariachi horns and gentle summer lilt of Tie Me Down. It’s in the way he can moan about having his cuppa spiked whilst bashing out jangling pop (Cup Of Tea) and namecheck characters from Aussie daytime soap Home and Away in a ghostly ballad (Finn, Sophie, Bobby and Lance).  But The Corner of Miles and Gil pushes the envelope yet further, hiding less behind masses of strings (a charge that could be brought against their last two long players) and instead allowing the melodies their own space.    Continuing on from a theme developed on the stronger tracks from Here’s Tom, Mick’s Closer and the afore-mentioned Miles Away amount more to movements than songs, building to choruses before darting hare-like into musical burrows and tunnels only to resurface in places sometimes familiar yet often quite strange.  And that’s not even the whole story, an interesting footnote is the ever-increasing contribution of John to the Shack oeuvre; here adding a dark and otherworldly set of songs that range from the rather shapeless (Moonshine) to the understatedly epic (Find A Place).  Waterpistol, this album could never match, but it’s certainly an album to rank alongside it.  This time under the benefaction of Noel Gallagher, there will be some cynics who’ll dismiss this album (and indeed Shack) as a bit of a hobby horse for the Oasis chieftain. But if you’ve read the words of Mick Head in the media recently, you’ll have heard hungry talk of a follow-up to The Strands project and even of a solo acoustic album. Therein lies the rub: there are artists who spend years trying to knock out an album on major label money and there are artists like Shack, who if given support will give you three albums in one sitting. Really, Noel should be fucking canonised.

THE CORNER OF MILES & GIL, HYBRID MAGAZINE (GARETH BOWLES), MAY 2006

A new album from Shack is a rare treat, made harder to obtain by the fact that only one of their albums (1999’s HMS Fable) was released in the U.S. For lovers of fine British pop with a strong 60’s influence and a psychedelic tinge, however, this group is unparalleled – well worth tracking down if you’re intrigued.

Michael and John Head still write all the songs and do the lead singing and guitars, but Shack is really feeling like a band on this album, with drummer Iain Templeton and bassist Pete Wilkinson contributing to the wonderfully organic feel of the music and providing some killer backup harmonies – a key part of the Shack sound.

Despite the reference to Miles Davis and Gil Evans in the title, there’s not a lot of jazz here. Instead, the band builds on the riches of their four previous albums to make a superb set of songs that highlight their influences (you can hear The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and especially Love – in fact the Head brothers backed up Arthur Lee on a UK tour a few years ago).

“Tie Me Down” kicks off the album on a gentle note, a waltz-timed tune with soaring chorus that packs quite a surprise when you realize that the lyrics are a paean to the joys of bondage sex! Mick Head pulls off a really skilful trick here by making the subject sound like a natural progression in a strong relationship, without a hint of perversion or sleaze. Try it, kids, you won’t go blind! Likewise, “Cup Of Tea” chugs along nicely, the oh-so-British subject matter enhanced by the thickest Scouse accents you’re likely to hear on any record, but there’s a strong hint that there is something more hallucinogenic than milk in there.

Some of the highlights of any Shack album come when the Head brothers let go with a guitar rave-up, and there are two great examples here. John Head’s chiming “Butterfly” comes first, with a nagging rhythm line driving a wonderfully woozy, psychedelic song that makes you feel as if you’re on a mind-altering substance even when you’ve had nothing stronger than the aforementioned cup o’ char. Most Shack reviews tout the genius of Mick Head (and they’re not wrong), but his brother has contributed his fair share of gems over the years too, and this is one of the very best. You have to pay a bit of attention to tell when John’s singing, but his voice is that little bit sweeter and less gruff.

Mick comes roaring back with the storming “Black And White”. It kicks off with no warning right after the quiet ballad “Shelley Brown” to maximize the impact, and features no less than four fantastic, twisted, string-bending guitar breaks that would fit right in on a Buffalo Springfield or “Eight Miles High”-era Byrds album. If Shack ever make it back to these shores, this will no doubt be incredible live – in fact I’m sorely tempted to head over to England to catch them, this song is that good.

