Connect with us


Michael Head and The Red Elastic Band Preview New Album ‘Loophole’ at Manchester’s Gorilla [Show Review]

Michael Head and The Red Elastic Band head down the M62 to preview new album ‘Loophole’ at Gorilla in Manchester.



Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band
Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band, press photo

Michael Head has had the good folk of Liverpool eating out of the palm of his hand since The Pale Fountains’ “Thank You” made the summer of ’82 shine that little bit brighter. A lapse in national interest followed until Shack’s HMS Fable album attracted the attention of the music press in 1999, and Mick found himself iconically gazing from the cover of NME.

Despite Mick’s incredible songwriting ability and genius in crafting the most beautiful songs since Burt Bacharach, the good ship Fable bobbed back below the waves for a few years until the Head magic emerged once more in 2013 with the arrival of The Red Elastic Band. Taking a few years to get in their stride, Mick’s new project hit gold in 2017 with the immaculate Adiós Señor Pussycat album, reaching No1 in the Indie chart and displaying a newly re-charged Head, performing better than ever before.

2022’s follow up, Dear Scott finally put Mick where he belonged by topping numerous end of year mag and web “best of” polls and re-introducing him bigtime to the rest of the country and the world. A successful trip to Japan being just one highlight of the band’s many new adventures.

I have seen Mick countless times on his home turf, the first time being when Shack used the power supply of my record store to perform a Saturday afternoon gig in Liverpool’s Palace shopping centre in 1989 / 90. I thought since his recent wider success it would be interesting to see him perform off campus, so I headed to Gorilla in Manchester to see how well he and the band would be received at the other end of the M62.

Due to a car bursting into flames mid route, I missed the first few songs of The Sway, tonight’s support, but what I caught was pretty special. Five young lads from Liverpool who obviously are going to be compared to all that’s come before them, from The La’s to The Coral and everything in between, but I found them to be reaching out beyond the Scouse sound. At times the jangly guitars sounded like they could have been ripped from the legendary C86 tape, as that retro Indie sound flowed effortlessly from their 3, sometimes 4 guitars.

The band are labelmates with Mick, another fantastic signing from Modern Sky UK, a label that appears to be immune to signing a duff act at the moment. Lead vocalist Ryan Mcnee resembles a young John Power and has a voice to match, but some of the purer indie moments came from the mouth of keyboardist / guitarist Aiden McClean. Check out their work on Spotify, its fresh and diverse and you’ll be a fan after the first listen.

When The Red Elastic Band take to the stage, it is exactly that. It’s not Mick and his new band anymore, it’s The Red Elastic Band and there’s a sense that finally the audience want to hear their songs now and not just a Shack’s Greatest Hits, which was certainly the case a while back. The two albums have established a tight unit, helped in part by the inspired hiring of Bill Ryder-Jones as producer on Dear Scott. Word on the street has also been that this tour has been highlighting songs from the upcoming album Loophole, rumoured to be their finest set of tracks yet. From the start this is the case and those songs do not disappoint.

Opening with “Ricochet Moment”, recent single “Ciao Ciao Bambino”, “Shirl’s Ghost” (which has been doing the live rounds for some time now) and “Tout Suite” this is an instant showcase of what to expect. Note to self – pre-order when you get in.

The recently wed Mr Head is on fine form, chatting much more than usual. He shares a tale from his autobiography in progress about his early adoration of The Bunnymen and talks with excitement about his discovery of the canals in Manchester City Centre. When an audience member calls out “Mickey”, Mick creases up and tells the audience how his Mum would have slammed the door in the face of anyone who came knocking for “Mickey” with a firm “He’s not in!”.

When the band return to familiar territory with “Kismet”, “Gino and Rico” and the much-loved “Broken Beauty”, the sing-a-longs begin, and although there seems to be a relief that its not going to be just a night of new stuff, the opening run was unanimously well received. Shack’s “The Streets of Kenny” (Kensington being the suburb of Liverpool where Mick and brother John grew up) is accompanied by a lovely story about how their Dad (Kenny) was made up that they’d finally written a song about him.

The Manchester audience seem to be just as devoted to the band as their Liverpool counterparts and to be fair, many have made their way up the 62 tonight or on the train, Mick recognises someone on the front row from the trip “I walked right past you on the station” he laughs. One of the pitfalls of Mick’s audience is the sense that many feel they know him so well they can relax that little bit too much and discuss the gig whilst its actually happening, which is annoying for everyone else. Its respectful to a point but a pain in the arse at the same time. At the start of one of the quieter new songs tonight, Mick does have to stop and ask the audience to be quiet “I can’t hear myself think up here”, the audience takes note and pipes down for the rest of the gig.

New one, “You Smiled at Me” is clearly going to be a favourite in years to come and some old favourites like “Stranger” and “Newby Street” are greeted with the euphoria they deserve.

The close of the show ends as it usually does with the inevitable “Comedy”, a song which surely must be the favourite of many fans, and “Meant to Be”, the one song which veers closest to the sound of Mick’s heroes, Arthur Lee’s Love, mainly due to Martin Smith’s Mexican trumpet solo at the end.

It’s fitting that the encore consists of just one song, a note perfect cover of Love’s, “A House is Not a Motel”. Shack doubled for Love during an Arthur Lee tour many years ago and came full circle last year when they performed as A Scouse is not a Motel, a Love tribute band of sorts for Liverpool’s Food Aid event, (also reviewed on this site here).

The complexities of the track show just how tight The Red Elastic Band are, and how they really have transcended the status as Mick’s backing band and become their own entity. Bassist Tom Powell is notable also as a solo artist, who we interviewed earlier this year (read that interview here.

It feels like every Mick gig is better than the last and this has been going on for four decades now. It may be an illusion, but I’m tempted to think that its closer to fact. The man and the band simply go from strength to strength and I’m not the only one who cannot wait until the new album, Loophole, is released on May 17th.

Loophole is released on May 17th, 2024 and you can order the album from the Official Michael Head Webstore here.

Del Pike is a University lecturer in Film and Media in Liverpool (UK). He writes film, music, art, literature and culture articles and reviews for a number of websites. Del loves nothing more than snuggling down in a dark cinema, getting sweaty at  a live gig or drifting off late at night to a good book. He loves cats. He enjoys promoting new talent online so please say hi if you have something to show.