Rychard Carrington reports on The Blockheads – The Junction, Cambridge 1 April 2009

The Blockheads
The Blockheads


Ian Dury and The Blockheads made some brilliant records that were somewhat apart from not only their own time but from the whole history of rock's evolution. Dury combined a bawdy vulgarity with articulate wit and cultural references well beyond the normal range of pop - the influence of music hall was obvious:


I could be a lawyer with stratagems and ruses
I could be a doctor with poultices and bruises
I could be a writer with a growing reputation
I could be the ticket man at Fulham Broadway Station


Brilliant. Yet a less obvious aspect of the appeal was musical, which is where The Blockheads came in. They weren't New Wave at all, however much young punks were thrilled by Dury's swearing: they played a laid-back, musicianly mid-seventies Old Grey Whistle Test style of music which added considerable elegance and funkiness to Dury's punch. Musically, they were one of the tightest, smartest bands of their day, although without the self-conscious virtuosity of the likes of Led Zeppelin. Those gathered at The Junction came not merely to enjoy the legacy of the late Mr. Dury, but to hear some distinctive talent cutting its chops.


And that is just what happened. Late middle-age suits The Blockheads, always men of the world (or at least the pub), never young trendies. Bass guitarist Norman Watt-Roy in particular resembles a fiendish old gnome rather splendidly. The other three originals are guitarist John Turnbull, keyboard-player Mick Gallagher, and guitarist and keyboard-player Chaz Jankel. They are joined by Gilad Atzmon, one of the best jazz saxophonists in Britain, Dylan Howe, jazz drummer and son of Steve Howe, and Derek The Draw, vocalist and former ‘minder' to Mr. Dury. Norman, John and Chaz also took turns at vocals. Slightly over half of the numbers were Dury faves - Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, I Want To Be Straight, Inbetweenies, Clevor Trevor, What A Waste, You're More Than Fair, Sweet Gene Vincent, Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick and Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3. The other half were more recent Blockhead songs, which definitely retained a strong Dury flavour. No one would expect Derek to be as strong a vocalist or lyricist, but he's as good a substitute as one could hope for. So, just as we expected, we heard some great songs, some nice musical pleasures (Norman and Gilad in particular were outstanding), and the spirit of an old-fashioned London boozer coming alive rather gloriously.


Writer: Rychard Carrington