published: 21 /
In this archive interview from 1992, Nick Dent-Robinson goes out for lunch with the late Ian Dury at The Savoy in London
Nick Dent-Robinson joins Ian Dury, lyricist, singer and actor, for lunch at Ian's choice of restaurant - in the Savoy Hotel, London.
Divorced, 50 and father of two children, Ian Dury is not known for sartorial sophistication. But he had dressed up especially for this occasion. He's sporting a dark shirt embossed with the yellow ‘Dirty Duck’ logo of one of his favourite pubs (“The only shirt with a collar I’ve got in the world, mate...but I thought I'd put it on for the Savoy!”), complemented by a tastefully striped tie (permanently 'borrowed' from the wardrobe department of London Weekend Television, for whom he presents the arts programme 'Metro'), plus a traditional brown tweed sports jacket. “Cheers, mate”, he said in best cockney, clinking our newly served glasses of champagne while studying the menu. “Coquilles? What’s that, then? And, here, ’omard duck, is that? Blimey! I like it all. But this bloody tie, it's killing me,” he added, loosening it. At that moment, a woman at the next table unexpectedly dropped her bread roll. “Thought it was your earring falling out for a moment, luv,” Ian Dury joked. She ignored him and he ordered foie gras (“The pâté, please, mate”) and sole meuniѐre.
From the beginning of May, Ian Dury’s latest lyrics can be heard in a 351-year old play,'A Jovial Crew', performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-on-Avon – “Smashing people. And wonderfully down to earth. You don’t get MGM-type payments, but you get a hundred times better quality with the RSC folks. I’m frustrated I won’t be singing the songs myself, but I’m a terrible singer, you know. I’m ashamed sometimes and I wince when I’m trying to sing a pretty bit. I’m also a dreadful actor, but I reckon I’m good at writing lyrics.”
Ian Dury is an unlikely pop singer. Disabled by polio since seven, he is not interested in money and is highly articulate in a street-wise way. At first he went to the Royal College of Art, with plans to become a painter.
“I wasn’t very good when I came out of college, spent 12 years not earning a crust, so I started doing music as a joke. I thought of a name first - Kilburn and the High Roads (later changed to The Blockheads) - and then got a band together after.”
In fact, this is an over-simplification, for Dury was never actually penniless and was a successful and highly regarded art teacher at a number of North London schools in the late 1960s and early 1970s, eventually becoming Head of the Art Department at a comprehensive school in Hornsey. According to some former colleagues in the teaching profession, he was fairly hesitant about abandoning the security of a promising teaching career in 1976 to throw in his lot with the post-punk generation (most of whom were at least fifteen years his junior) in the world of rock music. In 1977 he released the post-punk anthem, 'Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll' (“I wish I had a quid for every time that title was used afterwards”), followed in 1978 by 'Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick'. Then, in 1984, he released his all-time favourite 'Spasticus Autisticus' which was banned because it was considered in such bad taste…it included the immortal line, “I dribble when I nibble”.
“I had a burning desire to be famous, but only so I could get my mum somewhere to live. I used to joke on stage,‘Tommy Steele and Marty Wilde bought their mums a house. My mother’s still living down Barking Creek in a prefab. So buy this record.’ It was a proud moment when I got her a gaff, my reward for being a pop personality. It burnt out the flame of ambition. If you are famous, you have got no life at all, a few friends, loads of money, and what? When everything is available, abstinence becomes a kind of drug. I only wanted two things for myself ever - somewhere to live, slightly better than a squat, so I could have a good kip and look out of the window, and never have to have my phone cut off again. That was crucial...the equivalent to me of being really rich. I think telephones, travel and food should be free in this life. I’m an idealist, probably very naïve indeed, but at least I never do charity things. Never ever. Red Nose Day, telethons, the Band Aid crap, they are squirm-making to me. I don’t want to be a recipient of charity and I am not good enough to give. It should all be done by the government. We pay enough taxes – don’t we?”
Although Ian Dury presents 'Metro' “out of a sense of duty to my bank manager,” he is suspicious of television. “It is a second-rate medium, which soaks you in, wears down your critical fibres and stops people going out. I can’t stand chat-show presenters - whether it’s Wogan or ‘Woss’,
even though they are only doing their gig, and I’ve become a bit of one myself. I’m frightened of liking television because I am really a rock and roller and expected to be myself, you know, with none of that bullshit.”
At one time, Ian Dury said, he had worried about drinking, another occupational hazard of his trade. “I have had the occasional arrest for abusive behaviour. Then there was an occasion when I had a major fight in a restaurant - at the Ritz actually, with big Omar (Sharif). It was silly. Very silly. Basically, I called him a name and he chinned me. He didn’t realise that I was disabled, I don’t think, not that I would have expected that to have stopped him anyway. I don’t really blame him. A lot of my friends have hit me, often. And I usually deserve it because I am out of order. I don’t hold it against anyone - not ever. I get lippy, too frisky."
“Dessert? Why not? Have you got Crêpe Suzette?” he suddenly asked the waiter – “You know, set fire to it and all that caper!”
Suddenly Ian Dury detected a cockney accent from a nearby table and asked the diners there if they were having a good time. They smiled and nodded indulgently and Ian Dury turned back to me and observed, “This place is what you call an anachronism, isn't it, mate? A wonderful tradition. But a total time warp thing. And yet we know it is decadent, don’t we? It is wrong even to be in here at all, really. You know it, I know it. But sod it. Let’s have another glass of wine. Go for it. That’s my motto. You’ve just got to go for it, in this life. And never give a bugger."
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