Tag Archives: Ian Dury

A Top Of The Pops emergency

22 Dec

[Excerpt from Be Stiff: The Stiff Records Story]

Ian Dury & The Blockheads made a number of appearances on Top Of The Pops to perform their surprise hit, opting for a different look each time. For one, Dury and the drummer sported matching donkey jackets. Except it wasn’t Charley Charles behind the kit – he’d gone missing.

“I don’t know where he was to this day – he just went missing,” says Sonnie Rae [Stiff plugger]. “Robin Nash, affectionately known as Knob Rash, was running Top Of The Pops in those days, and he was calling and calling and I got summonsed and asked, ‘Where is he?’ and I said, ‘Oh, just coming’. We dragged Spider [Fred Rowe, Ian’s minder] into make-up, blacked him up, stuck a wig on him and stuck him on the drum kit. But they forgot to do his hands, which was really funny!”


Snowman secret revealed

20 Dec

‘You put your left leg in, left leg out’…growled a snowman who sounded like he’s puffed on too many pipes. Sure the Hokey Cokey was familiar to millions, a staple of the drunken office party and wedding reception. But whose was that deep voice on the single released by Stiff in 1981 in an attempt to second consecutive Christmas hit in a row after Jona Lewie’s success with Stop The Cavalry?

Ian Dury had departed Stiff for Polydor that year and many were convinced it was his gravelly tones they were hearing – something that did the record no harm. Sonnie Rae, who was tasked with plugging the record for Stiff, recalls: “I just played that and people went, ‘That’s ian Dury, isn’t it?’, and I would go, ‘Ooh, I couldn’t possibly say because it’s a big secret. I don’t know who it is’. I think they all thought it was Ian Dury, so I think that’s why it got all the airplay it did.”

Dury’s former Stiff stablemate Jona Lewie was also among the names put forward as the record company remained tightlipped about the real identities of Frosty, Blob, Lump and Norman.

But it wasn’t a household name with chart hits to their name, but session guitarist and singer Martin Kershaw who led The Snowmen through the party favourite. Meanwhile, it was staff from the Stiff office, including publicist Nigel Dick, who were inside the costumes for the video and Top Of The Pops recordings.

Sadly for Stiff, any hope of a Christmas chart-topper melted away when the record stalled at No 18, leaving The Human League to enjoy the top spot with ‘Don’t You Want Me?’.



Stiff’s Greatest Stiffs

31 Jul

Stiff tour scheduleStiff rehearsals

Dumping Music On The People…In Your Town!

Stiff’s Greatest Stiffs was unleashed on the great British public on Monday 3 October at High Wycombe Town Hall and winding up on Saturday 5 November at the University Of Lancaster. The line-up was Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, Nick Lowe, Larry Wallis and Wreckless Eric. Interestingly, it was Costello who was handed the final slot at the two run-throughs, which took place at Manticore Studios in Fulham’s North End Road over the previous weekend. A surviving schedule for the tour shows Wreckless going first and Dury and Lowe alternating. Larry Wallis played on stage with Lowe and performed a few of his own songs, including his single Police Car, during his set.

[Excerpt from Be Stiff]

The concept of a rotating bill was novel, but it almost instantly became the cause of resentment. At the centre of it was a power struggle between the artists with the biggest egos – Costello and Dury. Both saw themselves as the most important act on the bill and openly coveted the headline slot. Practical considerations also played a part in the nightly schedule being reviewed just a few dates into the expedition. Dury argued that he needed a rest between drumming for Wreckless and his own set. Likewise, Pete Thomas wanted a decent break between playing with Lowe and Costello.

Lowe was more interested in finishing his set and getting to the nearest pub than topping the bill, as was Edmunds. Wreckless was too drink-addled to be competitive. It also became clear early on that of the five acts, Costello and Dury were best equipped to bring the shows to a climax and send the punters away buzzing. So with the help of Dave Robinson, a compromise had to be hammered out involving two running orders. The first was Lowe/Wallis, Wreckless, Costello and Dury; the second Wreckless, Lowe/Wallis, Dury and Costello.

“That tour caused a lot of friction,” says Paul Conroy, “because as soon as you put artists on stage, it’s all very well with this, ‘You’re on next’, but it didn’t work that way and you could see that Jake was floating more off to the Elvis side. Then, of course, you had Ian Dury with Peter Jenner and Andrew King coming in and Kosmo [Vinyl], and it all started to fracture. And, of course, Eric didn’t really have a manager as such. It goes on in the film and people have said, it became serious. It wasn’t just, ‘We’re all having a laugh and we’ll have a few beers with the late-night, 24-Hour Club.’ Elvis was certainly taking it very seriously and so was Ian. Those two were extremely competitive with each other and Nick was along for the ride…”

Clever bastard

27 Mar

Ian Dury – 12 May 1942 – 27 March 2000

Ian Dury 02

We can probably guess what Ian Dury would make of the X-Factor and The Voice. Blubbing wannabes, some still in their teens, who reckon their lives will be wrecked if they are sent home after performing someone else’s song.

