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Friars Interviews

Mick Gallagher
ian dury and the blockheads  the clash  ian dury and the music students  eurthymics  arc
friars appearances:   10/12/70 02/11/77  27/05/78  05/01/80  31/10/83  23/03/84

 

Mick Gallagher is a Friars legend through and through. Not only did he play Friars with Ian Dury and the Blockheads, he also played with Dury's later incarnation, The Music Students. In between that he also played Friars with The Clash and the Eurythmics and way back in 1970 with Arc. Mick's music career started in the 1960s playing with The Animals and today aside from still playing with the Blockheads. has come full circle and is back with The Animals.

Hello Mick, thanks for talking to the Friars Aylesbury website. As I mention in my introduction, your career goes back before the Blockheads, you played with the Animals in the 1960s?

Yes, when I was living up in Newcastle, when I was about 17 or 18, about 1964/65...the Animals had had the big hit with House of The Rising Sun and were riding high and they were everybody's favourite in the north east. They were dysfunctional and not 'together' as a band, all very different egos. And in Spring 1965, Alan Price left them in the lurch. They had a record in the charts in Scandinavia and a huge tour. Alan Price just didn't turn up at the airport. I was in the right place at the right time. I got a call and within 24 hours I was having a haircut and getting a smart suit! I got there minutes before they had to go on at the first gig. So I had about six to nine months of that.

photo copyright Mick Gallagher

 

 

Gosh, you must have had to learn the setlist very quickly!

They were local heroes and everyone knew the Animals songs.

That made it a bit easier!

Being so young made it a bit of an adventure. Alan Price was the first of the band to go and I shifted in to that spot. But there had been rumblings in the camp before that -  Dave Rowberry who eventually took over was a mate of the band's from college and they originally thought of taking him out as they keyboard player but he was committed to something else so couldn't do it so that was why I got the job. I was let go in London and didn't hear from them as such for 39 years but bumped into them once in a while.

You also worked with Peter Frampton who went massive....

After the Animals, which turned my head, I was playing around and left eventually for London and joined a flower power band called Skip Bifferty and we got a deal with Don Arden (Sharon Osbourne's dad) and RCA Victor around 1966. So I was in London with my own band now and it went on from there and we broke up by 1969. But we had been doing gigs all over England for Don and made a couple of singles for RCA. Then I got married and had a kid. I was invited by Mike Kellie of Spooky Tooth to join a band called (Brian) Parrish and (Paul) Gurvitz, two singers being produced by George Martin.  We went to tour America and the band broke up. But in New York, I met Peter Frampton who was putting a band together so sort of jumped ship! He was an English guy living in America and it wasn't working so he put a band together of American musicians. So I then joined up with John Turnbull who I knew from Newcastle and had been in Skip Bifferty with me.

And of course, you and John became the backbone of the Blockheads.

When I got together with John, we put a band together. We got Norman Watt-Roy had been playing with a band called Glencoe (and they played Friars! - Ed), as had John. When I left Frampton, they asked me to join Glencoe but there was nothing happening. But we got asked to work for Ronan O'Rahily at Radio Caroline who was an anti-establishment, mad, freaky, free radio type of guy and he wanted a band to do jingles for Radio Caroline and that was how we met Charley Charles. So we did these jingles for Radio Caroline under the band name of Loving Awareness. We convinced them we should do an album and they sent us off to California to record a demo for six weeks. This was about 1975/1976. We then came back to England to conquer and were completely out of step. This was when Sex Pistols and punk was kicking off. So we all went out to do sessions. One of the sessions that Norman and Charley did was with Chaz Jankel and Ian Dury working on New Boots and Panties. They did that album and when the album was done they needed a band so they could tour. Charley and Norman said they played in a band with two other musicians so John and myself came into the fold and then the first Stiffs tour in 1977. The rest is history!

Even now, 34 years on, New Boots and Panties remains an astonishing album. That Stiffs Tour, all the acts were on the up, am I right in saying that yourselves and Elvis Costello were beginning to stand out as the obvious headliners on that tour although you started off on an equal footing with acts rotating?

Yes, it started that way but then it became that either we or Elvis topped the bill.

Six months later, there was no doubt as Ian and the Blockheads headlined and Friars selling out very quickly.

Was that the gig with Matumbi?

It was!

