Given the fifty odd years this pop lark has been in existence and the multitude of persons to whom it has provided a daily crust and modicum of adulation it is peculiar to note that there have actually been very few genuine originals For every Little Richard, Captain Beefheart, Kate Bush or Aphex Twin there have been legions of foot-soldiers, some more entertaining and influential than others certainly but original? And whilst Ian Dury may struggle to make it into many peoples 100 greatest pop star lists (certainly he’s unlikely to be found in a car alongside Simply Red, Michael Jackson or Madonna unless it’s ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’ on one of those Now That’s What I Call... efforts), TM-O's Andy Basire reckons he most definitely does register right up there with the greats in the one-of a kind stakes....
It’s simply missing the point to try and chart Ian Dury’s career via chart success or his position in the UK’s rich list (he wasn’t on it, mainly due to turning down Andrew Lloyd Webber who wanted him to write the lyrics for Cats for which he would have earned a small fortune. His reason? “He's a wanker, isn't he?"). He was also a playwright, an actor, a painter, a spokesman for charities like Cancer Bacup and an ambassador for UNICEF promoting polio vaccinations..
Born in Harrow his father, a bus-driver, splitting up with his university-educated mother soon after the war, Dury went to live in Upminster with his mum, but contracted polio at the age of seven and spent several years in hospital and then at a school in Sussex for the disabled – later recalling that "A lot of the staff were pervs. No buggery, but a lot of enforced wanking." He then moved to the Royal High Wycombe Grammar School. where he was initially bullied ("these prefects called me Spastic Joe, so I grassed 'em up. I wasn't having any of that”). Walthamstow Art School followed then came the Royal College of Art, a stint teaching art in Canterbury, and in 1970 the formation of his first band, Kilburn and the High Roads who released the album Handsome in 1974. Dury then met former Byzantium guitarist Chas Jankel whose treatment of this material was exactly what he'd been searching for and they were soon recording with exeptional musicians like drummer Charlie Charles, bass player Norman Watt-Roy and the former Kilburns saxophonist Davey Payne. Signing with the newly formed Stiff Records, a perfect home for his oddball genius, they released, the now legendary debut single, 'Sex & Drugs & Rock 'n' Roll' and this was swiftly followed by the album New Boots And Panties (1977), which went on to sell over a million copies.
In October 1977 he joined the Live Stiffs Tour, alongside Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Wreckless Eric and Larry Wallis his band, now augmented by guitarist John Turnbull and pianist Mickey Gallagher and christened The Blockheads. More hit singles, in the shape if 'What A Waste', 'Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick' and 'Reasons To Be Cheerful' followed as did, possibly the bands finest moment, the album Do It Yourself (1979) – the cover design featuring variations from the Crown wallpaper catalogue.
In 1980 Jankel left The Blockheads (although in he and Dury teamed up with Sly and Robbie to record Lord Upminster(1981)), and was replaced by former Dr Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson for the next album Laughter. Always a volatile bunch The Blockheads disbanded in 1981 and Dury went on to work with The Music Students recording the album Four Thousand Weeks' Holiday. In 1990, the Blockheads came together again to play a benefit for the family of their recently deceased former drummer Charlie Charles, and the reunion was so successful further shows followed over the next two years - several members of the band collaborated on his 1993 album, The Bus Driver's Prayer And Other Stories. Then, in 1996, Dury was diagnosed as suffering from cancer and a tumour was removed from his colon but two years later further tumours were detected on his liver prompting a flurry of work including reuniting with the Blockheads to record the excellent Mr Love-Pants.
Ian Dury & The Blockheads' last performance was a charity concert in aid of Cancer Bacup on February 6, 2000 at The London Palladium (supported, incidentally by the late lamented Kirsty MacColl). Dury was clearly ailing and could not stand unaided for most of the evening but still delivered the sort of rabble-rousing and emotional show that predominated in his final years of live performance, the following month he succumbed to cancer, just a few weeks shy of his 58th birthday.
Asked in a 1998 interview by Independent writer Deborah Ross if he believed in an afterlife Dury said "There's nothing beyond, if you ask me, but that's alright. The human mind is such an amazing thing, that this life's been enough for me." Asked what he thought made life worthwhile he replied "To love and be loved, and to watch me kids".
A limited edition orange vinyl 7” version of ‘Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll’ is now available from Demon Edsel as is an EP exclusive to iTunes containing ‘Two Steep Hills’ which was only ever issued on the b-side of an extremely limited NME competition winners 7” release. The 30th Anniversary version of New Boots & Panties with a bonus DVD featuring previously unreleased footage of Dury & The Blockheads live on BBC’s Sight And Sound In Concert is also now available..