Dave Woodhall talks to Derek ‘the Draw’ Hussey, singer with the seminal, legendary Blockheads.
When Ian Dury died in 2000 it seemed the end for his backing band, the Blockheads. Replacing one of the most original frontmen in music history was an almighty hard job but they persevered and with Ian’s friend and sometime assistant Derek the Draw taking over as frontman they still record, tour and play the Robin 2 on 24th February.
It’s been seventeen years since Ian died and you started fronting the band. Is it time flying because you’re having fun?
“It’s gone in a trice. It’s pretty scary, almost two decades, stretching it a bit it’s almost a quarter of a century. Once you’re over forty time doesn’t half go quicker.”
And your time has been more interesting than most. You were Ian Dury’s minder, you ran a special effects company in the film industry, now you’re a singer. It’s reckoned somewhere that on average we all make three major changes in our lives. You’ve certainly kept that average up.
“Yes, the film company was started by my dad in the sixties and I carried it on. With Ian though, I was never really his minder. I called myself his bannister. He had a weak left arm and if the bannister was on the wrong side of the stairs he needed someone to help him. I helped him get about when it was a bit awkward, if he fell over and gettting up stairs. He was a mate and he said to me about going out on the road. I told him I wasn’t going to mind him, he’s had some right hard men doing that and there was no way I was going to start hitting people.”
Ian always did like to be surrounded by what you’d euphemistically call characters.
“He always had a certain sartorial style. He was art school, a lecturer, and he dropped into that. By the time I got friendly with Ian around 1989 he hadn’t been singing for a while. He’d been doing films and I wasn’t employed by him, we were just mates. He started doing gigs again and he asked me to help him out. There was no money involved, we were just mates and Ian never had that sort of controlling effect on me. I used to call it my holiday job.”
I can imagine from reading about Ian that he would tend to get into some arguments.
“He always liked the last word, but I enjoyed that. I’d say to him when it was about time to bale out but I enjoyed his argumentativeness, his recalcitrent attitude. There was never anything malicious or vindictive about Ian. He wasn’t the easiest to live with because his disability meant he had different ways of coping. He loved to have the last word even if it was three weeks later. He’d always be trying to wind you up, to look for your achilles heel. I’ve never been like that, I’m easy-going and I’ve had my own company so never had a boss. Ian would try to get under my skin and I told him, if I ever said ‘You should nip this in the bud’ he’d know I was close to breaking point and the wind-ups had to stop. And it worked, I never really had to say it very much.”
“Ian was a very entertaining geezer. He’d look out of the window and make comments about people, have everyone laughing. He saw himself as the ringmaster of a circus, a master of ceremonies.”
He always had that air about him. You can see him doing an old-style musical hall turn, singing raucous Cockney songs.
“Yes, Max Wall, someone like that. Very Cockney, not jingoistic but in the old working class tradition. He loved all that.”
Aside from Ian, the rest of the band are all pretty much veterans of the British music scene. You’ve kept the Blockheads all pretty much together.
“Except Charlie (Charles) who died and Davey Payne who plays with us sometimes but he’s in Cornwall now, looking after his disabled child. the rest of the line-up are all still in the band and they all love playing together. They’ve got a magic forumula, when they’re in the studio it all comes so naturally. Everyone’s allowed to flourish.”
And it’s great that it’s not just a nostalgia trip. It would be easy, for example, to promote this year as the fortieth anniversary of New Boots & Panties but you’ve written new songs.
“In 2000 we said we weren’t going to be a tribute act and milk the old catalogue. We’re expected to play the old ones and there’s so many great songs that we can sprinkle them all through the set b ut we’re opening the set with a new song now and it’s going down a storm. The band are fantastic musicians – Chas has played with Quincy Jones, Mickey’s been with everyone from the Animals to the Clash, they want to be creative. We’ve got another album in the can now. I write with Chas, it’s Hussey/Jankel instead of Dury/Jankel and everyone seems to think my songs fit in well with Ian’s.”
They certainly sound as though they could fit onto Ian’s albums. The quality of the songs and the approach to them are much the same.
“That’s what we worked on when we were writing them. I come from London so I have a similar way of speaking and expressing myself. I’m a working class kid, I’e worked all my life so I’ve got no pretentions.”
The Blockheads are described as a funk band now, which they always were but back in the day they wouldn’t have called themselves that because then funk was black guys with Afros and big flares.
“We’re multi-faceted. The roots are in those funky rhythms and it’s not quite a London version of James Brown. There’s a bit of rock’n’roll, there’s always a funny song on every album, a rock’n’roll song and a bit of funk so it doesn’t sound so generic across the board.”
Forty years on, even longer if you count Kilburn & the High Roads. Still the audiences are coming along and the band are enjoying it.
“We’ve become a cottage industry since Ian died. Micky runs the band very efficiently and we enjoy doing places like the Robin, that sort of size. We’ll get three or four hunded people wherever we go and to be honest it was a shaky start at first but over the years we’ve got better and we give good value. We love playing places where we’re in front of the audience, we go out into the audience afterwards, we’re not precious. The Robin, places like that, we love them.”
The Blockheads play the Robin 2, Bilston, on Friday 24th February. Tickets www.therobin.co.uk or tel: 01902 401211.