The Blockheads

The Blockheads


“Stay alive!” Astonishing bass (and showman) Norman Watt-Roy gives us a hint to understand the enduring success of this legendary band, The Blockheads. This one and only funky band have been alive and kicking since 1977, and they have honourably survived several split ups, deaths and some other twists and turns. It has to be quite challenging to carry on without the charismatic Ian Dury (1942-2000), but The Blockheads have much more to say yet, as they skilfully show at Manchester’s Band On The Wall, on this melting hot evening.

The room is crowded and the audience warmly welcomes the opening song of this gig, ‘Look The Other Way’, from their latest (and highly acclaimed) album Same Horse, Different Jockey, as if it was a timeless hit of the band.

Everyone is dancing to the alternately bluesy guitar of the “jazz-punk” pioneer Terry Edwards, as he plays the Ian Dury’s period ‘If I Was With a Woman’. “Look at them LAUGHING! LAUGHING!”. The good vibes are contagious, and the general mood goes mental with ‘Express Yourself’. Old school rockers mainly make the audience, and they definitely give a dancing as well as an attitude lesson to the younger ones. They move enviably. Respect!

Let’s have a look into this ‘meaningful’ poem by lead singer (and troubadour) Derek The Draw:

I can’t explain I ain’t that smart

Why do bake beans make you fart?

I’m grown up now but!

Still a kid at heart

That is, “still a kid at heart”. This could explain why the old school audience are “dancing out their asses off”, as one of the attendees will comment on social media afterwards, while most of the younger ones are almost static. Guess we’re kind of speechless, looking at an outrageously lively Norman Watt-Roy, the funky rhythm running through his veins.

By the time they play the classic ‘Inbetweenies’, an off-the-wall Derek The Draw changes his sunglasses for John Lennon style ones, hologram of the peace symbol included.

The Blockheads young

The Blockheads young

‘Sorry I Apologise’, also from their new album, shows the typical British humour at its best. Are they telling us a fairy tale or a funny joke? Probably both. Watt-Roy and Edwards exchange knowing smiles as Derek The Draw whistles… so as to keep order? On the contrary, it’s a direct command to dance wild to the catchy ‘What A Waste’. Then it’s time to ‘Wake Up’, as Derek Now-The-Joker shouts whilst he points at the wildest fans. At the same time, the youngest member of the band, drummer John Roberts, rolls his eyes in healthy ecstasy.

The affable gentleman Mick Gallagher hammers the keys gracefully; Chaz Jankel now on guitar, now on keyboards, superb as usual; Gilad Atzmon seems to speak directly to our conscience through his sax. The whole scene is vibrant and suddenly turns into a crazy summer cabaret as they start playing ‘Billericay Dickie’, Derek The Draw singing along with Norman Watt-Roy. The great mantra comes straight away, in a blazing crescendo: ‘Sex & Drugs & Rock n’ Roll’.

In ‘I Wanna Be Straight’, Derek plays with one of his hippy foulards as soon as directs an imaginary orchestra in the audience. ‘Undercover’ is like a sneaky reggae whose sax solo gets a great ovation from the crowd.

Upss! Lead singer seems to be bleeding from the nose, but the show must go on with the oldie-like ballad ‘Sweet Gene Vincent’ and right after the rock n’ roll shot arrives with ‘Clever Trevor’ and ‘Reasons To Be Cheerful’, to end the first round with the super hit ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’ (“It’s nice to be a lunatic… HIT ME! HIT ME!”), which has an amazing climax with Atzmon playing two saxs at the same time. They leave for the second and final round a burning ‘Blockheads’ and a soothing ‘Lullaby for Francis’. Bloody crazy harmony. Hats off.

As we’ll hopefully soon see in the promising documentary about the history of The Blockheads -under the apt title ‘The Blockheads: Beyond the Call of Dury’, Chaz Jenkel once explained in TV why he used to introduced himself as a “musical architect”: “Cause I design music”, he sharply replied, with a proud smile. That’s a relieving thought: rock n’ roll has in The Blockheads a solid structure to lean on. Oi! Oi!

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Amaia Santana

Good karma brought me here to Manchester, my second home, where you can stay healthy (despite the weather) and young forever, as you can breathe live music in every corner of the city. I do believe in the healing power of music (rock is my life vest) and I'd be so glad to share my passion with you rockers of the world!