Band: Ian Dury & The Blockheads
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Ian Dury died of metastatic colorectal cancer on 27th March 2000, aged fifty-seven. An obituary in The Guardian read: "one of few true originals of the English music scene". Meanwhile, he was described by Suggs, the singer of Madness, as "possibly the finest lyricist we've seen." The Ian Dury website opened an online book of condolence shortly after his death, which was signed by hundreds of fans. He was cremated following a humanist funeral at Golders Green Crematorium with 250 mourners at the service, including fellow musicians Suggs and Jools Holland as well as other "celebrity fans" such as MP Mo Mowlam.
It was known for some time before his death that Ian Dury had cancer. He was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 1996 and underwent surgery, but tumours were later found in his liver, and he was told that his condition was terminal. Upon learning of his illness, Ian Dury took the opportunity to marry his girlfriend, sculptor Sophy Tilson, with whom he had had two children.
Ian Dury collaborated with Madness on their first original album in fourteen years on the track "Drip Fed Fred". Suggs and the band cite him as a great influence. It was to be one of his last recordings. He also performed again with the Blockheads in mid-1999 at Ronnie Scott's in Soho. This was a special performance recorded for LWT's South Bank Show and the audience were invited fans and friends of the band and crew. His deteriorating condition was evident and he had to take rests between takes and be helped on and off stage.
Ian Dury & the Blockheads' last public performance was a charity concert in aid of Cancer BACUP on 6th February 2000 at the London Palladium, supported by Kirsty MacColl and Phill Jupitus. Ian was noticeably ill and again had to be helped on and off stage.
Ian Dury was born on 12th May 1942 at his parents' home in Harrow Weald, London, UK although he often pretended that he had been born in Essex, which all but one of his obituaries in the UK national press stated as fact. His father, William George Dury, was a bus driver and former boxer, while his mother Margaret, known as 'Peggy', was a health visitor.
William Dury trained with Rolls-Royce to be a chauffeur, and was then absent for long periods, so Peggy Dury took Ian to stay with her parents in Cornwall. After the Second World War, the family moved to Switzerland, where Ian's father chauffeured for a millionaire and the Western European Union. In 1946 Peggy brought Ian back to England and they stayed with her sister.. Although Ian saw his father on visits, they never lived together again.
At the age of seven, Ian contracted polio; most likely, he believed, from a swimming pool at Southend-on-Sea during the 1949 polio epidemic. After six weeks in a full plaster cast in Royal Cornwall Infirmary, Truro, he was moved to Black Notley Hospital, Braintree, Essex, where he spent a year and a half before going to Chailey Heritage Craft School, East Sussex, in 1951.
Chailey was a school and hospital for disabled children, and believed in toughening them up, contributing to the observant and determined person Ian Dury became. Chailey taught trades such as cobbling and printing, but Ian Dury's mother wanted him to be more academic, so his aunt Moll arranged for him to enter the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, where he recounted being punished for misdemeanours by being made to learn long tracts of poetry until a housemaster found him sobbing and put a stop to it.
Ian left the school at the age of sixteen to study painting at the Walthamstow College of Art, having gained GCE 'O' Levels in English Language, English Literature and Art.
From 1964 he studied art at the Royal College of Art. From 1967 he taught art at various colleges in the south of England.. He also painted commercial illustrations for The Sunday Times in the early 1970s.]
Ian Dury married Elizabeth "Betty" Rathmell on 3 June 1967 and they had two children. Ian Dury divorced Rathmell in 1985, but remained on good terms. He also cohabited with a teenage fan, Denise Roudette, for six years after he moved to London. Later, he squatted at Oval Mansions, Kennington Oval.
Ian Dury formed 'Kilburn and the High Roads' and they played their first gig at Croydon School of Art on 5th December 1971. Ian Dury was vocalist and lyricist, co-writing with pianist Russell Hardy and later enrolling into the group a number of the students he was teaching at Canterbury College of Art, including guitarist Keith Lucas.
Managed first by Charlie Gillett and Gordon Nelki and latterly by fashion entrepreneur Tommy Roberts, the Kilburns found favour on London's pub rock circuit and signed to Dawn Records in 1974, but despite favourable press coverage and a tour opening for English rock band The Who, the group failed to rise above cult status and disbanded in 1975.
Under the management of Andrew King and Peter Jenner, the original managers of Pink Floyd, Ian Dury and the Blockheads quickly gained a reputation as one of the top live acts of new wave music.
Ian Dury's lyrics are a combination of lyrical poetry, word play, observation of British everyday life, character sketches, and sexual humour.
The Blockheads' sound drew from its members' diverse musical influences, which included jazz, rock and roll, funk, and reggae, and Ian Dury's love of music hall. The band was formed after Ian Dury began writing songs with pianist and guitarist Chaz Jankel. Jankel took Ian Dury's lyrics, fashioned a number of songs, and they began recording with members of Radio Caroline's Loving Awareness Band—drummer Charley Charles, bassist Norman Watt-Roy, keyboard player Mick Gallagher, guitarist John Turnbull and former Kilburn's saxophonist Davey Payne. An album was completed, but major record labels passed on the band. Next door to Ian Dury's manager's office was the newly formed Stiff Records, a perfect home for Ian Dury's maverick style.
