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Brother Beyond - John Head Live

By Truman Capote 


History records that younger siblings will always exist in the shadow of their older brother.  I'm thinking Jack Charlton; I'm thinking Wayne Lineker; I'm thinking Eric Manson.  The list is, indeed, endless, and I could go on.  The likes of Keith Dahmer, Barnaby Southgate, Norman Cowell, Arnold Drummond, and Isaac Danesh have all, at one time or another, felt the unwelcome ignominy of being referred to as 'our kid'.  And, for several years, John Head was arguably in the same boat.  On our estate, in the 70's and 80's, he was known as Little John.  Not that he was a Robin Hood fan; rather, he was little, and he was John. Elder brother, Mick, was, for years, the man.  Feted in 1981 and 1982 as lead singer in the Pale Fountains, and later (as part of Shack) championed by - amongst others - the NME, Paul Weller, Noel and Liam Gallagher, The Coral and, er, The Delays, Michael Head was, and is, a musical genius.  Slowly, though - and, perhaps, inexorably - John (the younger by 4 years) has caught up.  First appearing as a callow 18-year old on the seminal Paleys album 'Pacific Street' (where, for reasons still unclear, he is listed in the sleeve notes as 'John Schneider'), John and Mick have been musically entwined ever since (1983).  John's own songwriting talents remained largely unheard until 1995, though, when a couple of his solo numbers made it onto the sublime 'The Magical World of the Strands' (by The Strands but, basically, Shack by any other name).  Since then, John compositions have appeared on each subsequent Shack LP - 'HMS Fable', 'Here's Tom with the Weather', and ' . . . the Corner of Miles and Gil'.

And here we are, late in 2008, with the future of Shack somewhat shrouded in mystery.  Mick has his 'Red Elastic Band' side-project (its live debut, in September, was greeted with a mixture of awe, bewilderment and discomfort, depending on who you speak to), whilst John has opted to go solo (albeit augmented live) and has, so far, played a total of 5 dates.  In fact, over 3rd, 4th and 5 October, John performed in Birmingham, Manchester and Manchester (again) respectively, and I elected to catch the first date in Britain's second city. Arrived in Birmingham around 9.00pm, and found the gig about 9.20.  Problem on the door, though.  "Are they tracksuit bottoms, mate"?  Er, yeah?  "Can't let you in, sorry, new rules".  Yer' wha?  It's a boozer in B14, lid, hardly the Rum Runner with Simon Le Bon and other doyens of the West Midlands New-Romantic scene.  But he was unmoved, and he looked like Curtis Warren.  Plop.  I gave into my better judgement, and, rather than walk off, head and dignity held high, I pleaded as if for my life.  "I'm on the gezzy, lad, look" (points at guest list).  He ummed and ahhed, like some big ummy-ahhhy thing, before finally giving me the nod.  I flicked him the v's, once I was safely ensconced, just like Rik, with that copper, before he went to post the bomb-threat to Thatcher.  The room was rammed, and I gave a listen to support act Dominic Crane as he weaved his pleasant acoustic refrains.  John took to the tiny stage around 10.20, for a set that lasted around an hour or so.  No denying it, he was awesome.  Eyes closed throughout each song, as he strummed his way through his entire 'catalogue' - aided on a couple of numbers by two lads out of The Wizards of Twiddly (on clarinet and double-bass).  Highlights for this writer were 'Cornish Town', 'Butterfly', 'Miles Apart', 'Metro' and '1967'.  There was an amusing interlude when Big Gord, loyal Shack fan from Edinburgh who had flown down for the gig (and was flying back via Aberdeen, to watch his beloved Hibees at Pittodrie), peeved at incessant chatter from some pricks at the back, went to confront them.  Turned out that they were all girls on a birthday night out.  He still battered them mind.  Following a three-song encore, and a few words from the promoter Brummie Mick, it was back-stage for a chat with John, coupla soft drinks, and ready for home.  Finally got back to Liverpool around 4.00am, but well worth it.
Now, if I wasn't a part timer, I could tell you that I also went to Manchester on the Saturday night (The Windmill, Stretford) and Sunday night (The Deaf Institute, for Heavenly's birthday party).  But, being old, the one night did me.  I understand, though, that John was immense at both, and the Heavenly gig saw him watched by the likes of Edwyn Collins, Roddy Frame, and a particularly enthusiastic Romeo Stoddart out of the Magic Numbers.  Still so many questions, though.  What does their kid think of all this? Where now for Shack? What's happening with John's album, and when is he next playing again?  Ah, well, I can answer that last one.  13 December, at the Zanzibar.  Get yerself down there, and bring your little brother.




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