Saturday, 4 December 2010

'Ian Speaks' - from the gob of Ian Dury #5

Unpublished gems from the gob of Ian Dury #5. Photo: courtesy of Chris Gabrin

“You’ve got three distinct factions with the Blockheads. You’ve got the Loving Awareness boys, Charley, Norman, Mickey and Johnny, who were a group already. You’ve got Chaz. And you’ve got me and Davey, who were in the Kilburns. There’s a cross-fertilisation of friendships and working relationships. I first invited Davey on stage at Rochester School of Art, the second gig the Kilburns ever did, he was there hanging about. The freedom in his playing has got nothing to do with where Chaz is coming from, so you’ve got different sources. Norman has been on the road since he was 13. Mickey was standby organ player with the Animals when he was 17. They’re steeped in doing it, been in thousands of groups.  What I always found to be miraculous was their attitude. They’d been burnt I don’t know how many times and they still came up for more. When I look at Norman on stage… he plays with Wilko and plays Charlie Parker solos all night! Johnny Turnbull never holds back, his commitment is there, he’s there because he wants to be there. I find that inspiring. Whatever tributaries I may have wandered down, if I write good songs I want them to be with the Blockheads.”

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Tuesday, 2 November 2010

'Ian Speaks' - from the gob of Ian Dury #4

Unpublished gems from the gob of Ian Dury #4. Photo: courtesy of Ed Baxter

“Being older didn’t seem any kind of drawback. At 31 I was quite fond of myself, with what I looked like, I was quite confident about the glamour quotient. I was quite a cocky dick on stage, fearless. In a way, that came across. It’s not until you’re about 36 or 37 that age does begin to creep across your boat race. I’d been teaching and Keith said, ‘How old are you Ian?’ I must have been 27. He said, ‘Ooh, your skin goes like pastry over 25!’ He’d have been about 21 or 22. Plus we were well aware we had a couple of good looking boys in the band. Keith… as long as you cover the spectrum, a couple of loopies and a couple of crackers, you’re alright. I knew I was old, but I didn’t feel it. Charlie Watts is older than me, I’ve known him since 1964. I’m younger than Ringo and I’m younger than Bill, so I’m the youngest on the bill!”

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Thursday, 7 October 2010

'Ian Speaks' - from the gob of Ian Dury #3

Unpublished gems from the gob of Ian Dury #3. Photo: courtesy of Chris Gabrin

“Fred Rowe at the Torrington… I was singing and I saw a brandy glass come flying through the air. Smash! It bounced off me and hit the drummer. Fred’s talking to a girl with large bosoms and didn’t notice it. I said, ‘Fred, a geezer’s just thrown a glass, get up the back, when he moves he’s yours.’ When the number finished I said, ‘I get paid to stand here like a cunt, who threw the glass? Whoever it was better go home now. You all know who he was, send him packing.’ The geezer moved and Fred said ‘Gotcha…’ ”

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Wednesday, 15 September 2010

'Ian Speaks' - from the gob of Ian Dury #2

Unpublished gems from the gob of Ian Dury #2

“When I was at the Royal College of Art there was a bloke in the graphics department who had this book about the Nazis. The back third was sealed with a warning. I wanted to burn the book. I didn’t want it to exist, to be in the world. If you show that image to somebody it will be burnt into their mind for the rest of their life. What good does that do? I’ve got a friend who has to stay out the way a little bit because of his paintings and he had a book called ‘The Encyclopaedia of Sexual Perversions’. It was German, printed in the thirties. There was some innocuous stuff in it, but one photograph of a geezer hanging from a washing line by his bollocks, which were stretched by about two foot. When you turned the book upside down, he had a big smile on his face. Masochism. The book was full of it. I’m glad I’m clean. I don’t want to be tainted by that stuff. Another book, ‘The Encyclopaedia of Murder’ by a bloke called Colin Wilson. There was a bloke in it called Albert Fish who ate kids with sugar. I can’t handle it, I’m a na├»ve little prat from Upminster.”

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Monday, 30 August 2010

'Ian Speaks' - from the gob of Ian Dury #1

Unpublished gems from the gob of Ian Dury #1. Photo: courtesy of Kees Bakker

"I got invited by Lord Gowrie to be a rock’n’roll… there was me, Pete Townshend and Bob Geldof. They knew the three of us had read a book. We were in the Arts Minister’s office for lunch… I thought, ‘Fuck me what am I doing here?’ Somebody came up to Bob and said, ‘Why don’t you invite Ian and Pete to be on your [charity] record?’ I would have done it, but he never asked me. Bob said, ‘These two haven’t had a hit record for 15 years.’ I couldn’t argue with him. I’m quite glad I didn’t do Live Aid and very glad I didn’t do anything that’s happened subsequently. I don’t actually believe that’s what it’s all about."

