Waterpistol (1995)

Sgt Major
Mood of The Morning
Walter’s Song
Hey Mama
Time Machine
Mr Appointment
London Town

“Waterpistol is a special record, one of those lifestyle albums you wonder how you ever lived without.”Inkblot Magazine

“An album fit to inspire a generation.”NME

“Shack were the band The Stone Roses were never good enough to be.”NME

“A tremendous album.”NME

“A tour-de-force of timeless pop songs. A lost classic.”Music Week

“A bona fide Classic Lost Album. Some of the most outstanding, honest music that’s been made this decade. Fact.”Vox

“Buy this album right now. Beautiful.”Melody Maker

“Michael Head’s finest moment.”Vox

“Compared to Shack The La’s were nothing but popcorn-peddlers.”Time Out

“Everyone should find time to listen to this.”FHM

“The best album The Head brothers had been involved with.”NME

“Mick Head’s voice has never sounded as soulful and strong as on Waterpistol.”NME

“A beautiful soundtrack to the beast of urban life and a work that was undoubtedly worth waiting for.”Time Out

“One of the great forgotten albums of the decade.”Uncut

“Waterpistol is the golden chiming dream of a pop record that Scouse Scallies by the dozen have tried to make over the past 30 years.”Vox

“Makes Noel sound like a cowboy builder to a master craftsman.”Select



When Shack’s mainman Michael Head thrust his hand into life’s lucky dip, little did he know that it would promise him the world and then bite his arm off. Twice.

Back in the early Eighties, his first band, The Pale Fountains, were going to be big stars. Virgin gave them a vast stack of money, but they sank. Head tried again with Shack in 1986. The stacks of critical acclaim for their debut album, Zilch, did little to propel them anywhere either. Waterpistol was recorded, lost in a fire (which also put the band’s label out of business) and Shack slid off the face of Planet Rock without many people noticing…
Buy this album right now!! The reasons? Because it is just so lovely. From the stirring Sgt Major, an understated epic of tuneful mournfulness, through to the delicate closing track, London Town, a quiet little song which will strike deep chords with anyone who had to grit their teeth and risk leaving home for London, it’s pure pleasure to listen to. Dotted with Beatles references (skilfully done, mind, none of your Oasis art-of-the-obvious here), unexpected and joy-inspiring melodic play and an undertone of quiet desperation make this an essential possession.

All the bad luck and missed chances just add to this records beguiling lustre. Beautiful.


As great lost albums go it’s hardly in the same league as The Beach Boys’ Smile, but Shack’s Waterpistol is, nonetheless, a great album. And, until now, it has certainly been lost.

Let’s trace the tale back to 1991, when songwriter Michael Head and his guitarist brother John and their band entered Dick Leahy’s Star Street Studio in London to record Shack’s second album for Ghetto. Things didn’t go too well, as producer Chris Allison recalls: “Mick could never finish anything. I’ve never worked with anyone like him, and I hope I never do again. But he’s a songwriting genius and one of the most gifted artists I’ve ever worked with.”

Allison recalls that Head would disappear for days on end during the recording, so he took drastic steps. “I locked him in the studio and told him I wouldn’t let him out until he’d done five vocals. He was furious and wasn’t used to working without a few drinks, but the results were amazing.”

And he says all this with genuine warmth; Head might have been a trial to work with, but he was capable of greatness. But fate was not on his side and, shortly after recording and mixing were completed in 1991, Star Street Studio burned down, taking the masters of Head’s opus with it. Shortly after, Leahy wound up his Ghetto label and that was the end of Shack. Little has been heard of Head since then, and no new material has been released, echoing the vanishing of another Scally genius, The La’s’ Lee Mavers.

Allison, meanwhile, had taken off to do my Jack Kerouac in the US and, knowing nothing of the fire, lost his producer’s copy DAT of Waterpistol in a hire car. Incredibly, when he returned and learnt of the fire, he tracked down the tape through US hire giant, Alamo. But still everything lay dormant, until German indie Marina rang Leahy’s office and said it wanted to release the album. So, 1995 sees the launch of one of 1991’s best records, a tour-de-force of timeless pop songs that sound as fresh as anything new you’ll hear this year.

