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With a new box set out on both CD and vinyl which collects all eight of Ian Dury's albums, Tony Gaughan looks back on Dury and his band the Blockheads' extraordinary career
‘The Studio Albums Collection’ is a comprehensive collection of the studio albums of the iconic and revered London street poet, Ian Dury (and his band the Blockheads). It comes in both an eight album vinyl and a nine album CD edition, the latter featuring an extra CD of singles and their B-sides.
Dury must have known he'd never eclipse his 1977 debut album, ‘New Boots and Panties’, as this staple ”must have” of any collection is really impossible to beat. From its opener 'Wake Up and Make Love to Me' to the phenomenally furious closer 'Blackmail Man', it combines wonderful lyrics and a musicianship that can only be described as unbeatable. Bassist Norman Watt-Roy and drummer Charley Charles are as great a rhythm system you will get, while multi-instrumentalist and Dury’s main songwriting partner Chaz Jankel provides both guitars and keyboards.
The band, who were soon joined for live work by the other Blockheads, John Turnbull (guitar), Mick Gallagher (keyboards) and Davey Payne (saxophone), were tagged initially as being a 'pub rock’ act, because they cut their first musical teeth on the pub rock circuit. Dr Feelgood, Squeeze, Joe Jackson and the Police were all also tagged with this, and, like Ian Dury and the Blockheads, went on to sell countless millions of sales worldwide.
‘New Boots and Panties’ has inspired many artists over the years and still does to this day. With other tracks including his tribute track to 50's rockabilly legend 'Sweet Gene Vincent' to the sublime 'Blockheads', it was by a distance the finest period of the band.
The group went on to further success with the million-selling 1979 number one hit, ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’. Having the enormity of following this up, Dury released another two albums with the Blockheads.
Dury’s 1979 second album, 'Do It Yourself', had the gimmick of having twelve different wallpaper covers, inspired by artist Barney Bubbles (who was also responsible for the iconic Blockheads logo.) As was policy with Dury on his early releases and as was also the case with ‘New Boots and Panties’, there were no singles taken from ‘Do It Yourself’ but it still managed to achieve platinum status.
Ian Dury and the Blockheads’ third studio album ‘Laughter’ was a far more difficult task to record and listen to and much darker than its predecessors in tone. Ian was drinking heavily and Jankel had left the band. It did, however, have the redeeming factor of the single ‘Sueperman's Big Sister’ and the manic closing number 'Fucking Ada'.
From that moment the Blockheads were over and Dury went out under his own name, bringing in collaborators.
He produced another four solo records, starting with 1981’s 'Lord Upminster' which featured the banned single 'Spasticus Autisticus'. It was written in protest against the media’s portrayal of disabled people and after it was announced that 1981 was the International Year of Disabled Persons. Dury, who had been crippled with childhood polio at just seven years old, took great offence at this as he considered all this patronising, but the single was banned by the BBC.
1984’s '4000 Weeks Holiday' saw Dury write and perform with a group of young music students, after being encouraged by his label Polydor Records to do so. It was largely a flop, but did have one fine track 'Peter the Painter' which paid tribute to the artist Peter Blake. Its 1989 follow-up 'Apples' , the soundtrack to a short-lived musical that Dury had written with the Blockheads’ Mick Gallagher, was largely forgettable bar the fleeting appearance of his old stiff label mate Wreckless Eric on 'PC Honey' .
1992’s ‘The Bus Driver’s Prayer and Other Stories’ found Ian experimenting with a drum machine, and, while again not a classic album, saw appearances, although they didn’t always play on the same tracks from most of the Blockheads other than Charley Charles who had died two years before and Norman Watt-Roy.
Dury’s 1998 final album 'Mr. Love Pants' saw Ian reunite permanently with his Blockheads, and the end result was the best release since the unbeatable debut of 'New Boots and Panties', featuring some great lyrical and musical content including the wonderful 'Mash It Up Harry' and also the infectious Itinerant Child .
Dury died of metastatic colorectal cancer on 27 March 2000, aged 57. An inspiration to many, like he did with Gene Vincent, following this marathon indulgence all there is left to do is “mourn his decline with some thunderbird wine and a black handkerchief.”