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To say Michael Head has had his share of bad luck would be an understatement. Things started off well enough. The Paleys’ take on the guitar ‘n’ trumpet pop of Bacharach and Love sparked a bidding war between labels. They finally signed to Virgin for £150,000, but despite some fantastic singles, including the anthemic Jean’s Not Happening, their biggest hit, Thank You, still stalled just outside the Top 40, at No 46. The band finally split following the death of bassist Chris McCaffrey of a brain tumour in 1986. Zilch was meant to be Head’s big comeback. Now with brother John in the fold, Shack took the West Coast harmonies of the Paleys and relocated them to the English council flat. Again, the band garnered rave reviews. Again they failed to strike it lucky. After Zilch, the story descends into farce: follow-up album Waterpistol disappeared into the ether amid comical tales of burnt-down studios, lost mastertapes and the more serious spectre of heroin addiction. In the meantime, the 90s Britpop boom stole their thunder. By the time their third album proper, HMS Fable, arrived in 1999, they were already being spoken of as the forgotten men of English pop. Songs like Comedy encouraged the NME to hail Head as the country’s greatest living songwriter, but by this time they were middle-aged men who’d missed their shot at the big time. Which perhaps explains why there’s been such a spate of nostalgia for the band of late. There were a couple of Pale Fountains reunion gigs in February and, after a Japanese reissue in 2005, Red Flag records finally rereleased Zilch at the end of last year, meaning their entire back catalogue is now available to the public. If you’re new to Mick Head’s talents, I’d strongly recommend you get yourself a copy of The Magical World of the Strands, a spin-off album from 1997 that consisted of three-quarters of Shack along with Michelle Brown on bass. It’s an album full of classic, whimsical English pop; the sound of perennial Likely Lads growing up with a sense of resigned fatalism. Then, once you realise what the fuss is all about, get yourself Zilch to hear the beginnings of a magnificent band.