Shack is a habit well worth acquiring. Try picking up HMS Fable cheap or on one of the online services, and go from there – it might take you a few listens to reveal all of the band’s charms, but once you’re hooked it will be a lifetime obsession.

FOOTNOTE – the UK release of this record is courtesy of Noel Gallagher’s Sour Mash Records. I still think the Oasis supremo has it in him to make music as good as this – let’s hope their next album proves me right.

THE CORNER OF MILES & GIL, WHISPERIN & HOLLERIN (TIM PEACOCK), MAY 2006

Although they can do no wrong for their loyal fanbase, that SHACK remain little more than a middling cult concern seems incomprehensible bearing in mind the quality of their (admittedly rather sporadic) output.

Fortunately, they have a few influential friends kicking about too, so it’s thanks to Noel Gallagher’s Sour Mash label that their eagerly-awaited sixth album (I’m including The Strands record here ‘cos it’s a Shack album in all but name) finally sees the light of day. And – predictably – the resulting “The Corner Of Miles And Gil” is yet another joy to behold.

As you may have gleaned, the album title refers to Miles Davis and his arranger Gil Evans, though – the fragrant, Traffic-style flute and the daft-but-cool indie be-bop of “Funny Things” aside – you can rest assured that this is hardly their “Bitches Brew” or suchlike. It’s simply another excellent Shack record with guitarist John Head continuing to come up and challenge his big bro’ Mick on the song-writing rails.

It’s a little simplistic, but broadly “The Corner…” sounds a tad like a cross-breed of the two previous Shack albums, the largely pastoral and gorgeous “Here’s Tom With The Weather” and the more pop-oriented and anthemic “HMS Fable.” Naturally, there’s lots of wicked Scouse humour present – notably on the Love-meets-Dexys fun of the domination-obsessed “Tie Me Down” or on “Cup Of Tea”, where Mick’s brew tastes considerably more mind-altering than he’d imagined when he poured in the milk and stirred – and the inevitable undercurrent of gentle psychedelia wafts through a number of the tunes, but overall it’s a good mixture of light-hearted and lovelorn in typical Shack fashion and contains plenty to quickly hook you in.

So, occasionally, bits of it rock a little more than you might imagine. The witty, spiked LSD-isms of “Cup Of Tea” (“I hear the milky whistlin’ across the street/ see the postie dancin’ in front of me”) switch up to a dangerous fifth gear after the choruses and the “la la la la” section can’t possibly fail live. “Black And White”, too, is the sort of forceful rocker Shack don’t do half enough. It’s brash, sprightly and features some dynamite John Head lead guitar straight outta The Byrds “Fifth Dimension” album. “Butterfly,” meanwhile, is the first of a quartet of John-penned tunes and arguably the best, bringing on the horns and hitting the harmonies dead on as they concoct a beauty along the lines of “Time Machine” from “Waterpistol.”

Naturally, there’s space for a brace of acoustic-based tunes as well. “Shelley Brown”, for example, is a typical soft-focus slice of opiated loveliness that could just have made The Strands album; John’s “New Day” is restrained and pretty and the brooding “Find A Place” is actually something of a departure, with keening strings and the kind of chilly, early hours feel that the Tindersticks made their own for many years. The one minor disappointment is Mick’s “Finn, Sophie, Bobby and Lance” which settles into a folky canter along the lines of “Daniella” but never quite sounds ghostly enough.

It’s hardly a major blimp anyway, and it’s more than redeemed by the album’s two complex set-pieces, “Miles Away” and “Closer” respectively. The former is initially quite sultry with strings and woodwind supporting, but at around the three-minute mark the whole band get hold of it as if from nowhere and it turns some sturdy rock tricks of its’ own. The first section of “Closer”, meanwhile, sounds like it’s gearing up to be another of those typical Mick postscripts a la “Happy Ever After” (complete with a reference to Siobhan and Hazy from the “Waterpistol” album) but again the band bash in for a notable last hurrah and as it winds down, it strikes you they had a new “On The Terrace” in reserve all along.

