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LIVE: Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band – Brudenell, Leeds

I’ve been a Michael Head fan since my friend Nigel Shipton lent me From Across The Kitchen Table in 1985.  I’ve followed his career through The Strands, Shack, and on to his latest incarnation with The Red Elastic Band.  I’ve seen him at places as diverse as Edge Hill College Refectory and Liverpool Grand Central Hall.  But always on Merseyside.  A place where he is held in deep respect.  I had never seen him perform too far from home.  How did he travel?  It was with this in mind that I headed up to Leeds and prepared to see Michael Head And The Red Elastic Band in the main room of the Brudenell Social Club.

One thing I was not prepared for was tonight’s support, Psycho Comedy.   Never has a band been more aptly named.  There was a real sense of mania about their performance, and no lack of humour.  Psycho Comedy are a six-piece band from Liverpool, who have a sound that could be summed-up as garage-psyche-punk.  It’s very rhythmic and very arty.  Think The Stooges, MC5, New York Dolls with a bit of poetry thrown in.   

The main man is singer-guitarist Shaun Powell, and you daren’t take your eyes of him for a second.  He enters the stage sporting fluffy, pink earmuffs, which he wears throughout the entire set.  He howls his lyrics, shrieks, and barks like a dog.  On I am The Silver Screen and other songsthese screeches are accompanied by the dead pan spoken word efforts of Matthew Thomas Smith.  He’s a sort of less animated John Cooper Clarke.  A perfect counterpoint to Powell’s frenzied delivery.

In-between songs Powell keeps the crowd on their toes by telling them when they can sit down, stand up, or what he thinks of your clothes.  During the hypnotic Sleepwalking Powell breaks the top string of his guitar.  I doubt it made one bit of difference to the sound or performance of a thoroughly entertaining set.  Lookout for their forthcoming album Performance Space Number One, due for release on February 14th.

Michael Head walked nervously on to the stage of the main room at the Brudenell Social Club.  It’s almost like he’s slightly embarrassed that so many people have turned up to see him.  Some might see that as surprising when you consider NME once labelled Head as ‘Britain’s greatest living song writer’, and his name is mentioned in some circles, on equal terms with the likes of Arthur Lee and Scott Walker.   If you think the members of The Red Elastic Band look familiar, then you’ve probably seen promising Liverpool newcomers The Peach Fuzz.  Head has clearly taken advantage of the winter transfer window and made some excellent young loan signings.  

Perhaps Head’s hesitancy stemmed from the unveiling of new material.  He has been working with Bill Ryder-Jones on what will be a new album New Brighton Rocks and showcased some new material.  He had no need to be worried.  The new songs were well received.  The packed Brudenell crowd listened patiently and expectantly.  They were ready to get involved.  And get involved they did four tunes in, when accompanied by a trumpet, the band played an old favourite Reach, a Pale Fountains song.  I’m transported back decades to that Refectory gig.  Michael Head could have saved himself a few quid on a trumpet player.  There’s a room full joining in.

Head seems to be able to lift the crowd at will.  He’s got the room in the palm of his hand.  During the next song, the beautiful Picasso you could hear a pin drop.  The crowd then rise again to sing along with Natalie’s Party.  After the rhythmic, sonic attack of Psycho Comedy, you can really appreciate the harmonies and complexities in Michael Head’s song-writing.  Highlight’s of an epic set were Meant to Be off the Shack album Here’s Tom with the Weather (another pin-dropper until the trumpet kicks in again), and the pounding, Celtic sounding Streets of Kenny, a song about Head’s old home area and his drug addiction. 

The band leave the stage to a joyous ovation.  But you knew they would be back.  Michael Head has a marvellous back catalogue, and compiling a set list must be a nightmare, but there was no way Head was going to leave the building without playing what many consider to be his best song, the uplifting, beautiful, bitter-sweet Comedy.  The band return for an encore and duly oblige.  The evening is complete.         

Michael Head travels well.  A definite away win.  Ian Dunphy                      

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