Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 12 May '42, Upminster, Essex; d 27 March 2000) Singer, songwriter, bandleader. Attended Royal College of Art and became a teacher, but rock'n'roll interest was parallel to painting. His first band was Kilburn and the High Roads (after Kilburn High Road, important North London thoroughfare); these stalwarts of London pub-rock scene went through seven lineups in seven years; led by Dury, who was seriously affected by polio as a child, a wildly incongruous bunch during a time of glam- and pomp-rock (LP Wotabunch released '77, after Dury's later success). Early Dury material ('Rough Kids', 'Billy Bentley', 'Upminster Kid') set the scene for his later work. He took a year off to write with Chaz Jankel; formed band the Blockheads, launched anthemic 'Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll', then album New Boots And Panties '77 was hailed as an instant classic, also including a tribute to 'Sweet Gene Vincent', London vignettes 'Billericay Dickie', 'Plaistow Patricia'; outstanding writing with a poet's ear for unlikely rhymes and an endearing sense of humour. The band was streets ahead of the punk competition, experienced musicians celebrating pop music instead of trying to kill it. On Stiff, Dave Edmunds produced a single of veteran English music hall comic Max Wall tackling Dury's 'England's Glory'; Dury and the band were an integral part of the first Stiff tour, with Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Wreckless Eric. Hit singles in '78 saw Dury become a household name: 'What A Waste' (no. 9 UK), 'Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick' (Stiff's first no. 1). Follow-up LP Do It Yourself was written on the road and showed it compared to Panties, but worthy additions to the canon included 'Sink My Boats', 'This Is What We Find'. 'Reasons To Be Cheerful (Pt 3)' '79 was last top ten hit; Laughter '80 was a return to form, with Wilko Johnson replacing Jankel on guitar, songs such as 'Delusions Of Grandeur', 'Dance Of The Crackpots'. Dury changed labels to Polydor; debut was solo Lord Upminster '81, his 'party album', with Jankel back and an ace rhythm section of Sly and Robbie. He maintained that a couplet in 'The Body Song' -- 'The leg, a source of much delight/Which carries weight and governs height' -- was the best he ever wrote; the album also included 'Spasticus Autisticus', Dury's anthem for the Year of the Disabled, which the BBC foolishly banned as offensive: Dury wrote from personal experience. 4000 Weeks Holiday '84 was credited to Ian and the Music Students; with a melancholy, jazzy 'Man With No Face', and a tribute to his friend Peter Blake in 'Peter The Painter'. Juke Box Dury '81 was a good compilation of Stiff stuff, reissued '82 on budget label Music for Pleasure as Greatest Hits; included many of the above plus 'There Ain't Half Been Some Clever Bastards', 'Wake Up And Make Love With Me', 'In Betweenies', etc. He found it hard to match all this success but his place in UK music was secure; he re-formed original Blockheads '84 and returned to the charts with a theme for the TV adaptation of The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole, 'Profoundly In Love With Pandora' '85, again united with Jankel. He made his acting debut opposite Bob Geldof in film No. 1, had a part in Roman Polanski film Pirates, BBC TV serial King Of The Ghetto, played title role in play touring the provinces Talk Of The Devil by Mary O'Malley, jester in Channel 4 TV film Rocinante, all '85-6. He co-starred with Bob Dylan in Hearts Of Fire '87, wrote songs with Jankel for hit play Serious Money '88, then his own play Apples '89 with keyboardist/composer Mickey Gallagher. He said he considered himself to be an actor of three-minute scripts more than a singer. The re-formed Blockheads made Mr Love Pants '98 to the general rejoicing of old fans and critics.