In June 2000, my book Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Life of Ian Dury was published. As an long-time admirer who’d been captivated by this inspirational British icon from a young age, I felt privileged to have written the first book about him. I still do.
For around 18 months, while I researched and wrote the book, Ian Dury’s world became my own. From the very first interview in Charlie Gillet’s vinyl-lined sitting room in Clapham, through to afternoon tea with Ian’s indomitable Aunt Moll in her cosy cottage in rural Buckinghamshire, I was let into people’s lives with a generosity that I found rather humbling. In squats, pubs, rehearsal rooms, studios, back gardens, a cafe on the end of a pier, the stories poured forth, some hilariously slapstick, others disclosing a previously hidden side to Ian’s story that challenged his Essex lad image.
Summoned to his home in Hampstead on a cold November day towards the end of my research, I was apprehensive. I was ushered in to the living room and waited. A gravelly voice suddenly came from behind the door and the questioning began – his not mine. I needn’t have worried. He was impressed with my persistent detective work that had unearthed Barry Anderson, his childhood pal who had accompanied him to Southend Swimming Pool on that fateful summer day when he had contracted polio. And he was delighted that I had given Barry his phone number, putting them back in touch for the first time in about 30 years. I won’t say that Ian gave me his blessing to speak to his aunt and his friend and near neighbour Rainbow George. He ordered me to. We spoke about getting together and me asking him some questions, but he was ill. A few months later, he died.
Mickey Gallagher told me the news and it was a shock. However frail Ian had looked on that visit to his home and in those final concerts, it just didn’t seem possible that someone with such an iron will and juggernaut personality was no more.
In the months before his death, he had bought a computer to write his own story. ‘Allo sausages’ was as far as he got. Putting a smile on people’s faces, being an entertainer, that was what Ian was all about. That he had never got any further is a shame: we’d have had tears rolling down our faces.
Which is all the more reason why I wanted my book to be a respectful and fitting tribute, despite the fact that it ‘went there’. Ian had told me he did not want me to do a ‘hagiography’ and I didn’t. But what would those close to him think of such a brutally honest account? Mickey Gallagher from The Blockheads called me to say he had read it in one sitting and had cried and cried. I felt proud and relieved in equal measure.
That it has gone on to sell more than 33,000 copies is testament to the extraordinary life and talents of Ian Dury and, hopefully, that it is a well written book. Now, 11 years later and following the release last year of the movie starring Andy Serkis, a fully updated version is about to be published by Omnibus Press. For more details about this, watch out for my next blog. In the meantime, why not subscribe to this blog, Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll, to read more about the background to the book, exclusive extracts and latest updates about the new edition.
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