Book Review: Ian Dury – Pub Rock Poet Laureate
There are few people as knowledgeable about the pub rock scene as Will Birch. He had a front row seat as a key member of Kursaal Flyers. The Kursaals were active participants in England’s pub rock movement of the mid 70’s with hits like “Television Generation” and “Little Does She Know”. Birch’s latest book, Ian Dury – The Definitive Biography, tells the story of a genius with words who could be feared, admired and abhorred – all at the same time.
Ian Dury passed away a few years back, of course. Thankfully, he left behind some great songs before leaving us. His better known tunes have become pub rock classics and part of the lexicon. Songs such as “Sex and Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Reasons To Be Cheerful”. He even had a top 40 hit in the US with “Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick”. More than anything though, Birch tells the story of Dury from childhood through to the end. We learn how his resolve took him from cripple to (eventual) fame and fortune as pub rock’s greatest wordsmith.
It’s a compelling story and Birch does an admirable job giving us first-hand accounts of a pub rock legend through the eyes of various family members and cohorts. Fans of the pub rock genre will be interested in contributions from Wreckless Eric and Wilko Johnson, among others. Best of all, the author had access to Dury himself.
Dury was manipulative, often pitting one band member against another. He was known to berate band members by demeaning them, then threatening to replace them with one of his art students. He was known to make cutting, mean spirited remarks for no particular reason.
“You can always judge a man by the quality of his sychophants.” – Ian Dury
However, he could be compassionate in his own way. We learn that he once fired a drummer from Killburn & The Highroads because he knew the man to be a promising artist. Dury wanted him to get his degree, something he knew would not happen if the drummer stayed in the band.
Birch shares many more interesting facts and nuances about the man. For example, it appears that Dury respected only three others in his life; his father limousine driving Bill Dury, Gene Vincent and Stiff Records’ cover artist, Barney Bubbles. He also fashioned himself as the first ever rap artist. The irony here is that Dury’s big break was opening for the man who probably was the original rapper, Lou Reed. However, Dury was the first to brandish a razor blade earring, something fashionistas Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood took note of.
Interviews with former band members were key to making this a very compelling read. Most telling were comments by Wilko Johnson. A member of Dury’s Blockheads and the legendary pub rock band Dr. Feelgood, Johnson’s observation hold a great deal of weight. Johnson is a particularly valuable source. A friend who performed on Stiff tours once told me “if Wilko says it was so, then it was so.”
Will Birch’s Ian Dury – The Definitive Biography is a must read for fans of the man as well as those who remember the pub rock movement fondly. While you’re at it, add the recent bio on pub rock great Mickey Jupp to your reading list. It’s a good time to be a pub rock fan.
Order Ian Dury The Definitive Biography on Amazon.com.