Best known as the keyboardist/guitarist and co-songwriter for seminal ‘70s London rock ‘n’ rollers IAN DURY & THE BLOCKHEADS, the talented Chaz Jankel has recently unleashed ‘The Submarine Has Surfaced’ – his first solo material in over ten years. Eugene Big Cheese had a chat with Chaz to find out more…
VLP: “You’ve written some big songs including ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’. How does it feel to be releasing an album without the Blockheads?
Chaz – “Back in 1980 I wrote and recorded ‘Ai No Corrida’, which was on my first album for A&M. I wrote the music for this whilst on tour with Ian Dury and the Blockheads but I instinctively felt it wasn’t appropriate for the band as principally it was far too melodic for Ian. I always thought it had ‘hit’ written all over it, so when Quincy Jones recorded it I wasn’t totally surprised. I also think its healthy to be diverse and to interact with different singers/writers and musicians as everybody has something unique to offer. This latest CD is just another step on my musical journey. I’ve always had a broad taste in music so making my own albums gives me the opportunity to indulge. I made a couple of jazz CDs a little while ago but I don’t try and put all my eggs in one basket, as it were. I’d say ‘The Submarine Has Surfaced’ is a more of a ‘soulfest’.”
VLP: ‘Hit me’ was set to be a big smash in the States... and then it didn’t happen. Why?
“You know, I only got the answer to that quite recently whilst chatting with Dave Robinson (who was the boss with Jake Riviera of Stiff Records who released ‘Hit Me'). Apparently, after the final gig at the Bottom Line Club in New York, minutes after the band came off stage and were still in a state of undress and vibed up to the max, Clive Davis, MD of CBS Records and a pal sauntered into the dressing room. At the time, ‘Hit Me’ was a huge smash everywhere outside the US and it looked like it was capable of doing the same Stateside. We also had a PR/ligger/compere/wideboy called Kosmo Vinyl who went on to manage The Clash and still lives in New York to this day. As Clive Davis was congratulating the band and making very positive comments about the huge potential for the band in the States, Kosmo sneaks up behind Clive and sticks his hand down the back of his shirt collar apparently to confirm that Clive was wearing a Brooks Bros. shirt. This action of Kosmos so angered Clive that he stormed out of the dressing room outraged!”
“The following day Dave Robinson got a telegram, or possibly a phone call from Clive’s PA saying that there would be no release schedule for ‘Hit Me…’ and he never wanted to have anything to do with the band again. The band never went back to the States.”
VLP: What was it like being in a band with Ian Dury?
“Edgy, as you never quite knew how he would react or behave. Say somebody upset him by making a pompous or ignorant comment or something, Ian would let this smolder until he’d had a drink, generally round 6 in the evening, and then he could get really hostile and hit back at his victim verbally, showing him up in front of whoever was present. As a performer he was peerless – no one comes close. Every gig we ever did was a triumph, fronted by Ian’s eccentric exuberance.”
The Blockheads are back out there with an acclaimed new album. How’s it all going?
“We’re performing a lot of the songs from our new album within our set that also contains a lot of the old classics as well, such as ‘Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll’, ‘Hit Me’, ‘Sweet Gene Vincent’, ‘Reasons To Be Cheerful’ and ‘What A Waste’. I have to say that audience members often tell me after a gig how much they like our new material from ‘Staring Down the Barrel", the Blockheads’ latest CD on EMI.”
“Which brings me onto my next point. EMI, unfortunately they haven’t come up with the goods. I think we were more of a trophy signing. We gave them a great record with great artwork and they sold very few copies. So as I write this we’re negotiating the return of our album.”
You’re an amazing group of musicians in the Blockheads. How do you gel?
“Amazingly well. You have to remember we’ve been together 32 years (the original members), so we know each other very well. I think the magic ingredient of the band is that we’re really vibed up when we play, so there is always something fresh about each performance. Over the years the song arrangements have evolved, a bit like a tree growing new branches. At our gigs you can see three generations of fans - Grandad Blockhead, son/daughter Blockhead and kiddy Blockhead. So in Sly And Family Stone’s words, “it’s a family affair”.
Eugene Big Cheese