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!

Ian Dury Biography 2010 fan page on Facebook
Will Birch website