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.
Among those who made their name on the pub rock circuit were Dr. Feelgood, Wreckless Eric, Ducks Deluxe, Brinsley Schwarz, The Stranglers, Eddie and the Hot Rods, and a young Elvis Costello. The two most popular bands were Dr. Feelgood (described as looking like villains from a cop show) and Kilburn and the High Roads.
Like most pub rock bands, the High Roads played traditional rock ‘n’ roll mixed with a selection of their own material. They were a tight band of talented musicians—mostly out of art school. Dury was still finding his style. Note how he performed with a slight American twang—and little of his trademark verbal dexterity or Cockney rhyming slang. But certainly he possessed all of his singular presence and passion.
Kilburn and the High Roads released two albums Handsome and Wotabunch!—basically the same record—and a couple of singles. By 1975, their success waned. The band split. Dury formed the spinoff Ian Dury and the Kilburns before going solo and then forming Ian Dury and The Blockheads in 1977.
This then is early Ian Dury playing with Kilburn and the High Roads in the Hope and Anchor “The Mumble Rumble and the Cocktail Rock”, and two separate clips from London TV’s The 6 O’Clock Show “Vidiot” (includes Dury’s piece on Gene Vincent) and “Rough Kids.”
Sidebar: the Kilburn’s original bassist Humphrey Ocean went onto produce art for Paul McCartney and Wings tour of America 1976. Today Ocean is one of Britain’s most respected portrait artists. Check more of his work here.