Ian Dury & The Blockheads

TrackAlbum
Billericay DickieNew Boots and Panties
Sweet Gene VincentNew Boots and Panties
Sex & Drugs & Rock & RollNew Boots and Panties
Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3 Stiff BUY 50
There Ain'’t Half Been Some Clever BastardsStiff BUY 38 (B-side)
Spasticus (Autisticus)Lord Upminster
Sueperman'’s Big SisterLaughter
What A WasteStiff BUY 27
I Want To Be StraightStiff BUY 90
Hit Me With Your Rhythm StickStiff BUY 38

spotify-logo-primary-horizontal-dark-background-rgb-sm

 

Contributor: Neil Waite

At school I was dreadful at art but I remember well one art lesson in which I was trying, unsuccessfully, to shape some clay into a pot. Opposite me ‘Big Rus’ was mumbling something under his breath – “Good Evening” and something about “Essex”. When the teacher at last left the room he explained it was a song called Billericay Dickie from an album by a man called Ian Dury, which he’d bought for its interesting cover. He went on to quote further amusing lyrics about a girl called “Nina” and “a seasoned-up hyena which couldn’t have been more obscener”. I wanted to borrow the album but his mum, after overhearing Plaistow Patricia, had taken it back to the shop.

Within a fortnight I had the album myself, and was careful not to let my mum overhear the offending track. I loved New Boots and Panties (1977) at once and it’s still in my all time top ten albums. I saw the music as punk but there was a range of styles, from the mellow My Old Man to the witty Clever Trevor or the assertive Blockheads.

The album wasn’t credited to Ian Dury & The Blockheads as they weren’t officially formed until later. It’s all brilliantly crafted songs, with a great sleeve photo showing Ian outside the Axford clothes shop in Vauxhall Bridge Road with his son Baxter (see above – and below – sadly the shop no longer exists). Dury would always buy his clothes second-hand, except for new boots and panties.

Axford 306 Vauxhall Bridge Road

This debut was his finest hour and if I’m not careful my topper-ten will be all Panties. Billericay Dickie is my favourite, tuneful and funny – typical Dury. Sweet Gene Vincent was the second single, a tribute to the singer Dury loved, “young and old and gone”. After a gentle intro it goes into a rocking tune with thrashing high notes on the piano. Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll was the first single (though not credited on the sleeve) but initially it didn’t chart and was deleted. Catchy and provocative, it became a live favourite.

Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick introduced Ian Dury to the mainstream. For many it was just a novelty song but the funky tune and playful lyric, more spoken than sung (with true Billericay diction), were pure Dury. A nimble bassline travels high and low as Ian tells foreigners to hit him “from Milan, to Yucatan … every woman, every man”. But I preferred the brilliant B-side, There Ain’t Half Been Some Clever Bastards, in which Dury makes respectful fun of the likes of Noel Coward, Einstein and Van Gogh. “He didn’t do the Mona Lisa – that was an Italian geezer!” The single reached No.1 as it deserved to.

I Want To Be Straight and What A Waste were great singles that didn’t appear on albums until vinyl went out and Do It Yourself was released on various special edition CDs. For me, Do It Yourself was a disappointment after that amazing debut. The stand-out track was Inbetweenies, but not standing out enough for a topper-ten. The cover showed Crown wallpaper designs – at least 31 sorts. Mine is perhaps the dullest, in dreary brown, and at the time this publicity stunt (for both the band and Crown) seemed more fun than the music.

Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3 was Ian back to his lyrical best. True Dury fans at school could recite all the reasons to be cheerful – “yellow socks”, “no electric shocks”, “anything that rocks”, “curing smallpox”, etc. This was the last single with the original line-up, introducing a rapping vibe which works so well.

The next album, Laughter (1980), was better and I always put this down to the addition of Dr Feelgood’s brilliant guitarist Wilko Johnson. The best track was Sueperman’s Big Sister, a stomp with string orchestra co-written by Dury and Johnson.

