Living in Asia in the mid-2000s, most of my music was consumed through a tinny, tiny old MP3 player, little bigger than a pen. Removed from the prevailing trends of the pigeon-holing UK music scene, my tastes ranged far and wide.
Work at the time involved a lot of travelling. A lot. Taking two, sometimes three whole days overland to reach a destination was commonplace. Sleeper trains and long-distance buses were a second home. I read a lot and listened voraciously to any music I could get my hands on. Only to be bound by technological limitations.
On the Corner of Miles and Gil, the fifth album by Liverpudlian troubadours Shack was released in 2006, the year Spotify was founded and long before it reached critical mass. Ubiquitous Wi-Fi was a thing of the future, especially when you’re cramped next to a bus window traversing the Cambodian countryside. Smartphones were in their (very) nascent stages of development and MP3 players were generally plasticky, tinny and very easily breakable.
My MP3 held ten albums. Tops. And not a song more. The sound was awful and if you were on a noisy train, full-blast was the only chance you had of hearing anything. Yet it was through this medium that I first encountered Shack’s criminally overlooked masterpiece.
With only ten albums to go at, they get heavy rotation when you’re on a twenty-eight-hour train journey through Vietnam. As it was with what turned out to be Shack’s final album.
The woozy, laid-back psychedelia within this beauty of an album was a constant companion. It travelled well.
Success seemed to have an aversion to these Scouse maestros, evading them at every turn. Some was down to pure bad luck (a studio burning down and losing the master tapes of your album); some self-inflicted (longstanding problems with heroin and the associated erratic behaviour).
Rising from the ashes on the much-touted but equally elusive Pale Fountains, Shack certainly had the pedigree. Despite major label backing, the Pale Fountains had never achieved the commercial success expected of them, a theme that continued throughout Shack’s wayward career.
Once described by the NME as ‘Britain’s greatest songwriter’, frontman Mick Head, supported by his brother John, created beautifully formed, intricately crafted songs that came across as naturally effortless.
Moving away from the more anthemic leanings of 1999’s H.M.S. Fable, On the Corner of Miles and Gil was the sound of a band playing for themselves; comfortable in their own skin. Even through the primitive technology of an archaic MP3 player, the songs cut through.
Mick Head still performs occasionally, his latest guise being Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band. The genius of his signwriting is still evident. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to catch them and be introduced to this maverick talent.
On the Corner of Miles and Gil remains a forgotten classic from a forgotten band.