What a spread. If you’re a fan of Shack, Michael Head & the Strands, the Pale Fountains, or John Head as a slowly emerging and wonderful songwriter in his own right, then accept the Captain’s invitation and sit down for a dinner that would have satisfied Admiral Lord Nelson himself – downloads of live performances, sessions, and demos dating from this year all the way back to a live performance by the Paleys in 1981. I’m working my way through them from either end, and there are treats aplenty. That Paleys show – at Plato’s Ballroom in Liverpool – is as gloriously ropey as it is historic (they dared to start with a flute solo! In 1981! Five years after punk!); Mick bellows like a bull at times.
John Head’s solo performance from the Port Eliot Festival earlier this year shows that sooner or later he is going to produce a solo LP to match all the wonderful albums of song writing assembled by his brother over the years. It includes a great song, ‘1967’, reversing the usual point of view about meeting your hero – in John’s case, Arthur Lee of Love.
Then – now somewhere in the middle of the story, and the downloads page – there are the legendary Shack Kitchen demos (more accurately recordings or run-throughs, I would say), throughout which the Head brothers prove themselves just as adept as XTC at donning sixties garb, and – most exciting of all – the demos for The magical world of the Strands. Inevitably somewhat plainer than in their final, perfected forms, the demos nevertheless exert a fascination of their own. You can see why the man behind Megaphone was willing to risk his money on a musician who in 1996 had fallen out of favour.
It’s like Andy Partridge’s Fuzzy warbles, except online and gratis. Shacknet, we salute you.
While we’re on the subject, here’s a 2003 Stylus article by Nick Southall about The magical world of the Strands which pretty much perfectly captures what makes it one of the greatest records ever made.