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The Telegraph (UK)

Ian Dury: a reason to be cheerful
By Neil McCormick, Rock Correspondent

ANY list of reasons to be cheerful about British music of the past three decades would have to include Ian Dury, whose always witty, usually exuberant and frequently moving amalgamation of music hall and rock 'n' roll made him one of its most unusual and inspirational figures.

By his own admission he could not sing, could not dance and would not have won any prizes at a beauty contest, yet his genuine warmth, humour and undeniable charisma were such that his personal popularity outlasted his relatively short career as a chart-topper. In 1998, almost 20 years after his last number one record, he said: "I can walk down the street and every taxi that goes by it'll be, 'All right, Ian?'."

Stricken by polio at the age of seven, Dury never let his disability hold him back. In the early days he could be quite a fierce character on stage, limping about with the aid of a stick, almost flaunting his physical ungainliness in the face of audiences more used to glamour. It won few fans for his early-Seventies pub-rock outfit, Kilburn & The High Roads, but by the second half of the decade times (and fashions) were changing. Punk rock adopted Dury and the Blockheads. With his sharp, semi-spoken cockney lyrics, he became a kind of clown prince of the youth phenomenon, although he was already 35 by the time his debut solo album, New Boots And Panties, was released in 1977.

Dury, who studied painting at the Royal Academy and taught at Canterbury College of Art, never took his musical career very seriously. He once said: "If you're a jazz lover, which I am, you don't think of rock 'n' roll as something to aspire to. You don't think you're Rembrandt. When you come offstage at some dodgy pub gig, you're lucky if you think you're Max Miller."

Yet Dury was an excellent and even ground-breaking lyricist. Unable to hold a tune in the usual sense, he relied on the power of the spoken word, spinning out inspired rhymes with deceptive ease over jazz pianist Chaz Jankel's sophisticated backdrops. Dury was a rapper before rapping was invented, his 1979 number one Reasons To Be Cheerful (Part 3) becoming a staple of the burgeoning New York hip-hop scene.

In a brief period of genuine pop stardom, Dury and Jankel were responsible for a surprising number of classic recordings, including Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll, Sweet Gene Vincent, Wake Up and Make Love With Me and the number one, Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick. After the partnership broke up, Dury continued to record but he was not particularly prolific. Film acting and theatrical work helped to keep him in the public eye, but he is probably best known to many for voice-overs on advertisements.

The Blockheads reunited in 1998 for Mr Love Pants, probably Dury's best work since his Seventies heyday. By then he knew he had cancer, yet his work remained characteristically upbeat. He said: "It's not tinged by illness. Despair is private."

Over the last two years, he had thrown himself back into work, partly, he admitted, to provide for his second wife, Sophy, and young family (his first wife, Betty, died of cancer in the early Nineties) and partly just to keep himself occupied. His attitude to his personal misfortune was inspirational, devoid of bitterness or self-pity. He said: "I've had a good run. Mustn't grumble."

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