Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band The Kazmier, Liverpool – 18th October 2013
A dreary and drizzly Liverpool Friday evening that saw umbrella clad office workers scurrying for the various watering holes to celebrate the onset of the weekend was the setting for what turned out to be a quite remarkable Lazarus-like night in the company of Michael Head and his ever changing Red Elastic Band.
Mick Head is a Liverpool musician. His songs reference the city like an A-Z, but in terms of people as well as places, so home shows are always a reason to celebrate.
Tickets for this event sold out in the summer when I was otherwise unemployed, and as a result I was one of many caught on the hop and ticketless until a few days ago. Then an angel appeared in the form of Hiro Monstero; a Tokyo based uber-fan, Facebook as a conduit. Hiro could not make the gig and kindly passed on his ticket to my everlasting gratitude. I felt like Charlie Bucket discovering my golden passport to the fabled Willy Wonka Factory. Sadly for Hiro, he missed a gig that will be whispered about by Head aficionados for many a year, but I am sure there will be others because at the moment Mick Head is in fine fettle.
Having arrived in the ‘pool far too early, I wandered down to check that my 1990s ecstasy ravaged head still remembered where exactly Cream’s neighbour, The Kazimier was.
As I approached, a familiar sound was wafting down the street. Scanning the scene I espied a gaggle of garage-hands hard at work and considered them unlikely bearers of the Artorius Revisited E.P. or that those denizens of poor taste, Radio 1, might be playing it. Then it dawned on me; it was the sound-check. The doors of the Kazimier were closed but they could not contain the sparkling sounds tumbling onto Wolstenholme Square. I stayed rooted to the spot whilst my mind raced…”Fucking hell, I hope they play that tonight. And that. And that.” The sound was big and beefy with acoustic flourishes that promised something special for a damp Liverpool evening.
In the meantime I availed myself of a tasty Vegetarian Chilli courtesy of the lovely people at The Brink, and having visited Yums (on order of Mrs Al) to perform the Krypton Factor-esque task that is cramming as much food as is humanly possible into a takeaway container whilst not incurring a double charge or simply being called a “greedy get”, I then headed to the Blob Shop for a pint, in order to remind me of the earthy wonder of this character laden city. Once Guinness-ed up, I headed back to Parr Street, excited in the knowledge that I was going to bump into friends old and make friends anew, as is normally the case with a Michael Head event.
As expected, and as with all Michael Head/Shack gigs, everything is done in the best possible taste. The Kazimier is a beautiful venue (and with a great sound to boot), and the Crepuscule t -shirts and Pale Fountains L.P’s for sale smacked of attention to detail and love. Support was provided in the form of Alex Evans’ new venture, Ark. Following his recent top forty success with the much missed Michael Molloy, Evans’ immaculate voice bodes well for the future of this outfit. It was heartening to see the audience giving his performance the attention it deserves. In the interval I met a couple of Scottish lads, one Celtic, one Rangers, who had travelled down from Motherwell for the gig and I got a hug and a toke for simply expressing a preference for the Bhoys. The vibe of the place was mellow and expectant, as is the case whenever Michael Head appears. There is a fiercely protective family of people who support Mick and they were all here, hoping and willing that the man would be on top form. Their hopes must have been exceeded by what ensued.
At ten o’ clock the band ambled on, not one, not two, but six, including two trumpets! They headed straight into the laid back and jazzy Sante Fe, with its echoes of Stranger meets Miles Davis before the psychedelic wonder of Queen of All Saints was sprinkled into the atmosphere. Choosing tracks for the Artorius Revisited E.P. must have been a challenge with songs like this and (the much missed tonight) Winter turn to Spring failing to make the cut. It certainly bodes well for a forthcoming album though.
After a typical comedic interlude without which any Michael Head gig would be lacking, the opening bars of the next song caused an outburst of shocked recognition. It s only Bicycle Thieves by the Paleys! The performance was intensely beautiful, and where Mick seemed to lack the confidence in the last couple of gigs to really go for those high notes, he positively hollered tonight. The Artorius Revisited E.P. made up the next chunk of the set, a beautifully faithful rendition of Lucinda Byer, detailing Mick’s trips down Bold Street bumping into many acquaintances (funnily enough I had bumped into brother John on Bold Street with my overburdened Yums bag…oh the shame) followed by the already classic Cadiz and then the Love-like bossa nova jaunt that is Newby Street, which also appeared to be a favourite amongst a visibly astonished audience. There was only one word for what was unfolding. ACE! That compositions like these are still being plucked from the ether is further proof that the craft of song-writing is still very much alive in Mick’s head (soz, allow me one) as the new songs are the equal to an already formidable back catalogue. Mick Head gigs are normally as rare as rocking horse shit, but in the space of twelve months we have had three which have followed a trajectory culminating in tonight’s triumphant showing. This was Michael Head on top form.
You sensed the return of confidence early on and it blossomed as the back catalogue was pillaged with Flannery and Rumer (an old but new one if you get my drift) next up. The former was majestic; the latter was exquisite and was wonderfully augmented by the dual assault of brass and Pete Wilkinson’s understated bass and backing vocals. Rumer is just another song that Mick has up his sleeve, and one that most other artists would kill for, y’know, a bit like The Prize which was next up in all of its pastoral brilliance. Shouts of “Go ‘ed Mick”, “We love you Michael” and “Come on Dad!” punctured the between song lulls as the band left the stage to Mick, who began an acoustic set consisting of thrill after thrill.
Undecided, surely up there in the debate over best song in his canon, was immaculate, as was Al’s Vacation which followed, before the haunting Daniella brought the curtain down on the acoustic numbers. The band returned and some “new ideas” were put forward in the shape of 4×4. In the last year it seems that Mick has re-grown again as an artist; regained his mojo, restored his confidence, and as a result feels anything is possible. And it was.
A blistering cover of Maybe the People Would Be the Times Or Between Clark And Hilldale seemed to strip the paint off the Kazimier walls. Faces in the audience looked blissful and after the physicality of the song reached its end, Pete Wilkinson turned side stage and uttered an amazed “fucking hell!” A perfect Meant to Be turned out to be the last song of an evening that Mick should view as possibly his best show in years. There was verve and vibrancy to the songs, and a reciprocal happy warmth soaked the stage. Despite his seemingly ever present nervousness about tonight’s show; he came, he saw, he conquered. Michael Head needs to believe what we all know; that he is an incredible talent. Then again, maybe that is part of the appeal. Maybe it’s Mick’s humility and immersion in the music that makes him such a special musician, inspiring the sort of loyal devotion that would be a given if life was anything like fair.
No-one writes songs like Michael Head these days. They are carefully crafted and lovingly performed, and all with a nod and a wink to his musical inspirations, ranging from Stravinsky to Arthur Lee. Even more enticing is the fact that the unreleased songs played during the last few shows suggest there is plenty of astonishing music still to reveal itself. One thing is certain; tonight he made a little part of Liverpool a truly Wondrous Place.