Chaz Jankel [2002]

Chaz Jankel [2002]

Chaz Jankel made his name as Ian Dury’s collaborator and founder member of backing band, The Blockheads. As a solo artist, he’s most well known on the dance scene for co-writing ‘Ai No Corrida’, which was covered by Quincy Jones, and ‘Glad To Know You’ and ‘3,000,000 Synths’, both big underground dance hits in the USA. Keen to know just where the title ‘Rêve De Chèvre’ comes from, we trapped him in his North London lair…


What’s your earliest memory of music?
Lonnie Donegan. I was about 6 or 7 years old. I saw him on a record cover or magazine holding an acoustic guitar and I thought, ‘wow that looks good, I like the look of that’. Somehow I managed to get my parents to buy me a Spanish guitar. I seem to remember my first teacher was a Spanish lady who spoke no English. It was a little tricky.


Did you come from musical family?
No, but later on, my cousin married Joe Loss’s daughter and then that was the first musician who entered the family, which was handy because he was very encouraging every time he came over to us at a family occasion. Told my dad to encourage me. I started playing guitar when I was 7, well a few months later I got into piano. I’ve been playing both instruments since.


Was one easier that the other?
They both offer something slightly different. I hope I have a natural aptitude for both. With guitar, I tend to get more into the funk, Latin blues, that sort of area. With piano, I’m more sort of harmonically based these days, trying to extend my knowledge of harmony. Currently. I’ve been putting a jazz quartet together. So I’ve gone back to late 50s, early 60s style of Blue Note.


What was the first record you ever bought?
Probably Cliff Richard and the Shadows. But when I was about 14, I heard a Lee Dorsey record called ‘Get Out Of My Life Woman’ and it had the most fantastic drums in it. It’s what people would think of as a hip hop rhythm now - bum-bop-de-bum-bum-bop - the whole thing started with this rhythm. I thought, that is it. So I started tuning into R&B from there and that lead onto me discovering Sly & The Family Stone. They were my heroes, that band. I think I brought that influence into the Blockheads. When I met Ian, I was heavily into Afro-American music.


Were you a record buyer or just a musician?
As far as my budget allowed I bought records, but I wasn’t an anorak. There were certain records that I heard that I just had to have. I’d go to record stores and thumb through the latest US imports. I’d buy things like Isley Brothers, Staples Singers, anything with a funky bassline, War.


What did you do when you left school?
I went to St. Martin’s Art School, but at the same time, I’d started to play with a band outside of college called Byzantium.


What style of music did Byzantium play?

Folk-rock, which was becoming a bit of a bone of contention, really. I was much more into soul. I remember one gig… I was convinced I was a soul brother. I had this outfit hand-made in a little boutique off Carnaby Street. It was sleeveless with white satin flares and red satin inserts.


You were a one-man O’Jays!
Yeah! It would have been fine if we were all into that kit, but the rest of the band were wearing jeans and had long hair. I looked as if I’d lost my band. I clearly remember doing a gig at Dingwalls and I felt great, but every time I looked across I thought, ‘Oh no, this doesn’t look right at all’.


How did the rest of the band feel about your sudden conversion into an O’Jay?
Slightly perplexed, really. Eventually, we parted ways.


How did you come across Ian?

Through an ad in a piano shop. The guitar player from Ian & The Kilburns went into the shop and said their keyboard player had just left. So I got a call saying they were playing at the Nashville. I went down there and watched in awe as they played their set. It was more like a circus than music. Cabaret, but very dark cabaret. Ian was wearing a Tommy Cooper fez, the guitarist looked like Frank Zappa. It was very offbeat. I was hypnotised. After it was over, I walked like a zombie towards the stage and followed the band to where they’d gone. They’re all sweating from having finished playing and there was one person facing the door: Ian. He saw me coming and said, “’Ere mate, do I know you? Well fack off then!” And I stood there like a rabbit dazzled by headlights. Then I backed off and the guitar player said, “You’re not Chaz Jankel are you? Oh, sorry about that.” Anyway, I got the gig.


When did they go from Ian & The Kilburns to Ian Dury & The Blockheads?
Well we kept the band together foe about three or four months doing the pub circuit as Ian & The Kilburns, but I felt there was something ambitionless about the group. Ian was ready for a change. One day, I whispered into his ear: how about disbanding the group, or why don’t we write some songs and he said, yeah, that’s a great idea. So we knocked the band on the head and started writing. We originally wrote in his flat in the Oval. We did ‘Sex And Drugs And Rock’N’Roll’ there. Then we started to assemble New Boots And Panties.

Did you have a deal?
No, but Ian’s manager was in the same building as Stiff Records. He went round to the majors and no-one was interested but Stiff said they’d put it out. Then they asked us to tour so we asked Charley Charles and Norman Watt-Roy and they said yes, but only if they could bring the rest of their band, because they’d been playing for Loving Awareness. The other members of the band were Micky Gallagher and Johnny Tunbull, so they came and then Ian brought in Davey Payne who played sax in Kilburn & The High Roads.


The difference between the first and second albums was astounding. What happened?
I think Ian became more open to the musicians’ musical influences. Before that, he came in with his love of Gene Vincent and Chuck Berry and I brought in my hard funk edge with things like ‘Wake Up And Make Love’.


