Years: 1970 - 2000
Styles: New Wave, Pop Rock, Power Pop, Pub Rock, Punk Rock
Ian Dury - Drums, Vocals (in band: 1970 – 2000)
He was undoubtedly the warmest performer to emerge from the UK’s newwave scene – a poet, writer and actor given to role-playing both on screen and, most significantly, via his songs. And yet, for Ian Dury, it might never have happened.
Despite his poor health and early deprivation, Dury made many friends throughout his life due to his humour and expansive optimism. After a bout of polio left him partially paralysed at the age of seven, Dury spent several years in a home for disabled children – where he was seldom happy. But his style and talent were readily displayed, at first during the sixties in his days as an art teacher at various schools around London – a profession he’d entered after graduating from the Royal College of Art.
Dury’s first forays into music took place during this time: in 1970 he became singer with the peripatetic pub-rock band Kilburn & The High Roads, who cut albums with Pye and WEA, though were more popular as a live act. Not so the next band, Ian Dury & The Blockheads, a splendid collision of new wave, jazz, music hall and rock ‘n’ roll – with jaunty wordsmith Dury the perfect person at the helm.
With punk holding centre stage in the UK, the seemingly anomalous Blockheads somehow fitted right in, signing with one of the new wave’s coolest labels, Stiff, in 1977 – by which time Dury was already thirty-five years old. The debut single "Sex and Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll" (1977) set the stall for one of the great British albums of the era, New Boots and Panties (1978) – a scrapbook of bawdy verse, fly-by-night characters and no shortage of killer licks.
Although this represented an artistic peak for Dury, his commercial zenith was to arrive with "Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick" (1978), a UK number one at the start of the next year – and then "Reasons to be Cheerful" (1979), which wasn’t far short. Subsequent albums were inevitably patchier than New Boots, with Dury having to settle for respect as opposed to the fan worship to which he’d grown accustomed. This more middling profile provided the opportunity to air a few grievances about the treatment in the media of the disabled (of which he was one), which Dury did with some aplomb in the single "Spasticus Autisticus" (1981) – though nobody heard it, thanks to the double irony of a BBC ban.
"I don’t spend my time shaking my fist at the moon. It doesn’t make you feel any better. Fifty per cent of any battle you’re in is your spirit."
Ian Dury, in 1999
With interest in his work waning on the radio (and therefore in the charts), Ian Dury turned to acting – for which the world had already seen he possessed a natural gift – and also screen-writing. After some deserved success in this field – Dury found roles in a number of movies, including Peter Greenaway’s 1989 film The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover– he then returned in 1998 with the acclaimed album Mr Love Pants, followed by the rather less welcome news of his deteriorating physical condition.
Having become a goodwill ambassador for the disease that had crippled him as a child, Dury now revealed he had cancer of the bowel, which was fast spreading to his liver. His death in 2000 robbed the world of entertainment of a true original. Although Dury’s Cockney brogue limited his success mainly to his homeland, characters like "Billericay Dickie", "Clevor Trever" and "Plaistow Patricia" say more about Britain in the last century than much of the country’s contemporary literature.
The singer is survived by four children, including his son, Baxter, who – having featured as a boy on the cover of his father’s most famous album – had issued three well-received records of his own by 2012.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars - Jeremy Simmonds, 2nd Edition, Chicago Review Press, Incorporated, 2012, page 361 - 362
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