Dury was the antithesis of today’s fame-fixated culture. He was 35 by the time he made his debut in the UK charts and had spent years tramping the beer-sodden back rooms of the pub rock circuit with a troupe so weird only he could have pulled it together. As a child he had been struck down with polio, leaving him with a visibly wasted arm and a calliper clamped around one leg. The complaints received by the BBC after Robert Wyatt appeared on Top Of The Pops in his wheelchair in 1974 underlined a distinct public unease around disability.

As the leader of the pigeonhole-defying Kilburn & The High Roads, Dury was the ultimate square peg. His voice coarse, sandpapery vocals and spiky persona were in stark contrast to the light entertainment acts gracing the charts at the time – 10CC, The Three Degrees, Hot Chocolate. He also cut a sinister figure, clenching his mic with a black leather glove and singing about a making a young girl cry in a lonely bus shelter. The ever present glint in the eye, razorblade earring and sharpened sideburns only added to the air of menace. In 1976, Dury’s extraordinary lyrics and crafted stage persona seemed destined to be enjoyed by the handfuls of music fans who liked their live music up close and personal and with a beer in their hand.

Predictably, the increasingly corporate major labels of gave an unanimous thumbs down to New Boots And Panties when Dury’s managers Peter Jenner and Andrew King peddled it around their plush offices. Frustrated that such a melting pot of original of songs should be left gathering dust, they took it downstairs to the small independent label which rented the space below them, ironically named Stiff – the industry term for a flop. They recognised it for what it was, one of the most unique rock ‘n’ roll records ever made, and signed him up. And when Dury overheard Stiff’s owners Dave Robinson and Jake Riviera plotting a nationwide outing for some of its acts, he knew his chance had come and he grabbed it with both hands.

On the opening night at High Wycombe Town Hall, Dury emerged in a bowler hat and with a range of props, putting on a show that was as evocative of Tommy Cooper as Gene Vincent. Off-stage, he was a music journalist’s dream, helping to ensure that, despite the tough competition posed by Elvis Costello, he stole the headlines. New Boots began a 90-week stay in the album chart and What A Waste gave him his first hit single and Stiff a giant shot in the arm after Riviera exited stage left with Costello and Lowe. When Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick climbed to the summit of the UK charts in 1979, the Essex geezer’s transformation from rank outsider to household name was complete.

To say fame didn’t agree with him would be an understatement. It amplified his worst traits and he became the rock ‘n’ roll stereotype, boorishly holding court in a country pad with a swimming pool. He became difficult to be around and in the studio he could be a nightmare. His third and final album for Stiff was called Laughter, but making it was no pleasure for those involved.

Polydor paid out a huge advance for his signature, but by then Dury had decided he no longer needed The Blockheads and could make do with younger and cheaper session musicians. Many of his fans would contend that his next great album was Mr Love Pants, the one he recorded after reuniting with The Blockheads in 1997. That record raised his profile and proved that although his profile had waned in the intervening period, public affection for him had not.

The way in which he responded to the news of his terminal cancer spoke volumes about the man. He became an advocate and fundraiser for Cancer Bacup, the charity which had treated him, and he continued performing live. Poignantly, his final show on 6 February 2000 was at The London Palladium, the venue his mother had taken him to as a child. He left the stage knowing this was his final stand and waving his goodbyes.

At 57, cancer cruelly cheated Ian Dury of the chance to see his young sons grow up and to grow old with his wife Sophy. Artistically, he had been back on form and clearly there was much more he wanted to give as a songwriter and performer with his still electrifying group. As for us, his death robbed us of one of the most gifted songwriters of his generation and an artist who didn’t see himself as a pop singer, but an old-style entertainer. ‘Performer’, read his passport.

‘There ain’t have been some clever bastards,’ he famously observed on the B-side of his number one hit single. Ian Dury was all of that, and so much more. We’ll never see his like again.

Whoops A Daisy

21 Feb

Humphrey Ocean 2

Humphrey Ocean was a close friend of Ian Dury and had briefly played bass in Kilburn & The High Roads. A highly-respected portrait artist, Humphrey Butler-Bowden (real name) appeared in the video for Dury’s 1980 single ‘I Want To Be Straight’, sketching the singer.

In 1979, the lanky painter had his own novelty song released on Stiff, under the title of Humphrey Ocean & The Hardy Annuals.  The A-side of BUY 29 was Whoops A Daisy, was a joint effort by Ocean, Dury, Chaz Jankel and one-time Kilburns pianist and co-writer Russell Hardy. On the flip of this typically unlikely Stiff 45 was a cover of Davey Crockett, a song from in the Kilburns’ weird and wonderful repertoire.

Stiff enthusiastically pressed up 500 copies in each of five colours: red, blue, green, white and clear vinyl, making it a must for avid collectors of the label. However, like Max Wall’s earlier cover of Dury composition England’s Glory, boxes of the record ended up gathering dust in the stockroom.

Be Stiff: The Stiff Records Story

31 Aug


Stiff Records book coming soon!

17 Aug

Fans of Ian Dury – and many other highly original acts from the same era – may be interested in my second book, which I’ve just finished writing.