“The Corner Of Miles And Gil”, then, is another ineffably cool patch of the city for Shack to plant their flag. The hipsters, flipsters and finger-poppin’ Dad(rocker)s will all frequent, but rather more of the pop kids ought to give them a try as well. They might just learn a thing or two about how all this should be done.

THE CORNER OF MILES & GIL, GEOFF KING, MAY 2006

An old man said to me just yesterday, “don’t you know what’s the matter with you, don’t you know what to say ?”,
and I said….”It must have been something I loved…”
(LEE HAZELWOOD)

I have got to admit that I’ve been struggling recently. Struggling big-time. Struggling for the right words to say.

I think it all started back last April when Shack played London. The anticipation that night was immense with the new album on the horizon. I don’t know what I was expecting, but the prospect of a set of new songs was a mouth-watering one. For me, …Here’s Tom With the Weather had signalled a majestic return to form from the lads and John had contributed a couple of beauties on that album (man, Carousel – take a bow). Here’s Tom was a beautiful balance of the moody, melancholic, and inspirational with the production on that album being simply stunning – a work of craftsmanship all round. So, with a new album around the corner this was clearly a gig to showcase the new material that would follow on from Tom. Well, not exactly. Let me first of all state the bleeding obvious. I love Shack. I’ve followed Mick’s career for long enough to know that there are peaks and troughs. And to follow Einstein’s logic, everything is relative. I don’t like Streets of Kenny or Pull Together. But that’s only in comparison with Al’s Vacation or Undecided. Anyway, back to London…a slight disappointment. Of course they played Pull Together and Streets of Kenny, but that was compensated for with I Know You Well and Lizzy Malally. And then Meant To Be went and blew us all away as the Shacknet horns instinctively, to a man, found an inspired voice that night. The rest as they say is history…(“ba bara bara – ba bara bara..…..”).

But it was the lack of new songs that really disappointed that evening. I think there were three in total. Black & White and Cup of Tea were clearly great songs, but I was not convinced with Johns new one (Butterfly), although the Tim Hardin intro at least proved a talking point. But again let’s apply the Shack law of relativity to this and get things in perspective. I was still buzzing. A great night out on the Hoegaarden with fellow shacknetters at a good to middling Shack gig is something I would highly recommend to anyone. Plus this was the eve of a European Cup Final semi final first leg v Chelsea (recent bouts of déjà vu anyone ?).

The conversations in the Soulseek basement in the following weeks included such philosophical debates as to whether that really was Vinni and son in London, if Kev Mac was out of order for saying Bobbie G had a fat arse and was shit, and why Shack hadn’t played more new material (including L’pool the night after).

Fast track 12 months (thank fuck for that I hear you all say !)…………….

I have the album …The Corner of Miles & Gil. First of all I have to say what an inspired title for an album. I remember reading Mick’s Top ten albums around 1995. I got a fax in work from a friend who had just received it from the Marina Records office. It included Tim Buckley (HappySad), Byrds (5D), Stravinsky (Firebird Symphony), Love (Da Capo) and Miles Davis with Gil Evans (Porgy & Bess). So, for me, it was straight out to buy both the Stravinsky and Davis albums. Mick Head, song writing genius, introducing me unknowingly to classical and jazz. So, for me, the album title sits nicely with the Shack philosophy and musical heritage. So far so good….

And Sourmash and Hug. Again, I have to say that the website with its downloads, updates and general promotion of the band and album have been fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. And in all that time I don’t think I ever once saluted. So here goes, nice one Noel.