The single "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll", released 26th August 1977, marked Ian Dury's Stiff debut. Although it was banned by the BBC it was named Single of the Week by NME on its release. The single issue was soon followed at the end of September, by the album New Boots and Panties!! which, although it did not include the single, achieved platinum status.
In October 1977 Ian Dury and his band started performing as Ian Dury & the Blockheads, when the band signed on for the Stiff "Live Stiffs Tour". The tour was a success, and Stiff launched a concerted Ian Dury marketing campaign, resulting in the Top Ten hit "What a Waste", and the hit single "Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick", which reached Number one in the UK at the beginning of 1979, selling just short of a million copies. Again "Hit Me" was not included on the original release of the subsequent album 'Do It Yourself'. Both the single and its accompanying music video featured Davey Payne playing two saxophones simultaneously during his solo, in evident homage to jazz saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk, whose 'trademark' technique this was. With their hit singles, the band built up a dedicated following in the UK and other countries and their next single "Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3" made number three in the UK.
The band's second album 'Do It Yourself' was released in June 1979 in a Barney Bubbles-designed sleeve of which there were over a dozen variations, all based on samples from the Crown wallpaper catalogue. Bubbles also designed the Blockhead logo.
Jankel left the band temporarily and relocated to the US after the release of "What a Waste" (his organ part on that single was overdubbed later) but he subsequently returned to the UK and began touring sporadically with the Blockheads, eventually returning to the group full-time for the recording of "Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick"; according to Mickey Gallagher, the band recorded 28 takes of the song but eventually settled on the second take for the single release. Partly due to personality clashes with Ian Dury, Jankel left the group again in 1980, after the recording of the 'Do It Yourself' LP, and he returned to the USA to concentrate on his solo career.
The group worked solidly over the eighteen months between the release of "Rhythm Stick" and their next single, "Reasons to Be Cheerful", which returned them to the charts, making the UK Top 10. Jankel was replaced by former Dr. Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson, who also contributed to the next album Laughter (1980) and its two hit singles, although Gallagher recalls that the recording of the Laughter album was difficult and that Ian Dury was drinking heavily in this period.
In 1980–81 Ian Dury and Jankel teamed up again with Sly and Robbie and the Compass Point All Stars to record Lord Upminster (1981). The Blockheads toured the UK and Europe throughout 1981, sometimes augmented by jazz trumpeter Don Cherry, ending the year with their only tour of Australia. The Blockheads disbanded in early 1982 after Ian Dury secured a new recording deal with Polydor Records through A&R man Frank Neilson. Choosing to work with a group of young musicians which he named the Music Students, he recorded the album Four Thousand Weeks' Holiday. This album marked a departure from his usual style and was not as well received by fans for its American jazz influence.
The Blockheads briefly reformed in June 1987 to play a short tour of Japan, and then disbanded again. In September 1990, following the death from cancer of drummer Charley Charles, they reunited for two benefit concerts in aid of Charles' family, held at The Forum, Camden Town, with Steven Monti on drums. In December 1990, augmented by Merlin Rhys-Jones on guitar and Will Parnell on percussion, they recorded the live album Warts & Audience at the Brixton Academy.
The Blockheads, less Jankel, who returned to California, toured Spain in January 1991 then disbanded again until August 1994 when, following Jankel's return to England, they were invited to reform for the Madstock! Festival in Finsbury Park; this was followed by sporadic gigs in Europe, Ireland, the UK and Japan through late 1994 and 1995. In the early 1990s, Ian Dury appeared with English band Curve on the benefit compilation album Peace Together. Ian and Curve singer Toni Halliday shared vocals on a cover of the Blockheads' track "What a Waste".
In March 1996 Ian Dury was diagnosed with cancer and, after recovering from an operation, he set about writing another album. In early 1998 he reunited with the Blockheads to record the album Mr Love-Pants. In May, Ian Dury & the Blockheads hit the road again, with Dylan Howe replacing Steven Monti on drums. Davey Payne left the group permanently in August and was replaced by Gilad Atzmon; this line-up gigged throughout 1999, culminating in their last performance with Ian Dury on 6th February 2000 at the London Palladium. Ian Dury died six weeks later on 27th March 2000.
Ian Dury appeared in the Classic Albums episode that focused on Steely Dan's album Aja. Ian commented that the album was one of the most "hopeful" he'd ever heard, and that the album "lifted his spirits up" whenever he played it. He also felt that it showed Steely Dan's love for jazz musicians and that it had "California in its blood ... [even though it was recorded by] boys from New York."
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song: 'What a Waste' by Ian Dury