❉ Best known as Ian Dury’s musical lieutenant, Jankel carved out a funky solo career, now compiled as a box set.
“Ai No Corrida was the centrepiece on Jankel’s debut album. Although it’s best known for the Grammy nominated version by Quincy Jones, Jankel’s own version has its own merits. What it lacks in the finesse of a QJ production it makes up for by being jazzier and highlighting a driving funk groove played down Jones’ hit version. Jankel’s debut feels like him stretching his wings from behind Dury’s master of ceremonies style…”
If one were to consider the musical achievements of Chaz Jankel, his most significant success will always remain the work he produced in partnership with Ian Dury as musical director/writer for The Blockheads. His meeting with Dury produced a hugely successful partnership which garnered the band huge commercial success. Although bundled in with the punk/new wave movement their music was distinctive from that thanks to the pair both having a far wider musical palette than the usual 1-2-3-4 rock’n’roll many define its main musical proponents. Although it’s nowhere near as well known, it’s not exactly surprising to learn that Jankel himself carved out a solo career alongside this, now compiled as a boxset.
Jankel’s musical background and interests set him apart from many of his contemporaries and he began his musical career in prog band Byzantium but his choice of clothes marked him out as far more likely to have turned up on the set of Superfly than the blue jean clad look of his musical peers. As Jankel’s subsequent career would demonstrate, this was a man who’d schooled in soul and funk. He came to the attention of Dury’s band Kilburn & The High Roads after purchasing a Wurlitzer from a music shop in Uxbridge frequented by their guitarist. After a period in the band Jankel suggested writing some different material with Dury which lead the formation of The Blockheads. The rest, as they say, was history.
After their initial success Jankel found himself writing material which wasn’t suitable for Dury’s voice and, probably more importantly, was far more orientated to the kind of soul and funk crowd who weren’t natural audience you’d find at a Blockheads gig. Jankel teamed up with Kenny Young (who’d written the lyrics to Under The Broadwalk as well as producing and writing for Noosha Fox) to write the lyrics for the song Ai No Corrida, his first fully-formed solo song. Mutual friends heard the demo and after Rod Temperton was played it, he took it to Quincy Jones as he was looking for a couple of tracks to complete his album The Dude. On the strength of this, and song Am I Honest With Myself Really, Jankel secured a two album deal with A&M records.
Ai No Corrida was the centrepiece, and standout track on the subsequent debut album titled, Chas Jankel. Although it’s best known for the Grammy nominated version by Quincy Jones, Jankel’s own version has its own merits. What it lacks in the finesse of a QJ production it makes up for by being jazzier and highlighting a driving funk groove played down Jones’ hit version. Jankel’s debut feels like him stretching his wings from behind Dury’s master of ceremonies style and his choice of support musicians, including Mark Isham on trumpet, Peter Van Hooke on drums, and Chris Hunter’s sax work amply demonstrate this. From the dreamy sounds of Peace At Last, through rolling grooves of Peace At Last, to the strange fusion of electronics and jazzy latin workout in near 14-minute centrepiece Am I Honest With Myself Really, it’s a solid debut.
By the time of working on his second album his gig with The Blockheads was winding down, allowing him the luxury of co-opting Ian Dury to writing lyrics for his own work. The resulting album was Chazanaova (entitled Questionnaire in the USA). If the first album feels like something of a side project plus one great lead track then Chasanova/Questionnaire feels a much more cohesive work. The songs are more concise and this feels like a more substantial attempt at finding a market for Jankel as a serious solo artist.
The album contains obvious potential hits in the shape of the funky Glad To Know You and the title track but there’s plenty of strong material. Now You’re Dancing sounds like it could have been made by the slick latter period Gang Of Four (albeit minus the left-wing lyrical polemics) whilst Johnny Funk blends Jankel’s funky style with a piece of vintage storytelling from Ian Dury which matches anything they’d put out with The Blockheads. Whilst opening track 109 and the closing 3,000,000 Synths sounded like the kind of music designed to appeal to the musical hybrids taking hold in some of the coolest clubs across America. In fact the album did provide Jankel with considerable success in the American Dance Chart resulting in Glad To Know You being the biggest selling 12-inch single of 1982. The success of the second album prompted A&M to extend his contract.
The work of his previous employer and collaborator would have a hand in that third album. Dury was working on a solo album, Lord Upminster, and asked Jankel to contribute, resulting in a trip to the famous Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas – where Dury was working. Also present at the time were Tina Weymouth’s Tom Tom Club, also working on material. Jankel met and briefly dated Tina’s sister Laura who made significant contributions to what would become third album Chazablanca.
The album clearly owes a debt to the time spent at Compass Point with both Without You and Pretty Thing being engineered by its resident Steven Stanley who provides his usual magic to the tracks. There’s a strong Jamaican feel to Whisper which features Laura on a co-lead vocal. Whilst All I Want To Do Is Dance’s verses sound like they could have sat happily on Laura’s sister’s Tom Tom Club work. It works well overall and is a very fine follow up to its predecessor but it lacks an obvious lead single which probably explains why it wasn’t the success that the label had probably hoped for.
For his next, and final, album with A&M Jankel teamed up with producer German producer Zeus B. Held whose previous work had been with electro act Gina X and UK band Fashion. The resulting album is has a strong electro feel and sounds like a good companion to his Chazanova/ Questionnaire effort. His usual reference points of funk and soul with jazzy undertones is coated with warm electronics and busy rhythms. It works extremely well throughout with the skipping electro pop of Tonight’s Our Night, the funky lead single Number One, and Rhythm In My Life being standouts. The decision to bathe Jankel’s voice in reverb is a wise move. He would probably admit himself that his voice isn’t the strongest and this tactic works in its favour. It is a strong album and deserved a better fate than the almost complete lack of commercial success it endured.
A fifth album was recorded but the only track to see the light of day was the single You’re My Occupation which is included on the set’s fifth disc. This is a showcase for the extended versions and remixes which helped propel Jankel’s music onto the dance floors across America and some of the more discerning ones in the UK. The sleevenotes point out that Jankel saw the 12 inch format as a jumping off point for some studio experimentation such as the drastic reworking of Questionnaire as a weird slice of electro/reggae under the guise of the title Reve De Chèvre (which roughly translates as goat dream).
Jankel will always be best remembered for his collaborative work with Ian Dury as he himself points out,
“… I was always very dubious about the treadmill of pop stardom. So I never pushed myself forward like that. If I happened to have a record that was doing well, great, but I was always a bit dubious.”
That probably goes a long way to explaining why Jankel’s own work is something which has always remained within the realms of the kind of people who know an artist thanks to having read the inner sleeves and back covers of the big records they’ve played on alongside DJs and knowledgeable dancers. This set is a fine demonstration as to why this music fully deserves a place back in the spotlight.
❉ ‘Chaz Jankel: Glad To Know You – The Anthology 1980-1986′ (CRCDBOX104) was released 27 November 2020 by Cherry Red Records, RRP £23.99. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.
❉ Peter Robinson is a regular contributor to We Are Cult.