I remember that with happy memories. We were on two coaches with all our families. I had three kids, Johnny had kids, Matumbi had a tribe! When we turned up, there was all these kids running around. We got Andrew King and his wife who worked for Blackhill and we got him to look after the kids who were squealing and under the stage!


On the Friars website, there's a picture from that day - a day of two firsts for Friars, the first kids party and the first reggae band to play. Your next Friars appearance was the surprise appearance with The Clash in 1980. You played on London Calling and I remember that gig vividly as there was no mention of a support on the posters or anywhere and someone on the night while we were queuing shouted 'Ian Dury is supporting' and everyone was taken aback! We've loads of pictures of you from this gig. Must have been an interesting one for you as you were playing two sets.....

It was a bit 'Blockheads' really and we do this a lot nowadays as I play with the Animals, Norman plays with Wilko, John is with Bob Geldof...

That must be so much to learn and be aware of, but must depend on occasion?

We just got into the habit of wanting to play. Especially Norman and I, it's all we wanted to do to play live. Ian was a difficult one to work with though, especially as he got older as there were acting parts and voice-overs and all sorts which took us away from the road and making another album.

I read a biography of Ian which I think all the Blockheads contributed to which suggested to me you could and should have been bigger than you were but Ian was quite difficult at times....

Most of the time. Difficult with decisions [which is why we broke up]. John and I did some work in the 1980s with Kiyoshiro Imawano, a Japanese artist, and we went out to Japan and discovered how big the Blockheads were in Japan. I told Ian this and we put the band back together for one tour of Japan. We came back and broke up again! (laughs)

Certainly it wasn't a lack of effort or desire on the part of the band to make themselves bigger, but the leader seemed to be dragging his heels somewhat.....

His management was fine when there was music, but if his attention was turned elsewhere, we had to find other work. Hence around 1979/1980 I did The Clash albums, a Topper Headon album, an Ellen Foley album, produced Paul Simonon's girlfriend's album as well as the Blockheads albums. I worked every day of the year and wasn't making a lot of money.

You played Friars again in 1980 selling out in about two minutes but then a gap till you came back in 1984 as part of Ian Dury and The Music Students.

By the time of the Music Students gig, I had not long been off the road from the Eurthymics Touch tour of 1983/4. They went huge and the end of the journey was when they stopped about three quarters of the way through the European tour to conquer America and basically told us to go home! 

When Wilko Johnson replaced Chaz Jankel  in 1980, the dynamics of the band must have changed?

Completely! None of us really knew him, but he was a friend of Ian's. How he got the gig was after we did the Rainbow concerts with The Stranglers after Hugh Cornwell had been imprisoned. I went to the gigs with Ian and met him there. Then Ian got him to join the band after Chaz left and eventually I played keyboards on one of his albums and Norman plays with him full time.

I know it wasn't a Blockheads record, but do you think there was just a little too much controversy about Ian's Spasticus Autisticus single?

We eventually inherited it in that we played it live. The media picked it up on the wrong way. It was the International Year of the Disabled and Ian wrote a song about what they have to put up with. They (the media) said he was having a go at the disabled. The BBC banned it and they should have known better.

With Ian being busy, the Blockheads throughout the 1980/1990s were sporadic.....

Yes. But I also composed music for the Royal Shakespeare company in that time. But Ian wasn't going on the road. He was getting offered work but he wasn't putting it our way so we never got to hear about it.

In 1998, saw the last and the first proper album for quite some time for Ian Dury and The Blockheads in Mr Love Pants, a very fine album. There was something so right about that album isn't there?

It's my favourite album actually. Ian had found out he was ill and all the anxieties and him being difficult to work with just all evaporated because he had a bigger problem. Music became the focal point and he was so much more relaxed and he wanted to do another album. It was a really nice time that album. No ego.

You've come full circle now working with the Animals again......

That was a strange call. When Ian died in 2000, we decided to keep The Blockheads going. That's something I took on my shoulders and thinking back, that was a bad bad move! I took that on and people were asking me to do stuff and I said no I was doing work with the Blockheads and suddenly I got this call out of the blue from the Animals' agent who was in full flow getting them work around the country and this was on the day Dave Willbury died. By fate, Dave Rowberry had given him my number. Out of the blue I got this call after 39 years. I couldn't turn it down. I know the circumstances were sad, but I have really enjoyed it.

Really enjoyed your time Mick, really appreciate it and best wishes.

Thanks! 

This interview and its content are 2011 Mike O'Connor/www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk and may not be used in whole or in part without permission.

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