Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band - The Florrie
Image - The Magical World of Michael by Low Coney. (2015) Analogue collage from found imagery
Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band, 'The Florrie', Saturday 12 December 2015.
The oft-repeated tales of nearly man Michael William Head are well worn. Shamefully, the music is often overlooked.
But Mick continues to write and perform his delicate songs, unblighted by modern music industry whims.
Head's recent rejuvination is thanks in no small part to an ever adoring fan base. In 2013, Matt Lockett from fan site Shacknet, agreed to help Mick set up a record label, and Violette Records was born. A revitalised Mick ended a period of studio inactivity stretching back to Shack’s 2006 album ‘On The Corner Of Miles And Gil’, with the release of the ‘Artorius Revisited EP’ in October 2013.
The creative freedom afforded by Violette has allowed Mick to thrive. The EP was followed by a series of celebratory gigs around the UK, his aficionados enthused by the return of their hero. A seven inch double A-side single ‘Velvets In The Dark/Koala Bears’ was released in March this year.
Tonight’s venue, ‘The Florence Institute’, feels like an appropriate setting for this resurgent artist. Like Mick, ‘The Florrie’, as it’s locally known, has experienced somewhat of a revival. Located on Mill Street, Dingle, The Grade II listed building was constructed in 1889 by local philanthropist Bernard Hall, and served the community for almost a century, hosting sports events and music, before closing in the late 1980’s.
Following years of disrepair, and a devastating fire in 1999, a long term regeneration project was implemented. Thanks to volunteers, fund raisers and the Prince of Wales, The Florrie eventually re-opened in 2012.
Today, The Florrie is a community hub for activities from adult learning to fitness classes, the building also hosts weddings, parties and conferences. With the impending closure of the much loved Kazimier, The Florrie could become an unlikely feature of the Liverpool music scene.
Mick ambles onto the stage around 10.30, greeted with cheers from the 200+ strong crowd, who snatched up tickets within an hour. Proclaiming ‘anyone who says being nervous is a good thing, is a fucking liar!’, Mick opens with the gentle strum of 'Walter’s Song'. A lullaby written for his daughter Alice, Accompanied only by cello, he quickly puts his nerves to bed, with vocals assured and guitar playing steady.
Set highlights include 'Cadiz', a tale of love and escape, with spine tingling trumpet courtesy of Martin Smith, and the greatest love song ever to reference Kilroy, ‘As Long As I’ve Got You’. The powerful ‘Meant To Be’ prompts a mass singalong - its ‘Forever Changes’ style horns mimicked by the audience to great effect.
Mick’s sister Joanne is invited on stage to sing the foreboding 'Daniella', a bruised inner city folk song of addiction and death (‘Your Mama, she’s not afraid anymore, she’s in the cemetery’) - the audience listen intently. A series of engaging stills are projected throughout the gig, with Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle making a fitting cameo here.
The recently re-released ‘Magical World Of The Strands’ album features heavily, with sentimentally stunning ‘Something Like You’ appearing alongside 'X Hits The Spot’, during which Mick gives a nod to younger brother John (“just gotta imagine our kid's guitar haven’t yer”), as well as ‘Hocken’s Hey’, and ‘The Prize’.
‘Streets Of Kenny’, from 1999’s ‘HMS Fable’, is dedicated to Timo Tierney of The Tea Street Band, who had earlier warmed proceedings with his dreamy melodies and sweet voice.
A crowd demanded encore looks like it could go either way. But Mick emerges triumphantly with ‘Hazy’ from 1995’s ‘Waterpistol’ and the defiant ‘Emergency’ from 1988’s ‘Zilch’. The gig ends with a redux of the earlier featured ‘My Favourite Things’, Mick and his band clearly enjoying playing this cover.
To my slight disappointment, ‘Comedy’ and 'Undecided’, both written teasingly on the set list, remain unplayed. But with a back catalogue as exceptional as it is vast, I guess he can’t play ‘em all.