I guess I can delay it and delay it, but eventually I have to get to the music. Or maybe I could just say nothing. But I like to think that everyone on this forum has his or her own voice and opinions, which are respected, but not always agreed with. I would hate to be blindly devoted to something that I felt unable to criticise it. I therefore think that casting a critical eye on things is important. Go on Geoff, say you hate the album, spit it out lad. Well, it’s not that easy really. My first thoughts weeks ago when I first heard the album was to offer a review on the board that went something like this……..

“HMS FABLE is a cracking album…”

The Shack laws of relativity appearing again. But I thought that was a bit crass really and the band mean far more to me to offer such a flippant comment. So, I’ve been wrestling with the songs for weeks now, realising that greatness doesn’t always shine through on first listen. So I listened, and listened, and listened. And hence I struggled. There were obvious gems on the album, but there were also songs and aspects of songs that I just couldn’t take to. Without getting too specific, the overall sound/mix, whatever you want to call it, just seemed to ‘full-on’ for me. Like everything but the kitchen sink had been thrown in. It could be my deaf ear playing up but the album hasn’t got a clarity that say Tom or Waterpistol have. But like I say, I have been wrestling with the album – literally. The beauty of the mp3 generation is the playlist flexibility, so I’ve been rearranging tracklistings and song orders so that I have a version of Miles & Gil that even I am happy with…

1. Working Family
2. Black & White
3. Cup Of Tea
4. Uncle Smaegel’s Cardigan
5. Miles Away
6. New Day
7. Finn, Sophie Bobbie & Lance
8. Shelley Brown
9. Closer
10. Tie Me Down (acoustic) – bonus track
11. Lizzy Malally

I have to say that Working Family really lifted me when I heard it, with the opening Crossroads chords it offers up a textbook Shack classic (and yes Arf you are spot on with your Comedy reference). And suddenly I am feeling a whole lot better about this album. Black & White and Cup Of Tea are great songs that would have been a much better choice for single than Tie Me Down. Both of these songs are fantastic, but I think Cup Of Tea is my favourite of the two. However, Black & White with its distorted guitars at the end just takes me way back to …from across the kitchen table and I’m sure this song could easily be a hit. And that is another reason I love Uncle Smaegel. It captures the psychedelic scouse-folk of Shack that I love and couldn’t find anywhere else on the album. There is a comforting familiarity that this song brings. I’d file it away with Al’s Vacation. Irish and Poor Jill. Miles Away is another great song, with its tempo changes. Unfortunately, the relativity law applies here and I’d compare it to Meant to Be. No contest I’m afraid. Which then leads on to a nice melancholic stroll to album close. New Day is clearly John’s best offering on the album, with beautiful salvation army band trumpets adorning it, and Finn, Sophie Bobbie and Lance has a haunting mood running through that I can’t help but like. However, I have saved the best two for last……

See, that is the thing about Shack. Somehow they always deliver. In Shelley Brown and Closer they have written two of my all-time favourite Shack songs. And the wrestling and mixing has paid dividends for me here. Because I finally played them back-to-back in my search for the best mix. The two songs for me have now become intertwined – a whole – a One. They deserve to be played back to back because they are the two real slices of pure beauty on Miles & Gil. The guitar on Shelley is mesmerising, and the accompaniments are understated so that the song just breathes and then segues into Closer. I was talking to Mark (a believer) in Liverpool last week. It was great, couple of beers and talking about Shack with real passion, and we got to talking about Closer and how fantastic Mick’s vocals are on that song. And we were right of course, because his voice has never sounded better than on this recording.

My Miles & Gil demons have therefore been partly erased. But paradoxically I feel better about Shack now than I have ever done. The board is absolutely buzzing at the moment. I came home yesterday after four days away to five (yes 5!) full pages of unread posts. Loads of newcomers (although Johnny Red Eye is surely GD’s alter ego), and ‘real’ Shack activity. Instore signings, gigs almost every night, great reviews everywhere. And last Friday night I probably enjoyed my best Shack gig ever – the crowd made it of course, but the band were spot-on. Its good times to be on Shacknet I think.

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