But, as Leahy recalls, there was little interest in Head or Shack four years ago, “The press were always supportive, but no-one in the industry cared. We knew we had a great album, but it’s taken interest from Germany to actually have the record released.”

Marina specialises in releasing British music that UK companies have passed over, and has a roster featuring ex-Orange Juice guitarist, Malcolm Ross, and The Bathers.

Co-owner Frank Lahnemann says, “My partner and I were huge Pale Fountains fans and heard there was an unreleased record, so we were determined to track it down. We contacted Dick Leahy’s office and they were very happy to let us release it.”

Virgin’s head of A&R Paul Kinder was Shack’s A&R man at Ghetto, and the last known industry figure to meet the elusive Head. He rates Waterpistol highly, but believes that three or four other important songs from the period should have been on the record.

But, that quibble aside, all parties involved are delighted the project has at last seen the light of day. Fans of expertly played, emotional music have much cause for cheer, too. One such is High Llamas frontman Sean O’Hagan, who made up Arthur Lee’s backing band with the Head brothers a few years ago.

He says, “Mick and John were ordinary Liverpool lads who liked a laugh, but they came out with extraordinary music. There’s no way Shack could have made a bad album.”

Leahy doesn’t have particularly high hopes for a huge-selling record, but he’s hoping some good will come of it. “My biggest hope is that it will get some good reviews, or end up on some indie chart, and a UK label will decide to go for it. If it is successful, it’ll probably be down to word-of-mouth,” he says.

After surviving loss, fire and indifference surely nothing else can go wrong. Waterpistol may never top the charts, and Shack may never play again, but at least this lost classic is now available. And, when last heard of, Mick Head was working on a project with Oasis producer, Mark Coyle. Maybe all it needs is for the Gallaghers to get behind this atmospheric album and something great could yet happen with it.


by Johnny Lake

Stop whatever you’re doing and look at this. One of rock ‘n’ roll’s most underrated bands just might change your life.

Forget The Pale Fountains. Forget Zilch (Shack’s debut album). Forget the recording studios burning down. Forget DAT tapes mislaid  in American rental cars. Forget drug addictions – we’re not here to judge. This is rock n roll, man! Forget Star Street. Forget Ghetto recordings. Forget Marina Records. Forget the initial release. Forget the re-release, the different artwork, the two extra tracks. Forget the fawning who’s who of rock royalty proclaiming their love of Mick Head’s opus. Forget the heroic failure. Forget the nearly man status. Forget what went before and what came after and just focus on Waterpistol. Is this the greatest album you don’t own? Probably.Born of Mick and John Head’s, love of Love, of John Barry sound tracks, of The Byrds, of The Beatles, and Mick’s obsession with The Stone Roses brilliant debut album, Waterpistol stands, musically, if not critically, or commercially, shoulder to shoulder with the best of them. She sits there easily beside Pet Sounds, or Rubber Soul, or Forever Changes, or The Las, or, indeed, The Stone Roses. For some of us, Waterpistol sits slightly above the others. The accepted classics. Granted, if, say, Charlie Harper is your hero, or Throbbing Gristle get you through Sunday mornings,  Waterpistol might not be for you. But, if you’re a sucker for well strummed acoustic guitars, beautiful singing, vocal harmonies, nah, nah, nahs, and la, la, las, all over the place, do yourself a favour and enhance your summer, stop whatever you’re doing – it’s not that important – and buy Waterpistol now.

For those of you who care – Shack are essentially Mick and John Head, brothers from Liverpool who’s previous band, The Pale Fountains, never quite lived up to the commercial expectations their record label had for them. Despite crafting two wondrous albums and a host of excellent singles. Shack are possibly the most criminally over looked band of my and your lifetime. They have released 5 full albums, of which Waterpistol is by far the best, a best of, plus a collection of sessions, extras and B-sides. Mick and John also recorded the album The Magical World Of The Strands as Micheal Head and The Strands.


by Ian Harrison

BBC RADIO 6 MUSIC – LIZ KERSHAW – ALL KILLER NO FILLER – Broadcast 8th September 2012 at 1.45pm

featuring Danny Armitage.

BBC Radio 6 Music - All Killer No Filler - Waterpistol



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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)