An Interview With The Blockheads

Prior to their gig at Dorchester Arts Centre on the 23rd July Dorset Eye was very fortunate to be able to interview The Blockheads.

The Blockheads are an English rock and roll band. Originally fronted by vocalist Ian Dury as Ian Dury and the Blockheads, the band has continued to perform since Dury’s death in 2000. Current members include Derek Hussey (vocals), Chaz Jankel (keyboard/guitar), Norman Watt-Roy (bass guitar), Mick Gallagher (keyboard/piano), John Turnbull (vocals/guitar) and John Roberts (drums).

There is rolling line up of saxophone players that includes Gilad AtzmonTerry Edwards or Dave Lewis and from time to time, the original sax player, Davey Payne. The band are best known for their hit singles, recorded with Dury, “What a Waste“, “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick“, “Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3” and “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll“.

1.       We saw you at Forever Sun Festival in 2013 and the gig was wonderful. Many people who had not seen you before came away eulogising and elated at your performance.  Derek seemed a perfect fit to follow in Ian’s shoes and the ambiance throughout the band appeared infectious. Was it that simple?

A.       Nothing is ever that simple!…..It took an album (‘Where’s the Party’c.2002) and a  year of tentative gigging and studio sessions after Ian’s demise to finally settle on Derek as our front man. As soon as he took up station centre stage it all became obvious and the rest is history.

2.       Of all the magnificent songs on the set list that night ‘Itinerant Child’ was the standout for me because it reflects the anger at the persecution of those that don’t appear to fit. What makes you guys angry today?

A.      Modern Life!…….. All the hoops that you have to constantly jump through to keep up with the technology…… the younger members of the band seem to thrive on it but, for us more senior chaps, we were quite happy talking to a person on the phone and using  pencil and paper or the back of a fag packet for anything important.

3.       Now that you guys are older and wiser how has this impacted upon touring since the early days?

A.      Older …Yes!….wiser?…. not too sure! We shouldn’t really be throwing ourselves around the planet like we do, individually, with our other commitments.  The Blockheads shows are usually confined to the U.K. with very rare outings to other countries so it is a less hectic experience. Still, that couple of hours on stage people witness of an evening is the result of early morning starts and literally hours and hours of travelling and meticulous organisation and co-ordination of band and crew which seems to have developed its own rhythm over the years. As long as you’ve set the alarm clock! In the early days it was all too easy to let ‘the management’ take all the stress….but now we’ve cut out all the middle men and operate as near as possible like adults.         

4.       The Blockheads represent a fusion of musical styles with punk, the Blues and rock’n’ roll to name but three.  How easy was it at the beginning to create your sound and who brought what to ‘the table’?

A.      The Blockhead sound was created exactly by different elements being brought to the table naturally…..our individual backgrounds and influences found a fertile field in the writings of Ian Dury. In general my background is in soul and rhythm & blues/rock and roll, Chaz is funk/jazz and disco, Johnny is rock/pop and country/folk, Norman is funk/jazz/soul/R&B. Ian brought a touch of Music Hall to the proceedings (which Derek now embraces) and through it all …an element of Funk!, Punk! and Laughter!      

5.       ‘Beyond the Call of Dury’ is out when? Can you give us an insight into what we can expect?

A.      How long is a piece of string?…..We work as a cottage industry with no record company or investment backing…..our only revenue is selling a bit of merchandise (petrol money and overheads in effect) and the shows (band & crew wages!)….embarking on a project like a documentary using a small but enthusiastic film company (Free Seed ) has highlighted quite a lot of hurdles on the route to a satisfactory completion. In order to secure the rights for old TV /Film footage and private archive material, which is an essential element to accompany and illustrate the various interviews already filmed, we   have found that we need to raise quite a bit of capital!!!……TV and Record companies do not give this stuff away free by any means! In fact it’s quite incredible how much a ‘pound of flesh’ is nowadays!  To get this money we have resorted to ‘Crowd Funding’. This is in process now and if successful we could complete the documentary within months. As to what you can expect, I’m not giving anything away, but it is enthralling.     

6.       Sparks and Franz Ferdinand have recently collaborated together forming FFS. If you could collaborate with one band across time who would it be?

A.      Across time?……that’s a huge canvas. I think everyone in the band would have a different answer to that. Collaborations can be inspirational or a very bad idea ……depends on the motivation behind the project  …. ‘Goldfrapp’….then we could call it ‘GOLDIBLOCKS’!  

7.       I have just finished reading Carl Barat’s book ‘Threepenny Memoir:  The Lives of a Libertine’ in which he describes the hedonism and drug fuelled excesses of his life in bands. It eventually led to the break-up of those bands. How did you guys cope and did Ian’s control freak personality help or hinder?

A.      Back then doctors told us the drugs would kill us ….now they say they’re the only things that will keep us alive!….We all had our hedonistic early years in and out of bands but by the time The Blockheads came together we were all being fuelled by the real high of music and creativity. We were the soberest band on the Stiff Tour!…..that’s why we were so good….we took care of business first…..As the saying goes ’one thing  worse than a band on coke is half a band on coke.’ That’s what leads to break ups! Ian always encouraged professionalism and many a roadie found themselves on the menu when it came to drug or alcohol abuse.    

8.       How is the set list for the tour decided and is it a democratic process?

A.      There seems to be two criteria……Festivals seem to want ‘the hits’ in general. As Max Wall told Ian when he was asked to support us at Hammersmith Odeon back in the day …’They only want the silly walks!’….. but, when we do theatres or clubs, we get the chance to throw in something new or try something different .These days we usually delegate the set list to John Roberts our drummer, as the rest of us like surprises. 

9.       It is great to see Wilko doing so well. Do you keep in touch with him and any chance of some guest appearances in the future?

A.      Old mate….ex Blockhead…..Now a Legend!….Wilko is a law unto himself!….Norman is his right hand man…. He appeared unannounced with us last Xmas at The Jazz Café.

10.   What’s next for The Blockheads?

A.      Well, we would like to complete the documentary and perhaps tour with it in film theatres, playing a gig to accompany the film. We also need to get back into the recording studio but with everyone’s hectic schedules this year it’s been a bit like ‘trying to herd cats!’. As long as the band are enjoying it and have the constant support of our fabulous fan base we will continue to thrive. 

Thank you and appreciation to Mick Gallagher