76. Not a Blockhead
Ian Dury and the Blockheads were popular in the 1980’s. One or two of his songs have endured: mainly his ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ as its such a good idea for cheering up when things are going against you. Unfortunately they did from birth with Dury. He lost several years of his childhood and was subsequently partly crippled by polio: a disease that is now curable but was not in the 1940’s. That event marked his life and helped to create the character he was: funny but somewhat twisted, with a bad temper at times.
I have always liked his songs: literate but often quite rude. I dont really like his biggest his (Rhythm Stick) so want include that. But one of his early hits is great: Sex and Drugs and Rock And Roll. It is important to emphasise all the ‘ands’ as a friend of mine used to say. It give is more character.
This was Dury’s first big hit, in 1977 when he was 35. It was banned by the BBC, which always guaranteed a hit. It was put out on Stiff Records, a notable punk label which already had several off-beat acts on it such as Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and the splendidly named (and pretty useless) Wreckless Eric. The pianist and guitarist Chas Jankel wrote the songs, based on Dury’s lyrics.
‘What a Waste’ has the format of a lot of Dury’s songs, which are based on amusing lists.
The next song is an ironic reflection upon his polio affected body, which caused him suffering in his schooldays at Wycombe Grammar School. Although he was brought up in leafy Buckinghamshire his heart was in Essex, where his family had come from and where he lived.
Here is some more excellent lyric writing in ‘This is what we find’. Notice the lines
home improvement expert Harold Hill of Harold Hill
..came home to find another gentleman’s kippers in the grill
so he sanded off his winkle with his Black and Decker drill
‘the hope that springs eternal, springs right up your behind’
Now his masterpiece: in terms of the longevity of the idea: reasons to be cheerful.
Its another list song, but very witty. Its title is ‘Reasons to be cheerful Part 3‘. No previous parts available. It mentioens a wide range of things and people. One that I notice is ‘Wee Willie Harris’ a now long forgotten singer. His only hit was ‘Rockin at the 2 ‘i’s’ a coffee shop in Soho which supported the skiffle craze of the late 1950’s. Here is a rather stout Wee Willie in 1987, but still doing his hihttps
He did not seem too bored with doing the same song for 30 years! In fact much more than that: he is now 84 and still performing that song and lots of other standard rockers. He worked at Peak Freans biscuit factory before breaking out into rock and roll.
Sadly Dury did not live as long. He was only 56 when he died. But he left a solid collection of songs. This is one of his most popular: ‘Wake up and make love with me’.
As you will see Dury was ill by the time this was recorded. He his great friend Derek the Draw can be seen helping Dury to the microphone.
Derek is a skilled guitarist and now helps to keep the Blockheads going nearly 20 years after Dury’s death. Derek writes with Chaz Jankel and sings the songs. His son Baxter Dury has made a career singing very much the same kind of songs. It shows what a powerful character and style he had.