I don’t really need another copy of my favourite ever LP – The magical world of the Strands – but it seemed only right to purchase the reissue of the Head brothers’ unforced, unrushed masterpiece, recorded between 1993 and 1995, and originally released in 1997. The reward (aside from putting a little well-deserved sterling in the bank account of one Michael Head Esq.) is once again to listen closely to the exquisite detail in the music, to hear Mick’s voice in perhaps the best nick it ever was, and to read the lovely little sleeve note from the man himself, describing the magical nature of the conditions under which the album was made:
‘Like when you were a kid sitting on the kerb, putting your fingers on the tar bubbles. A parked car pulls away and the residue of oil makes little oceans of wonder. And for that moment you don’t have a care in the world.’
If it was magical to make, it has always been magical to listen to. This is what I wrote about the record in 1999:
‘A German label had come to the rescue of Waterpistol; now it was the turn of French label Megaphone… The magical world of the Strands was the result, and it underpins this whole story, making it worth the telling. If Zilch was Mick at his most socially concerned, then The magical world of the Strands sees him in about as other-worldly a state as it’s possible to record. The echoing, raining, hollow sonic quality is matched by songs that come from another age, and tender singing that is without a trace of vanity or self-reverence. That it’s a record apparently made in the sub-aqueous depths of heroin is a fact that you shouldn’t hold too near the front of your mind when you’re listening to it. The magical world is beyond the substances that sustained it. It’s an instrumentally beautiful record, totally idiosyncratic, rightly titled magical – alluding to a fantasy world beyond reality, or of heightened reality. Songs such as ‘Something Like You’ and ‘Fontilan’ are liquid, sleepy, and impressionistic. Others – ‘Queen Matilda’, ‘Hocken’s Hey’ – are folk songs in the truest sense, mythical and timeless; they give you a notion of the Head brothers hanging out with Robin Hood beneath the canopy of Sherwood Forest, or standing with their noses to the breeze off the Mersey long, long before there was a Liverpool to give birth to them.’
Soon to come is The olde world, unreleased songs and outtakes from around the time The magical world was recorded. The uninitiated should buy the latter; the initiated, the former. But I don’t need to tell them that.
Available to listen to now is Michael Head’s most recent solo outing, at the appropriately named Old Church in Stoke Newington. It’s a captivating performance, even for those of us who weren’t lucky enough to be there that evening.