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In 1979 he shocked the nation as a club-footed, shaggy freak with his appearance on Top Of the Pops. Today, ten years after his death, Ian Dury has long been revered as a national cultural icon in Great Britain.

From: Noe Noack

Status: 04/09/2010 | archive

Ian Dury was always a total outsider. As the handicapped child of a university lecturer and a bus driver, he presented himself as a poet out of the gutter. He mobbed and spat and liked to be the mocking court jester and cynical berserker. So Ian Dury became a role model for many punks. His music, a mixture of pub rock, music hall, comedy, jazz, funk and reggae hit the nerve of the times in the late 70s and early 80s. Ian Dury was a great poet and entertainer and he also worked successfully as an actor, writer and painter until his death.

When Ian Dury was jamming with Chaz Jankel at his home in Hampstead, North London, in the summer of 1978, the pair encountered a radical, funky riff. Chaz Jankel of the Blockheads played his way into a frenzy on his Fender Rhodes keyboard and Ian Dury worked on the drums and improvised weird rhymes in raw Cockney Working Class slang:

"Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, I Don't Take Arithmetic. Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick. It's Nice To Be A Lunatic."

Ian Dury

The next day, the demo version of "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick" was made and Ian Dury and his blockheads were pretty sure that it would be a hit with it. In January 1979 the single climbed to number 1 on the UK charts, displacing "YMCA" from the Village People. Ian Dury and his band, the Blockheads, sold over a million singles. "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick" had a lot to offer: There was this loud funk, a compelling disco beat, a shot of comedy and a freak show with free jazz. And there was this aggressive singer with the rockabilly lard, a metal splint on his left leg and a hoarse Cockney voice that seldom hit a note. The forefather of the punk movement seemed to be at work here. When "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick" stormed the charts in 1979, Ian Dury was already 36 years old and broke the unwritten law: "If you are not a pop star by the age of 30, you won't become one anymore. Ian Dury had taught art for some time, founded the band Kilburn & The High Roads in 1970 and had been active with them in the pub rock scene since 1972.

In 1975 Kilburn & The High Roads released their debut album "Handsome" and the band was considered by many music critics to be the best English live band of the day. The Kilburns took no prisoners. Dave Robinson an early manager of Kilburn & The High Roads made it clear in an interview with Rolling Stone what the band is different from other pub rock bands like Dr. Feelgood, the Count Bishops or the Kursaal Flyers distinguished:

"They were a lot more theatrical and looked like a circus troupe. And it was mainly Ian Dury who did his art school thing and put on music hall theater and comedy. When I later signed him to the Stiff Little Fingers label He was toughened up, nothing could shake him. He dealt with rioters in a funny way, he didn't let anyone steal the show and he did was able to do three live sets per evening if necessary. People stayed loyal to him, regardless of whether he was playing funk, punk, jazz or reggae. "

Dave Robinson

Ian Dury was accompanied by the Blockheads on the '77 album "New Boots And Painties". Ian Dury played with many images, especially with his role as an underdog and a Cockney rebel. Sometimes he was Dickie from Billericay, sometimes the Upminster Kid. In reality he was from Harrow / West London and his mother was a university professor and came from a wealthy Irish family. Ian Dury's father was a working class bus driver and driver. At seven, Ian Dury developed polio and spent a year in the hospital in a plaster bed. His parents had already separated by then. After the tough years at the Chailey Heritage School, a strict boarding school for disabled children, Ian Dury was allowed to attend the prestigious Royal Grammar School in High Wycombe and finally the Arts College in Walthamstow.

The fictional characters Ian Durie slipped into, which he used for his protection, tells Chaz Jankel, Dury's long-time bandmate and songwriter, in interviews today:

"He had to develop a hard shell, he was physically handicapped and not up to opponents, so he used words as a weapon. Anyone who was stupid to him he checked out in a flash, found a sore point and hit verbally."

Chaz Jankel

In 1977 Ian Dury released "Sex & Drugs & Rock'n'Roll" with the blockheads, the rock'nroll anthem par excellence. The BBC put the song on the index, Radio One DJs like John Peel continued to play it and the punks in particular loved it and also bought the expensive, unidentified import singles from the European continent. Still, "Sex & Drugs & Rock'n'Roll" didn't become a hit because the record company Stiff Records soon ceased sales.

Ian Dury said of his song that it started as a mild admonition but ended as a beautiful anthem. Actually, he just wanted to make it clear that there is much more to life than just the three topics of sex & drugs & rock'n'roll. The film adaptation of Ian Dury's life started in British cinemas in January of this year under the title of the same name. Leading actor Andy Serkis, the Gollum from The Lord of the Rings, presented the film at the Berlinale. The rise from disabled pub rock underdog to chart topper. 1977, punk reigned long ago and helped the blatant outsider Ian Dury jump into the limelight. Suddenly outsiders were asked. Dury had already performed in 1973 with safety pins and razor blades on his ears and sang psychopathic songs. Ian Dury in the role of a women killer, a crippled freak and a hippie hater. He was way ahead of his time and that's why Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood noticed him. In 1974 they invited Ian Dury to their fashion store "Let It Rock" and gave him new outfits made of patent leather and leather.

