The first words of the 1999 BBC documentary “On My Life!” about the remarkable and distinctive pub rock perormer Ian Dury are “Good evening. I’m from Essex,” which come from the spoken intro to his jaunty 1977 song “Billericay Dickie,” off of Dury’s 1977 debut album New Boots and Panties!! Filmed and released just a year before his death to cancer, the hour-long doc, clearly made with an acute awareness of Dury’s impending demise, focuses on Dury’s self-consciously working class background and refusal to disavow it.
A clip of Dury discussing his father’s working life as a bus driver and chauffeur segues naturally into “My Old Man,” an autobiographical song about his pop. (It says something about Dury’s originality and crusty persona that he could get away with a song as unabashedly sentimental as “My Old Man.”) Dury suffered from polio as a young lad, and always defiantly scorned any attempts to pigeonhole him, or anybody else, as “disabled”—his cheeky 1981 song “Spasticus Autisticus,” banned by the BBC, was a brazen eff-you to the people who had named that year the International Year of Disabled Persons.
In the 1960s Dury attended the Royal College of Art, where he studied under the renowned pop art master Peter Blake (the portrait at the top of this post is by Blake), and Dury actually produced a number of notable canvases in the pop art idiom, but you’d never know any of that by encountering one of his “working-class” tracks on the radio.
Dury tells an amusing (and unexpected) anecdote about how some of his early demos, in which he apparently adopted a sultry American accent—difficult to imagine, right?—called out for “all that Barry White impersonations,” Dury decided it would be best to “try to be funny rather than sexy.”
Dury is a fascinating figure who was taken from us all too soon at the age of 57. This documentary is an invaluable document into the circumstances that made him so distinctive.
The rock and roll scene in Great Britain in the mid- to late 1970s produced so many indelible and arresting characters, but for my money, not a one of ‘em beats the great, dearly departed Ian Dury. He was always an odd figure in the new wave/punk scene, doggedly doing his own thing while the likes of Elvis Costello and John Lydon received greater acclaim and adulation—and hell, let’s even say deservedly so. I’m can’t come close to classifying his music, it’s pub rock/disco/punk/dancehall with a good dollop of who knows?
Whatever it was, it was irrevocably Ian Dury and it was irrevocably, irredeemably, unapologetically, unpretentiously, and very specifically British.
How a squinty little geezer like Dury could create music that was so compellingly, and simultaneously, funky/inert, expressive/stiff, joyous/crabby will always be an impenetrable mystery to me, but heaven knows I do adore it, especially his diverse and thumping first album New Boots and Panties!!.
Night Boy, 1966
If you’ve ever looked carefully at his album covers and other associated imagery, it’s always had a strong visual sense, so it was both a surprise and not a surprise that for several years in the 1960s, Dury studied at the Royal College of Art—and his paintings were damn good. I’m not an art expert by any stretch; it fits comfortably in the Pop Art idiom, which was all the rage at the time.
You won’t be surprised to hear that while Dury was at the Royal College of Art, he studied under the esteemed British Pop Art practitioner Peter Blake, who among other things collaborated with Jann Haworth to design the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album cover—eh, pretty good, what else is on your résumé? You can see traces of Blake’s mentorship all over Dury’s work (click here for a comparison); Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns are other obvious influences. (Blake designed the cover for Dury’s New Boots and Panties!! as well.)
Perhaps this is why Dury’s comment on his own art career was, “I got good enough to realize I wasn’t going to be very good.” Dury’s probably right, he was probably too derivative to succeed in the art world, but as far as I’m concerned, his paintings are pretty darn impressive anyway. And, as was ever the case with Dury, there’s something enduringly British about his works.
Just this past summer, his alma mater the Royal College of Art hosted an exhibition of Dury’s works under the title “More Than Fair: Paintings, Drawings and Artworks, 1961–1972.”
