Monday, October 5, 2009

The Twelve Tasks of ToffeeBoy #10 – Shack (including The Pale Fountains and The Strands

One of the main aims of this series of ‘Spill posts has been to seek answers to the question, ‘Why is it that the music I like so much is so criminally undeRRepresented?’ None of the acts that I’ve featured had appeared on the A-List more than once when the series began – a few have now reached the heady heights of two (and in one case, three) appearances, so perhaps I’m having some effect.

Anyway, I was shocked to the very core on consulting the wonderful Marconium this morning to discover that the subject of this month’s task has a sum total of ‘nul points’ and I would like to submit to the ‘Spill jury that this is an utter disgrace and an insult to two of the greatest songwriters ever to walk the streets of this fine country of ours. The brothers Head (Michael and John) have been making music together since the early 1980s and I would argue (with anyone!) that their output is at least the equal of any act working today. Their first single (as The Pale Fountains) came out way back in 1982 and everything they’ve done since (in various guises but mainly as Shack) has been released to almost universal critical acclaim.

There have been problems along the way (drugs, fires in recording studios and lack of commercial success to name but three) but they have continued, for over a quarter of a century, to produce music of the highest quality. Thoughtful lyrics, simple, yet not simplistic, melodies, and (although I have to admit I’ve never seen them live myself) stunning, energetic live shows have been the hallmark of their career to date - and there’s no sign of a let up. Their latest album … The Corner of Miles and Gil (namechecking two of the Head brothers’ musical heroes Miles Davis and Gil Evans) was as good as any they’ve released to date.

One of the things that I love about Shack, is that they sing in their native Liverpudlian - just listen to the opening lines of The Girl With The Long Brown Hair to see what I mean. It's a refreshing change from the all-too-prevalent mid-Atlantic twang. They are also, as far as I'm aware, the only band to have released two consecutive albums whose title start with an elipsis. How cool is that???

Now, as with the last Task of ToffeeBoy, it’s nice to know in advance that I have at least one fellow fan on the ‘Spill – DarceysDad, take a bow – and I’m hopeful that we can convert a few more of you on the way. Our mission, should you choose to accept it, is to have a Shack track on the A-List by the end of the year.

OK. If you buy just one Shack album, let it be … Here’s Tom With The Weather. DarceysDad would say, let it be HMS Fable and to be honest I wouldn’t be too upset if you went that way instead. Personally, I prefer the former but I have to say that Fable features some of my favourite Shack songs (Comedy with its opening line ‘Oh the awful title belies the quality, of this unusual comedy’ is an absolute standout).

The Music
Thank You – The Pale Fountains
Crazier – The Pale Fountains
Jeans Not Happening – The Pale Fountains
John Kline – Shack
Who Killed Clayton Square? - Shack
Neighbours – Shack
X Hits The Spot – Michael Head & The Strands
Comedy – Shack
Natalie’s Party – Shack
The Girl With The Long Brown Hair – Shack
Carousel – Shack
Miles Away - Shack

More music at the particular request of DarceysDad
Glynys & Jaqui - Michael Head & The Strands
Streets Of Kenny - Shack
Pull Together - Shack
Cup Of Tea - Shack

Even more music at the peculiar request of Shoegazer
Meant To Be - Shack

The Links
Accoustic session

Just two tasks to go now and then Zeus grants me something - Gods know what - it was such a long time ago that I accepted the challenge that probably only Abahachi can enlighten us now ...


DarceysDaAAOOOOWW! Me bloody toes!! said...

Yep! I'll be as vocal and helpful and enthusiastic here as I was silent on the Sprout thread . . .

but not until after I get back from X-Ray later.


Chris said...

For me, the songs get better as you move down the list: more subtle drumming, more melodic chord changes, better production. But... they're still fairly unremarkable to these jaundiced ears.
Miles Away is the best but I'm not sure their fave composers have had a discernible influence. And it still has those cliched strings to stir up the emotion, alongside the kitchen sink full of other sounds.
I prefer The La's, if it's authentic scousers you're after. Or sowc and sosowc...

Blimpy said...

Listening now, it occurs to me that, for the last 16 year I have been confusing the Pale Fountains with the Pale Saints....

barbryn said...

Like most ToffeeTask bands, I know of this lot and know I ought to like them, but they've passed me by for one reason or another.

I like very much and will definitely listen to more (and try and give the lyrics proper attention). I didn't even find any 80s production to annoy me (though as Chris says, maybe they overdo the strings a tad).

Probably my favourite so far.

shane said...

3 years ago when I moved to Norfolk I took a short cut for my work..
passed a huge home made sign:
'Natalie's Party'
just made me smile and that night on RR I mentioned how it cheered me up.. (new money.. left all my friends.. R having gone back to studying..1 and a half year old not sleeping at all)
just a sign that I associated with a fantastic track... who engaged in that line of thought?

