It was not until recently I found out that the guy responsible for that Blockheads groove (say Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll) is the same guy that made fantastic boogie tunes like Glad To Know You or 3.000.000 Synths. Mr Jankel, who goes by the name of Chas or Chaz, was so very kind to answer some questions about his musical taste and development. Now here’s a reason to be cheerful!
Is there any specific record or musician you heard at a young age that inspired you to pick up an instrument?
I remember seeing a picture of Lonnie Donegan, I was probably about 6 years old and I thought that the piece of wood (his guitar I later found out) hanging horizontal to his body..looked cool. I then managed to get a spanish guitar as a present from my parents. I seem to remember my earliest influences were Cliff Richard and the Shadows, moving on to the Beatles. When I got to 14 my attention was drawn to a single by Lee Dorsey (Working In A Coalmine/GET OUT MY LIFE WOMAN) by a cousin of mine, that’s when i discovered the power of black music and I’ve never looked back.
You’ve worked with a lot of artists, did a lot of solo stuff, wrote a lot of music. I’m curious whether there is one record or song you’ve worked on that you consider your favorite, for whatever reason?
Not necessarily my favourite track that I’ve written but often the first tune i think of when I’m asked this question…Inbetweenies, on the album Do It Yourself. It’s the opening track and.the Blockheads have been performing it for many years live and it keeps on developing. When i first showed the demo to Ian Dury he said “what am I, a piece of furniture in the room?”. What he was referring to was the fact that the melody starts on beat 2 of the bar. Up until that point in our writing collaboration, Ian always started on beat ! Which is the way a lyricist would normally write a rhyming couplet…but in this case I wrote the melody ahead of him, and he had to adapt-which he did brilliantly. I also really like the shape which is totally idiosyncratic and allows me to stretch my piano improvisational skills.
I’ve been digging through a lot of records, but never – or barely – found one that really suits a proper hangover. Do you have a suggestion?
A song suitable for hangovers-well over the years I’ve become increasingly enchanted by jazz and romantic classical music-so I’d say on a jazzy tip = My foolish heart – Bill Evans, or What’s New? Clifford Brown And Strings. On a classical tip I’d say Mozart’s clarinet concerto or on a soulful tip After The Love has gone by Earth Wind and Fire.
One of my fave tunes by you and Ian Dury is Spasticus Autisticus. (I love to play the extended version on a party, since the silent breaks in the intro really confuses the drunk crowd). I only recently found out about the fact it was quite controversial and even banned by BBC? Do you have any noteworthy anecdote about this?
We recorded the song at Compass point in the Bahamas with Sly and Robbie as our rhythm section, the engineer was Steven Stanley who was quite fronty. He was a bit sarcy with me until he heard me play guitar and then he lightened up and realized we were on the same page. There are other stories none of which are suitable to print right now, I also got bitten 99 times by mosquitoes on the first night we got to the bahamas, the next day Ian and I wrote Spasticus Autisticus.
If your house was to be on fire and you could escape safely bringing only one record, which one would that be?
One record i would save would definitely be Surf’s Up by the Beach Boys, and I’d sneak Sly And The Family Stone’s Greatest Hits into my pocket as i fled the scene!
I live in Amsterdam. Did you ever play here and could you share an interesting memory about it?
In 1979 we played the Paradiso in amsterdam. After the gig we went back to the Hotel Americain where Ian And The Blocks were staying. Quite possibly fired up by a young lady whom I’d met at the gig, who had accompanied me back to my hotel room. The melody for Ai No Corrida popped into my head, the rest of the evening was magical also.
Imagine you’d want to play frisbee on a nice summer’s day, only to find out you don’t own a frisbee. What record would you suggest using as a frisbee instead? And Why?
That’s tough as there are quite a few. Last night i saw a video of Duke Ellington playing a medley of Beatles hits, I had to turn it off. How sad that Duke, a man of such genius, should go out like this. It was directly after that he informed the orchestra that they were being disbanded, they never played again.
What project are you currently working on?
The project I’m currently working on is the new Blockheads album that i cowrote and arranged, I’m also writing for myself and collaborations outside of Blockhead duty, this music is on a soulful tip. A few years back I made an album called The Submarine Has Surfaced, where I featured 6 different singers including myself. This album along with many of my other works is available for sale on my website chazjankel.com. I think my new work is a continuation of the work and potential expressed in that album.