“I’m in the best band in the world”.

This is the sort of self-confident one expects from the Gallaghers. And though millions are happy to roll with them along on their juggernaut, many despise their brash outbursts. No mainstream music magazine can afford to alienate the Gallaghers, but few take them entirely seriously. Richey Edwards was quite right when he dismissed the media frenzy that greeted the release of 'Live Forever' twelve years ago, by saying that the music press has turned the Gallaghers into their “little working class playthings”. But, unbothered, Oasis sauntered into the nation’s fabric, in a manner that only the likes of Beckham and Botham have managed since the Beatles. They made most musicians look like trivialities, and sold millions of albums into the bargain. Their two nights at Knebworth in 1996 made that summer’s festival season seem irrelevant, and meant any criticism they’ve had before or since is just as pointless. They are megastars.

But it wasn’t Noel Gallagher who gave me the above quote. Instead, it came from Michael Head, front man of Shack. “No, I definitely don’t feel unlucky” he told me. “I feel lucky to be doing this. I’m in the best band in the world, you know. Maybe, along the course of being in the band, there are things that could have gone better. But that doesn’t really matter.”

Every piece I have ever read about the history of Michael Head and his brother John talks about bad luck, and it isn’t hard to see why. Their first band was the Pale Fountains, who failed to get the sales to justify their very large record contract from Virgin and - after two albums, neither quite showing the songs in the best possible light - broke up as the group's bassist and the Heads' best friend, Chris McCaffrey, died young. So they formed Shack (which, of course, is still their band, and currently also features Pete Wilkinson and Iain Templeton) and have seen a parade of labels come and go, another terrible production savage their first album, a burnt down studio and lost master tape delay their second and a heroin addiction take hold of their singer and primary songwriter. Despite that, 'HMS Fable', their third album in 1999 was given glowing reviews in every publication, from the trendy 'NME' to the determinedly (big c) Conservative 'Spectator'. To date, that has been their biggest (and only) success story.

Ah, If luck has been different. Michael Head’s songwriting - which has all of Noel Gallagher’s effortless melodicism and common touch, but none of its boisterousness - could have taken him into the centre of British culture. As it is, his band are strictly a cult concern; loved by the press and a select fan base, unknown and ignored by everyone else. Perhaps this never bothered them, but it certainly doesn’t now. Because Shack are still making excellent music, and with a new label (Sour Mash, owned by one Noel Gallagher) and management team, they have just released their to-date masterpiece, ‘…the Corner of Miles of Gil’. The band’s only worry should be people’s annoying tendency to leave the three dots out, capitalize the first ‘t‘ or give it an unwanted ‘On’, something he railed against from the stage when debuting these songs.

I have been a regular band interviewer of bands for half a decade now, and have yet to have an awkward or unpleasant experience, which, I suppose, is a bit lucky. The only two occasions I might have ever worried about speaking to a band is when they have a background of heavy drug use, and a reputation for giving interviewers a hard time. No need to worry. Jason Pierce of Spiritualized was intelligent, friendly and serious and answered my questions imaginatively and with care. Likewise, Mick Head couldn’t hide his enthusiasm for his music. Neither a dull interviewee or an unpleasant one, indeed. Seemed like a thoroughly nice bloke.

I spoke to him as he was preparing for a concert in the evening at the Fleece in Bristol. Shack’s tour of the UK had been going “really well. We’ve got a good team around us this time, right down to the driver - and that makes a real difference! All 7 dates so far have been really good.” It seems, also, that it hasn’t been the same old troupe of die-hards. “The audiences have been more mixed than usual, actually. There are obviously some of the people that have been listening to our music right through, but I think they are bringing some new people along. There seem to be more younger kids that are getting into the music for the first time.”

If the band are still getting new fans, much of that must be down to their new album, which has gorgeous tunes galore. The band sound totally at peace with themselves, playing with grace and poise, but still sounding loose and open. Songs like ‘Shelley Brown’ and ‘Cup of Tea’ are as good as anything in the Heads’ songbook. But is it - as I think - Shack’s best work? “I don’t know, really. I don’t listen to them in that way. I don’t try and rate them against each other. But I do really like this one. It was an easy album to make. It only took seven weeks and we did it all in Liverpool, which was
good.” Compare that with 'HMS Fable', where the band swapped producers and laboured over the material for several years. No wonder this album seems comparatively breezy and unfussed. It was.

