I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen The Blockheads now. They’re the soundtrack to my schooldays, adolescence and adulthood and a perfect introduction to punk, funk, rock ‘n’ roll, pub rock, new wave and witty lyricism. It’s amazing to think that “New boots and panties” came out in 1977 and these guys were playing before that as Kilburn and The High Roads so you know the standard of musicianship is going to be top notch just because they’ve been doing it for so long 🙂
Four of the original members are still here in this seven piece band. That’s Mickey Gallagher (keyboards), Chaz Jankel (keyboards, guitar), Johnny Turnbull (guitar) and sweaty bass monster Mr. Norman Watt-Roy. That’s not to say that the other three members are not great musicians too. There’s Dylan Howe on funky drums and Derek ‘The Draw’ Hussey on vocals (Ian Dury’s personal minder for ten years who’s also penned lyrics for the new album “Staring down the barrel”). Last but not least is Mr. Gilad Atzmon on sax. Definitely an interesting multi-faceted character, he’s an Israeli who didn’t want to fight in the army against the Palestinians. He has published many articles criticising Zionism and Jewish identity from a philosophical and ideological standpoint and is also a composer, producer, has his own jazz band playing his own compositions and those of artists like Charlie Parker and is also an author (his new book “My one and only love” is a Zionist satire about a Jewish jazz trumpeter – that’s a book I need in my collection). All that and he manages to tour with The Blockheads too 🙂
A good sized crowd has turned up for this one. I should think the majority of Blockheads fans are people like me who’ve grown up with the band so it’s good to see a decent number of young faces amongst the crowd too. It’s good to know they’re not just appealing to my generation. The new songs are what we expect from the band given their previous material with Ian Dury. Bass driven uptempo numbers with Derek’s lyrics obviously influenced by Ian Dury in terms of subject matter and witty observation. With Chaz Jankel still at the helm the overall sound is The Blockheads signature danceable mix of funk, rock ‘n’ roll and music hall. Of course it’s the classic songs like “Sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll”, “What a waste” and “The In betweenies” that everyone sings along to so these are interspersed amongst the new numbers.
It’s hard to fault shows like this just because the standard of musicianship is so high and the songs are jaunty, uptempo and funny. Different songs give different band members a chance to solo and Gilad Atzmon’s funky sax solos draws cheers and applause as does Norman Watt-Roy’s funky bass playing. Ian Dury left behind some great lyrics and since his death in March 2000 I’ve seen his songs performed by the Blockheads alongside guest vocalists as diverse as Sam Brown, Derek The Drawer, Mark Lamarr, Martin Freeman and my old mate Phill Jupitus. It would be great to still have Ian Dury around writing new songs and performing his classics, but the band do his memory justice every time I see them. They’re not just going through the motions there’s an obvious love for what they do.
To end the show, there’s great renditions of “Sweet Gene Vincent” (my favourite Blockheads song which they also dedicate to Ian Dury), “Hit me with your rhythm stick” (a number one in 1979 selling almost a million copies), then finally an extended, percussive-fuelled, singalong version of “Reasons to be cheerful part 3” with some great scratchy funk guitar from Chas Jankel. Always worth going to see, I hope these guys “try to play the fool in a seven piece band” for a good while yet. 30 plus years and counting. 🙂