As a band, The Blockheads should be legends - fully paid-up members of British music royalty. Many people will know them better as Ian Dury and the Blockheads, but their history, both before and after working with Dury, features collaborations with some of the biggest names in the music business. Artists including Paul McCartney, The Clash, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Madness, The Animals, John Legend, Nick Cave, and Robbie Williams have all worked with various Blockheads over the years.
Put simply, these guys may be best known as Ian Dury's band, but for the past six decades they have played on hundreds of albums with some of the most famous and well-respected musicians in the world.
But how many people know their story - beyond the band members themselves? Not enough. Which is why The Blockheads have teamed up with Free Seed Films to try crowdfunding a documentary on Kickstarter that they are calling Beyond the Call of Dury. The film is intended to document how the band formed, how they ended up working with Ian Dury at Stiff Records, and what they did in the years since those incredible hits.
The Blockheads keyboard player Mick Gallagher has an incredible CV spanning from his work with The Animals in the 60s to The Clash on their London Calling and Sandinista! albums. I talked to Mick about the documentary idea, and in particular why they wanted to create this film now?
"We wanted to encompass all the work we did before Ian and after him too. Of course Ian will be mentioned in dispatches, but we are really concentrating on the things that brought the band together as Ian Dury and the Blockheads and all the things that happened after," he said.
"We are all a bit long in the tooth, so younger friends have showed us how to do this. Free Seed Films got behind us and helped to run the earlier campaign where we funded the cost of our 'Same Horse Different Jockey' album [in 2013] by crowdsourcing on Kickstarter. We got about £10,000 and used it to make the album and some promotional videos. That worked, so we are now in the midst of a mammoth effort to make this new documentary," he added.
I asked Mick how difficult it is to launch a fundraising campaign without the support of a record company or any marketing budget. He said: "If you don't have a core following it is very difficult. We don't have a big international following, but we do have fantastic fans in the UK. The best thing about it all is the direct contact with fans that come through for us every time. It takes a lot of coordination though. For a month after a successful crowdfunding campaign you are mailing merchandise to fans. It's a lovely feeling, but it's a lot of work."
Mick believes that social networks are the only way for bands like The Blockheads - who no longer have a major record company promoting their work - and new artists to get noticed: "Record companies are not interested in artists today unless you have a large social following and if you have already built that following then why would you give it to a record company? You can just go straight to the fans."
Back when Stiff Records was formed in 1976 they attempted to shake up the music industry of the day with a different approach to tours, artist promotion, and distribution. I asked Mick if he saw any parallels between the rise of the independent labels and the use of social media by independent artists today: "Back in the day, Stiff Records challenged the status quo of the record business, but with Ian it was easy. He was a bit of a loose cannon and things just happened around him all the time. He once fitted a tooth with a Union Jack on it just before an American tour and the press lapped it up."
Of course, getting a picture of your singer on the front page of The Sun was how to get noticed in the Seventies, but even the larger-than-life Ian Dury required the help of the Stiff marketing team to get noticed. It wasn't easy then and it's not easy now.
I asked Mick how they originally found their partner, Free Seed Films. The company has been instrumental in this recent revival of The Blockheads, not just managing their Kickstarter campaigns, but also making videos and planning how to make the documentary: "We were looking for a way to get more profile without it costing too much and I found François Téchené on Vimeo. He was just setting up Free Seed Films and they offered to help us run the album Kickstarter campaign and things have grown from there."
The Blockheads are one of those hidden gems of the music business. They no longer get the attention they deserve, but if this documentary is funded then at least more music fans of all ages will have an opportunity to understand just how influential one band has been in shaping the past half century of pop and rock history.
The Blockheads Kickstarter campaign to fund the Beyond the Call of Dury documentary ends on June the 5th. Click here if you are interested in contributing or just want to learn more about the campaign.