Ian Dury & The Blockheads


See also: KILBURN & THE HIGH-ROADS

Born: London, England, UK

Band Bio 1976-1981 / 1981-1986 / Lineups / Discography

NOTE: For a full band bio click on the images for the CD reissues of New Boots And Panties!!, Do It Yourself, Laughter and Lord Upminster, which should tell you everything you need to know. This write-up is just a brief overview concentrating mainly on the releases outlined.

Left with a withered arm and gammy leg after being riddled with polio as a child, Ian Dury was one of the very, very few handicapped people to become pop stars (Gene Vincent was a notable precedent, a fact not lost on Dury, who dedicated a song to the late rocker on his debut solo album). A former college lecturer, Dury had spent the first half of the 70's as lead singer in London pub-rock outfit Kilburn & The High Roads, but they never managed to adequately translate their live set to vinyl. By the time of punk, Dury was in his mid-forties, a middle-aged "spastic" who couldn't really sing with a track record for failing to sell records. It hardly seemed like the thing that stars were made of. Yet, Dury was a brilliant wordsmith, and in pubic he exuded a warm cheeky chappie Cockney personality that was near impossible to dislike. (Never mind that in private he could be a right bastard, as revealed in Will Rich's excellent biography of the man, and far from being a gruff Cockney he was actually a well-spoken man who was born in Harrow Weald, Middlesex.) Equally, the Blockheads were a versatile backing band with one of the greatest rhythm sections known to man, and they were signed to Stiff, the canniest label in the country. Along with The Stranglers (hardly nippers themselves) and, a little later, The Police, Dury proved to record company executives that the new wave could be marketed successfully to millions.

1976-1981

Ian DuryIan DuryIan Dury

Ian And The Kilburns - the band formed out of the ashes of Kilburn & The High Roads - split in summer 1976. The final lineup of that band featured pianist Chaz Jankel, a "nice, middle class, Jewish, suburban, boy", and they played their last show in June at Walthamstow Academy Hall with two new upcoming bands: The Stranglers and the Sex Pistols.

Jankel and Dury established a crack songwriting partnership which resulted in a plethora of Dury's most well-known and enduring early songs, which they demoed in three separate sessions in July 1976, December 1976 and February/March 1977. Dury was also made aware of the newly hatched Stiff Records, which had been set up by Dave Robinson, who had briefly managed the Kilburns, and he befriended the label's latest signee, Wreckless Eric, who had been a fan of Dury's for years. Dury's mistress Denise Roudette became Eric's bassist, Dury helped out on drums, and Dury's old bandmate Davey Payne was enlisted to play saxophone. Although Dury was not a full-time member of Eric's band, he an Denise can be heard playing on 'Semaphore Signals', which was the B-Side of Eric's classic Whole Wide World. In early '77 Stiff released a jaunty single by Max Wall, 'England's Glory', which had been written by Dury. Check it out for classic rhymes such as "Nice bit of kipper/Jack the Ripper" and "Winston Churchill, Robin Hood/Beecham's powders, Yorkshire pud". Class.

Ian Dury - New Boots And Panties!! Advert Ian Dury - New Boots And Panties!! Advert Ian Dury - New Boots And Panties!! Advert

New Boots And Panties!!, Dury's first solo LP was recorded in July '77, with musical maestro Jankel (on guitar/keyboards), and a top-notch rhythm section consisting of Norman Watt-Roy (bass) and Charlie Charles (bass), both of whom had previously played in Loving Awareness. Two former members of Kilburn And The High Roads also helped out: Davey Payne was dragged in to for some saxophone overdubs, and Ed Speight contributed "ballad guitar", whatever that is exactly. The LP was snapped up by Stiff and went on to spend ninety weeks in the UK album charts, peaking at number five. No surprise: the energy is absolutely infectious as Dury veers from obscene ('Plaistow Patricia') to ribald ('Wake Up And Make Love With Me') to sentimental ('My Old Man'), introducing the world to two of his most memorable characters, 'Clevor Trever' and 'Billericay Dickie'. Miles more musically sophisticated than the spiky sorts they shared stages with, there's still room for full-on punk ('Blackmail Man'), and 'Blockheads' inspired many a working class band with its "Oi Oi" call. Originally a ten track item, the LP was swiftly reissued on gold vinyl with the anthemic flop single Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll added, making a superb album even better. (It is worth noting that the album went virtually unnoticed in America.)

Ian Dury Walks Away With it - 1977 TourIan Dury & The Blockheads - What A Waste!