Lee Marvin, 1968
According to his daughter Jemima (note the use of that name in Dury’s painting above), who helped curate the exhibition last summer, Dury reminisced about his days at art school as follows:
I met Betty, my late first wife, at the Royal College of Art. She was at Newport College of Art. Her dad went to the Royal College of Art in the thirties. Getting into the RCA was the only thing I’ve aspired to in my life. I spent two years trying to get in. It’s the only achievement I’ve ever felt, a bit like going to the university of your choice. I’m really pleased I went there, I’m proud of it. I wouldn’t have been able to learn about how to live as a person doing what they want to do if I hadn’t gone there, allowing your determination and output to control the way things go - my nine and my five.
We’ve got more of Dury’s fine paintings below, but if you haven’t heard Dury’s music and are wondering what all the fuss is about, check out “Wake Up and Make Love with Me,” the opening track of New Boots and Panties!!, which in my view is simply one of the weirdest and greatest disco tracks ever released:
But you also have to see Dury in action to appreciate him. Here’s the video for “Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick,” complete with an unforgettable double sax solo!
Click on the link to see more of Dury’s youthful art…..
‘If you’ve got to ask what a Rhythm Stick is, then it may be possible you will never know the answer,’ Ian Dury tells one interviewer over the ‘phone, in this brilliant documentary from 1979. This was the first full length documentary on Dury and it captures the legendary performer’s humor, enthusiasm and sheer joy at doing what he likes best (even if it’s touring for 16 weeks, and owing more money than he earns), which all goes to making this a great pleasure to watch.
Includes performances of “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick”, “Inbetweenies”, “Blockheads”, “Clever Trevor” and “Reasons to Be Cheerful (Part 3)”.
Ian Dury wrote the song “Spasticus Autisticus” knowing it would cause trouble, and hoping it would be banned. It was written in response to the UN designating 1981 as the Year of the Disabled, as if high-lighting the ‘equalization of opportunities, rehabilitation and prevention of disabilities,’ with a motto that declared “a wheelchair in every home,” would somehow magically bring genuine equality and support where it was needed.
Dury thought the Year of the Disabled was patronizing and ‘crashingly insensitive,’ and his response was to write a song straight from the heart against the naivety and arrogance of well-meaning liberals. ‘Oh, I see, so in 1982, we’ll all be all right!’ Dury said.
‘I thought about going on tour as Spasticus and The Autistics, but [his friend, musician Ed] Speight said, “No, it should be Spasticus Autisticus - he’s the freed slave of the disabled.’
Speight was making reference to one of Dury’s favorite films Spartacus, with its famous ending where all of the slaves declare “I am Spartacus.” It was perfect for Dury and he started running lyrics together:
“I’m Spasticus! I’m Spasticus!
I’m Spasticus! I’m Spasticus!
I widdle when I piddle
‘Cos my middle is a riddle
So place your hard-earned peanuts in my tin
And thank the Creator you’re not in the state I’m in,
So long have I been upon the shelf
I must give all proceedings to myself.”
‘We kicked a few phrases around, drinking more dandelion and burdock. “I wobble when I hobble,” was one of them. We knocked out the hooks then Ian did the real artwork: “So place your hard-earned peanuts in my tin, And thank the Creator you’re not in the state I’m in.” Some of it was influenced by Lenny Bruce - the “half-man/half-woman” routine. Ian said he wanted a record that would be banned. It certainly did the trick.’
Once recorded, it didn’t take long for “Spasticus Autisticus” to be banned. The song’s irony and anger were lost on a liberal media who were only able to see offense. Worse, it seemed the BBC management had forgotten that Dury was disabled, having contracted poliomyelitis as a child - something he had discussed on camera in a BBC documentary in 1979.
Dury contracted polio after swallowing a mouthful of infected water at a lido in Southend-on-Sea. His condition had been so serious that he had not been expected to live, and spent 6 weeks isolated in a hospital ward in Truro. Against all the odds, Dury pulled through, and he convalesced for a further 18 months at a hospital in Braintree, Essex, before being sent to Chailey Heritage and Craft School.
