CHECK out December’s gig listings for Liverpool and you’ll spot a common trend.
It has become a Christmas tradition for bands to play their home town with these past weeks already witnessing concerts by Echo and the Bunnymen, Ian McNabb and Space.
Who could begrudge these acts a little festive bonus? The crowds get a chance to have a drink and hug their best mate and everyone goes home happy.
That was certainly the case a couple of weeks ago when the Leaf Cafe on Bold Street witnessed one of the more pleasing Christmas comebacks of recent years.
If anyone deserves a bit of yuletide goodwill it’s Mick Head – a songwriter so brilliantly talented it’s as if someone decided to make his career chock- full of bad luck in an effort to give others a chance.
Mick, is of course the former frontman with Shack, a band who were so fantastic it becomes tiring saying how under-rated they were.
I first came across Mick and his music around the time his less than pretty mug appeared on the cover of NME in 1999 – with the headline “Our greatest songwriter.”
Although certainly an exaggeration, this was not as unlikely a claim as it might have sounded. The Liverpudlian quartet had just released HMS Fable, a gem of an album packed with gorgeous folk-tinged pop songs that, even 14 years on, is impossible for me to listen to without a smiling about a certain period in my life when things were taking a slightly odd turn.
Stuck in that post-university malaise and convinced only of the fact that I did not want to leave Liverpool, Shack’s day dreamy anthems about unemployment, TV and recreational drug use seemed to make a lot of sense.
Once I started digging a little deeper I realised that Mick had been doing this sort of thing for years.
A trip through Shack’s peerless back catalogue is an elegiac, hazy joy which makes you realise just why the likes of Noel Gallagher rates Head’s songwriting so highly.
Like plenty of other songwriters from Liverpool, the stoned West Coast sound of Arthur Lee’s Love has been a particularly potent influence on Head’s music but somehow his songs don’t really sound like those of similar adherents like The Coral or The Zutons.
If you’re looking for a starting point inside Mick’s head (see what I did there?) you could do a lot worse than getting a copy of Time Machine, Shack’s best of collection.
That fact it’s dubbed a ‘best of’ rather than a ‘greatest hits’ sums up all that is unlucky about Shack.
Despite the best efforts of Gallagher and lots of other muso fans it never really happened for Shack.
Around the time of that NME cover it briefly looked as if Shack might creep into the mainstream with HMS Fable, giving Head's wistfully songs some souped up production values and major label clout.
But it wasn’t to be. Supreme songs like Comedy and Pull Together failed to trouble the charts and within a few years Head was in danger of becoming a forgotten man as he tried to rescue himself from a disintegrating record label and increasing drug problems.
Since then there have been isolated highlights with albums like 2006’s The Corner of Miles and Gil reminding the world of Head’s brilliance. Recently though there’s been nothing but concern surrounding Mick’s health, especially after he suffered an on stage tumble last year.
Thankfully, judging by the reaction from this latest comeback he’s on the right road again.
It’s nothing less than he deserves.