The core lineup of Dury, Jankel, Watt-Roy, Charles and Payne were augmented by keyboarist Mickey Gallagher and guitarist Johnny Tunbull, both of whom had also been in Loving Awareness, for the famous Live Stiffs Tour that October, on which the newly dubbed Ian Dury And The Blockheads went head-to-head with Elvis Costello And The Attractions, Wreckless Eric, Nick Lowe and Larry Wallis to see who was most popular. Most reports suggest it was Dury who came out on top; nobody disputes that Wallis came last. The tour was commemorated on Live Stiffs Live, which featured three Blockheads numbers and two Wreckless Eric tunes on which Dury played drums.

Dury was now a genuine star, all he needed was a hit single. Single number two, Sweet Gene Vincent, wasn't it, but What A Waste! was, reaching number nine in the UK charts in April 1978. More new wave than punk, it was still an infectious song, brilliantly played and a bit of a rave-up (although I've always felt that the vocals on the final stab at the chorus were mixed way too low.) Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick from November 1978 did even better, claiming the UK top spot in January '79, and the Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3 did almost as well the following July. 'Hit Me' was a fiendishly catchy mix of jazz, funk and new wave, with some scorching guitar work and a classic saxophone solo by Payne, who actually played two of the fuckers at the same time. 'Reasons To Be Cheerful' got slagged by some for being yet another of Dury's "list" songs, but Dury's sing-speak now make it seem like an early stab at rap. The latter two singles were also backed by two of Dury's most charming numbers, 'There Ain't Half Been Some Clever Bastards' and 'Common As Muck', both of which revel in his love of music hall and funny rhyming skills.

Ian Dury - IAN DURY Ian Dury - New Boots And Panties!! Advert Ian Dury - New Boots And Panties!! Advert

The group's second LP, Do It Yourself came out just a couple of months before 'Reasons To Be Cheerful', and catches the band having mutated into a super-slick funk/disco/rock machine, yet it still retains all of their punky bravura, particularly on the mischievous side two. The debut was a hard act to follow, and this doesn't match up, but it is an assured follow-up of considerable merit, with 'Sink My Boats' (a relaxed and quite lovely pop song) and 'Dance Of The Screamers' (extended funk-out) among their best. (It also includes their worst, the stop-start filler item 'Waiting For Your Taxi', which should have been scrapped). Although it reached number two in the UK charts its chart run was just a fraction of the debut's, and as with the debut (and all of Dury's singles) it did absolutely nothing in America. (To be fair, 'Hit Me' got to #79 on the US Dance Club Play chart.)

To promote the LP, Stiff pulled out all the stops: the Barney Bubbles-designed "wallpaper sleeve" came in ten varieties in the UK, all pulled from the Crown wallpaper catalogue. Stiff also made what Smash Hits described at the time as "lightning raids on various musicbiz places, including the Virgin record store near Marble Arch. They zoom in, cover a wall in Crown wallpaper, and zoom out again. Be warned if you hear a knock on your door and cries of Oy Oy!"

At this point, however, Jankel left to pursue an incredibly boring (but occasionally very lucrative) solo career, leaving Dury without a song-writing partner. To compensate he wrote songs with various configurations of his backing band, which now included Wilko Johnson (ex-Dr Feelgood of course) on guitar. The first of these, I Want To Be Straight came out in August 1980 and was a swell piece of goofy, punky funk which featured a brillint skittering sax solo from Payne, but but it didn't set the charts alight as did the previous three singles did.

Ian Dury - Smash Hits DecembeIan Dury & The Blockheads 1980

Their third LP was Laughter, which came and went in November 1980 to little fanfare, scraping into the Top Fifty and troubling the charts for a mere four weeks. Gone is the touch of class that made the first two discs so groovy: without Jankel the music is less inspired, sort of a routine if energetic funk/rock/pop with aggressive lyrics. Essentially a collection of daft novelty numbers Dury later admitted that laughter on 'Laughter' was forced, but I actually like this record, and suspect that many other Blockheads fans will: the last four songs on side two are either hilarious, shocking or lovely, and occasionally (as on 'Manic Depression (Jimi)' and 'Fucking Ada') all three things at once.

The sole single plucked from the LP was Sueperman's Big Sister, the odd spelling because Stiff feared a lawsuit from DC Comics. Its relative failure, stalling one place outside the UK Top 50, demonstrated how far the band had fallen from grace. In early 1981, following a fractious tour of Europe which involved out-of-control egos and squabbling, Stiff dropped Dury and Dury disbanded the Blockheads.

Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Laughter AdvertIan Dury & The Blockheads - Ian Dury and Wilko Johnson

1981-1986

Dury's next move was a reunion with Jankel, a deal with Polydor and a recording session in Jamiaca with Robbie Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar on bass and drums respectively. The reulting LP, Lord Upminster, sadly, was a duff affair, full of boring lightweight reggae and not even bolstered by interesting lyrics, redeemed only by the inclusion of Spasticus Autisticus, Dury's anthem for the Year of the Spastic, which was banned by do-gooders who missed the irony.

Ian Dury, Smash Hits, September 1981: If it ['Spasticus Autusticus'] creates any kind of feeling of bad tatse I hope it's in the mouths of people when they look away...from themelves. Anyone who winces out, well they must be the ones it was meant for. I suppose I could say the whole thing's about prejudice, but then I'd start to think I was sounding pretentious. To defend or explain a song like this sounds like a compromise in a way. It's got a beginning, a middle and an end and a lot of bollocks. That's why I thought it would be a good single. As to what it's about, I would just say it's a celebration of spirit. Spasticus isn't me. I've only got a bad leg.

The next few years were spent playing intermittent shows with the Blockheads, who had now become Dury's go-to band whenever he needed a cash injection, but in 1982 he was introduced to a young American prodigy, Michael McEvoy, and they became the new Dury/Junkel. Unfortunately, 1984's 4,000 Weeks' Holiday was even worse than 'Lord Upminster''. Despite looking almost like a hardcore punk album (black and white cover art, a stark photo of Dury with a CND sign shaved into his skinhead) it was actually full of incredibly bland airbrushed mid-paced funk, and even included a song with terrible lyrics ('Ban The Bomb'). The record also had it's fair share of contoversy, courtesy of a foul-mouthed little tune called 'Noddy Harris' aka 'Fuck Off Noddy', which Polydor refused to include on it bceause they feared a lawsuit from Enid Blyton. Like 'Lord Upminster' the album stalled outside the Top 50, and the two singles spawned from it - Really Glad You Came and Very Personal - registered not a blip, and so ended Dury's collarboration with McEvoy.

Ian Dury & The Music Students - 4,000 Weeks' HolidayIan Dury - Profoundly In Love With PandoraIan Dury 1990

Marginally more popular on the sales front was Profoundly In Love With Pandora, a Dury/Jankel tune written for the ITV series The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4, but the production is has the vapidity peculiar to the mid-80s and it;s not even all that great a song.

In 1985 there was another spirt of Blockheads activity, including a show at the Hammersmith Odeon, immortalised on the video release Hold On To Your Structure - Live At The Hammersmith Odeon...Our Favourite Venue. It's only 58 minutes long but the band is on fire, with stunning versions of 'Sweet Gene Vincent' and 'Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick', and the professional production with multi-angle cameras and stereo sound make it a fine document.

DISCOGRAPHY

Note: This discography excludes: releases in territories other than the UK or the US (with the exception of the Souled Out To Rock CD); and also "In Concert" Transcription LPs, of which there are many. There are also more "best of" CDs in addition to those listed below.

Subsequent Ian Dury albums: Apples (1989), The Busdriver's Prayer And Other Stories (1992), Mr Love Pants (1998) and the posthumous Ten More Turnips From The Tip (2002).

Singles / Albums

Ian Dury - Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll Ian Dury - New Boots And Panties!! Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Sweet Gene Vincent Ian Dury & The Blockheads - What A Waste! Ian Dury - Wake Up And Make Love To Me - US 7" 1978 (Stiff - SS1000)
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll
(7", as Ian Dury, 1977)
New Boots And Panties!!
(LP, as Ian Dury, 1977)
Sweet Gene Vincent
(7", 1977)
What A Waste!
(7"/12", 1978)
Wake Up And Make Love To Me
(7", as Ian Dury, 1978)
Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick Ian Dury And The Blockheads - Do It Yourself Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3 Ian Dury & The Blockheads - I Want To Be Straight Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Sueperman's Big Sister
Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick
(7"/12", 1978)
Do It Yourself
(LP, 1979)
Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3 (7"/12", 1979) I Want To Be Straight
(7"/12", 1980)
Sueperman's Big Sister
(7"/12", 1980)
Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Laughter Ian Dury - Spasticus Autisticus Ian Dury - Lord Upminster Ian Dury - Really Glad You Came Ian Dury & The Music Students - 4,000 Weeks' Holiday
Laughter
(LP, 1980)
Spasticus Autisticus
(7'/12", as Ian Dury, 1981)
Lord Upminster
(LP, as Ian Dury, 1981)
Really Glad You Came
(7"/12", as Ian Dury, 1983)
4,000 Weeks' Holiday
(LP, as Ian Dury & The Music Students, 1984)
Ian Dury & The Music Students - Very Personal Ian Dury - Profoundly In Love With Pandora      
Very Personal
(7"/12", as Ian Dury & The Music Students, 1984)
Profoundly In Love With Pandora
(7", as Ian Dury, 1985)
     

