Ian Dury May 12th, 1942 –March 27th, 2000
was an English Rock & Roll singer, songwriter, and bandleader who initially rose to fame during the late 1970s, during the punk and New Wave era of rock music. He was best known as founder and lead singer of the British band Ian Dury and the Blockheads, though he began his musical career in pub-rock act in Kilburn and the High Roads.
Ian Robin Dury was born at his parents’ home at 43 Weald Rise, Harrow Weald, Harrow(although he often claimed that he was born in Upminster, Havering. He lived with the effects of Polio, which he contracted at the age of seven — very likely, he believed, from a swimming pool at Southend-On-Sea during the 1949 polio epidemic. His 1981 song “Spasticus Autisticus”, intended to mark the International Year of Disabled People, was banned by the BBC despite having been written by a disabled person. The lyrics were uncompromising:
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 languished on the shelf
I must give all proceedings to myself
The song’s refrain, “I’m spasticus, autisticus” was inspired by the response of the rebellious Roman Gladiators in the film Spartacus, who, when instructed to identify their leader, all answered, “I am Spartacus,” to protect him.
Dury left the Royal Grammer School, High Wycombe at 16 to study at Walthamstow Art College. In 1964 he won a place at the Royal College of Art where he was taught by the eminent British artist Peter Blake and, in 1967, Dury himself started teaching art at various colleges in the south of England. When asked why he did not pursue a career in art, he once said, “I got good enough [at art] to realise I wasn’t going to be very good.”
Dury married his first wife Betty Rathmell in 1967 and they had two children, Jemima and Baxter, who is now also a recording artist (he is the author of the ballad “Cocaine Man”). They divorced in 1985 but remained on good terms. She died of cancer in 1994.
Kilburn and the High-Roads
Dury was inspired to form Kilburn and the High-Roads (a pun on the road in North London) in 1971 following the death of his hero Gene Vincent. Dury was vocalist and lyricist, co-writing with pianist Russell Hardy and later enrolling into the group a number of the students he was teaching at Canterbury School of Art, including guitarist Keith Lucas (who later became the guitarist for 999 under the name Nick Cash) and bassist Humphrey Ocean. Managed by Charlie Gillett and Gordon Nelki, The Kilburns found favour on London’s Pub Rock circuit and signed to Dawn Records in 1974, but despite favourable press coverage and a tour opening for The Who, the group failed to rise above cult status. The group disbanded in 1975.
It was known for some time before his death that Dury had Cancer. He was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 1996 and underwent surgery, but tumors were later found in his liver, and he was told that his condition was terminal. In 1998, his death was incorrectly announced on XFM radio by Bob Geldof, possibly due to hoax information from a listener. Upon hearing of his illness Dury took the opportunity to marry his girlfriend, Sculptor Sophy Tilson, with whom he had two children, Billy and Albert.
In 1999, Dury collaborated with Madness on their first original album in 14 years on the track “Drip Fed Fred”. Suggs and the band cite him as a great influence. It was to be one of his last recordings.
Ian Dury & The Blockheads’ last performance was a Charity concert in aid of Cancer Bacup on February 6 2000, at The London Palladium, supported by Kirsty Macoll and Phill Jupitus. Dury was noticeably ill and had to be helped on and off stage.
Dury died of metastatic Liver Cancer in 2000. One of his obituaries read: “one of few true originals of the English music scene”. Meanwhile, he was described by Suggs, the singer with Madness, as “possibly the finest lyricist we’ve seen.”
Dury’s son, Baxter Dury, is also a singer. He sang a few of his father’s songs at the wake after the funeral, and has released his own albums – Len Parrot’s Memorial Lift and Floor Show.
In 2002, a musical bench was placed in Poet’s Corner, near Pembroke Lodge, within Richmond Park, South-West London, being a favoured viewing spot of Dury’s. This Solar Powered seat was intended to allow visitors to plug in and listen to eight of his songs as well as an interview, but has been subjected to repeated vandalisim.