Chailey was a former workhouse, which had been converted into a school for ‘disabled children suffering from diseases such as rickets, tuberculosis and malnutrition.’ The school had been established in 1894 by Dame Grace Kimmins, under the auspices of her charitable organization the “Guild of the Poor Brave Things” - which says much about the school.
The brutality at Chailey changed Dury. Bullying and violence were endemic, and sex abuse frequent. Dury adopted a tough Cockney demeanor, to disguise his natural intelligence and sensitivity, though it didn’t protect him from bullying or from being sexual abused by other boys.
In 1981, when the BBC led the way with its campaign against Dury, they had no idea the maverick singer and poet was disabled. The BBC behaved like the well intentioned Victorians behind the “Guild of the Poor Brave Things.” The ban had a damning affect, literally ending Dury’s successful career as a singles artist, and damaging his long-term recording career.
A few months before he died in 2000, Ian Dury performed “Spasticus Autisticus” to a ‘rapturous reception’ at the London Palladium. Twelve years on, “Spasticus Autisticus” was performed by Graeae Theater Company at the opening ceremony for the 2012 Paralympics.
Ian Dury’s “Reasons To Be Cheerful” is my idea of a fun Thanksgiving song, a lovely tune that could and should be sung just before sitting down to stuff our faces with Holiday delights.
Go ahead and write your own lyrics. I hope you have many things to be cheerful about and thankful for. I do.
A home, some food, a beautiful wife
A dog, a cat, a perfect life
And even where there’s scars and cracks
I’ve leaned to live with all of that
The things at night that make me fearful
Within the light are really cheerful
Romney, Ryan, Rove.. those rats
Have been devoured by feral cats
I see the marks of their decay
Upon the streets where children play
Thanks to the whores of Babylon
For helping me to write my songs
Without those sinners and their lies
My tongue would be unjustly tied
Which some of you might might claim indeed
Is a reason to be cheerful - 1, 2, 3.
Reasons To Be Cheerful Part 3 - Ian Dury
Some of Buddy Holly, the working folly
Good Golly Miss Molly, and boats
Hammersmith Palais, the Bolshoi Ballet
Jump back in the alley add nanny goats
18-wheeler Scammels, Domineker camels
All other mammals plus equal votes
Seeing Picadilly, Fanny Smith and Willy
Being rather silly, and porridge oats
A bit of grin and bear it, a bit of come and share it
You’re welcome we can spare it - yellow socks
To short to be haughty, too nutty to be naughty
Going on forty - no electric shocks
The juice of a carrot, the smile of the parrot
A little drop of claret, anything that rocks
Elvis and Scotty, days when I ain’t spotty
Sitting on the potty, curing smallpox
Reasons to be cheerful - 1, 2, 3
Health service glasses, gigolos and brasssies
Round or skinny bottoms
Take your mum to Paris, lighting up the chalice
Wee Willy Harris
Bantu Steven Biko, listening to Riko
Harpo, Groucho, Chico
Cheddar cheese and pickle, the Vincent motorsickle
Slap and tickle
Woody Allen, Dali, Dimitri and Pasquale
Balabalabala and Volare
Something nice to study, phoning up a buddy
Being in my nuddy
Saying okey-dokey, singalonga Smokey
Coming out of Chokey
John Coltrane’s soprano, Adi Celantano
I miss Tony Wilson. I miss the idea of Tony Wilson. Someone who had an enquiring mind and was full of intelligent enthusiasms, like Tony Wilson. And who also didn’t mind making a prat of himself when he got things wrong. Or, even right.
I met him in 2005 for a TV interview. He arrived on a summer’s day at a small studio in West London. He wore a linen suit, sandals, carried a briefcase, and his toenails were painted a rich plum color - his wife had painted them the night before, he said.