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Friday, 16 July 2010

A tale of two books

No one biographer has the exclusive right to his or her subject. The field is always wide open for anyone to tell the story of… in this case, the late great Ian Dury. ‘The Definitive Biography’ – the third full-length Dury book to come out – was published six months ago and has enjoyed healthy sales and good reviews. In 2004, Jim Drury gave us ‘Ian Dury and the Blockheads: Song by Song’, whilst the first book about Ian – ‘Sex & Drugs & Rock’n’Roll’, by Richard Balls, came out 10 years ago, shortly after Ian’s death. All three books are, in my humble opinion, worthy accounts of Ian’s life, but differ in many respects. It is not for me to compare the qualities or otherwise of each book and I relate the following story for amusement purposes only.

When ‘The Definitive Biography’ was announced (it was my publisher’s title by the way), the news reached ‘Sex & Drugs’ author Richard Balls. Apparently, Richard was so incensed by the title that he complained to his publisher, Omnibus, whose commissioning editor, Chris Charlesworth, posted a blog on Rock’s Back Pages in December 2009. You may care to read Chris’s blog and some of the subsequent comments (scroll down to ‘Ian Dury Biography’):

Chris, who hadn’t actually read my book when he composed his missive, rightly defended Richard’s book and trumpeted its merits, but cast doubt over whether ‘Definitive’ could possibly live up to its claim, because Richard, Chris suggested, had done all the Dury research that could possibly be done, implying there was no need for another tome on the subject. ‘Richard’s book was… and remains definitive.’


Actually, I chose not to rise to the bait. I simply began to spread the word about the imminent release of ‘The Definitive…’ utilising Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc (which is all part of an author’s duties in the modern age). Suddenly, after a hiatus of several years, there was a rash of positive reviews on Amazon for Richard Balls’ book. These were from such reliable sources as ‘EM’ and ‘MT’. The latter wrote: ‘this [Balls' book] is THE definitive book on Ian Dury’ – even before ‘The Definitive…’ had been published! One Amazon customer, the mysterious ‘DCD’, even stated: ‘I won't review this book [‘The Definitive…’] as I haven't read it and have no intention of doing so.’

So there!

That’s it really, except to relate that I bumped into Chris Charlesworth this week at a book launch for Zoe Street Howe’s ‘How’s Your Dad?’ Chris was sort of apologetic about his rant on Rock’s Back Pages and wanted ‘to clear the air’. It was Balls, he said, who had voiced his annoyance (over ‘The Definitive…’) and this was what prompted him to post the objection. Chris was also complimentary about ‘The Definitive…’ saying, ‘from the bits I’ve read it’s a damn good read.’

Richard Balls (or 'Ball' as he now styles himself) gave us a book that was well-researched and I admit that I scoured it for clues when writing my own book, ‘as you do’. For the record however, ‘The Definitive…’ offers many exclusive and direct quotes from Ian Dury himself, taken from numerous first hand interviews I conducted (sadly, Balls was unable to interview Ian); it also contains details of Ian’s father’s family background (in contrast to Balls: ‘information about [Bill’s] family background is thin on the ground’); it features a family tree that I researched and drew up, going back five generations; it quotes numerous extracts from letters written by Ian to his muse Roberta Bayley, and includes an interview I conducted with Kilburns’ guitarist Keith Lucas, who until now has remained tight-lipped about his dramatic bust-up with Ian. There are also 35 previously unseen or rare photographs and a beautiful jacket illustration by Sir Peter Blake.

My advice?

Read both!

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Wednesday, 12 May 2010

12 May: Happy Birthday Ian Dury

In 1941, Peggy fell pregnant for the second time and at 9 a.m. on Tuesday 12 May 1942 gave birth, at home, to a healthy baby boy. Peggy had bought a three-year diary in anticipation of the momentous event, and her entry for the day of birth reads: 'Weight 7lb 6ozs - marked by forceps - slight facial paralysis - Tuesday's child.' Within forty-eight hours, the proud parents registered the birth at Hendon Registry Office and, incorporating Bill's mother's maiden name, called their son Ian Robins Dury.

'I was conceived at the back of the Ritz and born at the height of the blitz,' Ian quipped some fifty-three years later when we met to discuss, amongst other things, his early years. It was a typically colourful couplet to describe his world debut. He went on: 'My mum was a health visitor, and her sister was a doctor, and her other sister an education officer. My dad was a bus driver. He was bright, but he wasn't educated. He left school at thirteen. He came from a long line of bus drivers, as they say. They were proud of it.'

