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Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll

By Elizia Volkmann.

30th Anniversary re-release of New Boots and Panties by Ian Dury and the Blockheads (Edsel Records)

Ian Dury may no longer be with us, having passed on in 2000, but his presence in music was so strong somehow it doesn’t feel as if he has gone. A true renaissance man with success in art, music and as a playwright, Dury is doubtless remembered for his substantial contribution to British music and is held with a great affection by music lovers the world over. Growing up in the bleakness of post-war Essex he made his way to the Royal College of Art via Walthamstow Art College, he rose to become an art lecturer himself. With the death of Gene Vincent, Dury was inspired to try his hand at music recruiting students from Canterbury School of Art he formed Kilburn and the High Roads, who rose to cult status in the music world. It was when he found his writing partner Chaz Jankel in a musical instrument hire shop that Dury’s lyrics were finally given wings and with the recruitment of Charley Charles (drums), Norman Watt-Roy (Bass) The Blockheads were born. Only lasting two years, producing only two albums and five top ten hits, for those growing up in the 70s his dark hoary face and East End skanking vocals were iconic. Passed over by the majors, with the completion of New Boots and Panties they were signed to Stiff Records, and went to enjoy 90 weeks in the album charts alone. More gentle and humorous than his punk contemporaries, with more than half a foot in the door of East End pub minstreldom Dury gave us classics such as ‘Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll’ from the platinum selling New Boots and Panties and the infectious and unfathomable ‘Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick’. Whereas contemporaries were revelling in punk angst and rebellion, Dury told stories from his life and East End/Essex life with both a gentle wit and a filthy sense of humour, all suffused by jazz and impregnated and low down dirty funk that probably meant he got away with an awful lot more than the angry young men of bands like The Clash and The Buzzcocks. In a way Ian Dury and the Blockheads were perhaps, a more true representation of Britain in the late 70s and running in sharp contrast with edgier bands of the time that were coming out of the north like Joy Division. His work has a disarming honesty, an endearing roughness coupled with moments avant-garde genius such as the dissonant chorus of “laughing” the end of “If I was a with a woman” that made them stand out as figures in music history. Latter day stars like Blur and Lily Allen with their cheeky London lad/laddess posturing can but doff their caps and bow in veneration to the original London storyteller Ian Dury.

The Blockheads split in 1980, Ian Dury continued for a while with a solo career before temporarily bowing out of music to concentrate on his writing penning the musical Apples, and Roman Polanski’s film Pirates and not to mention his famous voice over for the Toshiba advert “ ‘ello Tosh got a Toshiba?”. With the discovery of drummer Charley Charles’ cancer The Blockheads reformed to raise money for Charley through a series of benefit concerts. Charley Charles was not to see the concerts but the Blockheads carried on together culminating with the release of their first album in 21 years Mr Love Pants. Sadly it wasn’t long before Dury too was diagnosed with cancer, but this didn’t slow him down as he continued to do his extensive charity work including the fight against Polio, the disease that had cruelly disabled him in childhood.

Now 30 years on, his life and that of the Blockheads is celebrated with the re-released of their first album, New Boots and Panties, accompanied by bonus tracks and a never before seen DVD of their live concert Sight and Sound in Concert of 10th December 1977. It is a cute little collector’s package, though it’s not made clear who (probably the record company) benefits from the sales of this release, but for all Ian Dury and the Blockheads fans it’s a little gem to treasure. The Blockheads it seems keep touring and this time it is Phill Jupitus standing in for Mr Dury, make of that what you will.

Elizia Volkmann is an artist, writer, filmmaker and photographer. As an artist she has exhibited her work since 1993 when she took part in the taking over of the ICA by the Riot Grrrrls, back they she wrote for various underground zines including the then legendary Ablaze and photographed the Riot Grrrrls and the likes of Bikini Kill. Since then she’s hung out with terrorists in Bilbao, clubbed with yardies in Chapeltown, kipped on the sofas of European royalty and often been up to no good making allegedly quite disturbing artworks and films and doing really dull copywriting and shit jobs to pay the bills, the worst being lecturing. As a writer she has contributed to various journals and online publications over the years most notably she has been an arts and music writer for Flux magazine for almost four years and is currently the International Fashion Editor for the industry journal Wool Record. She is currently working on a series of short stories and accompanying illustrations and photographs and writing.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, December 12th, 2007.