There are few keyboard players as accomplished as Mick Gallagher. He’s contributed to albums by iconic punk-rockers The Clash, played with Paul McCartney, Roger Daltrey, Robbie Williams, Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox, and been a right Animal!
But he’s most well-known for being a member of Ian Dury and The Blockheads. Three years after Ian’s passing, Mick chatted frankly about life with Ian, the future of The Blockheads and what it’s like to work with so many iconic names.
This is the one with Mick Gallagher…
C: It must have been difficult filling Ian’s shoes, so who now sings your lead vocals?
M: The main vocals are carried by our lead guitarist who’s been in the band since ’77; John Turnbull, and he always had the best voice in the band. I mean, Ian could never sing – he was great but couldn’t hold a note if it was presented to him on a plate, y’know, couldn’t find it. But he was brilliant rhythmic writer and lyricist, that’s where his skills were, and he had the chocolate tonsils.
But as far as singing is concerned, John has always been a fantastic vocalist and of course for 25 years he has always been just a backing vocalist. And we thought, when Ian died: “He’s irreplaceable” and everybody said: “Get a little short guy with limp, who come from London.”
We thought: “No, we’ll not go down that route, become a parody of ourselves, we didn’t want to do that.” We said that we’d go on - we decided amongst ourselves that we’d carry on and we’d do it ourselves, just sing ourselves. And it’s working fantastic, it really is working good.
And of course we’ve got the times when guest like Phill [Jupitus] turn up and he’s the sort of celebrity figure like Ian was, in a way, he had that ‘celebrity’.
C: So how is it working with someone, like Phil [Jupiter], who is not traditionally a singer?
M: This is the point – we can get people like Phil who does a sterling job, but they’re not singing, they’re delivering a lyric and it’s a performance, it's a commentary. A lot of Ian’s stuff was a commentary on life, y’know. And that works well with Phil, who has got that, y’know, ‘touch’, but we don’t necessarily need that. We also have Derek who was Ian’s minder.
When Ian died and we carried on, Derek was just there, sort of continuity, and of course instead of standing on the side of the stage we went; “get on.” So he does a couple of songs and he’s got that London attitude and the thing is, you don’t…to do an Ian Dury song you don’t have to be able to sing, you have to be able to have a sense of rhythm, but that’s all. So in that respect we can work round it.
C: Was there any stage when you wondered if you should carry on after Ian’s passing?
M: It was a question of how we carried on, we wanted to carry on, it was question of how we carry on. Do we go out and continue just doing the old songs or do we cut a swath for ourselves as The Blockheads. And we said: “go as The Blockheads.” But, of course, you can’t just go out and suddenly we’re doing this and the next time people see us it's completely different. So what we’ve done is a gradual change - we do the hits in the set, we’ve been promoting the last album that we did with Ian and now we’re moving on now into our own stuff, so the majority of our set is brand new.
C: What’s your new album going to be called?
M: Er, probably, um, Hello Sausages.
C: Ha! Where on earth did that come from?
M: Well, it’s a tribute to Ian because we bought him a, um, his family bought him a computer just before he died, y’know, he could use his mobility but he’s a writer and it gave him access to the world and all that.
But he’s a bit of a luddite, Ian, and didn’t quite take to it and the only thing… he got it out a couple of times. And once he got it out and he was going to write his autobiography and after he died, they got the computer out and looked at it and the only thing he’d written was: ‘hello sausages’. So we thought, if we do an album, we’ll call it that.
C: Oh, that’s lovely. Can I just ask you about the tribute album, which was a re-make of the New Boots & Panties Album? How did you go about selecting who was going to be on it – did people come to you and ask to be included?
M: Some did and some…the idea wasn’t particularly ours, or Ian’s, it was the record company we were involved with before he died. We did an album called Mr Lovepants and they released that. Then one of the people at the record company has this idea of doing this tribute album, not to Ian, but a tribute to the album New Boots & Panties, that was the angle.
Then Ian saw it and went whole-hearted about it and said: “Well as long as you don’t tell me what you’re doing, I’m happy that you get on with it.” And their idea was to get other artists with their bands to do it so it was going to be absolutely nothing to do Ian or The Blockheads but was going to be other artists doing the album as a tribute.
‘Course then, it never got off the ground, Ian died, then it became…we were all a bit shell-shocked and the record company said: “We’ve got two tracks already done; Madness have done a track and Billy Bragg has done a track, there are eight more to do, will The Blockheads do a couple?” And we went: “Well OK.”
So we went in – to give us something to do, just focus us - we did a couple of tracks, played them to the record company, backing tracks that worked, and we said: “we’ve got an idea – we’ll get Shane MacGowan to do this, we’ll get...y’know...Sinead [O’Connor] to do this one”...um...and they went: “Oh, they sound really good.”
We had a word with Robbie, ‘cause Robbie had been on the UNICEF outings and we’d all met him, and he was at the funeral and he came up and said: “If ever you want someone to sing it, I’ll sing that, it’s a great song.”
