Norman Watt-Roy

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Norman Watt-Roy
Norman Watt-Roy at Water Rats.jpg
Norman Watt-Roy at Water Rats, July 2011
Background information
Also known as Normsferatu
Born (1951-02-15) 15 February 1951 (age 65)
Bombay, India
Origin Harlow, Essex
Occupation(s) Bassist
Instruments Bass guitar
Years active 1967–present
Labels Stiff
Associated acts

Norman Joseph Watt-Roy (born 15 February 1951) is an English rock and roll musician who first rose to fame during the late 1970s, during the punk and new wave era of rock music. In a career spanning more than 40 years, Watt-Roy has been the bass guitarist for Ian Dury and the Blockheads and before that of The Greatest Show on Earth.[1]


Early life[edit]

Watt-Roy was born in Bombay, India. In November 1954, the Watt-Roy family, including Norman, his older brother Garth (born Garth Philip Watt-Roy, December 1947 in Bombay, India) and his sister, moved to England. They settled in Highbury, North London, where Norman went to St Joan of Arc Primary School, Blackstock Road. When Norman was eight, the family relocated to Harlow, Essex. At the age of ten, he had been shown some guitar chords by his father, and played in some school bands with his older brother Garth, who started playing in 1961, on the lead guitar. Norman Watt-Roy left school at 15 and briefly studied art at Harlow Technical College, before moving back to London.

Early band work[edit]

In early 1967, Norman Watt-Roy formed the band The Living Daylights with his brother Garth and released a single on the Philips label called "Let's Live For Today" (April 1967) and did regular gigs in venues such as The Angel Blues Rooms in Edmonton, London. In 1968, Norman and Garth Watt-Roy formed a nine-piece soul band and toured US military bases in Germany, backing American soul singers such as Sonny Burke and played a summer residency at the Maddocks Club in Spain.

By this time the band was known as The Greatest Show On Earth and by 1969 had won a recording contract with Harvest Records. This led to the release, in February 1970, of the single "Real Cool World", which was a hit in Europe, reaching #1 in Switzerland. The band's debut album Horizons was followed by a second album The Going's Easy, both issued in 1970, and another single "Tell The Story" .


In 1972, Watt-Roy joined then band Glencoe and met guitarist John Turnbull. The quartet released two albums Glencoe and The Spirit of Glencoe along with three singles and four recorded John Peel radio sessions before breaking up, and in 1974 got together with keyboardist Mick Gallagher to form the nucleus of a band which, with the addition of drummer Charlie Charles, would become Loving Awareness (managed by Radio Caroline guru Ronan O'Rahilly). It was while doing a session with Charles for a friend in 1976 that they met Chaz Jankel and Ian Dury and went on to play on the album New Boots and Panties!!, which was released on the Stiff Records label.

Ian Dury and the Blockheads[edit]

Main article: The Blockheads
John Turnbull and Watt-Roy at Water Rats, London, July 2011

The 'Loving Awareness' quartet were later to join up with Jankel and Dury for the first Stiff Tour of UK and became known as Ian Dury and The Blockheads. Under the management of Andrew King and Peter Jenner, the original managers of Pink Floyd, Ian Dury and the Blockheads quickly gained a reputation as one of the top live acts of new wave music.

The Blockheads' sound drew from its members' diverse musical influences, which included jazz, rock and roll, funk, and reggae, and Dury's love of music hall.

The single "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll", released 26 August 1977, marked Blockheads' Stiff debut. Although it was banned by the BBC it was named Single of the Week by NME on its release.[2] The single issue was soon followed at the end of September, by the album New Boots and Panties!! which, although it did not include the single, achieved platinum status.

In October 1977 Watt-Roy and the band started performing as Ian Dury & the Blockheads, when the band signed on for the Stiff "Live Stiffs Tour" alongside Elvis Costello & the Attractions, Nick Lowe, Wreckless Eric, and Larry Wallis. The tour was a success, and Stiff launched a concerted Ian Dury marketing campaign, resulting in the Top Ten hit "What a Waste", and the hit single "Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick", which reached No. 1 in the UK at the beginning of 1979, selling just short of a million copies. Again "Hit Me" was not included on the original release of the subsequent album Do It Yourself. Both the single and its accompanying music video featured Davey Payne playing two saxophones simultaneously during his solo, in evident homage to jazz saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk, whose 'trademark' technique this was. With their hit singles, the band built up a dedicated following in the UK and other countries and their next single "Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3" made number three in the UK.

The band's second album Do It Yourself was released in June 1979 in a Barney Bubbles-designed sleeve of which there were over a dozen variations, all based on samples from the Crown wallpaper catalogue. Bubbles also designed the Blockhead logo.[3]

Jankel left the band temporarily and relocated to the U.S. after the release of "What a Waste" (his organ part on that single was overdubbed later) but he subsequently returned to the UK and began touring sporadically with the Blockheads, eventually returning to the group full-time for the recording of "Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick"; according to Mickey Gallagher, the band recorded 28 takes of the song but eventually settled on the second take for the single release. Partly due to personality clashes with Dury,[2] Jankel left the group again in 1980, after the recording of the Do It Yourself LP, and he returned to the USA to concentrate on his solo career.

