Lost Liverpool #6: Arthur Lee and Shack bring California sunshine to Wolstenholme Square


arthur lee flyer 2In his latest Lost Liverpool column, Getintothis’ Paul Fitzgerald recalls a very special evening, as Shack and Arthur Lee combined forces for a magical and breathtaking performance.

Back in the early nineties, for one beautiful spring night in Wolstenholme Square, the air was filled with Love, as Arthur Lee came to town. His band that night? Shack. A pairing truly made in heaven’s heaven, and for the Liverpool band, a dream come true.

In Lost Liverpool #4, we looked at the link between Liverpool and Paris in the early nineties, with a look at the Liverpool 1990 festival at La Locomotive. Many Liverpool bands played that venue during those years, but for Michael and John Head, their appearance helped cement relationships that would lead to particular dreams coming true, culminating in a very special evening in Wolstenholme Square on May 6 1992.

Throughout his career, the elder Head brother has championed the cause of Love and particularly Arthur Lee, and through every era of his work, from The Pale Fountains, through the Shack years, to the more recent Red Elastic Band, the influence and the light shone by Lee‘s influence remains undimmed. Liverpool loves LOVE, and it’s mainly down to Mick Head‘s constant referencing of the psychedelic baroque folk of Arthur Lee‘s band.

In 1991, Shack‘s then manager, Andrew Erskine received a call from French promoter Stephane Bismuth, who had recently begun to represent Arthur Lee. He was compiling a Love tribute album of French and English bands, and wanted Shack to record a version of A House Is Not A Motel.

Check out the Love revival, here

“He paid for us to stay some extra days in Paris after one of the shows at La Locomotive and record it at some backstreet studio, which we did, and it was a pretty rocking version too.”

That LP sits on a shelf somewhere and remains unreleased, but the recording set in place a chain of events which would eventually lead to one of the most memorable nights Wolstenholme Square ever saw. Bismuth had arranged some gigs for Arthur in Paris and London, but Arthur had no band. Again, a call came in to Shack HQ, suggesting they should become Arthur‘s band for these shows. After all, fewer people could claim to know this set of classic songs quite like this Liverpool band could. Andrew Erskine remembers them meeting Arthur Lee for the first time in a hotel foyer in Paris.

“They met in the morning, on the day of the Paris gig, rehearsed in the afternoon at the theatre, for maybe two hours max, and then reconvened later for the show. So, not exactly polished, but it was an exceptional show, all of the big Love songs, and so many moments of Arthur looking stunned and surprised at the excellent backing he was receiving from these Scouse strangers”

In the run up to the Paris and London shows, and in the light of the new decade, the new era, immediately post acid house, people wanted to welcome new music, and celebrate the older, interesting stuff. In this fervent and enthusiastic environment, Curtis and Mitchell had begun promoting a series of irregular events called ‘The United Altered States Of The World’

Arthur Lee John Head backstage

Arthur Lee and John Head backstage

“The first two events featured Mo Tucker and Sterling Morrison, and Jonathan Richman. People turned up. It inspired us, and our minds turned to the dream gig: Arthur Lee and Love. Through some contact we had in Paris, through the work we were doing with a group called Dr Phibes And The House Of Wax Equations, we met Stephane, and a deal was struck – Arthur was to play Paris, London, and now, Liverpool, backed by Shack. For the gig we hired the Academy (later Cream), which was the biggest venue we had used for our night so far, and asked Will Sergeant and Bob Parker of Probe Records to DJ, both having cool aesthetic taste and great record collections.”

It was always going to easy to advertise to half the crowd, the young and cool, a poster here, a couple of ads placed there, but there was a sizeable older crowd, who’d remembered Love from the first time round, and that crowd had long since stopped reading the music press. Keith Curtis remembers

Andy Mitchell, my partner, had designed some amazing dollar bill posters which were all round town, and we wanted to reach the original fans, so we leafletted the city centre on the Saturdays preceding the gig, handing out dollar bill sized flyers, like we were involved in election campaign with Arthur Lee as our leader”

The mood in town in those weeks to some was pretty much exactly that, that Arthur was our leader, and with Mick Head at his side, he’d put us on his campaign trail and would soon be amongst us. Exciting times.

The day of the gig arrived, and as the promoters concerned themselves at the propensity for Arthur and Shack to engage in somewhat eccentric behaviour, the mood would only settle once all the musicians had arrived from London, and were gathered within the confines of the venue, safe and very, very sound. The only rehearsal for the Liverpool show was the sound-check, and that itself was glorious and stunning.

The band played as only utterly devoted followers could, painstakingly devoted to each note, each beat. The Head brothers were joined by Martyn Campbell (then of Rain, and later The Lightning Seeds), and Johnny Baxter on drums. The sound was incredible, and to stand in that soundcheck and witness Arthur in all his unimaginable glory, to hear those songs as he wanted them to be heard, and to see the sheer showmanship of this 100% rock legend, was a very special feeling. DJs, promoters, writers, venue staff, and more hangers on than you could care to imagine stood in awe. And smiled. And this was just the sound-check.

With a set taken from the Love, Da Capo albums as well as the magnus-opus that is Forever Changes, Arthur and Shack delivered a set of intense musical prowess to a jam packed club of space cadets, beatniks, the hip and the cool, the old and the young. Cross generational fully paid up devotees of the Church Of Love every one. The reception from the crowd was just as impressive, willing the band forward with every breath, and devouring every classic song as though it were written for them, and only them. Truly, a night to never forget, a spectacle to always remember.

A recording of the gig was released on the Viper label several years later, and while not the most brilliant quality, it undeniably gives a sense of the atmosphere in the Academy that night. The sleeve notes on the record sum up the evening perfectly in the words of Arthur Lee himself, Keith Curtis, and the legend that is Bernie Connor.

“A magical night, a one off – the whole crowd willing Arthur on, and helping him and the band to deliver a set of fantastic and timeless songs. At the end, nobody wanted to leave and go home. Something magical had happened and everyone wanted it to be like that forever” Keith Curtis

“And then it was gone, consigned to the memory banks of history. A moment so beautiful and timeless, etched indelibly into the minds of those who took part. Forever….a show that, for a couple of hours set and entire city alight and for a very brief moment made the world a better place to be…”Bernie Connor

“The show in Liverpool is still the most memorable of my life. The warmth and love of the people there is something I will never forget. Not only did they know allmy songs, they also sang them aloud as I played. I think they knew them better than I did. They really made me feel welcome, I was so well liked there…….I would like to thank the people of Liverpool for their warmth and their love.” – Arthur Lee

On the 6th of May 1992, the people of Liverpool thanked Arthur Lee for his Love.