Ten years ago I accompanied friend and colleague Ross Charnock, of Charnock and Russell fame, to an interview with Head Brothers Mick and John from Shack.
I took along my trusty manual SLR as I was flirting with a career in rock photography that ultimately came to very little, but was keen on Shack and The Strands too.
The interview began with Ross being invited to join the group as bassist, took in a ‘photoshoot’ at Crash Studios, detoured to several pubs around the city centre and finished in Ross’ flat with Mick and John playing an impromptu selection of Shack and Strands numbers. It was superb.
At the time Shack seemed on the verge of being massive, with HMS Fable receiving rave reviews and an NME cover declaring Mick to be ‘our greatest songwriter’.
Things didn’t quite work out like that, but I don’t think that matters. In a conversation about politics Mick patiently explained to me that nothing mattered as long as you were happy. The last time I saw Mick he was standing in a bin. He looked happy.
The following interview is courtesy of Ross, and took place in Summer 1999.
This article seems quite short now, unfortunately, yet to meet Shack I have undergone an eight day bender, beginning in Wetherspoon’s with Mick and John Head’s uncle George, with unprintable, libellous debauchery. Just trust me.
This is the price I was unwittingly well willing to pay to meet Shack and fortunately hear, intimately, some of the most vulnerable yet defiantly beautiful songs of this decade.
Still, that’s just my story. Shack’s is much more interesting; frustrating but, essentially, extremely fortunate and positive. You will, or should, already know the details, although you don’t have to.
So, space (not) allowing, Mick Head was in a Simon and Garfunkel-inspired guitar band called The Pale Fountains and beautiful members of eighties’ pop society loved him.
Then Shack formed and their albums’ commercial potential was spoilt by either overbearing or deserting record companies. Mick and brother John were in Love for a while with Arthur Lee, and there was heroin.
I omit feelings, opportunities and crushing ironies I may never understand – I might never know them – but if I did I’d hope to be as happy or rather as passionate as Michael Head seems now.
“I think I’m one of the best songwriters in the world, as we speak,” states Mick, with a humility which most stars don’t have but do need.
“And I agree,” agrees John, and I do too. Most of Shack’s songs are written by Mick, but John Head is an essential song contributor. How do they, as brothers as well as songwriters, establish the limits and also the opportunities for collaborating?
“I think John is one of the best songwriters too,” continues Mick. “My point being…”
“…that I’m better than you?”
“Alright – what about? Ha ha ha! But my point being, when we did Pull Together, I was a junkie,” Mick states. John is uncomfortable but understands his brother’s need to speak so candidly about himself.
“It’s cool,” he tells John. “Because we’re talking about music. And do you want to know why? Can you remember me coming out of detox and being in your flat? Can you remember you playing the piano? Can you remember me picking up the guitar up? Can you remember writing the song?”
“Exactly.” John has been agreeing, fervently, throughout.
“That’s Pull Together. That’s collaboration.”
It’s inaccurate almost to talk about ‘lost opportunities’ – Mick and John Head have got albums worth of amazing songs. Bacharach music with honesty and unsentimental pinpoint clarity, which people can go out and listen to, if they want. More to the point, they have created these songs and they are theirs. And I, for one, envy them.
“The positive thing about it is we know exactly what we’re doing,” says Mick. “The bottom line is we know the songs, let’s get on stage, play them, fuck off. That’s what we do, because that’s what was left with us.”
Not a bad legacy, I suppose.