The resurgence of Michael Head continues at a startling pace and there is nothing now that stands between him and the reclamation of his rightful crown. It’s been a long, bumpy and sometimes painful road – I first saw Mick when The Pale Fountains supported Orange Juice when I was just fifteen years old, in 1981. I stood right at the front that night, rapt and I’ve been a fan ever since.
I stood right at the front again on Sunday night at The Zanzibar. Once again, Mick was a just a few feet away from me and, if I didn’t know his story, I would have thought that the intervening thirty five years had been kind to him: he looked healthy, lean (almost sinewy) and clear eyed. He was sporting brand new trainees and teeth, too. Those intervening years, of course, haven’t always been kind to him – but far too much emphasis is placed on the trials and tribulations of the past… it’s time to concentrate on the music.
The Red Elastic Band has been the perfect vehicle for him over the past few years. Occasionally a full band, now and then a trio or even sometimes just Mick on his own, the name allows him the flexibility to deconstruct his songs and present them afresh… something, perhaps, a more traditional four piece band may restrict.
Mick was backed by guitar, piano, trumpet and cello at The Zanzibar, alongside three female backing singers (including his sister, Joanne, who took the lead on a stunning version of Shack’s ‘Daniella’). The full band shone, particularly with breathtaking reworkings of ‘Comedy’ and ‘John Kline’ (when was the last time he played the latter?). He topped it all with, by my reckoning, a first-ever live airing of the sumptuous ‘The Girl With The Long Brown Hair’ from 2003’s ‘… Here’s Tom With The Weather’ – there was even a gasp from the sell-out crowd as they recognised what he was playing.
The rest of the set was filled with songs other artists would die for: ‘Newby Street’, ‘Velvets In The Dark’, ‘Meant To Be’, ‘The Prize’, ‘As Long As I’ve Got You’ and ‘Something Like You’. A new song also emerged, too: ‘American Kid’. In truth, it’s been around for a while – that’s the way, though, with Mick, he’s forever tweaking ideas. But, in the last year, ‘American Kid’ has emerged fully grown and is a thing of wonder. All these songs deserve a wider audience and ought to be recognised as the work of a true musical genius – the warmth of the applause and cheers was palpable. Mick embraced the crowd, shared jokes and let on to mates (or people he thought were mates… but proved not to be). In short, he was among his own people – the believers – and those who have championed him for years and are now reaping the rewards.
There’s the promise of a new album by the end of the year and it’s a tantalising prospect. With the support of his label, Violette, and a firm nucleus of long-time supporters, everything is in place for Mick to deliver a career defining record… perhaps, even, his ‘Forever Changes’.
“So come on climb in
Cause we know how it’s been
And we’ve skated for so long
So come on get in.”
Pic by Paul McCoy