So, we actually got that on the last studio album, it's not on the tribute album…but he came along and did it – Sweet Gene Vincent – and then Paul McCartney came along and he wanted to do Sweet Gene Vincent and we said: “It’s been done!” He said: “Well I’d really like to do it but someone’s taken the one I’d like to do.”
So we said: “Paul, we’ve done this version of Abracadabra with horns on and stuff, but Ian sings it down ‘there’ and we thought maybe you could take up a notch” and he agreed. And it was fantastic.
C: So they were almost fighting over the tracks!
M: And then there’s Sinead, we sent the backing track over to Ireland for her, didn’t actually do it in the studio with her.
Erm...Shane MacGowan came over and the track with him is done live…. you can hear the piano fall over at the end, I’m sure that’s still on the record, but that was hilarious.
And we did write off to John Lydon because we had one last track; Blockheads, that needed y’know, an attitude and so we thought of Johnny Lydon and wrote off to Johnny and said: “We’ve got this album we’re doing and we’ve got this track Blockheads and we’d love you to do it…Paul McCartney’s doing…”
Chaz [Jankel] wrote the letter and we’d heard he doesn’t particularly like Robbie Williams so we won’t mention Robbie, so we wrote: “Sir Paul’s coming along” and it turned out that he hated Sir Paul!
So, Johnny wrote back and he said: “No I don’t want to do it, but if you’d asked me at the beginning I would have done the whole album,” so we went…“!!!”
So, we got a young lad from Feeder to do it, y’know, who was great, fantastic – just gave that young vibe on it. And that’s the story of the tribute album.
C: There’s quite a range of artists there, how likely is it that any of them will come and guest with you?
M: There’s every opportunity for them to in the future. We’ve been doing odd things… we’re doing something in the summer that’s going to involve other artists. We’ve been working with, tentatively with, people like Sam Moore of Sam & Dave, 60 but what a singer, soul singer, we’ve done a couple of tracks with him. And also Catherine Porter – she’s wonderful, absolutely wonderful.
But it bends us away from what we were doing with Ian, it's the same band and the same sort of feeling and everything that we put into Ian, but it's just got this different front. And we just feel we have to move on – we leave all that to the tribute bands, y’know, they can put the silly acts on and go and do Clever Trevor and Billericay Dickie ad infinitum.
When we’re with Phill we get the opportunity to do it ourselves but normally we don’t do it.
C: The Blockheads are all accomplished musicians in their own right, do you think you were over-shadowed by Ian?
M: Yeah, we’ve all done very high-profile things, I mean Johnny still works with Bob Geldof, Dylan does Gabrielle, Norman has been playing with Nick Cave and Wilko Johnson constantly. Gilad, the sax player, has got his own jazz band and is doing extremely well in the jazz world. So, everyone’s very busy bastards!
C: And of course, Mick, you’ve worked with The Clash?
M: Yeah, I was on London Calling the biggest and most popular album of its time.
C: Having worked with Joe Strummer and Ian Dury, who are considered by many to be two of the most influential names of recent times, what effect do you think they had on music?
M: I think they had more influence in retrospect, y’know. I mean…recently I went to, well Joe died at Christmas  and I went to his funeral and people were spouting: “He’s such a great geezer, such a fantastic artist and...er…a national treasure and all that,” but when he was alive, no-one wanted to know.
It was the same with Ian, when Ian died, suddenly it was: “Oh, this wonderful British jewel that we had is lost forever,” then you go: “Why didn’t you buy the albums, you bastard?” But I think they are more influential now than they were then, but it just proves that they were influential because they did bring notice to things, y’know.
The Blockheads were never political but The Clash were, they took political stances, we’ve always been a-political, we don’t profess to feel that what we have to say has a political importance.
C: What is the highlight of your career?
M: Well I haven’t been there yet, y’know! I toured with The Animals, which was pretty high-profile. So, I’ve always…I’ve been a lucky…had a lucky career…I’ve been in the right place at the right time and I’ve done things that I can look back on go: “Yeah, that’s great!” but it hasn’t really benefited me that much because you find yourself victim of your own success at the end of the day – the more things there are, you still…you get written off.
People suffer these days on the telly with that, like Davina McColl, she great and then next month they say: “God, she’s always on the telly, get somebody else to do it,” which just seems to be an English disease, really.
We’re much known now as a ‘heritage’ band which means, I suppose, we’ve been left to the country! Been left in Ian’s will to the country.
C: Do you think the music industry has changed over the years?
M: Yeah, definitely.
C: Do you think for the better?
M: Err...no. It’s all about marketing and…err…well you can see it with all this Pop Idol stuff, it’s the pinnacle of the crass stupidity, they shot themselves in the foot and it’s all gone back to cottage industries and live playing now. Which is great for us, we’re happy with that.
As featured in CATtales Book