Be Stiff: The Story of Stiff Records is due to be published by Soundcheck Books in October. For the very first time, it tells the extraordinary story of how against all odds a small record label formed by two industry mavericks backed rank insiders other labels had sent packing and propelled them to mainstream success.

Shane MacGowan, Wreckless Eric, Jona Lewie, Lene Lovich and Ed Tudor Pole are just some of the artists to give first-hand accounts of their time at Stiff. Former employees from pluggers and press officers to graphic designers also reveal the inside story behind the irreverent label that ripped up the rulebook and declared, ‘If it ain’t Stiff, it ain’t worth a fuck’.

Stiff fans, start spreading the word…

Spasticus Autisticus

31 Aug

An excerpt from Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Life of Ian Dury

As the International Year of the Disabled got underway, Ian was inundated with requests to apear at events and help promote the campaign. As one of the most prominent disabled figures in the country, he got letters from people living in sheltered homes telling him how lonely it was when the staff went home for weekends, and tapes of songs they had written about the Year of the Disabled. But Ian saw the entire project as a farce and instead came up with his own anthem for disabled people.

Ian explained: “I said, ‘I’m going to put a band down the road for the Year of the Disabled: I’ll be Spastic and they can be The Autistics. I have The Blockheads and that means they’re autistic anyway’. And my mate [Ed Speight] goes, ‘No – Spasticus Autisticus, the freed slave.’ Great, I’m Spartacus. So I wrote this tune, I put in the second verse, ‘So place your hard-earned peanuts in my tin/And thank the creator you’re not in the state I’m in/So long have I been languishing on the shelf/I must give all proceedings to myself.’ When they said, ‘Are you going to give it away to charity? I said, ‘No, I’m not, the second verse explains that.’ I thought it would be a war-cry type of item. But it wasn’t allowed to be played anywhere and people got offended by it – everybody except the spastics. All the spastics went, ‘Yeah man, what a tune, yeah right.’

In fact, the song had been inspired by a spastic who had come to Ian’s dressing room at the Sobell Centre in Holloway, noth London, in 1980. He spoke with a croak out of the side of his mouth, and this, coupled with his thick Glaswegian accent, mean that he couldn’t make himself understood. But, as Ian told The Face in September 1981: “He had two honours degrees from Oxford – English and History – and I think a very brainy geezer, but he said, ‘The most difficult thing for me is that nobody knows what I’m on about.’ So that’s what the song is.”

How I helped bring Ian Dury to the big screen

6 Nov

Marc Lambert-Clarke (second right) with other extras from sex&drugs&rock&roll

In his own words, Marc Lambert-Clarke tells of his experience as an extra in the biopic sex&drugs&rock&roll starring Andy Serkis.

“The first day I arrived on set, I was greeted by a man walking with a stick, dressed in some turned up jeans and a dirty looking jacket. He asked me if I was okay and if I needed anything. He explained where I needed to go and who I needed to speak to and then left, simply saying, “Well, I have to go do some work now, I will see you later”. Only as he walked away did it register who he was: Andy Serkis dressed as Ian Dury.

My name is Marc Lambert-Clarke and during my time as a trainee I was asked to be a drummer, a punk, and I filmed one of the crowd scenes with an old Bolex camera. Being an extra during the Watford shooting days was perhaps the most tiring, but extremely exhilarating few days of all. The job I was given was to dress as a punk rocker and simply rock out for a couple of days. What the director failed to mention was that I would be rocking out to the same song for the same scene for nearly 14 hours. I know what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong, it was amazing. Imagine going to a gig where the energy never changed and, for the whole time you were there, you were running solely on adrenalin.

The truth is, if you want to work in the film industry, you need to be prepared to work for it. Whether you’re asked to make coffee, direct traffic or rock out as an extra. It may have been my first time on a film, but it was an experience I can chalk up as one of the best. Before that, I didn’t know much about Ian Dury; I had heard ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’, but aside from that I hadn’t really heard of him. Once being part of this film, I found myself buying a few Blockheads albums and listening to their songs. Ian Dury might be dead, but he remains a strong inspiration. Never let your problems get you get down and strive for whatever you want. If you work hard enough, you can achieve anything.”

Last night at The Palladium

16 Jul

Programme for Ian's last performance at The London Palladium

 An extract from Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Life of Ian Dury

‘It is an emotional occasion, but above all, pure entertainment. In a box beside the stage, Government minister Mo Mowlam is jiving and singing along to ‘Billericay Dickie’; in another, Ian’s five-year-old son Billy is jumping up and down excitedly and drumming his hands on the ledge. Behind him, Ian’s eldest son Baxter, his daughter Jemima and wife Sophy look on, full of smiles. Everyone here can feel the significance of the occasion – even The Blockheads have dressed smarter than usual in keeping with the venue. Ian, too, is aware of his surroundings, but is unimpressed. “I want to bring a bit of low-life into these walls. Oi Oi!” he yells. “Danny Kaye is listneing. Bing is listening,” he jokes to roars of laughter from the crowd.’