The Blockheads

Vibraphonic Festival 2007 reviews

published: Tue 13th Mar 2007

Friday 2nd to Sunday 18th March 2007
various venues across Exeter, Devon, EX4 3LS, England MAP
Various - free and from around £8 - £20
last updated: Fri 5th Jan 2007

Reasons to be cheerful, are two whole hours of the return of The Blockheads who despite the loss of Ian Dury (their charismatic lead singer who lost his fight with cancer in 2000) are still keeping the flame of their clever tunes and terrific rock well and truly alive. Now in their thirtieth year, John Turnbull remarks that in 77 they were trying to kill themselves and now they are all trying to stay alive.

John Tunbull, is still very wily, and provides the bedrock of guitar from his Gibson and shares vocal duties with Derek The Draw in trademark round sunglasses and with green CND logos glinting. Del’s hair is white now and his jacket is filled with bizarre percussion spilling from its pockets making him look a venerable ambience wizard.

The Blockheads

The much younger Mark Snowling took the bass duties over from Norman Watt-Roy who was away (possibly with Nick Cave or Madness). Mark and Dylan Howe on drums provided on the night a youthful energy at the heart of the band. This is a winning formula I’ve seen before in acts like The Who. With a young and energetic heart (and boy is Dylan energetic on drums) these old bands are able to blend their skills to create something greater than the components. But I’d have liked to see Norman on bass.

Add the huge talents of Israeli Gilad Atzmon who at one point was playing two saxophones at once and has a vibrancy and optimism on stage that transmits to the audience - the Blockheads have flair and vigour.

It was Gilad who opened the show spotlighted, he plays the intro to ‘Wake Up And Make Love With Me’ as the band take up their positions. The keyboard and organ players Chaz Jankel and Mick Gallagher are far left dove tailed together on the small stage at Exeter Phoenix, Derek and John with Dylan behind them and Gilad stage right. Sound and light are terrific at the venue, which warms up rapidly.

The Blockheads

The band kick off a two hour sumptuous flight through their back catalogue intermixed with a few new songs and ‘Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll’ gets a huge cheer as the audience start to get involved, with one or more of the trio of options clearly on their minds.

Derek is a rather different lead vocalist, he is disarming and charming and rather eccentric, the musical talent exhibited and his demeanour make me think of the band as a kind of distinctly British Grateful Dead. I thought I knew the Blockheads as a punk band, but tonight they exhibit great musicianship, their music stands up as well as any legendary rock band. It is this that surprises me, they create a sound that holds inside it something intangible, there’s a feelgood factor hidden in the quirky lyrics and a stage full of musicians, that appears to come only in the combination of everyone on stage. Together they create something more.

The set speeds by and dedications to Joe Strummer, Ian Dury, Mo Mowlem and Charlie Charles are heartfelt. At one point there’s a shock as Cornwall’s Mitt Gamon thunders onto the stage with flowing white hair, black hat and long coat to blast out harmonica. He’s introduced as a homeless person the Blockheads found in the arcade.

It sounds like they really mean it these days when they sing ‘I Want to be Straight’ and judging by the reception of the aging crowd a lot of them find it just as hard to achieve that restraint, there’s a few grey haired casualties in need of a breather.

The last quarter of the set, sees The Blockheads really homing in on everyday life, with songs that still strike the mark with their clever wordplay, smart musicianship and subject matter we can all instantly relate to. Chaz Jankel stops alternating keyboard duties with Mick and dons a guitar. Mick’s tune ‘Where's The Party’ and classic ‘What A Waste’ are beefed up with huge drumming from Dylan.

‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’ is actually so beefed up it’s a bit too heavy for the last number and the arrangement is a twisted hybrid of the original tune. With two hours of solid performing the band leave.

The Blockheads

They return, clearly delighted by the reception and it would appear genuinely impressed with how they have been received. They vow to return to Exeter again (hopefully with Phill Jupitus) before a rampant version of ‘Reasons To Be Cheerful’ and signature tune ‘Blockheads’.

Before they leave the stage, they say they will be outside in the foyer/bar for a chat afterwards and indeed they stick to their word, a terrific bonus for fans, who spend hours talking to their heroes. They’ve provided everything tonight, complex intelligent lyrics, reggae beats, jazz styling, funk and are a terrific headliner for Vibraphonic.

I’m left wondering, are they most talented band of their peers? There’s been many punk/new wave comebacks recently but this is by far the most technically proficient and definitely the best reason to be cheerful. I think they are and let’s hope they continue to stay alive.

I really wish they continue to play on this year’s festival circuit. They clearly enjoyed playing to a festival crowd tonight, if you get the chance see them, do it! Blimey, they’re a national treasure and a vintage one at that.

Set List:
Wake Up And Make Love With Me
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll
I'm Partial To Your Abracadabra
You're More Than Fair
Clevor Trevor
Jack Shit George
There Ain't Half Been Some Clever Bastards
Feel The Funk
One Love
This Is What We Find
You're the Why
Itinerant Child
I Want To Be Straight
Spread It
A Little Bit Of Knowledge
Where's The Party
What A Waste
Sweet Gene Vincent
Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick

Reasons To Be Cheerful
review by: Scott Williams

photos by: Karen Williams

Friday 2nd to Sunday 18th March 2007
various venues across Exeter, Devon, EX4 3LS, England MAP
Various - free and from around £8 - £20
last updated: Fri 5th Jan 2007

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