The final outing from Stackridge – in the ’70s, at least – feels very much like the black sheep of the family, the ugly duckling that’s destined to become a beautiful swan. It’s by no means the worst of Stackridge’s output – I still think their adequate debut holds that honour – but it’s certainly the weirdest, and that’s saying a lot, given how eclectic this band can be. While their previous efforts had been predicated on whimsy and an affection for the Beatles, Mr. Mick sees the band undergoing an identity crisis as they produce a half-baked concept with dark themes of a senile old man who frequents the local dump. If it weren’t for Michael Slater’s dulcet West Country accent narrating the proceedings and the literal Beatles cover that can be found at the start of the album, I’d have a hard time believing this was Stackridge at all.
The album had a belaboured recording process that saw studio executives rejecting much of the material the band had recorded and chopping and changing it to their liking, thoroughly messing with the album’s narrative. Fortunately, the band’s original version was released by Angel Air back in 2000; Esoteric’s reissue contains both versions, although the disc order is swapped so that the 1976 LP version comes first.
The band’s cut of the album contains some marginal concept improvements to the released version, flowing better as two side-long pieces of music. But it’s easy to see why the execs weren’t impressed. Mr. Mick had been originally conceived as a side-long concept piece followed by four or five individual songs on the other side, rather like Rush’s 2112. However, guitarist Andy Davis admits in the notes that he suggested they try and make Mr. Mick into a whole album by shoehorning the written songs into the narrative using a tenuous linking structure. This results in a highly uneven album which, while normal for Stackridge, is not what you want when listening to a concept album, especially not one with two continuous sides.
By themselves, the instrumental sections are mesmerising; Breakfast with Werner von Braun in particular takes the listener into a dreamy haze with its cyclical structure and use of Indian instruments, likely another tribute to the Beatles. Accentuated by Slater’s narration, they show a completely different side to Stackridge than we’ve ever seen before; The Dump – titled Mr. Mick’s Dream on the unreleased version – is particularly experimental in nature, while Coniston Water features exceptional interplay between Dave Lawson’s Mellotron and Keith Gemmell’s saxophone. It feels surreal to hear the former Greenslade keyboardist alongside Audience’s saxophonist in this entirely separate arena.
The more formal songs are what let the album down; they aren’t dreadful but they’re worse on the whole than the instrumentals. Closing track Fish in a Glass is decent but, at seven minutes, is a little too slow for me. The Steam Radio Song has decent proggy moments but not enough to stay interesting. The greatest offender has to be the reggae-infused track that the band were proud enough to put at the top of their version, Hey! Good Looking; I find it to be utterly monotonous with a particularly dreadful chorus.
At the studio’s insistence, the band recorded a cover of one of the Beatles’ least well-known songs, Hold Me Tight, to release as a single; this version, also given a reggae treatment, would feature instead of Hey! Good Looking at the top of the album. While I wasn’t initially a fan of this slow rendition of a particularly unremarkable tune, it’s grown into rather a guilty pleasure, as the tight rhythm is particularly infectious. It’s safe to say that I prefer it to the original.
Davis admits, “[Mr. Mick] needed rethinking, it needed editing and improvement,” and he’s not wrong. The album was an utter mess and the band should have reconsidered structuring the album as a side-long piece followed by individual songs. By trying to throw in everything including the kitchen sink, they ruined the essence of a great concept album, which is to feel as cohesive as possible. Although Esoteric’s bonus disc does not reveal anything that wasn’t already revealed 23 years ago, Mike Barnes’s essay is once again perfectly insightful and reveals how this unusual album came together, as well as how the band eventually split. Mr. Mick, by its very nature, is arguably the most ‘progressive’ album Stackridge ever made.
DISC ONE: Mr. Mick – The 1976 Album Version
01. Hold Me Tight (3:34)
02. Breakfast with Werner von Braun (4:05)
03. The Steam Radio Song (3:34)
04. The Dump (1:46)
05. Save a Red Face (3:23)
06. The Slater’s Waltz (4:33)
07. Coniston Water (5:22)
08. Hey! Good Looking (4:16)
09. Fish in a Glass (7:18)
Time – 37:55
DISC TWO: Mr. Mick – The Original Unreleased Version
01. Hey! Good Looking (4:32)
02. Breakfast with Werner von Braun (3:41)
03. Mr. Mick’s Waltz (3:52)
04. Mr. Mick’s Dream (2:08)
05. Save a Red Face (3:28)
06. The Steam Radio Song (3:16)
07. The Slater’s Waltz (4:09)
08. Hazy Dazy Holiday (2:03)
09. Coniston Water (4:56)
10. Can Inspiration Save the Nation? (2:13)
11. Mr. Mick’s New Home (3:24)
12. Fish in a Glass (7:18)
Time – 45:06
Total Time – 83:01
Andy Cresswell-Davis – Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
Michael “Mutter” Slater – Flute, Keyboards, Vocals & Narration
Keith Gemmell – Saxophone, Clarinet
Jim “Crun” Walter – Bass
Peter Van Hooke – Drums
Dave Lawson – Keyboards