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LIVE REVIEW: Michael Head and The Red Elastic Band – Phase One, Liverpool, 27/5/2022.

It was billed as an ‘intimate acoustic set’ to promote the launch of Michael Head and The Red Elastic Band’s latest album – Dear Scott. It conjured up in my mind an image of Michael Head stood centre stage, all alone, spotlight shining down, being watched by a hushed, select, audience. The reality differed somewhat from my preconception. Firstly, the venue – the wonderfully refurbished Phase One in Liverpool – was excitedly, packed to the gills. Secondly, so was the stage. For most of the evening Head was joined by Nathaniel Cummins (The Peach Fuzz) on lead guitar and backing vocals; an electric bass, a percussionist with a myriad of instruments you could slap or shake, and there was even a small over flow area next to the stage inhabited by various additional singers, trumpeters, and flautists. Intimate and acoustic? I’m not so sure. Great show? Undoubtedly.

Michael Head and The Red Elastic Band at Phase One, Liverpool.

Produced by Bill Ryder-Jones and already reaping a rich harvest of five star and 9/10 reviews, Dear Scott looks like it’s going to fit right in amongst the best of Head’s glorious body of work. The ‘Scott’ in Dear Scott is F. Scott Fitzgerald, the great biographer of the US Jazz Age. After going through what could generously be described as a lean period, Fitzgerald tried his hand at becoming a Hollywood screen-writer. On checking into the famous Garden of Allah Hotel that was to be his base, he picked up a postcode and wrote to himself, ‘Dear Scott, How are you? Have been meaning to come and see you…’. With the obvious parallels between the two artists careers – early success, fallow years, over use of drugs/alcohol, and resurgence – it is easy to see how Fitzgerald’s story becomes a source of inspiration for Head.

The set started with five songs from the new album. First up was Freedom, a beautifully melodic tune that just trundled effortlessly along. Head stood alone with acoustic guitar, occasionally joined for the briefest of moments by some harmonious backing vocals. There was an amusing moment where Head forget the title the song he’s just finished and a vocal minority, in unison reminded him it was – Kismet.

If there’s a song that best represents the themes of Dear Scott then it would be American Kid. It’s a song about someone ‘born in a high rise in Kirkby’ who’s favourite actors are De Niro, John Garfield and Ida Lupino, and whose walls are adorned with posters Elvis and Tarrantino. It’s a song about love, longing and escape. The quintet of Dear Scott songs was completed with Gino And Rico, and the recent single Broken Beauty. The latter is a soulful song where Head’s lyrics offer comfort and hope to the songs bruised protagonist, and on the evening made full use of the whole band, trumpets, flutes and all. Head has always written about individuals with flaws, either his own or those of others. His songs are mini biographies, short stories, perhaps more in the mould of Salinger than Fitzgerald. Musically, on this showing, Dear Scott is going to be up there with some of Head’s best work. That’s should be recommendation enough, coming as they do from someone once described by the NME as ‘Britain’s greatest living songwriter’.

The whole crowd were in much more familiar territory when the set entered it’s ‘greatest hits’ section. It started with Soldier Man from the Shack album …Here’s Tom with the Weather and encompassed Head’s career from The Strands (The Prize, Undecided), through Shack (As Long As I’ve Got You, Byrds Turn to Stone) and on to the more recent The Red Elastic Band period. Sadly for old Head ‘Heads’ like myself there were no Pale Fountains songs, but when you have such a glittering back catalogue as Head does, well something has to give. Highlights of the set were: the mesmerizing Picasso (whose references to Paris and Rome seemed to hold additional resonance coming on the eve of the Champions League Final); the ‘sing-a-long’ special Newby Street, (those trumpets), and the timeless, monumental Comedy. If you didn’t join in with the ‘la, la, la’s’ of the former, and the chorus of the later, then you should have been tapped on the shoulder and politely asked to leave the premises. The set overran slightly and so there was no opportunity for an encore, but that was perhaps no bad thing as it seems almost impossible to cap a performance that ends with a song as good as Comedy.

Dear Scott is out now on Modern Sky UK, and if you want to see what all the fuss is about, Michael Head and The Red Elastic Band are touring and you can catch them at Manchester Gorilla – June 4th, Bristol Thekla – June 7th, Nottingham Rescue Rooms -June 9th, Liverpool Eventime Olympia – June 10th, and London Shepherd’s Bush 02 – June 11th. I can’t give you a reason to not attend, but there are ’50 million reasons’ why you should.

Ian Dunphy.

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