ON TRACK: The Blockheads in the Total MK hotseat

Four decades have passed since they began delivering perfect slices of tune-age. And they ain't done yet.
In 2018, The Blockheads are on the road in support of current opus Beyond the Call of Dury.
As the band prepare for their return to MK11 in Kiln Farm on January 19, Mick Gallagher got musical with Total MK...

The song that first awakened your musical senses

A. ‘The Cuckoo Waltz’…..we had an old wind up gramophone that played shellack 78rpm records in our house when I was little (about aged 5yrs)and I remember being obsessed with the tune and used to dance around the room every time it was played… I think my musical senses were awakened and, in fact, over-stimulated by ‘The Cuckoo Waltz’.

Physical or digital - how do you take your music?

A. Physical I think…. Although digital is quick/easy and functional the old physical analogue has a warmth and depth to it that digital can’t replicate.
Of course you have to hear it through a quality valve amp and big chunky speakers to get the full effect…..it’s an age thing I guess. Change is always difficult especially when you feel it’s not necessarily for the best.

The first time you thought 'Music - this is the job for me'

A. I was fortunate in my early years to get offered the job of replacing Alan Price when he left The Animals in 1965….. this undoubted stroke of fortune so young determined my future as, it was after this experience , I decided that music was the life for me.

Your best on stage memory...

A. I’ve had many, obviously, but outstanding are a couple of moments with Ian Dury during our week long residency at Hammersmith Odeon back in the day.
Ian walking on stage and nonchalantly throwing his hat across it only for it to catch on the piano vocal mic 15 feet away and spin around to a stop. The audience going mental… and him not acknowledging it ….as if it was meant to happen like that.

Or Ian standing on the front of the Hammersmith Odeon stage and launching a mechanical bird ( flying with the aid of an internal elastic band) out into the audience. It floated around in an arc just out of reach of the crowd in the balcony and circled back around to return to Ian’s hopeful outstretched hand ….. magic!

And of course there was the gig at Ilford Odeon when the floor in front of the stage collapsed and the rest of the show had to continue with a ring of firemen surrounding the hole and protecting the audience from pogoing into it.

And the worst gig you've ever done

A. That would be The Paradiso in Amsterdam around 1998 after Ian had been diagnosed with cancer. He went over to Holland before the band to do some press interviews and on top of his medication he got royally drunk and we had a terrible time trying to sober him up. Just getting him on stage was a saga and a half!

However….once he was there he launched into the opening song and immediately forgot the words/the arrangement/his name and what day it was!

Every song thereafter followed the same pattern….the band trying to skid around the arrangements to try and make sense of it all and the backing vocals not knowing when,where or what to sing …trying desperately to follow our ‘out of control’ leader.

Eventually, three quarters of the way through the set, Ian threw in the towel and said…’I’ve got to leave you now’….the band all left the stage ashen white and shell-shocked.
Strangely enough the reviews the next day were among the best we had ever had!
What were they listening to?

What made you take up the piano?

A. My mum sent me to piano lessons when I was 10yrs old. . . but I ended up playing truant and hiding the money she gave me for the lessons under the carpet in our ‘sitting room’. Eventually this money was discovered after a ‘spring clean’ and the game was up, the lessons stopped.

Then, when I was about 15yrs old I joined a youth club and noticed one boy there getting all the female attention ‘cos he was playing a few riffs on the piano.

I thought ‘I can do that ‘. . . so I went home and dusted off the piano, bought a couple of sheets of music fashionable at the time ie ‘Nutrocker’ by B.Bumble and the Stingers’ and ‘On the Rebound’ by Floydd Cramer and learnt them.
The next week at the youth club I gave it both barrels and got the attention I craved….never looked back.

Which one song by another artist do you wish you had written

A. It’s got to be ‘White Christmas’ I think. What would life be like now if I’d written ‘White Christmas?….Wow!

And one - by yourself - which holds special significance

A. ‘I Wanna be Straight’… written with Ian Dury. Got picked up around the world to use in adverts….Nice.

Are there any current influences you look to

A. Well, at the risk of being boring, I find I get influenced and inspired by playing with the musicians in The Blockheads …… all very talented and gracious in any exchange.

If you could step into the shoes of another musician, living or dead, who would it be and what would you do?

A. Most successful artists/musicians seem to have a lot of hang ups and baggage that comes with the territory so I would be very nervous to even contemplate stepping into anyone’s shoes’
However they do say ‘before you criticize anyone you should walk a mile in their shoes’. That way, if they don’t like your criticism … you’re a mile away and they haven’t got any shoes!

And any genre of music that you simply can't stand?

Opera!.... What’s that about?

Complete the line, 'A life without music would be...'

Very different…!


The Blockheads play MK11 on Friday, January 19.