And singles from their common hero Gene Vincent ran in the juke box: With his single "Sweet Gene Vincent", Ian Dury not only had a hit, but also one of the most beautiful musical bows ever. Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran were the two rock and roll legends who had shaped an entire generation through their concerts, radio and TV shows in England. And Ian Dury was the link between the generation of the rockabilly and the generation of the punk rebels. Ian Dury rebelled against his good childhood, in which he slipped into the role of proll, the rioting cockney quasimodos and spat on hippies with their peace and love ideals.

As early as 1974/75 John Lydon appeared at concerts by Ian Durys Kilburn & The High Roads. As Johnny Rotten, the Sex Pistols singer, John Lydon appeared in 1976 in the opening act of the Kilburns with safety pins, razor-blade earrings and in an aggressive freak pose, limping and with spastic movements.

"Fuck me! That's me, only 20 years younger! What is happening here, what did I just kick off?"

That's what Ian Dury is supposed to have said to Pistols manager Malcom McLaren.

John Lydon is still annoyed by Ian Dury's claim that he copied him, but in interviews such as the New Musical Express and Rolling Stone he underlines how important Ian Dury was to him:

"He had a sense of theatrics and could produce a tragic comedy with just a few words and movements. Ian Dury was so much more than just rock and roll."

John Lydon

Ian Dury and his blockheads, that was a rock'n'roll circus, a panopticon full of bizarre types and at any moment the mood could change from euphoria to aggression. Because the blockheads, the idiots, often had to suffer on tour or in the studio. Ian Dury could be a tyrant trying to manipulate his peers.

"Especially in the time when he had his huge hits, he could make your life hell. He couldn't take alcohol, it made him belligerent and drugs turned him into an arrogant asshole."

Recalls his former manager Dave Robinson.

Some of Ian Dury's long-term partners and bandmates got out of the band every now and then to relax mentally. But they kept coming back because none of them could hold a candle to Ian Dury when it comes to entertainment, energy, poetry and charisma. And when he wasn't touching beer, booze, and spliffs, Ian Dury could be sociable too.

His son Baxter, who is also a singer, points out the role played by Ian Dury's disability:

"He never showed the slightest trace of being a victim. On the contrary, because he was weaker and crippled, he always attacked immediately if he was ignored or pityed. He was like a pit bull terrier and if he barked and growled, then I jumped. "

Baxter Dury

Ian Dury 1999

But Ian Dury could also be charming and funny, even humble. He knew he was a poet, but of all things he praised his simplest and shortest text for the song "Waiting For Your Taxi" from the 1979 hit album "Do It Yourself" as his best. And it was a quick shot scrawled on the drive to the studio. Ian Dury told Alan Bangs in a 1979 interview for Sounds magazine. Plus, taxi driving was the only luxury Ian Dury indulged in.

In addition to first-class musicians. So Ian Dury was able to win the great guitarist Wilko Johnson in 1980 for the Blockheads and the album "Laughter". From the mid-80s onwards, commercial success failed to materialize and the albums became rarer. Ian Dury was traded as a discontinued model. British pop was ruled by Stock, Aitken, Waterman and their wide screen productions. New romance and androgynous appearances like Boy George ruled the charts and new music television. Ian Dury's aggressive energy, on the other hand, worked almost exclusively on stage. And his bilious jokes, as well as his tender ballads, were no longer in demand in the mid-80s. In the second half of the 80s, Ian Dury reinvented himself as a painter, actor and author. He has appeared in musicals in London's West End and has appeared in numerous cinema and television films. He appeared in supporting roles in Roman Polanski's "Pirates" and in Peter Greenaway's "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover".

Ian Dury's funeral

Ian Dury turned into a calm, polite fellow and family man. In the 90s, the outcast and underdog from the 70s was part of the British cultural establishment, going in and out of film directors and art impresarios and being invited to dinner by ministers. In 1996 Ian Dury was diagnosed with cancer. He knew he would only have three or four years left and so he worked tirelessly. Made films. Wrote books and plays. Took care of his family, settled the estate and played 90-minute live shows with the Blockheads until shortly before his death, despite severe pain. And he was committed to UNICEF as an ambassador for polio victims and visited vaccination clinics in Zambia and Sri Lanka. In 1997 he was accompanied by a 23-year-old singer who looked pretty broken and confused and had just left the boy band Take That: Robbie Williams. A huge fan and admirer of Ian Dury. Robbie Williams even knew entire songs by heart. The two got along wonderfully on this UNICEF tour. When Ian Dury lost the battle with cancer on March 27, 2000, Robbie Williams sang the Ian Dury & The Blockheads song "You're The Why" at the grave.

For the Ian Dury cover version album "Brand New Boots And Panties" Robbie Williams contributed his interpretation of "Swet Gene Vincent". Chaz Jankel, Ian Dury's old partner, is still writing songs for Robbie Williams today. So there is more that remains besides great songs by Ian Dury: The Spirit lives on! In April 2010 the excellent Ian Dury biography of Will Birch, the former drummer of the pub-rock combo Kursaal Flyers, was published.