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Ian Dury

+ {Kilburn And The High-Roads}

A remarkable and unique artist with a certain gift of the gab, journeyman singer IAN DURY transformed his fortunes almost overnight with the release of his first solo album, New Boots And Panties. Not exactly brimming with youth, and partially crippled by polio from the age of seven, the voluminous London-centric new wave/punk movement had yet another spokesman for the masses in former Canterbury College of Art teacher/lecturer IAN DURY.
Born 12th May 1942 in Harrow, Middlesex, the worthy wordsmith found he’d a little time on his hands at the turn of the 70s. Taking their moniker from a street sign, Ian’s first step into the limelight was with KILBURN AND THE HIGH-ROADS, a loose collective he set up with former students, Ted Speight (guitar), co-writer Russell Hardy (piano), Charlie Hart (bass), Terry Day (drums) and Davey Payne (sax); the latter superseding George Khan. This was the line-up that performed their inaugural gig in December ’71 at the Croydon School of Art. Taking themselves a bit more serious in 1973, further concerts led to a contract with Warner Brothers splinter label, Raft (then home to FAMILY). By this time, Ted, Charlie and Terry had respectively made way for Keith Lucas, Charlie Sinclair and George Butler (via David Rohoman), although the release of their debut LP was vetoed when Raft Records sunk; it was later issued by Warner Brothers as WOTABUNCH! {*5} in 1978 at the peak of IAN DURY & THE BLOCKHEADS career. Those wishing to re-tread the likes of highlights `Billy Bentley (Promenades Himself In London)’, `The Call Up’, `Upminster Kid’, `Crippled With Nerves’ and others, to the band’s first album HANDSOME {*6} – issued on Dawn Records in 1975 – were now free to compare notes; Rod Melvin stood in for stalwart Hardy and David Rohoman were back in tow. Sadly, Ian’s wry sense of humour, vaudevillian theatrics and unhinged 50s rock’n’roll/jazz pastiche were passed up by many pundits at the time, but pub-rock (BRINSLEY SCHWARZ, DUCK DELUXE, DR. FEELGOOD, etc.) was more or less mutating into the new wave/punk scene. So, after only one album and numerous personnel changes, the Kilburns disbanded, leaving Ian and manager Dave Robinson searching out a solo deal for the singer.
Signing to Jake Riviera’s new indie imprint, Stiff Records, DURY, co-composer player Chaz Jankel and few former Kilburns (including Davey Payne and Ted/Edward Speight) went to work on new material. Previewed by non-LP single, `Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll’, NEW BOOTS AND PANTIES!! (1977) {*9} soon raced up the charts, DURY’s articulately Cockney slang patter fused well with his funky/jerky group backing, which alternated between rock’n’roll and new wave disco. Kicking off with the more than suggestive, `Wake Up And Make Love With Me’, the record was indeed rude and bawdy; parental guidance might be necessary for the foul-mouthed and playfully punk `Plaistow Patricia’, tempered in part by `If I Was With A Woman’ and `I’m Partial To Your Abracadabra’. Character-driven with DURY’s typically wry comments on the excesses of the music business, ditties such as `My Old Man’, tongue-twisters `Billericay Dickie’ and `Clevor Trever’ (notice the corny spelling!), plus another one-that-got-away, the 50s pastiche `Sweet Gene Vincent’, drawing one a perfect picture out of punk poetry.
Named after one of the album’s most raucous dirges, `Blockheads’, DURY’s backing band were duly given full billing, much like that of The Attractions in fellow “Stiff” tour artist, ELVIS COSTELLO. The Blockheads initial line-up was Chaz Jankel (guitar/keyboards), Norman Watt-Roy (bass), Charley Charles (drums), Mickey Gallagher (keyboards), John Turnbull (guitar) and Davey Payne (sax), all playing their part on the crafty Cockney’s first hit single, `What A Waste!’.
However, it was its follow-up, `Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’, which really earned DURY a smutty place in the annals of pop history (oo-er missus!), its half-spoken narrative style breaking into a gloriously demented chorus. The track sat atop the UK singles chart for a few weeks, while the attendant album DO IT YOURSELF (1979) {*7} nearly tracked the same route to No.1. Trading punk for funk, but without either `Hit Me…’ or the band’s follow on Top 3 smash, `Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3’, there was still substance in `Inbetweenies’, `Quiet’, `Don’t Ask Me’ and the reggae-fied `Lullaby For Francies’.
