“Write something about Shack for Caught By The River,” asked Jeff many moons ago, and out of respect for the site, Jeff and the Head brothers I agreed immediately. Since then, nothing. I’ve been dry. The drought still isn’t over. It’s not Shack, it’s me. I’ve written the piece so many times. In 1995 I was writing about Waterpistol for NME, imploring readers to seek out this true lost gem on Marina, sure that when people heard it there’d be universal agreement that this was what the world was waiting for, more so than Oasis or Blur or whoever. How could the universe not be seduced by those great, stoned, majestic melodies, by Mick Head plucking diamonds from the ditch? The world spun on, unaffected, but we, you and I, we knew. Since then, I’ve written profiles, bios, sleeve notes, album reviews and more about Shack, all the time trying to spread the word about Mick and John Head. Yet the magical world of the Heads remains an exclusive enclave, like Monaco, a tiny, underpopulated land where everyone is nevertheless wealthy. It feels like I’ve repeated this story too many times, about Mick wringing romance and poetry from everyday street hassles, about the lush, mystical power of their songs, about John’s guitar, Mick’s Voice, and, increasingly, John’s voice too. What more could I say?
“Write about the Heads rather than Shack,” suggested Jeff. Good advice. I started thinking about the Pale Fountains, about my circumstances when they first hoved into view in the early ’80s. Marooned in a foreign land – Paris, actually, but it may as well have been Beirut to this 14 year old Londoner – those early singles (Something On My Mind, Thank You, Unless, Start A War) literally kept me alive, doing a different emergency shift to those served by Dexys, The Jam, the Smiths, Joy Division, Fall, Orange Juice, Josef K. Maybe it was because, unlike all the other music I was devouring, none of the English boys at my school liked them. Girls, however, liked the Pale Fountains when I played them to them, which is always good, and a couple of French kids saw my Paleys badge at the bus stop and we started talking about music (it may not have been a bus stop, and it may not have been a badge, but, forgive me, I did make French friends via The Pale Fountains somehow).
So those early Mick Head songs were my ambassadors at a time when diplomacy was otherwise failing me. Certainly more diplomatic than my clothes, hair or scowl, which ensured only harassment and fights. These Scouse kids who were sucking in Bacharach and Love and blowing out ornate, wistful pop in order to paint the streets of Kenny a different colour, were in turn enabling me to paint my own circumstances a brighter shade. I remember standing in the empty disco of a churning cross-channel ferry in early 1985, on the way back to London for a much needed intake of QPR, when Jean’s Not Happening appeared on the video screen. I decided there and then that I needed some leather on my back. It still looks good:
My head swimming with nostalgia as I write, I went hunting for Pale Fountains to listen to. I came by the single for Thank You, something I’d presumed long lost. The sleeve depicts four young men messing around in boats on a sunny river, the scene pastoral, golden, dreamy, and light years from their routine heavy manners in Thatcher’s Liverpool. Totally Caught By the River, in other words, even then.
Shack have a best of, ‘Time Machine’, out now and play Bush Hall on Weds and The Hospital on Thursday. See you there.