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The Telegraph (UK)

Obituary: Ian Dury
IAN DURY, who has died aged 57, enjoyed great success in the late 1970s and secured a lasting place in the corpus of English popular song; he was liked and respected for his personality as well as for the lyrics he wrote.

In 1977 Dury and his band, the Blockheads, found celebrity after signing with Stiff Records and successfully touring Britain with Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe. Dury chose for his band a name he had already applied to the type of unpleasant London youths who drove black and orange cars, had pasty faces and made a habit of getting violently drunk. His use of the name for his own band reflected his Swiftian satirical streak: we are all blockheads.

They had just issued the single Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll ("all my brain and body need"), with no great success, but the tour changed that. The Blockheads' sound, devised by Dury's writing partner Chaz Jankel (who played keyboard and guitar) blended the rhythms of jazz with those of pub-rock; it was thoroughly English. The lyrics delivered in Dury's rough London tones were witty and ironical.

The unusual musicianship of the Blockheads, with Norman Watt-Roy on bass and Charley Charles on drums, and Dury's way with words attracted a following for their first album, New Boots and Panties (1978). The title was a reference to the only items of clothing that Dury, used to second-hand shops, would buy new. The album made it to the Top Five, spent nearly two years in the charts and sold a million.

Its tracks included the crude, sad ballad of Plaistow Patricia, the complaints of the thick Clever Trevor, and the amorous Essex boasts of Billericay Dickie ("I had a love-affair with Nina/ In the back of my Cortina/ A seasoned-up hyena/ Could not have been more obscener"). The music hall vulgarity of the songs led Elton John to dub Dury "the Roy Hudd of rock and roll" (indeed, in 1978 the Blockheads were to tour with the comedian Max Wall). But the tag belied Dury's inventive wit and deep enjoyment of playing with language.

Unable to carry a tune, his singing relied on the rhythm of the words, as on the band's first hit, What a Waste, which made the Top 10 in April 1978. "I could be a writer with a growing reputation," sang Dury, "I could be the ticket man at Fulham Broadway Station."

In the spring of 1978 the band toured the United States, as the strangely matched support act for Lou Reed; the Americans were not sure they wanted to know what to make of them. But at the end of the year came the Blockheads' biggest hit, Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, No 1 for a week in January 1979 and selling 900,000. Then came their second album, Do It Yourself (1979), which offered record-buyers a choice of covers in different patterns of wallpaper. Dury's last real hit was in the summer of 1979, Reasons to be Cheerful (Part 3). The playful rhyming reasons included Hammersmith Palais/ The Bolshoi Ballet; Getting out of choky/ Saying okey-dokey. But at other times Dury was capable of a certain wistful melancholy, as in the song about his bus-driving father who lived in one room in Victoria, smoked too many fags, but had his pride.

Although he and the punk bands shared an anti-elitist approach, Dury was almost twice the age of most of them. He adopted a somewhat avuncular attitude to his chart contemporaries. Part of his image, though he made no fuss about it, was the walking stick he needed because one arm and leg were shrunken by polio.

By 1980, the Blockheads had passed their peak. Jankel left (only to return soon afterwards) and touring had become a bore. The album Lord Upminster (1981) was a failure. A single about being crippled, Spasticus Autisticus, was refused airplay by broadcasters fearful of giving offence; Dury had wanted it to be a theme song for the Year of the Disabled. The band split, but left a musical legacy for which the public retained much affection, as they did for Dury himself.

Ian Dury was born at Upminster, Essex, on May 12 1942. His father was a bus driver, his middle-class mother a health visitor. The marriage did not last long, and the impact on it of class difference made an enduring impression on Dury. At the age of seven he contracted polio and spent more than a year in hospital. The sufferings he saw made him determined to make the most of every opportunity.

He spent a year at a school for disabled children in Sussex and then went as a boarder to the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe. He loathed the school's pretensions to gentility and deliberately adopted a London accent. From school, Dury went first to Walthamstow Art College and then to the Royal College of Art. At both he was taught by Peter Blake, who indirectly encouraged him to become a singer. Seeing Dury struggling diligently with a still-life, Blake asked him: "Why aren't you painting what you like?" Thereafter Dury tried to do some of the things he liked. "I don't want to be Shakespeare," he later conceded, "I just want to do my gig."

In the early 1970s, Dury worked as a freelance illustrator and then taught at Luton and Canterbury colleges of art. Meanwhile he had formed his first band, Kilburn and the High Roads, playing the pub circuit with little commercial success but developing his lyrical style. Dury's manager, the disc jockey Charlie Gillett, later contrasted the band with the glam-rock look of such bands as Roxy Music. The High Roads, he said, resembled six people waiting for a bus.

After Dury's star had declined in the early 1980s, he worked mainly in television and the theatre, composing songs to accompany RSC productions at Stratford and the theme tune to the television series of The Diary of Adrian Mole (1985). He wrote a musical, Apples, staged at the Royal Court in 1989 with no success. He made cameo appearances in several films, including Judge Dredd (1995). He also presented a television arts show, Metro.

He released several more albums, including 4000 Weeks Holiday (1984), a reference to the average human lifespan, and The Bus Driver's Prayer and Other Stories (1992). His final album Mr Lovepants (1998) had a modest success, and despite his well-publicised cancer, he made one more, much-enjoyed tour. Ian Dury had a son and a daughter by his first wife Betty, from whom he was divorced in 1985 and who predeceased him. He had two sons by his second marriage, to Sophy Tilson.

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