Michael Head and The StrandsMichael Head and The Strands
Album: The Magical World Of…/The Olde World
Label: Megaphone
Tracks: 14 + 10

If you were to sum up the career of Michael Head in 2 words you'd probably be hard pressed to find better ones than inspired and chaotic. An undoubted living legend from his work with The Love/Pale Fountains, Shack and The Red Elastic Band he's still managed to sail frustratingly under the radar. On the flip side you could argue that he came tantalisingly close to upper echelons of musical consciousness but was scuppered by a number of maladies that wouldn't have been out of place in an Ealing comedy!

With Shack, in the early 90's, Head was all set to take a nation hungry for guitars again by storm only to have his record label go bust and the studio burn down with the mastered tapes of the album inside. A copy of the tapes was eventually found after being left in the glove box of a Mexican rental car (seriously!) but by the time a new label was found and the album released, The Stone Roses had already slaked the thirst of the British public for guitars and Shack became undeserving also-rans.

The Strands aspect of Head's career came about in the early 90's as Shack imploded. Funded by fan, promoter and Megaphone head honcho Stephane Bismuth it was recorded between '93 and '95 before being shelved for a time as Shack were unexpectedly offered a major label deal.

Finally released in 1997 'The Magical World Of…' is every bit as good as what came before and has come since within Michael Head's glorious repertoire. Leaning unashamedly towards the psychedelia, Mersey pop and 60's folk that had such a profound influence on him, it's a tour de force of songwriting and lyricism. 'Queen Matilda' is delicate and bombastic in the same breath while the soulful colours of 'Something Like You' should've had a much wider audience.

The album's Shack-iest moment comes in the form of 'X Hits The Spot' with its unashamedly 60's style pop chorus before a descent into tension on 'Loaded Man' which represents a 7 minute textbook for anyone considering becoming a singer-songwriter. It's got structure, it's got balance, it's got delicacy and it's got appeal. Perfect

Of the sister/outtakes album 'The Olde World' the title track peaks interest the most. It's pure pop in the classic Mersey style. The sound of giant guitars being strummed by nattily dressed blokes bobbing along effortlessly to a technicolour tune. Again, perfect. The 'Olde World' should be marked 'for completists only' but Michael Head is an artist worthy your membership as a completist.

'The Magical World of' and 'The Olde World' are fascinating glimpses of what could have been but for those in the now they always have been and continue to be aural treasures from an under-appreciated national treasure.

Rob Fearnley