Kilburn and the High Roads
Ian Dury by Peter Blake.
Picture the scene. Here’s Malcolm McLaren revelling in his role as the pre-eminent tousled-haired punk impresario. He’s busy reinventing himself as Fagin to a band of snotty-nosed street urchins—The Sex Pistols. They’re going to change the world. Bring down the establishment. Create a level playing field. Music will never be the same again. It’s all bubbling through his head like a soap commercial. But first he must teach this band of young punk rockers all about stage presence.
McLaren took the Pistols to a local bar—let’s say it was the Tally Ho or the Hope and Anchor, although really it could have been anyone of the many venues favored by pub rock bands at the time. Inside, McLaren and co. squeeze among the crowd unnoticed, up by the side where they watch the band onstage. Out of them all, it’s Johnny Rotten who is taking the most interest—particularly in the lead singer—a man called Ian Dury.
He notes the way Dury stands—stooped over the microphone counterbalancing his club foot and withered arm—the result of childhood polio. He notes the way Dury spits out the words—glaring at the audience. Dury’s dressed like a music hall act—thrift store clothes, drainpipe trousers, Paisley scarf and a razor blade earring. Give it a month and Rotten has taken some of Dury’s style as his own—even down to the razor blade earring.
The band McLaren and his ruffian charges watched that night was Ian Dury and the Kilburns—the spinoff band from the better known and more influential Kilburn and the High Roads. Kilburn and the High Roads was a ragtag band of musicians, art students and misfits: Ian Dury (vocals), Keith Lucas (guitar), Humphrey Ocean (bass), Rod Melvin (keys), David Newton-Roboman (drums) and Davey Payne (saxophone).
Formed in 1970, Kilburn and the High Roads was one of the most popular bands on the pub rock circuit that flourished in London and its environs during the 1970s.
Pub rock wasn’t for novelty acts or hopeful amateurs—despite how snide music journalists used the term in the 1990s to denigrate bands like Oasis. Pub rock was music played by serious musicians who just wanted to play their music to an audience—any audience.
Let’s also remember that there were not all that many venues where bands could play back in seventies Britain. The ones that were available were usually booked-up months in advance by headline acts. It was therefore bars like the Hope and Anchor, the Tally Ho and Dingwalls—small venues, crammed with sweaty, boozed-up young men and women out for a good time—that offered bands a place to play.
The great Ian Dury performing with Kilburn and the High Roads, after the jump…