The group worked solidly over the eighteen months between the release of "Rhythm Stick" and their next single, "Reasons to Be Cheerful", which returned them to the charts, making the UK Top 10. Jankel was replaced by former Dr. Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson, who also contributed to the next album Laughter (1980) and its two hit singles, although Gallagher recalls that the recording of the Laughter album was difficult and that Dury was drinking heavily in this period.[2]

It was when Jankel replaced by Johnson a rapport between Watt-Roy and Johnson resulted in Watt-Roy becoming a regular member of Johnson's own band by 1985.

The Blockheads briefly reformed in June 1987 to play a short tour of Japan, and then disbanded again. In September 1990, following the death from cancer of drummer Charley Charles, they reunited for two benefit concerts in aid of Charles' family, held at The Forum, Camden Town, with Steven Monti on drums. In December 1990, augmented by Merlin Rhys-Jones on guitar and Will Parnell on percussion, they recorded the live album Warts & Audience at the Brixton Academy.

The Blockheads (minus Jankel, who returned to California) toured Spain in January 1991, then disbanded again until August 1994 when, following Jankel's return to England, they were invited to reform for the Madstock! Festival in Finsbury Park; this was followed by sporadic gigs in Europe, Ireland, the UK and Japan through late 1994 and 1995.

In March 1996 Dury was diagnosed with cancer and, after recovering from an operation, he set about writing another album. In early 1998 he reunited with the Blockheads to record the album Mr Love-Pants. In May, Ian Dury & the Blockheads hit the road again, with Dylan Howe replacing Steven Monti on drums. Davey Payne left the group permanently in August and was replaced by Gilad Atzmon; this line-up gigged throughout 1999, culminating in their last performance with Ian Dury on 6 February 2000 at the London Palladium. Dury died six weeks later on 27 March 2000.

The Blockheads have continued after Dury's death, contributing to the tribute album Brand New Boots And Panties, then Where's The Party. The Blockheads still tour, and are currently recording a new album. They currently comprise Watt-Roy, Jankel, Gallagher, Turnbull, John Roberts on drums, Gilad Atzmon and Dave Lewis on saxes. Derek The Draw (who was Dury's friend and minder) is now writing songs with Jankel as well as singing. They are assisted by Lee Harris, who is their 'aide de camp'.

Other work[edit]

During the 1970s and 1980s, Watt-Roy did session work, appearing on albums such as Nick Lowe's Jesus of Cool, Rachel Sweet's Fool Around and Jona Lewie's single "You'll Always Find Me in the Kitchen at Parties". He also made an appearance on The Selecter's 1981 album Celebrate the Bullet and played on The Clash's Sandinista! album along with fellow Blockhead Mick Gallagher on keyboards. Watt-Roy performed on the Sandinista! tracks recorded at Electric Lady Studios in New York, including "The Magnificent Seven", "Hitsville U.K.", "Ivan Meets G.I. Joe", "Lightning Strikes (Not Once But Twice)", "Charlie Don't Surf" and others. Watt-Roy also played bass on their Cut The Crap recordings. Topper Headon said in a recent interview that it was Norman who played bass on "Rock The Casbah" which featured on the album Combat Rock.

In 1983, Watt-Roy provided bass lines for the Frankie Goes to Hollywood single "Relax" during a session which included Blockheads John Turnbull, Mick Gallagher and Charlie Charles. This version however, was not used for the final release of the song. In 1984, he teamed up with Gallagher again for Wreckless Eric's Captains of Industry 1985 album A Roomful of Monkeys.

In 1984, he provided bass on all tracks to Roger Daltrey's solo album, Parting Should Be Painless[4] on which had one minor hit single "Walking in My Sleep" which featured Ian Dury singing backing vocals and Watt-Roy on the video.

In 2001, Watt-Roy completed sessions with members of Madness, with whom he sporadically joined for live work at the time, and the ex-producer of Depeche Mode, who had recorded him jamming with drummer Steve Monti with plans to sample the results. Since then he has found work with Nick Cave on Cave's solo shows, without the Bad Seeds, and continued as bassist for Wilko Johnson.

He guested on Viv Albertine's The Vermillion Border (Cadiz Music) in 2012 and in 2013 released a solo album, Faith & Grace, also on Cadiz Music, with guests including former Blockheads drummer Dylan Howe.


The Greatest Show on Earth[edit]

  • Horizons (1970)
  • The Going's Easy (1970)
  • The Greatest Show on Earth (1975)

The Blockheads[edit]


External links[edit]