Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

Magic Moments: Michael Head’s Baker’s Dozen

In a year that sees him finish his 'magical memoir', a new album with The Red Elastic Band and a career-spanning homecoming show in Liverpool, former Shack, Strands and Pale Fountains frontman Michael Head takes Patrick Clarke through the 13 records that shaped him

Photo by John Johnson

In a recent press release, 2024 is declared to be ‘The year of Mick Head’. As well as Loopholes, his third album with The Red Elastic Band which arrives next month, the musician has written Ciao Ciao Bambino: A Magical Memoir, initially slated for this year but recently delayed until 2025. It has been 40 years since his debut album, The Pale Fountains’ Pacific Street, and 25 since Shack’s much-loved H.M.S. Fable, and a May tour of career-spanning shows will be followed by a homecoming gig in December at Liverpool’s imperious Philharmonic Hall. “Honestly, the Phil, that’s got to be every lad or girl’s dream to play in their hometown,” Head says over the phone, audibly beaming. “The Paleys only ever played the pub across the road!”

Head has long been lauded as one of the country’s great ‘lost’ songwriters, the prevailing narrative being that his generational talent was consistently denied the attention it was due thanks to a series of crises and misfortunes – the acrimonious collapse of relations between The Pale Fountains and Virgin Records after they slipped between the cracks of chart viability and underground clout; the warehouse fire that burnt all known tapes of Shack’s masterpiece Waterpistol and left the band in limbo until the only surviving copy was tracked down to the glove compartment of an old rental car a few years later; Head’s battles with heroin and alcohol addiction. Loopholes, however, feels like a point of culmination. Coming off the back of one of the most acclaimed records of his career, 2022’s Dear Scott which was his first to break the top 10, perhaps it’s finally time to drop the ‘cult’ from the ‘cult hero’.

Head, of course, laughs off any hyperbole. “The album sounds great. Bill [Ryder-Jones, producer] has weaved his magic, and we’re all really proud,” is the most he’ll concede. Loopholes does, nevertheless, find him taking stock and looking backwards. It’s tied closely to the memoir, which shares its name with the album’s lead single, he says. “While I was writing the book downstairs in the back kitchen, I was taking little breaks and going upstairs to the other room where my guitar was. They were feeding off each other, intertwined.” His songwriting is still “concocted of fact and fiction,” he points out, and Loopholes isn’t envisaged as the book in musical form, but “I’m a believer in the subconscious. Obviously what I was writing about [for the memoir] was floating around in my head, and when you’ve got a guitar in your hand, you write songs.”

Hearing Head talk us through 13 formative records is like being invited to float around too. The conversation gently zigzags and loops in on itself as if he’s flaneuring through his own history, until something or other sticks out – a friend’s well-timed recommendation, a casually-chosen Christmas present that would end up changing his life, an encounter with a well-written lyric or a magical piece of guitar playing. When these elements occur, suddenly there’s a spark of energy, usually a breathless ‘fuuuuckin’ hell’, as if he’s reliving that moment of magic all over again.

Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band’s new album Loopholes is released on 17 May via Modern Sky.

To begin reading his Baker’s Dozen, click ‘first record’ below.

First Record

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