New Boots and Panties
published: 23 /
In the latest in our 'Re : View' series, in which our writers examine albums from the past, John Clarkson looks at Ian Dury's 1977 album, 'New Boots and Panties', which has just been re-released in a 30th anniversary edition
“Arseholes, bastards, fucking cunts and pricks.”
With one line on ‘Plaistow Patricia’ from his debut solo album ‘New Boots and Panties’, Ian Dury assured himself a place in the accolades of punk rock history.
Yet, even though ‘New Boots and Panties’ came out in September 1977 a month ahead of ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ and six months after 'The Clash', Dury, a one-time art college lecturer and the former frontman with pub rockers Kilburn and the High Roads, was never really a punk. Aged then 35 and fifteen years older than most of the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Buzzcocks and the other punk bands of the era, his lyrics, an inspired combination of rhyming couplets, clever wordplay, depictions of working class life and deft character observation, owed a debt to music hall theatre. His band -the at-that-time still to-be-named - the Blockheads’ music meanwhile was a hybrid of jazz, funk, rock ‘n’ roll and disco.
The front cover of ‘New Boots and Panties’ shows Dury and his then six year old son Baxter standing outside a thrift emporium in their native London. It takes its title from the impoverished Dury’s habit of buying his clothes secondhand, and refers to the only items that he would insist on buying new.
From its opening line on ‘Wake Up and Wake Love With Me’ (“I come awake with a gift for womankind”), ‘New Boots and Panties’ is similarly risque in its humour. Yet, underneath the often crude wit, and the rough-edged pronunciation of his untrained half spoken, half sung vocals, both of which fitted in perfectly with the times, what shines through on ‘New Boots and Panties', in contrast to John Lydon, Joe Strummer and Pete Shelley’s bile and anger, is Dury’s basic geniality and a 'Warts ‘n’ All' (as he would name a later Blockheads live album) liking for people.
Much of ‘New Boots and Panties’, especially its first half, comes across as remarkably tender-hearted. ‘Wake Up and Make Love With Me’ marries a disco beat and Dury’s songwriting partner Chaz Jankel’s shimmering gusts of piano with a rather sweet tale of early morning intimacy between a long together couple. ‘Sweet Gene Vincent’ is the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll tribute, all jabbering keyboards and raucous guitars, to the ultimate rock ‘n’ roller, who had died six years before in 1971 burnt out at the age of 36 (“Young and old and gone"). ‘My Old Man’ meanwhile finds Dury, against the backdrop of a jazz funk workout from the Blockheads, paying poignant testimony to his late father, a bus driver and chauffeur.
The middle half of the album provides two of Dury’s sharpest characterizations. The protagonist of old-time vaudeville number ‘Billericay Dickie’ is a bragging blowhard of a brickie who with great gusto proceeds to provide a marathon account of his various sexual conquests, never realizing that ultimately the joke lies on him (“I’m not a common thicky/I’m Billericay Dickie/I’m doing very well”). The narrator of ‘Clevor Trever’, the album’s second cod disco number, is a much more sympathetic figure, but unfortunately, as the misspelling of the title suggests, despite his protestations to the contrary, is not really very bright at all. In a sharp twist, Dury, however, throwing himself in on the side of the underdog, sees as being even more stupid those who have bullied and made fun of Trever for being dim (“Why should I feel bad about something I ain’t had/Such stupidness is mad”).
It is really only in its last 10 minutes of its 33 minute original running time that ‘New Boots and Panties’ does anything much to garner its punk status. ‘Blockheads’ is a blood-and-guts rocker in which a hoarse-voiced Dury blasts shrapnel at the various blockheads of the title- lagered-up deadbeats, aggressive packs of office workers on a night out and various other seemingly unsavoury types-before, once again aligning himself with the common man and woman, concluding that everyone is in their own way a blockhead too. The infamous 'Plaistow Patricia', another rocker with a stuttering guitar line, screeching saxophone and bellowed vocals, tells of a "lawless brat from a council flat" and former whore who despite ultimately doing rather well for herself with a shop in the Mile End Road is never able to escape either her roots or residue heroin habit. Lastly there is 'Blackmail Man', the album's only failure, an abrasive and sadly tuneless pub rocker number in which Dury, preying on the worst fears of the racially ignorant and adopting a succession of cultural stereotypes, assumes the part of a hidden-from-sight, but ultimately loathsome and thoroughly dislikeable blackmailer ("I'm an Irish cripple/A Scottish Jew/I'm the blackmail man/ a raspberry ripple/a buckle in my shoe/I'm the blackmail man").
'New Boots and Panties', which has just been released in a 30th anniversary edition with bonus tracks and a half an hour live concert DVD filmed at Queen Mary's College in December 1977, has solidly stood up to the testimony of time. Lewd and rude perhaps but hilariously funny with it, and less political than other albums of the era, its issues are essentially timeless. Its characters-the couple who despite years together are still in love with each other ; the decent, quietly dignified driver ; the cocky womaniser ; the sensitive boy with learning difficulties and the made-good woman with the hidden past and drug problem -have as much relevance now as they did in the late 70's. By flitting together music from a variety of musicial styles which ran back decades, rather than just aligning and throwing itself in with the aggressive punk sound of the late 70's, it is also much less of a period piece than many other records of the time. Out of all the albums that came out of the fine class of '77, 'New Boots and Panties' is one of the stand-outs and and certainly its most humane.
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