Shack at De Bees. 6th June 2010.
Winsford is a town with a vibrant local music scene. De Bees is it’s headquarters. Today’s event, organised by Keo Martin & Pete Thomas, brought much of that local musical talent together in raising funds and awareness for SUDEP (Sudden Unexpected Death In Epilepsy) and especially in memory of Pete’s daughter Lian.
The announcement of this gig back in March was met by many with a fair amount of surprise and disbelief as it was generally considered that Mick & John were too committed to their individual musical projects to consider a full-on Shack reunion, even if it was for a single show.
The rumour mill grinded ever more in the run up to the gig and even on the day there is still word that at least one essential Shack ingredient might be missing. Any anxiety turned to relief when word arrives at around 7.30pm that Mick, John and Iain are in the building.
A small Shacknet contingent gathers around the garden bar amongst the locals: GeordieDave, his mate Rob, Jodie & Pete Wally, the ever-present Mike & Sheila, Mags and his crew of Shacknuts. Around 8.30pm we all gather inside close to the stage half chatting about what the gig might hold and half keeping an eye on Skinny as he tests the mics and prepares two distinctive acoustic guitars on stage: Mick’s “Marilyn” Farida and John’s favourite Martin. By 8.40pm, ‘Skins gives the thumbs up to the sound desk, all vantage points around the stage are occupied as more and more people clamour around the stage to get a decent view. It’s 8.45pm and it’s fair to say it’s rammed.
Mick and John amble on stage right to loud cheers led by Mags and his crew, spreading raucously across the venue. A big thumbs-up from Mick to the crowd as he strides across the stage and straps on his guitar, John meticulously checks each string for tuning. Iain, back on duty with a bandaged wrist after his bike accident, takes to his stool and scratches his head. The hubbub from the crowd settles, Mick gets John’s attention, “OK?” he mumbles, eyebrows raised, John nods and grins, a “1…2…3…1…2…3” from Mick and without fuss we are straight into the waltzing, opening bars of “Stranger”. It is at this point you can usually gauge the quality of a Shack gig and the signs are good. “Stranger” drifts, ebbs and flows as it draws towards it’s conclusion: “Yes, you’ve gone, you’ve gone down river, and it’s right…Stranger…Stranger…”, John’s exquisite closing guitar sequence played out on an acoustic guitar fading out and the crowd roars. I love that roar at end of a first song.
As the bellow subsides it is clear something isn’t right with the drums, words and concerned expressions are exchanged between the band. A miffed Iain gets up from his stool as his borrowed kit is dismantled and reassembled. My drummer mate spotted before the gig that the hi-hat is missing and it’s now apparent that Iain is also a left-handed drummer who plays a right-handed kit and whatever assortment of drums and gear is in front of him, it isn’t set up right. During this break Mick banters with individuals in the crowd whilst John watches the activity going on behind him with the drums with mild amusement. The crowd shout for “Baker Street”, (a reference to Mick’s impromptu rendition at the end of John’s show in Crosby the week before). Mick laughs and dismisses the calls, his preparation for this gig doesn’t provide the levels of bravery needed to singlehandedly tackle Gerry Raftery’s sax-driven 70s pomp classic.
Everything is now set for the next song, that Shack live staple “Pull Together” and this acoustic version with full drums give this familiar old song a slightly lighter, breezy twist. “You and I’ve been criticised, We gotta’ pull together, You and I’ve been criticised, We gotta’ pull together”. For a song I’ve probably heard played live over twenty times it takes on a refreshingly different sound.
John’s “Miles Apart” follows which he sings as ever with gusto, eyes tightly shut: “Who said this is not right? And if we’re lying and dreaming, in courting our own demise. but what we got is beautiful moments”. Indeed. After the song finishes it’s clear that all is still not well with Iain and the now infamous drum kit. He’s ready for kicking the shit out of it and Mick & John look to him to get it sorted out.
Mick starts up “X Hits The Spot” and after two lines aborts the song. Mick & John both turn to Iain. It’s the drums again. Mick presses on straight into “Something Like You” followed by “Streets of Kenny” after which there are more frowns in the direction of the drummer. Iain has clearly lost all patience and given up all hope of the kit ever being quite right and tells them both to “…just fucking deal with it!”. John turns away and laughs, calls for a drink from the bar and strikes up “Cornish Town” at the slightly slower pace he has recently fashioned with his new band.
Mick sings “Amy” with renewed levels of vigour as he hollers “C’mon! C’mon! C’mon! C’mon!…”. It is a song which he clearly enjoys playing and seems especially well rehearsed which bodes well for his forthcoming Red Elastic Band gig. A ramshackle version of “Meant To Be” follows with Mick leading the Shacknet horns and applauding their input at the end.
The set closes with “Comedy” dedicated to Lian & Biffa. As it ends and the crowd shows it appreciation, Iain stands up from his stool, flings his drum sticks to the floor and storms off to the bar. If he had some lighter fuel handy I’m sure he would’ve put Hendrix to shame with that drum kit. The band are cheered off the stage, hugs all round with the fambo and they follow Iain to the bar for a well earned drink.
Something very special happens when Mick & John play and sing together that is rarely quite captured in their solo projects. I saw it again in effortless abundance tonight: Mick’s steady rhythm, embellished with his trademark latin and staccato fills perfectly entwining with John’s beautiful picking and counter guitar melodies – complementing and flawlessly balanced. Their vocals and harmonies fit so perfectly together that has everything to do with them being brothers and being blessed with the ability to express their souls. Combine all of this with exquisite song writing and the heady cocktail has the potential to simultaneously blow your mind and make you smile. Something very special indeed.
Setlist : Stranger, Pull Together, Miles Apart, X Hits the Spot, Streets of Kenny, Something Like You, Cornish Town, Amy, Meant To Be, Comedy
Photographs by John Johnson