By all rights, Shack should be included in the list of Great 80s Liverpool Bands, such as Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Teardrop Explodes and Echo And The Bunnymen. However, despite having a back catalogue of songs that are at least equal to their contemporaries, fate has somehow conspired against them.
Shack’s tale is one of death, drugs, and record company bankruptcy. Led by brothers Michael and John Head, their earlier incarnation of The Pale Fountains ended tragically when best friend Chris McCaffrey was killed in a road accident following an acrimonious split. This was followed by Michael’s descent into heroin addiction – when he kicked the habit and produced the acclaimed HMS Fable in 1999, his record company went bust.
Despite being described by NME as “England’s greatest living songwriter” just a few years ago, success has eluded Michael Head and Here’s Tom With The Weather is, in all honestly, probably unlikely to change that. With a title taken from a legendary Bill Hicks routine, this is a quiet, intelligent album, full of hushed atmospherics and reminiscent of artists such as Nick Drake and Arthur Lee. Not the sort of thing that sets the charts on fire, but those in the know are in for a treat.
Beginning with the strummed acoustics of As Long As I’ve Got You, Head immediately demonstrates his ways with a winning, touching couplet (“morning papers soaking from the rain/but as long as I’ve got you), there really isn’t a duff track here. From the Latin-tinged Soldier Man through to the anthemic bounce of On The Terrace, Shack demonstrate why they are held in such high regard.
As well as Drake and Lee, there are also heavy nods to the Byrds whether it be musically (Miles Apart) or in the song titles (Byrds Turns To Stone). Head’s previous troubles also receive acknowledgement in the shape of the standout Meant To Be (“Jamie’s on the run, shooting stuff for fun”). The contribution of the other Head brother, John, shouldn’t be overlooked either – his string laden Carousel is a particularly lovely highlight.
The album closes with Happy Ever After, which brings to mind the finer moments of Prefab Sprout with its shimmering strings and melancholy, yet proud, lyrics. Given Shack’s history it would be na�ve to say that this is the album that will lead to the Brothers Head living happy ever after – if it was though, it would be one of the most deserved success stories of the year.