Wilson was clever, inspired and passionate about music. He talked about his latest signing, a rap band, and his plans for In the City music festival before we moved onto the Q&A in front of a camera. He could talk for England, but he was always interested in what other people were doing, what they thought, and was always always encouraging others to be their best. That’s what I miss.
You get more than an idea of that Tony Wilson in this compilation of the best of his regional tea-time TV series So It Goes. Wilson (along with Janet Street-Porter) championed Punk Rock on TV, and here he picks a Premier Division of talent:
Sex Pistols, Elvis Costello, Buzzcocks, John Cooper Clarke, Iggy Pop, Wreckless Eric, Ian Dury, Penetration, Blondie, Fall, Jam, Jordan, Devo, Tom Robinson Band, Johnny Thunder, Elvis Costello, XTC, Jonathan Richman, Nick Lowe, Siouxie & the Banshees, Cherry Vanilla & Magazine….. The tape fails there!
The uploader ConcreteBarge has left in the adverts “for historical reference” that include - “TSB, Once, Cluster, Coke is it, Roger Daltery in American Express, Ulay, Swan, Our Price, Gastrils, Cluster & Prestige”.
So, let’s get in the time machine and travel back for an hour of TV fun.
Ian Dury looked like he could have been your Dad. Well, that is if your Dad was cool enough to front a band, and write songs that stuck in the head like a needle in the groove. I suppose it was because he looked like an old geezer and sounded like a cab driver that made him look like your Dad, but in truth Ian Dury was the Poet Laureate of Rock ‘n’ Roll. The Cor-Blimey Bard of Pop Poetry, whose exuberant lyrical dexterity at writing short memorable couplets, made him one of music’s best loved and most respected writers and performers.
In 1977, it seemed everyone had or had heard a copy of New Boots and Panties!!, the album that gave Punk and New Wave its very own T S Eliot, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Edward Lear or W H Auden. We went in-and-out of class rooms reciting “Clevor Trever”:
“Just cos I ain’t never ad, no, nothing worth having
Never ever, never ever
You ain’t got no call not to think I wouldnt fall
Into thinking that I ain’t too clever
And it aint not having one thing nor another
Neither, either is it anything, whatever
And its not not knowing that there ain’t nothing showing
And I answer to the name of Trever, however.”
Or, singing “Billericay Dickie”:
“I had a love affair with Nina
In the back of my Cortina
A seasoned up hyena
could not have been more obscener.”
It made a change from singing “Sha-na-na-na-sha-na-na-bop-de-diddle-de-bop, baby.” And if there had been an O’Level in the lyrics of Ian Dury, then we all would have passed ‘A’ band one. It wasn’t just that The Blockheads’ songs were the bollocks, it was Dury, who was the most literary thing that had happened to music since Ron and Russell told us about “Khaki-colored bombardiers…” over Hiroshima, or, Vivian sang “Sport, Sport, masculine sport. Equips a young man for society.”
Here is Ian Dury and The Blockheads with ex-Dr. Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson in the line-up giving it their all and then some in Paris 1981.
01. “Wake Up (And Make Love To Me)”
02. “Sink My Boats”
03 “Delusions of Grandeur”
04. “Dance of the Crackpots”
05. “What a Waste”
06. “Hey! Hey! Take Me Away”
07. “Hit Me (With Your Rhythm Stick)”
08. “Sweet Gene Vincent’
Age may weary and death may claim, but the ears will not condemn this fine selection of essential listening from Blondie, Joe Strummer, Ian Dury, Sonic Youth, David Bowie, Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen taken from Later with Jools Holland.