Selected Extraneous Releases

Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll 7", freebie Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Juke Box Dury Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Greatest Hits Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick (Remixed By Paul Hardcastle) Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll LP/CD
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll...
(7", freebie, 1977)
Juke Box Dury
(LP, 1981)
Greatest Hits
(LP, 1982)
Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick (Remixed By Paul Hardcastle)
(7"/12", 1985)
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll
(LP/CD, 1987)
Ian Dury - Souled Out To Rock Ian Dury - Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Reasons To Be Cheerful The Best Of Ian Dury Ian Dury & The Blockheads - The Very Best Of Ian Dury & The Blockheads: Reasons To Be Cheerful Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Straight From The Desk
Souled Out To Rock
(CD, as Ian Dury, 1990)
Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll: The Best Of
(CD, 1992)
Reasons To Be Cheerful
(2xCD, 1996)
The Very Best Of Ian Dury & The Blockheads: Reasons To Be Cheerful
(CD, 1999)
Straight From The Desk
(CD, 2001)
Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Sex And Drugs And Rock 'N' Roll - Greatest Hits Ian Dury - The Very Best Of Ian Dury & The Blockheads: Reasons To Be Cheerful: The Best Of Ian Dury Ian Dury - Essex Boy: An Introduction To Ian Dury Ian Dury - The Stiff Singles / The Promo Videos / The Peel Session Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Live At Rockpalast 1978
Sex And Drugs And Rock 'N' Roll - Greatest Hits
(2xCD, 2004)
Reasons To Be Cheerful: The Best Of Ian Dury
(2xCD, as Ian Dury, 2005)
Essex Boy: An Introduction To Ian Dury
(CD, as Ian Dury, 2006)
The Stiff Singles / The Promo Videos / The Peel Session (8xCDS + DVD, 2008) Live At Rockpalast 1978
(CD, 2012)
Ian Dury - The Vinyl Collection Ian Dury - The Studio Albums Collection Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Live At The Old Waldorf, San Francisco 1978    
The Vinyl Collection
(8xLP, 2014)
The Studio Albums Collection
(9xCD, 2014)
Live At The Old Waldorf, San Francisco 1978
(CD, 2017)
   

Promos

Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Musik Express / Laughter Ian Dury And The Blockheads, Sun Ra ‎– Fuck Off Noddy / Nuclear War      
Laughter
(7", flexi, 1981)
Fuck Off Noddy
(7", split with Sun Ra, 1985)
     

Bootlegs

Ian Dury - Live '78 Ian Dury - The Pub Ska EP      
Live '78
(LP)
The Pub Ska EP
(7", 2010)
     

DVDs

Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Hold On To Your Structure - Live At The Hammersmith Odeon...Our Favourite Venue Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Live At Rockpalast 1978      
Hold On To Your Structure - Live At The Hammersmith Odeon...Our Favourite Venue
(DVD, 2003)
Live At Rockpalast 1978
(DVD, 2012)
     

 

Various Artists

Excerpts From Stiffs Greatest Hits UK 7" 1977 (Stiff): Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll / Sweet Gene Vincent

Live Stiffs Live UK LP 1978 (Stiff): Wake Up And Make Love With Me / Billericay Dickie

Heroes & Cowards Italy LP 1978 (Stiff): Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

Stiff Sounds - Can't Start Dancin' UK LP 1978 (Stiff/Sounds): Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll / Razzle In My Pocket

That Summer! UK LP 1979 (Arista): Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll / What A Waste

Life In The European Theatre UK/US LP 1981 (WEA/Elektra): Reasons To Be Cheerful Part 3

NME / Rough Trade C81 UK Tape 1981 (New Musical Express/Rough Tapes): Close To Home

The Best Punk Album In The World ... Ever! 2 UK 2xCD 1996 (Circa): Sweet Gene Vincent

1-2-3-4 Punk & New Wave 1976-1979 UK 5xCD 1999 (Universal): Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

No Thanks! The '70s Punk Rebellion US 4xCD 2003 (Rhino): Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

Links

 

You can add stuff and make comments/corrections by emailing me at:

jane@punkygibbon.co.uk

COMMENTS

Back To Top