The DURY/Jankel writing partnership was wound up soon afterwards, the latter embarking on solo work and freeing up a position for former DR. FEELGOOD guitarist, Wilko Johnson. First up was Ian’s non-LP antidote to “Sex & Drugs…”, `I Want To Be Straight’, his final Top 30 single success. The resulting album, LAUGHTER (1980) {*6}, met with limited returns (No.48 was hardly deserving), prompting a musical spring clean from DURY; the equally underwhelming 45 `Sueperman’s Big Sister’ (spelt incorrectly to avoid lawsuits no doubt), `Pardon’ and `F**king Ada’ were its best bits.
Subsequently inking a deal at Polydor Records and securing the esteemed services of Jamaican reggae dubsters SLY & ROBBIE (on production and backing), the solo IAN DURY reuniting with Jankel. The cheeky cockney duly released the equally panned, LORD UPMINSTER (1981) {*5}, an album that opened with minor hit, `Spasticus Autisticus’, a record promoting “The Year Of The Disabled” which ironically received a fair bit of flak from radio stations who banned it from the airwaves.
Commercial success continued to elude showman DURY. However, coming out of his shell, he delivered his long-awaited fifth LP, 4000 WEEKS’ HOLIDAY (1984) {*4}, crediting this time, backing band The Music Students (aka a handful of session people including a few Blockheads). Although it did manage a Top 60 placing, both singles `Really Glad You Came’ and `Very Personal’ failed to chart.
Almost semi-retired, DURY turned thespian, playing roles in films such as `Number One’ (1984 and starring BOB GELDOF), Roman Polanski’s `Pirates’ (1986), `Rocinante’ (1986), `Hearts Of Fire’ (1987, alongside DYLAN), TV plays `King Of The Ghettos’ (1986), `Talk Of The Devil’ (1986) and `Night Moves’ (1987). `The Raggedy Rawney’, `Brennende Betten’, `Bearskin: An Urban Fairytale’ and `The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover’ (all 1989) rounded off a busy celluloid-friendly decade for Ian, while he was back on the recording front courtesy of APPLES (1989) {*5}. A stage musical (performed at London’s Royal Court Theatre), featuring the DURY as tabloid journo Byline Brown, the set seemed to suit the man’s sharp and literate tales, but once again it failed to generate much interest outside his loyal supporters.
The following September, he re-formed his Blockheads (Jankel, Watt-Roy, Gallagher, Payne, Turnbull and new drummer Steven Monti) for two Xmas reunion gigs; 1991’s WARTS ‘N’ AUDIENCE {*5} giving diehard fans of “New Boots…” songs, a wee treat.
He proved his inimitable sense of humour hadn’t deserted him on THE BUS DRIVERS PRAYER & OTHER STORIES (1992) {*6}, an album rife with new characters, `Poor Joey’ and `D’orine The Cow’ among them, while there was an interpolated medley in `Bill Haley’s Last Words’. His movie work hadn’t seized up either as he strolled through roles in `Split Second’ (1992), `Skallagrigg’ (1994), `Judge Dredd’ (1995), `The Crow: City Of Angels’ and `Middleton’s Changing’ (1997).
Having been diagnosed with cancer of the colon in 1995 (it was soon to spread into his liver), Ian wanted to bow out with a bang not a whimper. In the summer of ‘98, the man did just that (with the help from his ever faithful Blockheads). His comeback album, Mr LOVE PANTS {*7}, even restored him back into the charts, tracks like `Jack Shit George’, the tender and sentimental `You’re My Baby’ and `Itinerant Child’ (name-checking STEELY DAN) variety over classic.
This was Ian’s last lyrical message – he died on the 27th March, 2000; they said he died with a smile on his face. A postumous recording with The Blockheads, TEN MORE TURNIPS FROM THE TIP (2002) {*6}, added to fact that Mr. DURY would be missed sadly missed. His legacy continues through his son BAXTER DURY, although not in the same cheeky chappy vein, rather through a spacey dream-pop medium. In 2010, the aptly-named movie bio-pic, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (starring Andy Serkis in the lead role) hit the big screen. You just can’t keep a good man down.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD-BG // rev-up MCS Aug2012

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