01. Blondie - “Heart of Glass” from 1998
02. Joe Strummer - “London Calling” from 2000
03. Ian Dury - “Sex and Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll” from 1998
04. Sonic Youth- “Sacred Trickster” from 2009
05. David Bowie - “Ashes to Ashes” from 1999
06. Johnny Cash - “Folsom Prison Blues” from 1994
07. Leonard Cohen - “Dance me to the End of Love” from 1993
An interview with Bob Dylan dating back to when he was working on the Hollywood movie Hearts of Fire, in which Dylan played a retired rocker called Billy Parker. Hearts of Fire co-starred Rupert Everett, Ian Dury and Fiona, and was written by overblown Hollywood scriptwriter, Joe Eszterhas. The film bombed, and was sadly the last feature from director Richard Marquand (best known for Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, Jagged Edge and Eye of the Needle), who died not long after completing the film.
This interview with Dylan formed the basis for a rarely seen BBC Omnibus documentary called Getting to Dylan (1987), directed by Christopher Sykes.
In 1977 Stiff Records put together the infamous Live Stiffs tour which was comprised of some their better selling acts at the time: Elvis Costello and The Attractions, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Wreckless Eric and The New Rockets, Nick Lowe’s Last Chicken in the Shop and Larry Wallis’s Psychedelic Rowdies. There were 18 musicians in total, some doing double duty by playing in more than one band. Imagine a punk rock Rolling Thunder Revue with no budget but with a shitload of booze.
The tour was a financial bust but, by all accounts, a rollicking good time. Though, Costello later satirized the tour in his song “Pump It Up.’
Here’s the entire Live Stiffs tour film featuring all the bands on some battered video tape. It’s rare. If you find a better copy somewhere, please send it to me. This version is like experiencing ancient punk rock field recordings or the Motel 6 version of Cocksucker Blues. Rough but fun.
In the late 1970s, while Dudley Moore was off starting his career in Hollywood, Peter Cook entertained himself and a new generation of fans by hosting one of British TV’s first Punk Rock music shows, Revolver.
Produced for ATV by famed impresario, Mickey Most (best known for producing Herman’s Hermits, Suzi Quatro and Jeff Beck) Revolver had Cook introducing acts like Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Buzzcocks, The Jam, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, who all played live in front of a studio audience. There was also a twat of an in-house DJ, but the less said about him the better. Of course, there was the occasional roster of crap record company acts, but this was the 1970s, when there were only three TV channels in the UK, and the national anthem ended proceedings every night on two of them. It was a new style of program-making, chaotic, rude, funny and at times required viewing - as the BFI explains:
Revolver‘s most innovative element was designed to evoke the confrontational atmosphere associated with punk gigs. Peter Cook was invited to guest on the programme on the strength of the notorious Derek and Clive recordings, which shared with punk a kind of adolescent, deliberately puerile nihilism. In the guise of the seedy manager of the rundown nightclub rented out to the TV company, Cook would appear on a video screen, sneering at the acts and antagonising the studio audience. One guest, Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelley, recalled Cook distributing porn magazines, which he encouraged audience members to hold up during sets to put off the bands. Not surprisingly, Cook’s contribution is better remembered than that of nominal host Les Ross.
For all its punk credentials, the show’s music policy was often bewildering - appearing alongside the likes of X-Ray Spex, Ian Dury and Siouxsie and the Banshees were Kate Bush, Lindisfarne, Bonnie Tyler and the avowedly anti-punk Dire Straits.
Revolver‘s engagingly chaotic presentation makes it perhaps an ancestor of Channel 4’s controversial The Word (1990-95), but in 1978 it drew critical derision and failed to impress ITV managers. Unpromoted and buried in a late night Friday slot (ironically the exact post-pub slot in which The Word thrived), the series was starved of an audience and was pulled after just seven editions.
Bonus clips of Siouxsie and the Banshess, The Jam, and more, after the jump…
It’s no stretch to imagine Ray Winstone playing domineering authority figures, but I still remember his slim, punk-rock self costarring with Diane Lane in one of that era’s best musicals, Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains. A.K.A., the film with the forever-humbling line, “You’re just an old man living in a young girl’s world!”