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Ian Dury: Spasticus Audacious
Write Dope on Pnuk part 83
(Originally written as film notes for a screening of Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll at Peterborough Film Society)
Art College, teaching and a pub rock band, Kilburn and the High Roads; these are the sometimes forgotten by-ways that lead to the Blockheads and fame for Billericay born Ian Dury. The High Roads were one of a number of rootsy rough and ready bands playing London bars that were proving to be an antidote to both glam and prog. They released an album, Handsome, in 1975. It was here that Ian could start to write songs like Rough Kids and Bill Bentley, old-fashioned rhythm and blues with a cockney twist. I would argue that if he belonged to any tradition of song writing it was the British music hall, earthy, entendre heavy and sneering at social betters. That his song England’s Glory was recorded by Max Wall should come as no surprise.
With the collapse of The High Roads Dury signed to the new Stiff Records, a label that was also to include Nick Lowe, The Adverts, The Damned, Lene Lovich, Elvis Costello, Madness and Wreckless Eric. At Stiff Dury teamed up with Chaz Jankel who moved the sound away from rock and roll towards a jazzier end of the spectrum. This wasn’t pop though as Ian’s writing maintained the down-to-earth turn of phrase that gave New Boots and Panties a deserved number 5 in the charts in October 1977, and stayed in the charts for ninety weeks. Tracks from this album include Clever Trevor and Sweet Gene Vincent.
With a backing band consolidated into The Blockheads, a heavy touring schedule was rewarded with the first hit single What a Waste in April 1978. This was followed by Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick, that got to number 1 in December 1978. The second album Do It Yourself got to number 2 in June 1979 and the single Reasons to Be Cheerful Part 3, peaked at (naturally) 3 in August.
For various reasons Chaz Jankel moved on and Wilko Johnson took his place, ex of pub rock behemoth Dr. Feelgood, though it is arguable whether he was up to the musicianship required behind Ian Dury. Summer 1980 saw I Want to Be Straight (a response to the excess of the first single Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll) reach the low-twenties in the chart, and in the winter the album Laughter managed the high-forties.
Moving to the Polydor record label saw Dury team-up with the legendary rhythm section of Sly and Robbie and the return of Chaz Jankel for the album Lord Upminster. In 1981 he released Spasticus Autisticus as his contribution towards the International Year of the Disabled. This was regarded as offensive and banned from radio, an act that must rank alongside the (alleged) banning of Robert Wyatt from Top of the Pops because, as the legend goes, the sight of someone in a wheelchair might upset viewers.
In 1983 Faber and Faber employed Ian to write the introduction to the influential poetry anthology Hard Lines. Next returned to the singles chart in 1985 with Profoundly in Love with Pandora, the theme tune to The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole. He also appeared in a couple of films, including Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. In 1989 he wrote the musical Apples, in which, when performed at the Royal Court Theatre in London, Dury played journalist Byline Brown. His last album though, released on Demon, was the 1992 The Bus Drivers Prayer and Other Stories.
In retrospect Dury ranks alongside the other top wordsmiths of the punk era, Joe Strummer, T.V. Smith, Howard Devoto, etc. as someone who was more than capable of transcending the genre and writing songs of lasting quality.
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