Monday, 14 February 2011

Ian writes a rock'n'roll love letter

As readers of 'The Definitive Biography' will know, Ian dated American girl-about-scene and future legendary punk roots photographer Roberta Bayley when she was hanging out in London in the early 1970s. Roberta had yet to establish her credentials as New York’s leading pictorial chronicler of the early Ramones, Blondie and Television, and Ian was some years away from pop stardom, but in the autumn on 1973 their stars were in the ascendent. Roberta listened to Charlie Gillett’s BBC Radio London show ‘Honky Tonk’ and also worked part-time at Let It Rock, the Malcolm McLaren / Vivienne Westwood boutique in the Kings Road. It was on Gillett’s radio show that Roberta first heard about Kilburn and the High Roads and, with McLaren, went to see the band.

‘I would read through the small ads in the back of the music rags every week,’ Malcolm told me. ‘Primarily for the purpose of looking for pop cultural events that might in some way intrigue me… Kilburn and the High Roads… the idea of calling yourself after the name of a street obviously intrigued me.’

Roberta eventually came face to face with Ian at a Kilburns gig at the City of London Polytechnic in September 1973. They became close friends for a brief period until Roberta had to return to her native America. She had no idea that Ian would bombard her with letters over the next five years. Those letters reveal the inner workings of Ian’s often tortured brain as he patiently awaited success, knowing all the time that he had the musical goods, if not the best method of delivery. However stylish and amusing Kilburn and the High Roads might have been, the band’s musical fragility and ever-changing line-up impaired their chances of commercial success. When Ian wrote the above letter in May 1977, in which he complained about being ‘skint’ and on the ‘rock dole’, he had just found the musicians who would become the basis of the Blockheads and was about to record his breakthrough LP New Boots and Panties!! For Ian, stardom and financial reward were just a few months away.

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