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Time Machine - The Best of Shack
By Paul Potts
There's a perception - probably a fact - that, if you've read one Shack review, then you've read them all. Mick and John Head, blah blah, creative geniuses, blah blah, Pale Fountains, blah blah, backed Arthur Lee, blah blah, albums lost for years, blah blah, feted by Noel Gallagher, Pete Townshend, Paul Weller, blah blah, destined to be only a poignant footnote (a la Nick Drake) in the history of popular music, blah blah. Let me, therefore, have the temerity to 'review' this compilation from a more personal perspective . . . .
I grew up with Mick and John Head. Actually, that's not strictly true. We were all raised in Everton, but didn't know each other until 1973, when the houses in our neck of the woods were razed to the ground, and the displaced were moved a mile away to Kensington ('Kenny', to its inhabitants). Fitzroy Way to be precise. I was in a maisonette, whilst they had a house around the corner, and we first got together in the communal square where football was king. Mick and I were 12, whilst John was 8, and we would play 'knockout' and 'three and in', and just sit off and laugh until it got too dark.
Mick was into his music, even then. In fairness, I can't recall when he first championed Love and Burt Bacharach, but he was well into Bowie, when the rest of us were listening to the Rollers. Footy was his first love, though, and he was brilliant - playing for Our Lady Immaculate, then Queen of All Saints Schools, and St Domingo juniors on a Sunday, and having a trial for Liverpool. We lost touch when people stopped 'playing out' (that would be around '77), and the next time I saw him (other than odd times around the estate) he was on stage at 'Brady's' in Liverpool. September '80, that was, and - friggin' 'ell - he was in a band. 'Eygpt for Now' they were called, and I remember that they were supporting an atrocious punk outfit with the less-than-inspired moniker of 'Unoccupied Europe'. We had a word, but it was a bit awkward, in fairness.
Fast forward to July 1981. Toxteth is ablaze but, less than a mile away, something is stirring in Kirklands wine bar. There is a bunch of lads, on an improvised stage, decked out in a combination of Boy Scout / Fisherman clobber. I wasn't there, but my now-wife was. Says they weren't that proficient, but they had that certain something. Michael Head (vox/guitar), Christopher McCaffrey (bass), Ken Moss (guitar), Thomas Whelan (drums), Ian Hart / Davies (maracas). Apologies to NIck Murphy (keyboards) as we - Mrs Potts - can't recall if he was there or not, although he was certainly rehearsing with them at the time. The Love Fountains (shortly to become the Pale Fountains) was born.
The following month saw a prestige support slot with Orange Juice at Pickwick's ('Plato's Ballroom' for gig purposes), and a senior WSAGer / SWINEster (thanks G) who was there, recently gave me a bootleg of that now legendary concert. Word started to spread. Further supports, with the likes of Aztec Camera, started to arouse the interests of the majors (allied to a glorious debut single 'Just a Girl / Something on my Mind) and, by the autumn of 1982, they had signed to Virgin for absolute brewsters. It was all set for it to happen, and we sat back and waited for their Virgin debut, 'Thank You' to soar to number one. But it never happened. Despite selling enough copies to get it to number one today, it criminally stiffed at 48 and, without that all-important Top of the Pops appearance, disappeared from view. Further Virgin releases failed to chart, and, by 1986, the record company had given up on the Palies (despite two stunning albums - albeit ones that didn't trouble the sales figures - 'Pacific Street' and 'From Across the Kitchen Table').
Enter Shack. Ken Moss, Chris ('Biffer') McCaffrey and Thomas ('Jock') Whelan had long gone their own way, and the new band had a nucleus of Mick and John (the latter having become a bona-fide Pale Fountain in 1983). Condensing things, somewhat, the last 20 years or so have seen a clutch of singles, and 5 albums (making the Blue Nile look prolific by comparison) - 'Zilch', 'Waterpistol', HMS Fable', Here's Tom with the Weather', and ' . . . the Corner of Miles and Gil' - and a litany of ill-fortune (there's a book in this, for someone). Still, though, commercial success (whatever that is) has evaded Mick and John, despite influencing most of the so-called 'Britpop' acts and having their recent records released and paid for by Noel Gallagher's Sourmash label. But, clearly, someone, somewhere, has decided that it is time for a Shack retrospective, and you can't argue with that. The title is probably something of a misnomer, as any 'best of' will always be subjective. From a personal point of view, though, I've got no truck with most of the choices, and five of my all-time favourite songs of all-time, mate, have made the cut - 'Cornish Town', 'Meant to Be', 'Neighbours', 'Miles Apart', and 'Streets of Kenny' (significantly, two of them are John Head compositions, and his extremely beautiful 'Butterfly' (a Pete Townshend fave) is also featured).
Predictably, I've played this to death for a week, and am far too close to it to foist an opinion on you (although you will know already what I think about it). So where do they go from here? The tour starts on Monday 16th (Liverpool - Friday 26 October), and there are rumours of a solo album from Mick. Chart hits? Doubtful. Their most commercial single for years - 'Cup of Tea' - was played on Jonathon Ross's radio show, but even that failed to propel it chart-ward. The band don't seem bothered, though, and credit to them for doing what they do, and for letting the songs speak up for themselves. Noely-G knows the score. Buy this, and hopefully you will as well.
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