A frosty Sunday night at the end of November seems like an unlikely time for a boisterous gig in Shetland, but that’s exactly what new wave veterans The Blockheads delivered at Mareel this weekend.
Before the support band even took to the stage, fans filled the auditorium ready to dance the night away, and local group, Big Time Quell, started proceedings with a bang.
Playing their first live outing as a four piece, the band (fronted by Jamie Hatch and Thomas Jones with backing from Chris Cope and Robert Balfour) got the crowd moving with an impressive instrumental number before transitioning into a hilariously delivered cover of Flight of the Conchords’ We’re Both In Love With A Sexy Lady.
But it was with the debut of three original songs, demonstrating both their musical and comedic chops, that they really won the audience over.
A particular favourite that had the crowd both singing and dancing along was Soul Patch, “an ode,” in the words of Hatch, “to the most underrated kind of facial hair.”
They finished their set with a cover of One Track Lover from cult comedy Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place, expanded with impressive solos from each band member, leaving the audience in no doubt as to the level of musicianship on display.
As the raucous applause for Big Time Quell started to die down, the lights lowered and haze misted
through the auditorium, signalling the arrival of The Blockheads.
Within seconds of taking to the stage, they had almost everyone on their feet dancing to Look The Other Way from their 2013 self-released album Same Horse, Different Jockey.
Bass player Norman Watt-Roy’s passion for the music and enormous enthusiasm for performing were immediately apparent as he grooved across the stage, while singer Derek Hussey (aka Derek The Draw) struck an eccentric and enigmatic figure with his long white hair and sunglasses.
As they moved into a mix of new and classic tunes (including one admonishing Phil Spector to “stop misbehaving”), each member of the band proved in turn why they continue to draw such enthusiastic audiences across the length and breadth of the country.
With stunning sax and clarinet weaved through the set by Gilad Atzmon and effortless dual soloing from guitarists Chaz Jankel and John Turnbull, the crowd was transfixed, and by the time the band kicked into their 1977 hit What A Waste, it was clear why The Blockheads still command such a loyal following, even after all the years and the tragic loss of Ian Dury in 2000.
Derek The Draw had obviously researched his audience, cracking jokes between songs that went down a treat with the local crowd, including describing islanders as being like “2000 alcoholics clinging to a rock” and counting himself as a member of that number, raising two beers in hand to cheers and whoops.
Classic material like Billericay Dickie, with lead vocals deftly performed by Watt-Roy, had the audience skanking enthusiastically, while Undercover, a newer tune with reggae stylings and a poignant clarinet hook, got the crowd swaying.
But it was, unsurprisingly, their biggest hits Reasons To Be Cheerful and Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick that took things to the next level, with the few audience members still seated at the back finally compelled to get up and shake, groove, and sing along when the familiar notes kicked in.
They left the stage to frenzied chants of “we want more,” foot stomping and applause, duly returning within moments to give the crowd what they wanted.
Before beginning their final songs, they thanked promoter Jeff Merrifield, in the words of Derek The Draw, “a real diamond geezer,” and his Shetland Jazz and World Sounds group (Jaws) for making the concert possible and the crowd cheered appreciatively.
Derek then introduced the surprisingly downtempo finisher Lullaby for Francies by explaining, “This is so you don’t get in trouble for being too rowdy on the way home.”
In retrospect, a smart choice given the frenzy caused by Rhythm Stick.
As they played through the song each member slowly set down his instrument in turn and walked off stage to applause, fittingly leaving Norman Watt-Roy and drummer John Roberts to finish up by themselves before bowing and taking their triumphant leave.
“We hope you’ll all be here again to see us next year,” said Derek, “and bring a friend next time.” I know I will.