YEP our man for all missions DsD!

now days.. I would photograph it and make a 'spill post out of it. Then it felt great that people were out there listening to a ramble about a sign... we never did get shack in did we?
but (toffee) boy did we try every week for a while.

I'm still way down the page giving shoeys rain selection a fair hearing so will listens in the week... I've done a shack overview for various friends and got some hugely differing responses.

shane said...


what did you drop on your toes?

hope they are okay.

tincanman said...

Thanks to noms by you and DsD, I've spent some time with the Heads music and have liked it in general.

I think where I've had difficulty connecting with some of the task bands is my North American musical roots. This is in no way a judgment, but as a generalization European music tends to be more synthetic than the organic (these are my terms so I hope they make sense) 'roots' music I've grown up with. Bands I've loved the most tend to not be too many steps removed from the often fairly primitive forms of country, blues, folk and hillbilly. European bands are tremendously creative in other ways and through RR have found much music that holds its own anywhere (and for the past decade UK music for certain has been better than American), but rural is hard to do when you don't have dustbowls.

Where the heck am I going with this?

Oh yeah, to me the Pale Foundations and the Strands have that organic quality. There's a few bigger oversights on the A-Z in my humble opinion, but I'd deffo down with an A list or two by year end.

(I really should think what I'm going to say before I start typing)

treefrogdemon said...

tcm, I keep meaning to ask: do you watch Transatlantic Sessions? The current series is on BBC4 on Fridays at 8.30.

tincanman said...

no, what is it?

barbryn said...

tcm - I think your synthetic/organic dichotomy might just be another way of saying pop/rock, but I'm not sure I want to start that discussion.

Interested that you say UK music has been better in the last decade though. The odd Arctic Monkey and Mike Skinner apart, I've found much to compare with SufjanStevensJoannaNewsomTheNationalTheDecemberistsFleetFoxesBonIverEelsCatPowerRufusWainwrightBonniePrinceBilly... but maybe that's just me.

tincanman said...

I'm nowhere near expert enough to say barbryn, and as a caveat I've discovered so much great British music the past couple years through RR that much of it may seem more recent than it really is. Plus America is so damn big, there's no way to keep track of all the lesser-known but really good bands.

It's just a sense I have that American music lost its way after 9/11. No one knew what to say and it was almost treasonous to explore America's place in the world for awhile, so comment through song pretty much stopped and with no passion to drive it the music kind of went stagnant.

I've said this bfore here though, that in the past couple of years it seems like American songwriters have decided its ok to start dating again.

But this is all a gut feeling, not an analysis.

barbryn said...

Fair enough, tincanman. We have access to so much music now that you can arrange it around any number of narratives.

DarceysDad said...

Toffee, if I may suggest four more tunes to round out the range of songs that the Head Bros can produce, I'd have had Glynys & Jacqui, Pull Together, Cup Of Tea, and Streets Of Kenny in my version of the playlist.

G'night for now.

DarceysDad said...

@ Chris -
ToffeeBoy hasn't actually stated it in B&W, but his playlist is pretty much chronological, so it may well be that you can see them getting better with experience.

@ Shane -
You're another one trying to make me blush: stop it, the lot of yer!
We did have a period of trying to shoehorn Cup Of Tea into every single RR week though, didn't we?

@ Toffee -
I noticed you said you'd not managed to see them yet. I only managed it for the first time two years ago, and discussed it with Dave Simpson over on a GU thread about band names. Here's my gig review from that night:

Shack: all of their up & down career encapsulated in 90 minutes flat. A passionate following among the few (all of my fellow ex-pat Merseysiders in the room, by the sound of it) and mass indifference from the rest of the population. Hamstrung by slapdash preparation (grossly under-tightened tom skins and a bass WAY too loud in the mix) reminded me of the infamous lost mastertape story. A valiant start (Pull Together and Cup Of Tea were particularly fine), but then shooting themselves in the foot (Michael Head la-la-la-ing through a new tune called Roy they're "rehearsing" live) to kill the momentum. Build it up again (singalongs to Streets Of Kenny, X Hits The Spot, Undecided etc.) but fail to go in for the kill (no Shelley Brown, Beautiful, Cornish Town. And what has Natalie's Party done to deserve being airbrushed out their catalogue completely? This IS a 'Best Of ...' tour, after all). Gracious to the end (more encores played than Yorkshiremen shouting for them), but a final self-inflicted injury (ANOTHER half-written, as-yet instrumental new "idea we're playing with - you're the f**kin' guinea pigs!" OK Mick, but NOT AS AN ENCORE, PLEASE!!!).
I dunno, maybe it's the fact I'm always sober at gigs now that I drive myself, but I LOVE this band, and this was finally my first chance to see them, and I've come home all frustrated !!!

