THE ICON - IAN DURY
Published: Music Australia Guide #80, September 2010.
In The Icon we profile those who change music. This month, Dan Rule hails the unhinged charisma and inimitable creative vision of UK iconoclast and chief ‘Blockhead’ Ian Dury.
To speak of the late Ian Dury in musical terms alone would discount his far-reaching creative and personal legacy. One of the most genuinely eccentric musical outsiders of a generation, Dury cut an inimitable figure in a rock world so often characterised by derivatives.
A polio survivor, his lurching stage presence, insatiably dry wit and smoke-scarred, cockney parlance at the lead of Ian Dury & The Blockheads fashioned an entirely new archetype for the front man. He may have limped and stumbled, but his dynamic poetry and infectious personality made him one of the most unlikely stars of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Born in London’s northwest outskirts during the Second World War, Dury spent his early childhood in neutral Switzerland. But it was on his return to the UK in the late 1940s that his world was to change forever when he contracted polio during the epidemic of 1949. He spent a torturous six months in a full plaster cast before enrolling in the Chailey Craft School (for disabled children), a harsh, unloving environment that many have suggested gave the young Dury his characteristic drive and ambition.
Music came late to Dury, who was 28 and had already studied and taught fine art before he founded burly, 1950s influenced pub rock act Kiburn & the High Roads. But it was when Dury went out on his own at the end of the 1970s, signing to struggling indie label Stiff that things changed. With the release of debut record New Boots and Panties!! (1977) and early non-album singles Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll and Hit Me You’re your Rhythms Stick, he became an instant superstar at the ripe old age of 36.
At the height of their powers, Dury and his band were a force to be reckoned with. Their vibrant melange of disco funk, new wave and punk resonances made records like Do It Yourself (1979) and Laughter (1980) some of the most dynamic of their era, while Dury’s shrewd lyricism – part social commentary, part crazed humour, part cheeky, sexual provocation – and voracious presence made him an utterly magnetic performer.
But as he so often proved throughout his career, Dury was more than his music. As his star began to wane in the early and mid 80s – with comparatively lacklustre records like Lord Upminster (1981) and 4000 Weeks Holiday (1984) – he shifted his attention to craft of acting, his trademark determination and natural charm landing him various theatre, television and film roles.
Although there were more albums to come – Apples (1989) and The Busdriver’s Prayer… (1992) included – it wasn’t until 1998, in the midst of the battle with cancer that would eventually claim his life in 2000, that Dury reformed The Blockheads for one final tilt with charming record Mr. Love Pants. It served as a fitting farewell to a singular artist who could only be stopped by life’s inevitable end.
The Ian Dury biopic Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival and is slated for cinema released later this year.