Reviews / Review: doing their thing for almost 40 years

Blockheads at Mareel: playing effortlessly and with true enthusiasm - Photo: Chris Brown

DEDICATED Blockheads fans braved a cold, dark November evening to see the legends themselves grace the stage in Mareel as part of their Scottish tour, writes Alex Garrick-Wright.

Local band Big Time Quell warmed the stage up with their own unique brand of music. Normally comprising of duo Jamie Hatchbar and Thomas Jones, the band had expanded to include Chris Cope and Robert Balfour for the first time. BTQ’s style is hard to pin down, as anyone who has seen them before will agree.


Imagine if Django Reinhardt played comedy funk music – that’s what we’re talking about here. Don’t let the genre-defying style put you off – Jamie and Thomas are truly incredible guitarists. Thomas was completely nonchalant as his hands plucked out a couple of hot jazz guitar numbers that made it feel more like June on the French Riviera than November on Gutter’s Gaet, while Jamie teased out truly mesmerising pieces on a stunningly painted acoustic guitar.


The pair bounce off each other very well, and the audience, who were for some reason crowded round the periphery of the room like the dance floor was a minefield, seemed to really enjoy the verbal ping-pong they were playing with each other.

Chris and Robert’s bass and drums added a real edge to the duo’s guitar virtuosity, and were a nice shake-up of the band’s dynamics. Hopefully this won’t be their only outing in Big TIme Quell.

Norman Watt-Roy receives the British blues award for best bass player in 2015 from Shetland Blues Festival organiser Jimmy Carlyle - Photo: Chris Brown

After a fairly lengthy break The Blockheads took to the stage. The crowd suddenly surged forward to the stage to greet the main attraction with typical Shetland gusto.

The band have clearly mastered their art – every one of them playing effortlessly and with true enthusiasm. It’s not often you get to see someone play two keyboards at once, but when you do, it’s pretty amazing. The sounds was razor-sharp, so the technical prowess of the various members was impossible not to appreciate – although for the first few numbers the vocals seemed completely drowned out by the rest of the band.


The Blockheads have been on the go since 1977, and despite losing frontman Ian Dury in 2000, have showed no signs of hanging up tambourine or saxophone.

They are one of those bands who don’t seem to have casual followers – people either love them or they don’t. That’s not a bad thing – the Blockheads have been doing their thing quite happily for nearly 40 years and the fans still happily turn out to see them in droves. This was the case on Sunday night; it was clear that the room was filled with true Blockheads devotees, and they were there for the sex, drugs, rock’n’roll and rhythm sticks.

The Blockheads know their audience and give them what they want. If you went in with ambiguous feelings towards them, or didn’t enjoy them before and were looking to have your mind changed, you wouldn’t leave converted. The Blockheads have spent decades being themselves and don’t need to chase new followers – the fans turn up, and they play to them. Simple and, for the faithful, very satisfying.


However, Mareel wasn’t as full as it should have been. The decision to make The Blockheads a £27-per-ticket, Sunday night gig (that ended well after 10pm) must have knocked the potential attendance.

There are undoubtedly many more across Shetland who thought better of heading out, and their dreams of seeing ‘Reasons to be Cheerful Part 3’ have gone unfulfilled. It seemed misjudged, and will hopefully be rectified in future.

As they left to wild applause, the band said “You keep coming, and we’ll keep doing it.” From the warm reception they received on Sunday night, it seems likely they’ll keep doing it for a long while yet.