You know, the keyboards were very spacey and that style of music really stood out among the rest of punk and new wave music of the time. It was really musical.
Well, I think the same’s true today. I don’t think many English bands draw from Afro-American music. The only person I can think of is Jamiroquai on a band level. Ian had had the whole of his life to write New Boots And Panties and it got to the next album and there was pressure on us to write another and he didn’t have many lyrics. So I would suggest little musical ideas to him. ‘Inbetweenies’ was one of the first ones. It was quite unique on a technical level because Ian had to sing on the 2nd beat of the bar, which was anathema to him, because what it meant was the music coming first and him fitting in on the landscape that had already been plotted. He eventually came round to it and we sang the song for many years. But I don’t think Ian was entirely happy with this.


When you made the first solo album, Chaz Jankel, you were still in the Blockheads weren’t you? How did that come about?
One night in 1979 we played in Amsterdam and after the gig we went back to the Hotel American and we’d acquired some rather attractive female company to accompany us back.


To discuss music, of course.
And poetry. Suddenly I’m in my hotel room with this beautiful Dutch model. Everything astrologically was happening for me that night, I can tell you. Next thing I know, this melody pops into my head, but I realised that the melody wasn’t suitable for the Blockheads. I gave a cassette with the melody on to Kenny Young, who’d co-written ‘Under The Boardwalk’. Anyway, he calls me from MIDEM. ‘Chaz, I’ve got this great idea for your melody: “Ai No Corrida, that’s where I am…”’ I had no idea what he was talking about. So he told me all about this movie by Oshima, In The Realm Of The Senses (the Japanese name was Ai No Corrida). It was a true story about a geisha who fell in love with the madame’s husband but because of the class system there was no chance they could have a relationship.


In their sexual encounters, the woman would strangle the chap to the point where he nearly passed out. One day, in their depression at the fate of their relationship she kept pulling on the knot and he died. She was so distressed, she cut off his meat’n’two veg and put it in her pocket. She was wondering the streets, completely off her head and got locked up and stayed incarcerated for about 30 years. She became a feminist icon and when she came out in the 70s Oshima made a movie about her. Funnily enough, I was in Spain around the time it came out doing a promo and a photographer puts his arm round me and says, “Chaz! I love bullfights too” and I’m like, “what?” And it turns out that Ai No Corrida means No More Bullfights in Spanish.


After going solo, you re-joined Ian to make Lord Upminster. How did that happen?
Chris Blackwell, head of Island, thought it would be a good idea for him to work with Sly & Robbie and Ian took me along as co-writer, though we didn’t actually have any material prepared. We had a couple of days before the session started to work on material and the first song he sung me was ‘Spasticus Autisticus’. I just put a guitar riff with it. The problem was it was all done hastily and I don’t think that record’s produced very well. Although ‘Spasticus Autisticus’ stayed in our set and ended up as one of Ian’s favourite songs.


What was the inspiration for ‘3,000,000 Synths’?
I was just playing around with synths at the time, Oberheim synthesisers, and I just followed my instinct on that. There was no real plan. There were a lot of synths that ended up on that track.


But not 3,000,000, though, surely!
Not 3,000,000. We needed a bar count all the way through, just so we’d know where we were in the song, so Phillip [Bagenall] counted ‘one, two…’ I thought it was quite Kraftwerky to leave the counting in so we left it. So it was the counting and number along with the synths that gave us the title. I’ve always been heavy into the groove and it was based on a fat groove. And then we played about with the synths on top.


Did you realise it was big in clubs at the time?
I knew ‘Glad To Know You’ was big. Going back to Lord Upminster. I was in the Bahamas and Sly Dunbar had Music Week and he says, “Hey Chaz, there’s a song of yours in the dance charts.” And ‘Glad To Know You’ had gone in the dance charts. It got to number one and stayed there for 9 weeks. I flew to New York and went to Studio 54 and hung out with the DJs. It was a good time. I knew that ‘Questionnaire’ and ‘3,000,000 Synths’ were also on the 12-inch, but I never actually heard them play ‘3,000,000 Synths’. ‘Glad To Know You’ I heard a lot, but not that.


When did you go to Studio 54?
It must have been after ‘Glad to Know You’ had been released as a 12-inch in America, which must have been about 83 or 84. I was given an award, Dance Artist of the Year, by Music Week. It’s that phallic looking thing over there [points at penis-shaped award]


OK. ‘Rêve De Chèvre’. What about that, then?
We used bizarre titles for our records and I’m desperately trying to remember which one that was!


It sounds like an odd proto-house record with dubby piano.
Ah, it was a remix of ‘Questionnaire’ with all of the music taken out and the percussion left in.


What was the inspiration for these tracks, because they’re very odd, especially since they’re nestling between more pop-oriented things.
I suppose I was trying to make my records accessible, but when it cam to doing the 12-inch or a B-side, the pressure was off, so you could let your hair down a little and have fun. I think my stuff was always quite soulful based. Ian would co-write with me, he co-wrote ‘Glad To Know You’. There was a song called ‘Boy’ which, apparently was a rare groove record. I was working with this woman called DJ Elaine at the time about 15 years ago and she told me.


What about making modern dance records, does that appeal to you?
Yeah, it does. I’d really like to put together a heavy duty R&B thing together and I might rope in some of the Blockheads for that. I’m also working with a really good songwriter called Alex Watson. You know since Ian’s passed away, I’ve got myself a publishing deal with Famous Music and they put me in contact with another writer and she writes great lyrics and she’s a brilliant singer. She wants to make her own record now. We’re co-writing for other artists and for her album. She’s also in another band called Iron Eye, who are about to put out their first record. So I’m very energised on the dance tip. It won’t be house. I’m more into mid-tempo grooves and R&B.


© Bill Brewster

Originally published in Faith, 2002




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