You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
The Weathermen were right. I don’t mean the US militant, radical, left wing group of that name, (although they did have some pretty groovy ideas and it is a quite topical reference given what follows) but weathermen of the Michael Fish variety.
Liverpool: rain due up until 5pm and then sun, they said.
It takes a lot to get me off my arse these days, but when I found out that Johnny Echols, the original guitarist from 60’s psychedelic behemoths Love was playing, followed by another sample of songwriting par excellence in the form of local hero Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band, I was sold immediately. Then I found out it was free. Free? Are you mad? Quite possibly my perfect music bill and it is free? You crazy!
I therefore timed my Sefton Park sojourn to arrive (peak) at Dave McCabe o’ clock (4pm). Walking down Greenbank Lane I was still wondering what the catch was. Maybe Johnny Echols has got new material to play and will just give a nod to the Love back catalogue. Would the band put together for the event deliver? I had tweeted Edgar Jones having heard a rumour (Liverpool gigs…you leave with your ears sated and a bagful of rumours… every time) that he was playing with Love. His emoji’d response, a kind of quizzical glance, gave nothing away (the tease), so I really did not know what to expect. When I got to the Park the mellow vibes pervaded the atmosphere. It was busy-ish but not rammed and sweet smells (you know the ones) casually showered with the light rays of the rain to greet my arrival.
It was strong stuff.
Dave McCabe was just starting as I arrived.I had sort of lost track of Dave McCabe when the Zutons scooted, but on this showing I will be raiding what he’s done since. His band stomped hard and he is a fizz of energetic fervour this afternoon, and funny with it.
Given this was a free festival, I kind of expected it to be a bit shoddily put together, but not a bit of it. The layout of the It’s Liverpool site was perfect. Loads of space. Get a nice spec. Get a pint. Get back to same spec. No massive queues, no intrusive security, no Babylon. Nice. The sound was magnificent too. Dave Monks kept us entertained between slots with some top tuneage along the way.
(Far from a) Bummer in the Summer
When (Liverpool) Love hit the stage augmented by origin of the species Johnny Echols, the throbbing bass of Edgar Jones led into early classic My Little Red Book. Echols growled beautifully through the vocal and Edgar and Johhny exchanged a glance as if to say “This sounds boss!”, and it was. Garage rocker Can’t Explain followed before Echols gave way to the first guest vocalist, local and upcoming tunesmith Nick Ellis, who began his session with a faithful rendition of She Comes in Colours. The familiar, beautiful, chiming intro to Orange Skies saw Ellis croon sympathetically accompanied by fluttering flute. Ellis then introduced one of my favourites from one of the greatest albums of all time; (I know the cool kids say Da Capo is better, but they’re wrong) Forever Changes. Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hilldale saw things move up a gear as Mick Head bugler, Martin Smith and Edgar Jones saxman, Austin Murphy augmented the sound with the mariachi magic that is all over the album. Nick Ellis, maracas in hand was grooving like King Arthur in his pomp, and the whole sound was magnificent by the time Echols hit the signature guitar solo. BadaBadaBadaBadaBadaBadaBadas filled the gaff before Ellis made way for his fellow up and coming Liverpool talent Tom Blackwell, who dispensed a mellifluous and mellow Andmoreagain before channeling the spirit of Jim Morrison for a savage and blistering A House Is Not A Motel. Blackwell had the distinct pleasure of closing his stint with the magnificent Your Mind and We Belong Together with Johnny Echols warning that it was a difficult tune, so we needed to bear with him. It was faultless. It is my favourite Love song and by this time all my doubts had been cast away. This was real Love. No obscure tunes, no fillers; just pure and majestic Love. Edgar Jones‘s bass was running the show; whilst Johnny Echols and Dan Murphy sprinkled magic with their guitars, adding the perfect flourishes. They were tight! An Elvis-esque (or was it the quiff?) Signed DC was delivered by Mike Badger.
So far, the vocalists had matched the song choice perfectly and John Power was given the responsibility to continue the vibe with the monumental Alone Again Or, and he didn’t let the side down. Visibly joyous to be there (maybe he was responsible alone for the sweet smell?) he lent the song some plaintive vulnerability. The set was reaching its crescendo now as Live and Let Live hinted at thunder before the machine gun drum breaks (Phil Murphy‘s drums came into their own on this) and Echols swirling guitar lines brought everything crashing down. Forever Changes closer You Set The Scene, a soundtrack and document to the paranoia and confusion of the dark underbelly of the U.S. sixties that spawned groups such as the aforementioned Weathermen and the Black Panthers, is expertly delivered save for Power recognising Jez Wing‘s frantic string lines were not loud enough in the mix. Glitch fixed, the song moved towards it’s stately segue effortlessly, powered by John‘s passionate delivery, and ending in that triumphant hail of brass. Power finished by saying “Johnny la, we love you” a sentiment shared earlier by Jones who had asked the audience to make Johnny Echols and his wife welcome if they see them around the city. The final piece of the set was short, sweet and stunning. Dave McCabe was back on and he battered 7 and 7 Is into submission with a Screaming Jay Hawkins of a vocal. When he gave way to Echols‘ beautiful guitar work, he raised his arms, then clenched them into a triumphant gesture, and with a shit eating grin plastered on his face, kissed Edgar on the head, patted Dan Murphy on his head, a little reticently tapped Johnny Echols on the shoulder and the same for Jez Wing. He felt like we all did; just fucking thrilled to have been there. This was the coming together of a guitarist, an album, and a city that fell in love with both. This was Liverpool Love.