One thing the band are rarely given enough credit for is their lyrics. Michael Head doesn’t try the elaborate wordplay of Dylan, nor go for the poetic referencing of Morrissey, or even the playful nonsense of his fellow Liverpudlians, Lennon and McCartney. But he has a knack of creating simple and effective lyric sheets that keep listeners returning to the music when the catchy hooks wear off. “I think it is hard to avoid writing about your immediate surroundings in your lyrics”, he explains. “I like to be a storyteller, but I’m always writing about what I’ve seen, my background. But the main thing is to keep the music melodic!”

Last year, Shack supported their new label boss and his band at a series of arena gigs. “Oasis were really great” Mick enthuses. It is funny how few bands - despite their perceived arrogance - have bad words for the Gallaghers and their hired hands. Shack are no exception. “They really looked after us, right down to the catering being the same. They had been there at one stage themselves, and maybe wanted to emulate how they had been treated as a support band. Or maybe they hadn’t been given that much respect and wanted to make sure they were different.” In the 90's, Shack got a reputation as a band liable to bottle it on the big occasion, infuriating people trying to guide them to the big time. But these went well. “I think, if anything, I get more nervous in the smaller gigs. In the huge shows, we’re like the underdogs. But the crowds at these gigs were huge, 60, 000 to 70,000 so I’m sure we won some people over.”

As I’ve already mentioned. Mick really isn’t bothered by fame and attention. He isn’t jealous of Oasis, and he wasn’t even affected by his brush with the limelight when 'HMS Fable' saw him propelled onto the cover of 'NME' (although this was in the pre make-up-department days!) “I mean, I was glad that people liked the album. Of course. But the attention itself, being on the cover and all that. It didn’t bother me at all.” Far more important is people liking the music. He seems much prouder that his album (recorded by the once only group, the Strands, rather than Shack, though still featuring both Head brothers) 'The Magical World of the Strands' is now revered as a modern classic, having recently made it into a poll in 'Mojo' magazine. “I think people responded to the fact that it was just an album made because we wanted to. We didn’t have a press team, label or anything when we recorded it. We weren’t trying to be megastars. I think that comes through in the music.”

Shack may not have sold 30 million albums like Oasis, or won the critical admiration of Radiohead, or the devoted fan base of Manic Street Preachers. But they are the envy of almost every band and fan who loves 60's music, because they have toured as Arthur Lee’s backing band, the re-incarnation of Love. “It was an incredible experience”, explains Mick, with absolute fervour. “A lot of people were saying to me that you shouldn’t meet your heroes, but it wasn’t a mistake at all. He was wonderful. He was so great to work with musically, but we got on well with him as a person too. He was very ‘out there’, but he had the same sense of humour as us. We’re definitely going to work with him again. We’ve sort of planned that one day we’ll go into the studio and record some songs. I think when he gets out of hospital, we’ll definitely hold him to that (Lee is currently being treated for leukemia-Ed) . The big ambition is to work with Arthur again, really. There’s talk of putting together a benefit gig, and hopefully to get some big bands to make it viable. That would be amazing, and then when he’s better, we can work with him!”

Shack’s enthusiasm is undimmed, even as they approach two decades as a band. My impression from my conversation with Mick is that this is as enthused as he has ever been, and that is true of the whole band. Music is still their great love, and it is what binds them together. “We always listen to other music. All of us will bring music in, and we’ll give it a go. I think one of the reasons that this band works is that, without ever having to lay down the sort of music that this band is into or anything like that, we do all like the same sort of things.”

Shack fans are used to having long waits between albums. The three years between this most recent record and the last one was, comparatively, barely a wait at all, and if the band have their way, the trend will increase. “We want to make another album right away. We already have some ideas. The whole band are going to be writing songs and we want to start rehearsing for it. I think that the only thing I know I’ll always want to do is write songs, and keep making another album.”

Form (as all sportsmen say) is temporary. Class is permanent. Shack haven’t perhaps had the luck nor won the mega stardom that fans like me think they should have, but they’ve done something more important - made astonishing albums, of which their latest is just another example. This isn’t a band with a master plan, and beyond the various tales of woe, they have no great message for the world to hear. It doesn’t matter. Can you think of anyone more worthy to call the “best band in the world”? Because I can’t…

















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