Michael Head on the success of Dear Scott and upcoming Irish shows
David Roy chats to cult Liverpool musician Michael Head about the former Shack and Pale Fountains man's recent Top 10 success with the album Dear Scott and his imminent, long-awaited return to Ireland at the end of the month...
IT'S been a big year for Liverpool music legend Michael 'Mick' Head, who topped the indie chart back in May with the release of Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band's critically acclaimed album Dear Scott.
Released by independent label Modern Sky, the Bill Ryder-Jones produced Dear Scott also earned the guitar-wielding singer-songwriter his first ever 'proper' Top 10 album when it hit Number Six on the Official Chart.
Crowned Album of The Year by Mojo magazine earlier this month, Mick's second LP with The Red Elastic Band is a lush, string and brass-enhanced collection of memorably melodic songs which finds him melding authentic observational detail with intriguing references to old Hollywood – the album's title is a nod to a note-to-self penned by a down-on-his-luck F Scott Fitzgerald during his alcoholic LA years – and imagination-stoking flights of fancy, plus sprinkles of dry Scouse humour.
Having struck such a resonant chord with fans and new recruits alike with their new record, Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band's recent run of live gigs to promote Dear Scott have been very much celebratory affairs.
When we speak, Mick and co are busy rehearsing for their next run of dates which will find them rounding off 2022 in fine style with their first ever Irish shows and another short run of English dates.
"We're all really looking forward to Ireland," enthuses Head down the phone.
"The last time I came over was with Shack. We did Glasgow, and then Belfast and Dublin all in a row. Everyone loved it, we had an absolutely amazing time – especially with us being from Liverpool.
"And you're right, it's been a great year. We were only saying the other night that it's been brilliant, so doing some gigs right up to Christmas will keep the momentum going for the album.
"It's still fresh in people's ears, I think. Even now when I'm out around Liverpool, the response I get is fantastic. There's always the odd person coming up to chat or shouting from a car window, like, short and sweet: 'Love the f****** album, lad'. That blows me away."
What makes this recent flush of success even sweeter for Head (60) is that his musical career to date has been peppered with an unfair share of disappointment and downright disaster.
Having first tasted success way back in the 1980s as founder, frontman and chief songwriter with fondly remembered indiepop contenders The Pale Fountains, Mick and his bass playing brother John went on to form the much-loved Shack once 'The Palies'' major label deal with Virgin Records went sour.
Following Shack's promising 1988 debut, Zilch, their 1991 follow-up record Waterpistol generated advance buzz as a potential breakthrough moment – right up to the point where their studio burned down and the only surviving copy of the album was simultaneously lost by producer John Leckie. By the time the elusive DAT was finally located, Shack's label had collapsed, resulting in them splitting up and the album going unreleased until 1995.
Happily, Shack eventually reactivated and put out three more records, with 1999's HMS Fable becoming a critic's favourite thanks to classic tunes like Comedy, Natalie's Party and Streets of Kenny (titled for the Kensington area of Liverpool where the Heads grew up) which are still staples of Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band's live set today.
Indeed, given the response to Dear Scott, the older tunes from the Shack days and even those off the fine first LP from The Red Elastic Band, 2017's Adiós Senor Pussycat, now really have to fight for inclusion alongside current bangers like Broken Beauty, American Kid, Fluke, Kismet, The Ten and Shirls Ghost. There's even a couple of brand new songs from the group's ongoing purple patch trying to elbow their way into the set, as Mick explains.
"It's been a great year, but we've also been concentrating on looking forward and maybe getting back into the studio," he says, sounding genuinely excited.
"It'd be good to keep the momentum going. We were rehearsing the other night and going through the set list, which has obviously been predominantly from Dear Scott, but at the last couple of gigs we also integrated a couple of new ideas into the set – which is something I've always tried to do.
"I even said to the lads, 'Before we finish these [gigs], there'll probably be one or two new ideas on the bubble'. It's exciting for me personally, but also for them too, because it helps keep things fresh."
Another reason to celebrate Dear Scott's success is that it was recorded under trying circumstances, both in terms of Mick's personal life and the onset of the global pandemic.
"We did about seven or eight songs, and I was drinking heavily at the time," he recalls of the initial album sessions.
"I was not in a very good way. Then lockdown happened – and then a lot happened. No-one knew what was going on, but I kind of used it as a way of being creative and getting sober. I did a lot more writing, by fluke in a way. And then at a certain point we were able to go back into the studio with Bill and finish the record."
Mick adds: "Maybe that's the Michael Head formula for success – doing the record in two parts, I mean, not getting bladdered and then having to sober up."
As producer, the aforementioned Bill Ryder-Jones helped add a touch of orchestral magic to several key songs on the album and was just generally tuned in when it came to what Mick and co were trying to achieve with Dear Scott.
"He's just a beautiful soul, which helps, you know?," says the band leader.
"Musically as well, his vision on it for every song we was working on – whatever each song needed, he seen it. It's like a gift, really. So each song's got Bill's magic on top, like the harmonium and strings in The Grass, or the orchestration at the end of The Ten where we kick into bossa nova: one minute, you're in Kenny and it's p****** it down on a wet Wednesday afternoon, and the next minute you're cruising down Santa Monica Boulevard. It just takes off."
Indeed, listening to Dear Scott now, it's hard to believe that the songwriter didn't have an inkling that they were on to something really special while recording the album.
"I never personally really know how [an album] is going to go over," explains Mick.
"So it really did surprise me how well it's done, to tell you the truth, mate. One or two people have even said to me, 'Mick, that's the best collection of songs you've ever written'. And I'm getting people who have been into the band from day one coming up to me and saying 'f*****' hell, lad – well done,' and kids as well.
"I was at a wedding the other night and a young band from Liverpool, The Sway, were there. Like, they're only kids, but they were so into telling me about the album and these little bits and pieces about the lyrics. I was thinking, 'Wow, these have really listened'.
"So you kind of have to be like, 'Thank you – is right'. And, as the dust has settled it's slowly dawned on me like, 'We've all done well there.' And that includes Dave [Pichilingi] at the record company, everyone who helped.
"It was just a joy to do as well – so now I'm kind of going 'you know what? Let's do that again.'"