Ian Dury & The Blockheads – Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick

3rd December 2022 · 1970s, 1979, Music

Two members of The Blockheads were responsible for the biggest gaffe of my entire career at Dury’s funeral in April 2000. Well, them…. and me. 

One day in January 1979 Charley Charles and Norman Watt-Roy were the first of the band to find out that Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick had knocked The Village People’s YMCA off the top of the singles chart.

The drummer and bass guitarist were listening to a car radio outside the Gaumont Cinema in Kilburn when the new pop chart was announced. It gave Ian Dury his first (and last) number one single and they immediately contacted him in Cannes, where he was on holiday, to break the news.

Twenty-one years later, in April 2000, I was standing with a pack of fellow journalists outside his family home in Hampstead as the coffin was borne out by six pall bearers, and a murmur went around as we tried to identify them.

We agreed they were all members of Madness and the Blockheads but we were stumped by the identity of one of them… until a knowledgeable voice – possibly Dominic Mohan of The Sun – recognised him as the drummer. But no one could remember his name.

In those pre-internet pre-mobile days there was no way to google it. Luckily I had come armed with a six-foot-long roll of tickertape cuttings from the Evening Standard library.

Scrolling through reams of paper on the pavement, I finally found a reference to the band’s drummer – Charley Charles – and we all dutifully noted it down for our reports.

Up at Golders Green Crematorium, where the crowd was so vast that we couldn’t get in, we had to watch the service on tiny TV sets outside with the overflow crowd: a motley crew of friends and fans that included Robbie Williams, Neneh Cherry, Nick Lowe and – oddly – Mo Mowlam.

Unlike my colleagues, whose deadlines were not until late that night, I had to file my copy from a phone box during the service in order to make the West End final edition of the paper, painting a colourful picture of the funeral cortege and the humanist service that was still going on inside.

After which, feeling relaxed and happy at having done my job, I went to the wake at The Forum in Kentish Town, where there was a huge piss-up and a tearjerking live performance by the Blockheads with guest vocalists including Ian’s son Baxter.

But I didn’t make it that far.

Soon after I arrived at the venue I ran into Norman Watt-Roy the bass guitarist. “Terrible business,” I commiserated. “Yeah,” he replied. “Especially with it being the second time.”

“Second time?” I queried nervously. “Yeah, our drummer died of cancer too,” he said stomach began to lurch. “Ten years ago now. Lovely bloke… Charley Charles.”

And so, in the best tradition of taboid journalism, I made my excuses and left before someone turned up with a copy of the Standard hot off the press.