Photograph - Ian aged 3 - courtesy of Jemima Dury

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Ian Dury: a reading at Southend Library, May 19

I'm off to Southend Central Library on the evening of Wednesday 19 May. They have asked me to read some passages from 'Ian Dury: The Definitive Biography.' I'm currently thumbing though the chapters looking for suitable extracts, maybe with a bit of local colour, but trying to avoid the colourful language - there might be 'librarians' present. It's not easy - every other quote seems to contain an f-word or a c-word, but I haven't hesitated in quoting them at other readings and they usually get a laugh. I'm told there will be 'refreshments' and a Q&A session at the end. They will be selling copies of the book and of course I'll be happy to sign.
The poster above contains ticket details. Hope you can make it, and no arseholes or bastards please. F... C... and P.... are of course welcome.

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Thursday, 4 March 2010

Ian Dury 12 May 1942 - 27 March 2000

Remembering Ian, 10 years on...

Q Magazine – obituary by Andrew Collins

‘Slightly surreal in death, as in life, Ian Dury shared obituary space in the newspapers with Dr Alex Comfort who wrote The Joy Of Sex’… in Will Birch’s recent account of the pub rock years, No Sleep Till Canvey Island, he concludes that Ian Dury “reaffirmed the spirit of rock’n’roll, and the belief that the underdog could somehow make a mark.” A fitting epitaph, though written before cancer finally bowed him… even [Dave] Robinson couldn’t have predicted that Dury’s death would be an item on Newsnight, front-page news, and cause Radio 4 to re-broadcast his Desert Island Discs… Ian Dury – the poet, the clown, the showman.’

Two years earlier, Ian had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. The tabloids got hold of the story and reporters gathered on his Hampstead doorstep. Ian’s response was to call up two respected journalists he knew, Neil Spencer at The Observer and Janie Lawrence at the Independent and give them the story in an attempt to thwart the tabloids.

Ian: “I told my mate who had come with me, ‘I’ve been diagnosed old son’.”


The Independent on Sunday 10 May 1998 – article by Janie Lawrence

Despite the setback, Ian and the Blockheads completed their new album - Mr Love Pants - their first studio recording in 16 years. ‘What joy to welcome Ian Dury & the Blockheads back into the fold’, wrote David Sinclair in The Times, describing the songs as ‘rich in comic narrative… [with] discreet musical flair and simple human warmth’.

The Times 26 June 1998

21 months later…

The news of Ian’s death broke on the morning of 27 March 2000, making the front pages of most of the national newspapers the following day. In the Daily Telegraph, Neil McCormick wrote: ‘Any list of reasons to be cheerful about British music of the past three decades would have to include Ian Dury, whose always witty, usually exuberant and frequently moving amalgamation of music hall and rock’n’roll made him one of its most unusual and inspirational figures.’

Daily Telegraph 28 March 2000

Obituaries appeared in the broadsheets, many of which incorrectly gave Ian’s birthplace as Upminster, underlining how readily he was identified with the wilds of Essex and a myth of his own making, alongside his cockney persona and underworld dabbling. But despite the minor biographical inaccuracy, all paid tribute to his remarkable lyrics and onstage magnetism and agreed it was a life lived to the full.

The Times 28 March 2000

Ian’s funeral took place on 5 April. ‘We’re gonna have it proper,’ Ian told his friend Jock Scot some weeks earlier. ‘I want the horses with the plumes and the glass-sided carriage.’ Ian got his wish and the traditional funeral cortege turned heads and stopped traffic as it made its way to Golders Green crematorium where the service was conducted by Annette Furley of the British Humanist Association. Mourners included Madness, Mo Mowlam and Robbie Williams.

Evening Standard 5 April 2000

That evening a wake, described on the invitation as an ‘after show party’, took place at the Forum in Kentish Town. Ian wanted ‘an Irish-style wake where everyone gets together and gets pissed.’ That was more-or-less the case, but it was a hugely emotional event with the Blockheads providing the music and guest vocalists including Wreckless Eric, Humphrey Ocean, Baxter Dury and Ronnie Carroll.

'After Show Party'

Read more in ‘Ian Dury: The Definitive Biography’ by Will Birch (Sidgwick & Jackson)

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Ian Dury book launch in Soho


All photographs (except where indicated) by Terry Lott

I couldn't tell it better than Uncut's Allan Jones, guest at my launch party to celebrate the publication of 'Ian Dury: The Definitive Biography' (Sidgwick and Jackson). Here is what Allan wrote in his Uncut blog:

"You won't often find me quaffing swanky red wine at posh West End watering-holes like the Groucho Club. So thanks to author Will Birch for inviting me last week to the launch party for his terrific new book, Ian Dury: The Definitive Biography, which I'm happy to say more than lives up to its title.

