“Those middle eights man, they fuck with my head” – Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band – Night and Day, Manchester 5th February 2017.

 

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Michael Head gigs are becoming something of a lottery these days because  they are selling out in ridiculously short spaces of time. I’m talking minutes. When the tickets went on sale I was at work, so a good friend managed to secure me one, and a good job too since they went within the space of about 600 seconds. So feeling like Charlie Bucket I headed into the gloom of a Sunday Manchester night in order to find some musical light. I set off early knowing that Roy was opening proceedings. If you haven’t seen him yet, Roy is a very funny raconteur with the soupiest Scouse accent you have ever heard. When I entered the venue it was apparent the usual (Mick) heads were there along with lots of newbies (street) and we were just in time to catch Roy’s performance.  Regaling us with a tale about a man who he met on the train, his  story was full of quick wit and savage humour and ended with a quite hilarious twist that I heard a punter trying to repeat to his mates later that night with only a modicum of success. Given this was a ‘music’ gig in Manchester, Roy went down really well with an audience that you might have expected to be a little more hostile to a fearless invader from just down the M62, but then I guess it helps when the headline act is also from the same neck of the woods. It is always hard to do a comedian justice but Roy’s monologues and style of delivery deserve a wider audience and hopefully more of you will get down to the regular La Violette Societtas that are becoming a beacon for unsung (and sung)talent in the North West and elsewhere, where Roy often features.

Next up was Jo Rose but I am sorry to say I spent most of his set gabbing (quietly, and at the back I hasten to add) with people I had not seen since…well…the last Michael Head  gig in the North.

By the time Mick arrived on stage (a fashionable ten minutes late) the Night and Day was rammed and the first surprise of the evening was that this wasn’t actually a solo gig, but more a stripped down Red Elastic Band with Phil Murphy on drums and Tom Powell on bass. The familiar jazzy flow of Stranger echoed around the venue as a fit and fresh looking Mick took us back to 1995 (although we all know it should have been 1991…studio fires…blah, blah, blah). Mining the same era, Mr. Appointment rocked and Mick’s voice which has been getting better and better lately, sounded fantastic.

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The cover of choice lately has been the pastoral Wild Mountain Thyme and it sounded suitably gorgeous tonight. A new song, Money was aired which along with others later in the set suggest the new album due this year should be something special. As if by contrast one of Shack’s earliest songs resurfaced via a rendition of the fantastic I Know You Well. A trip to Cadiz followed and it is another timeless classic in the Michael Head tradition. Cadiz surfaced about five years ago and every time I hear it I think it could have been written in any decade since the sixties. Mick has tons of these type of songs in the locker as evidenced by What’s the Difference, which is chock full of time signature shifts as if three songs have been rolled into one, each one a beauty. Speaking of classics, the band then performed a triumvirate of perfect songsmithery (if that’s not a word, it is now) and it was a Mick fuck up that saw the crowd really liven up on the first. Byrds Turn to Stone is a tricky number for even its writer to perform and the dreamy bridge proved the case twice, before Mick got it right much to the supportive amusement of both him and the crowd. Other than that it was faultless as is the majestic beauty of Something Like You which followed. We were in Manchester, so it only made sense to name check the Happy Mondays/happy mondays in Waterpistol’s opener Mood of the Morning. At this point Mick caught the request for My Pretty Girl to which he replied with a face of wonder “Imagine!”

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Given Mick’s current healthy state there were times during the gig when it was like watching the Michael Head of the Paleys/early Shack era as he bounced around the stage like someone far younger. Picklock followed and is another song that it can only be hoped will be on the new album given its lilting, reverie like quality. The Streets of Kenny, a song up there with his finest, were explored before Meant to Be saw an explosion of vocal brass for which Mick thanked the crowd at the end. A little glance from him towards Skinny and you knew the set was coming to an end but not before he strummed a few bars of Hazy because a girl in the audience had promised to strip on stage if he did it.

He did. She didn’t.

The perfect summer anthem of Comedy (wot no Black and White 2 at the end?) completed the set. But not really, of course, as a gorgeous version of As Long As I Got You and a bouncing Newby Street encored us out into the cold Manc air with a plethora of tunes in our heads and quality lyrics on our lips.

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Everywhere you turned you could hear excited chatter along the lines of “that was the best gig ever” and “that was legendary” etc. It is certainly a privilege to see Michael Head performing low key gigs in venues like this because by rights he should be packing far bigger gaffs out. On top of the album release this year (someone asked if it would be out by June, “yeah that’ll do” came Mick’s reply) there is also the promise of a full tour. This could well be the year of the Head.

Just before we left, an excited fella from Mick’s homeland,  Kensington in Liverpool, was chatting to a mate, and despite the ‘not meant as an insult’ insult he threw in my direction (“Is that yer Da’?” – cheeky twat – the beard’s now going), he also provided me with the title of this review.

As Mick might say; “Is Right”.

adios-senor-pussycat

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