ToffeeBoy said...

@ Chris – DsD has already said what I was going to say about the chronology of the track listing. There’s a very definite sense of a band learning their trade. But having said that, I love the pure pop of tracks like Thank You (the early years of The Pale Fountains show plenty of evidence of their love of classic 60s pop) and the raw energy of Jean’s Not Happening (and indeed most of the second album, … From Across The Kitchen Table).

I do appreciate your erudite comments, by the way, even if I don’t agree with half of what you say!

@ blimpy – I’m sorry but that really is beyond the pale …

@ barbryn – cool!

@ shane – you should have popped in. I suspect there would have been balloons, party games, and a delicious Victoria sponge cake on offer.

@ DarceysDad – I’ve added three of the four songs you suggested but I don’t have (or indeed, know) Glynys & Jacqui. If you could bung an mp3 somewhere in the RR dropbox, I’ll pick it up from there and add it to the list.

DsD said...

Glynys & Jacqui dropped.

ToffeeBoy said...

!!! Silly me - I was only looking at Shack - and I didn't recognise the title Glynys & Jaqui as being on the Strands album. Duh...

ToffeeBoy said...

It's on the list now - boy, do I feel stoopid!

DarceysDad said...

Well I was wondering!


ejaydee said...

I think overall I preferred the earlier stuff, but it's all good.

Chris said...

The additional tracks are much more interesting; much more confident and assured, full of ideas. Even if still not exactly my taste, they're much closer than the early tracks and are not unremarkable at all. Cheers, TB/DsD.

steenbeck said...

I like it a lot Toffeeboy. I liked the first few songs a whole lot, then in the middle it lagged a bit, and his voice was starting to bug me slightly, but it picked up again in the end. But upon reflection, I think I might always feel that way when I listen to new music - even if it's a new album from somebody I know I like. Somewhere in the middle the strain of all the newness wears me out, but then I forget all about it and start enjoying it again. Anyway, I'm not good at talking intelligently about music, but it's got that satisfying 60s pop sound, but with a bit more sophistication, maybe. Dunno. Anyway, thanks for posting.

I just wanted to add that I always enjoy reading your introductions and listening to the tracks, even if I don't feel like I have anything intelligent to add to the conversation. I find it very hard to sum up a band that I like, and I think you're very good at it--you share your enthusiasm, but intelligently, and without being, what's the word--defensive? Not quite, um...maybe you know what I mean.

ejaydee said...

Or, what she said

treefrogdemon said...

@tcm: it's a music programme (mostly folk and country) featuring British and North American musicians playing together in a country house somewhere in Scotland. This is the fourth season, and we've seen Martha Wainwright and James Taylor already. Aly Bain and Jerry Douglas are in charge. You can watch it on the iPlayer too.

treefrogdemon said...

That would be a good question for the next EOTWQ, TB: "What gift is ToffeeBoy going to receive from Zeus when he finishes the tasks?"

Any prospective quiz compilers are welcome to use this question.

ToffeeBoy said...

@ Chris

For me, the songs get better as you move down the list

@ ejaydee

I think overall I preferred the earlier stuff, but it's all good.

You see, that's what the 'Spill's all about. And it's why I've long since stopped worrying too much about what everyone else thinks. One man's something is another woman's something else as the saying goes.

@ steenbeck - thanks for those kind words. That's interesting what you said about listening to new music. I very rarely attack a new album in one go - if it's a band I already know, I tend to mix the new tracks in with the old stuff for a few listens until I get to know the new ones well enough to stand on their own.

@ tfd - whatever it is, let's make it quite clear, it's not a gift. It's a well-earned award for a years' hard labour! :0)

treefrogdemon said...

Sorry. An award, I meant to say.

Shoegazer said...

My request for inclusion would be "Meant to Be", starts off like an Oasis tune, except with better lyrics & then a mariachi band shows up. Amazing.

Did get a B-listing for Cup of Tea, way back when I had some pull on the good ship RR.

Japanther said...

no dissent from these quarters either. These all sounded great TB.

I only own one Shack related record, "The Magical World Of The Strands" which "X Hits The Spot" is from but I recognised a couple of the other tunes too.

Nice one!

ToffeeBoy said...

@ Shoey - like my hero, Jimmy Young, I am more than happy to do requests!

tincanman said...

thanks TFD. Will try to check it out

TracyK said...

This has proved a really satisfying listen. I think I slightly prefer the Pale Fountains stuff, but I can't say I've disliked anything on here. Thanks for making me pay attention to a group I've kind of overlooked in the past TB.