"As I kind of expected, there were a lot of familiar faces at the bash, more than a few of them in some way connected, way back, with Dury, whose legendary irascibility seemed to be a hot topic of conversation between them, and most of them with a story about falling out at some point with him. Among them: Rod Melvin, Ian's song-writing partner in the later line-ups of Kilburn and The High Roads (they co-wrote "What A Waste", later recorded by Ian with The Blockheads). Rod rather sportingly turned up to provide a classy turn on piano as the other guests mingled and reminisced.

Mr Rod Melvin at the pianoforte

"Also there: artist Humphrey Ocean, who played bass, after a fashion, in the early Kilburns, Chaz Jankel, who co-wrote most of the great Blockheads' songs, photographer Chris Gabrin, who shot the cover of New Boots And Panties!! and Fred 'Spider' Rowe, who for years was Dury's unofficial 'minder'.

Humphrey Ocean, Will Birch and Andrew King

"Spider's strangely missing from the new Dury biopic, sex and drugs and rock and roll, but he and Dury were for a long time inseparable. Like a lot of people who were close to Dury before his success with The Blockheads - and then the quick vanishing of it - turned him into something of a monster, Spider eventually fell foul of Ian's notorious temper and walked out on him after a massive row.

Paul Bradshaw and Fred 'Spider' Rowe

"Nick Lowe was there, too, looking extremely dapper, glass in hand, and in the kind of conversation it would have been nigh on impossible to imagine having with him in his hell-raising heyday 30 years ago, when I was more often in his company, he was very amusing about the joys of late fatherhood. "I take him to school," he said touchingly of his son, now five, and running a hand through a shock of white hair, "and people think I'm his grandfather. The good thing, though, about having a kid at my advanced age is that when he turns into a troublesome teenager, I'll be too senile to care."

Peta Waddington, Nick Lowe and Will Birch

"Former Stiff supremo Dave Robinson hove into view about this point, still hilariously grumpy about some of the records he'd had to listen to as one of the judges of last year's Uncut Music Award. "I thought Jake would be here," he said, referring to his former partner at Stiff, the volatile Jake Riviera. "But I couldn't hear any shouting when I was coming up the stairs so he obviously couldn't make it."

Chaz Jankel, Humphrey Ocean and Dave Robinson

"Will then made a typically witty speech, thanking everyone who contributed to the book, his publishers, his agent, his editor at Sidgwick and Jackson, and Sir Peter Blake who designed the splendid jacket for his book. "Finally," Will said, "I'd like to thank the subject of the book, who for obvious reasons can't be here tonight. . ." "Thank God for that!" Humphrey Ocean [actually Fred Rowe!] then blurted out, to an initially stunned silence and, very quickly, much loud guffawing and a round of applause. All the best, for now."


Nick Lowe and Allan Jones

This blog wouldn't be complete without a few more photographs of various revellers (and apologies to those I have omitted, for now). It was a very enjoyable soiree and thank you to the staff at the Groucho.

Will with Ingrid Connell, his editor at Sidgwick and Jackson

Mal Young, Chaz Jankel and Mari Wilson

Ingrid Mansfield-Allman and Will Birch

Mick Hill, Terry Day and Paul Tonkin

Will Birch and Tracey MacLeod

Caz Facey, Will Birch, Paul Gorman and Jenny Ross

Will Birch and Mari Wilson

Will Birch and Mike McEvoy

The old bugger, photograph Kees Bakker

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Ian Dury invents 'Oxfam Chic'

As evidenced in this 1973 picture, the Kilburns bought most of their clothes from charity shops, resulting in a wide array of previously-enjoyed overcoats that shaped the group's early image. Ian amusingly described this as 'Oxfam Chic' and said, 'Yeah, we got into a lot of gear that was old, because it was nicely made.' Here we see Ian around the time that the Kilburns were first treading the boards on London's pub rock circuit. Photograph by Mick Hill.
Read more about the early days of Kilburn and the High Roads in 'Ian Dury: The Definitive Biography' (Sidgwick & Jackson) Out now!
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Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Ian Dury's beatnik days in Cornwall, 1960

In the summer of 1960 Ian and his girlfriend Patricia Few hitched down to Newquay in Cornwall for two weeks of camping and 'hanging about in bushes and being ejected by the council'. Ian and Pat, who met that February at the Elm Park Jazz Club, had recently taken part in the third annual Aldermaston march to Trafalgar Square. As members of CND, they were immersed in all things 'beatnik'. Ian was known at the time as 'Toulouse' [Lautrec] and sported a straggly beard as his first year at Walthamstow School of Art came to a close. Read about Ian's beatnik days in 'Ian Dury: The Definitive Biography'.
Photograph courtesy of Patricia Carson (nee Few).
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