Spasticus (Autisticus) made the news for its controversial lyrics, but I’m rating it as music. Dury wrote it in protest at the International Year of Disabled Persons, claiming the concept was patronising. Having been disabled by polio in his youth seemed to give him a right to protest. The lyrics were too much for the BBC: “I’m Spasticus … so place your hard-earned peanuts in my tin, and thank the Creator you’re not in the state I’m in.” I have the 12” vinyl which has voices calling out “I’m Spasticus”, taking off the film scene in which all the rebel slaves claim to be Spartacus.

The next four releases, Lord Upminster (1981), 4,000 Weeks’ Holiday (1984), the stage show soundtrack Apples (1989) and The Bus Driver’s Prayer & Other Stories (1992) were uninspiring, lacking that early magic. In an interview not long before his death, Ian admitted he lost it in these years.

This brings us to the last album before Ian’s death from cancer in 2000. Mr Love Pants was not only good but it was with The Blockheads, who he hadn’t worked with for 18 years. Itinerant Child was one great song but the highlight has to be Mash It Up Harry – Ian back to form with a great tune and witty lyrics about a suburban type called Harry wanting “a bit of Wembley up his Khyber Pass” – this would have been at No.11 on my topper list.

I haven’t mentioned Ian’s first band, Kilburn and the High Roads, formed in the early 70s, but their two albums, Handsome (1975) and Wotabunch! (1977) are worth checking out. You hear the foundations being laid for the amazing New Boots and Panties.

Ian Dury & The Blockheads mean so much to me, partly because they were the first band I saw live. I was 13 and it wasn’t long after that art lesson, blown away by the excitement of it, their skilful playing and Ian’s captivating presence. Naturally, I went with ‘Big Rus’, though he must have spun a tale to his mum, as she’d have locked him in if she’d known it was a concert by that rude singer.

 

Ian Dury official website

The Blockheads official website

Ian Dury – a fan’s tribute site

Ian Dury biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #304

6 Comments

  1. Simon Sadler
    Jun 21, 2014

    Great selection. You’re quite right that you could just as easily pick all of New Boots – Wake Up, Clever Trevor, My Old Man…all classics. Do It Yourself was one of the first albums I ever bought and I was always a bit disappointed with it, so I never bothered with the later albums. Might have to revisit one or two off the back of this.

  2. Andrew Shields
    Jun 22, 2014

    Neil, thanks for this great list… Saw Dury at the Castlebar Festival in 1981 and it still stands out as one of the greatest gigs I have ever seen. Can still remember the magnificent version of ‘Sweet Gene Vincent’ that he did that day… Agree that ‘Do It Yourself’ is disappointing overall, but have always had a soft spot for ‘Lullaby for Franc(i/e)s’ which displays Dury’s mellow side to very good effect…

  3. David Lewis
    Jun 22, 2014

    The Blockheads rank as high as any of the great ‘backing’ bands: The Hawks, Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, The E-Street band, the Dap-Kings, The TCBs… not just great songs, great performances of great songs. thoroughly enjoyed the list and the article.

  4. P E Mills
    Jun 22, 2014

    One of the first albums I ever bought and played with my mum! I was so naive I didn’t pick up on some of the meanings of the lyrics and I don’t think my mum did either? Ha ha! I was at art college in Newport Gwent, at the time and one lunch time I was …

  5. Keith Shackleton
    Jun 23, 2014

    Spot on again, I’m happy you’ve got Sueperman’s Big Sister in the list and you’re checking Mr. Love Pants, which is a pretty nifty record. I’m sure I’m stating the obvious by saying Dury fans will enjoy young Baxter’s Happy Soup album, if they haven’t already, which is a real chip off the old block.

  6. Peter Viney
    Jun 23, 2014

    Mention must be made of the Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll biopic too. Great selection … it mirrors mine almost exactly. Obviously, New Boots & Panties is an “unsplittable” album with every song essential. I recall decorating a bedroom for the birth of our second child, my daughter, and having it on non-stop for a week on cassette … I’d taken a week off work. I listened to nothing else the whole time. It is heavily imprinted and often quoted. Like most, Do It Yourself came as a mild disappointment. Clevor Trevor essential though.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

↓