Today would have been Ian Dury’s 75th Birthday
By the time Ian Dury was wielding his rhythm stick and giving the big time a hell of a beating, he was no spring chicken. Born in Harrow, West London (WEST?!!) on 12th May, 1942, he was firmly in the Beatles, Who and Rolling Stones baby-boomer cohort, rather than Generation X1 with whom he’s often associated. In fact, he was born before Jagger, Townshend and McCartney. Biding his time while the 60s’ Beat Group fad burned itself out, he spent the whole of that decade learning, and later teaching, illustration. Very much in the Pop Art style, I’d love to find one of these in my laundry basket…
Only after the death, in 1971, of his hero, Gene Vincent, did Dury seriously consider playing the fool in a six-piece band. And even then it wasn’t that serious. His band, Kilburn and the High Roads, was cobbled together from a few of his Canterbury School of Art students and became central to the mid-1970’s Pub Rock scene. Ian was one of the few (along with Elvis Costello and Joe Strummer) to successfully make the jump from that scene to the “New Wave” — a feat that many of his contemporaries, like Eddie and the Hot Rods, failed to manage. Even the Stranglers, despite success, were never regarded as ‘authentic’. But somehow Dury, although long past his teenage sell-by date, fitted in seamlessly. He never claimed to be a ‘punk’ and never denied he was old enough to be the dad of many of his fans. But nobody cared.
Fellow pub-rockers, Dr Feelgood, knowing they were the kings of the London/Essex R&B scene, never felt the need to make that leap. But it’s important to remember that the Feelgood’s Lee Brilleaux helped fund Stiff Records. And it was Stiff that bridged the gap between Pub Rock and Punk and propelled Dury — now with a new band, the Blockheads — to fame. The Blockheads were (are) accomplished musicians; funky, jazzy, unafraid to use a synthesiser and completely un-punk. Again, nobody cared.
The Rest — as lazy writers who have reached their word-count say — Is History. Everything else is well documented. His polio. His work with UNICEF. His ‘controversial’ reaction to the International Year of Disabled Persons. His art. His acting. His storytelling. His memorial bench. His time as a ticket man at Fulham railway station. We all loved his Max Miller “one from the blue book” persona even though, as was made plain in the 2010 biographical film, he could be a difficult character. So, yes, after all is said and done, he was probably a blockhead too. But despite his faults and his numerous uncommon qualities we still felt he was “one of us”.