At this point, I reckoned if Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band had played just one song and left I would still have been happy. The Shack cognoscenti were present and I chatted with old, and met new, before Mick arrived onstage; ‘kin hell, how many? Then the sun came out; ‘kin hell again.
X Hits The Spot
Was this the biggest Red Elastic Band ever? Apparently he calls it “the full beaut”. (Ta Matt). Mick looked happy and relaxed.The shout outs for songs began immediately, but Mick, man on a mission, electric guitar in hand, merely said “Nah!” and sloped into the jazzy opening bars of Stranger which almost immediately transformed into a pumped up long lost John Barry Bond theme…if the next Bond movie was to be set in Kensington; OctoKenny? The Man With The Plastic Gun? Spliffmaker? You catch my drift. Mick’s voice sounded in fine fettle and sister Joanne Head‘s group of backing singers; Jennifer John, Janet Ross, Joanne Steele and Perri Alleyne-Hughes (all looking cool as fuck dressed in black with sunnies), belted at the outro “Stranger wants to fight with me!” as Martin Smith‘s brass burnt. Wow! So that’s why the band was so big! What a start.
Cadiz, like so many Michael Head songs sounded perfect for such a beautiful, lazy, sunny day as this, where all is alright with the world. Mick was joined on a joyous Newby Street by co-writer Dave Butcher as the L17 crowd joined in with the first of the early evening singalongs. “This is for Kenny ‘eds” bellowed Mick as Rod Skipp‘s sitar sounding cello wound it’s way around the skies, announcing a walk through Kenny whilst a resplendent Dan Rogers’ coruscating guitar ripped through with angry precision as the song reached it’s always thrilling climax. Another of those beautiful summer songs, Queen Mathilda with Simon James’ wistful flute accompaniment, allowed the crowd to catch their breath. An astonishing acapella version of Walter’s Song introduced a blazing I Know You Well from the much maligned (and rightly so if we are talking production, not so if we are talking songs) Zilch. Brass, choir, strings and a stinging guitar swelled the sound booming around the stage as Head’s arrangements bred new and vital life into his songs making them sound either timeless or current. Take your pick. When Mick shouts out “All of God’s children want their freedom” it is a nod to the previous band’s Red Telephone, a slab of psychedelic magnificence.
The mood is brought down to one of sombre reflection by the beautifully sad Daniella. Watching Mick pick acoustic gems whilst he simultaneously watches sister Joanne deliver the vocal confirms that this is a song with deep meaning for the Head family. It was a beautiful version. I was glad I was wearing my sunnies.
With a huge back catalogue of classic songs to pick from, Mick chose perhaps his most Love-like composition to get us back into a party vibe. The Red Elastic Band throw the kitchen sink at Meant To Be; flute, cello, brass and choir fill the Wavertree air as the BadaBadaBadaBadaBadaBadaBadas are ecstatically launched once more. Mick pauses to talk about the much missed Alan Wills and his work with Deltasonic. Mick, having claimed “I am only forty now…” (he looks fantastic by the way, fit, healthy and happy…but not forty!) goes on to talk about the current thriving music scene in the city and even suggests “No disrespect, but you know them kids with the ket heads is it? They’re boss! If they got hold of guitars there’d be loads of Jimi Hendrix Experiences around the city. It’d be amazing!” He’s not wrong.His own band ain’t so bad tonight though. Phil Murphy (fresh from his Love outing), Tom Powell on bass and Dan Rogers on lead guitar sound ace.
Mick shouts out “This is for “Willsy and Biffa” as the familiar intro to Comedy follows, and one of Michael Head‘s best compositions is given new impetus with some gorgeous trumpet lines and sun drenched backing vocals. Forget what QOTSA say, this is the ultimate feel good hit of the summer…but with a twist. Just when you think the song has reached it’s perfect peak, Mick shuts things down with what sounds like it’s final notes before leading us into the stunning Bacharach-like coda of Black and White 2, one of many of Mick‘s unreleased songs, and what a wonderful little gem it is musically and lyrically. Like Winter Turns to Spring, you can only hope they are on the new album, but knowing Mick, they won’t be, but only because he has written something even better in the meantime.
Time had run out. Love had gone slightly over meaning we were deprived of hearing Something Like You, Velvets in the Dark and Wild Mountain Thyme from Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band. Maybe next time.
As the crowd wandered away, I was stood in a now empty field wondering what to do with myself (it wasn’t even 8 o’clock) and reflecting on a fantastic and quite perfect day.
All the organisers of the event and everyone involved should be very proud of themselves.