Ian Dury was a rock and roll vagabond with the wit, humour and intelligence of Noël Coward and Oscar Wilde. His verbal dexterity as an entertainer and a lyric writer gave the world some of its most famous phrases – “sex and drugs and rock and roll” and “reasons to be cheerful.” He was a true Renaissance man – a talented painter, musician and actor –  who left behind a body of work that continues to amuse, impress and delight to this day.

Ian Robins Dury was born in Harrow, West London on 12th May, 1942. His mother, Margaret “Peggy” Walker, was a health visitor and his father, William “Bill” Dury, was a bus driver and chauffeur. Married in 1939, his parents separated after the end of the Second World War and Ian and his mother relocated to Cranham in Essex to live with Peggy’s two sisters Elisabeth and Mary, and Ian’s cousins Martin and Lucy.

The roots of Ian’s creativity can be traced back to the hours spent reading, writing and scrapbooking with his very attentive mum and the intellectual family atmosphere of their post-war Essex home. After contracting polio in 1949, at seven years old, Ian was confined to Braintree Hospital for eighteen months before attending Chailey Heritage Craft School for disabled children from 1951 until 1954, and from there he moved to the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe to improve his education. The schools proved tough going for Ian. Chailey left the children to fend for themselves in spite of their varied disabilities, and physical and mental hardships were not uncommon, and the Grammar School was a challenge because its academic, private school traditions provoked Ian’s rebellious character. He sought to sublimate the rigours of school life, and gain respect, by expressing himself through drawing and music, becoming an authority on reproducing images of glamour girls and knowing all the latest record releases. The wild rock and roll sounds of Elvis Presley and Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps became the backdrop of his teenage years.

On leaving school at 16, Ian chose to attend art school, gaining a place at Walthamstow School of Art in 1959, where his love of jazz and a taste for cockney rhyming slang helped him sail through his studies. He met painter Peter Blake, who began teaching at Walthamstow in 1961, and found his spiritual home amongst a talented set of music-loving artists. Many of Ian’s Walthamstow peers, like him, were accepted onto MA courses at the Royal College of Art and in 1963 he began three years of study that led onto work as an illustrator and art teacher. The death of Gene Vincent in 1971 inspired Ian to form his first band, Kilburn and the High Roads. He became the vocalist and lyricist, co-writing with keyboard players Russell Hardy and Rod Melvin. Kilburn and the High Roads, later the Kilburns, found cult fame on London’s pub rock circuit and signed to Dawn Records in 1974, but despite acres of favourable press coverage, an album – Handsome – and a tour opening for The Who, the group never rose above cult status.

In 1975 the Kilburns disbanded and Ian focussed on writing new material and considered his options. A chance encounter with former Byzantium guitarist Chaz Jankel led to a new song writing partnership. Jankel, armed with stacks of Dury’s lyrics, collaborated on a number of songs, including the classic Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. Jankel’s influence was precisely what Ian had been searching for and soon they were recording, assisted by drummer Charley Charles, bassist Norman Watt-Roy and the former Kilburns’ saxophonist Davey Payne, amongst others.

An album was completed but major record labels passed on Ian, whom they may have seen as a pub rock no-hoper. However, next door to Ian’s manager’s office was the newly formed Stiff Records, a perfect home for his oddball genius. The now legendary single Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, with Razzle in My Pocket as the B-side, marked his Stiff Records debut and this was swiftly followed by the platinum album New Boots and Panties!!

In October 1977, Ian signed up for the Stiff Live Stiffs Tour, alongside Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Nick Lowe, Wreckless Eric and Larry Wallis. Ian’s new band, now augmented by guitarist Johnny Turnbull and keyboard player Mickey Gallagher, was christened Ian Dury and the Blockheads and the group became the surprise hit of the tour. To capitalise on this, Stiff Records launched a concerted Ian Dury marketing campaign, resulting, in the Spring of 1978, in the Top Ten hit What a WasteNew Boots and Panties!! continued to sell in greater quantities and in November that year, Ian released the irrepressible hit song Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick, which went to No1 in the UK charts in January 1979. Dury was now a bona fide pop star and with the Blockheads, toured to great acclaim.

While New Boots and Panties!! headed towards its remarkable 90-week chart run, the group commenced work on the follow up album, entitled Do It Yourself. Another Top Ten single, Reasons to Be Cheerful (Part Three), kept Dury in the public eye during this arduous period of recording. The album was eventually released in June 1979 in a Barney Bubbles-designed sleeve, of which there were over thirty variations, all based on samples from the Crown wallpaper catalogue. In 1980 Chaz Jankel departed the Blockheads to concentrate on a solo career, signing with A&M Records and was replaced by former Dr Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson. Wilko further enlivened the group’s stage act and contributed to the next album, Laughter, and its two minor hit singles – I Want to Be Straight and Sueperman’s Big Sister.

In 1981 Ian Dury and the Blockheads disbanded and Ian left Stiff Records and signed instead to Polydor, who released the album Lord Upminster. This included the controversial single Spasticus (Autisticus). For this record, Dury was re-united with Chaz and they recorded in the Bahamas with the legendary rhythm section of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. A second Polydor album, 4000 Weeks’ Holiday was released in 1984 and it was toured with a new band, Ian Dury and the Music Students.

In the mid-eighties Ian scaled down his musical output to concentrate on film and stage acting. His theatrical CV includes films such as Roman Polanski’s Pirates, Bob Hoskins’ the Raggedy Rawney and Hearts of Fire with Bob Dylan, plus the fondly remembered voice-over, “Hello Tosh got a Toshiba?” from the well-known TV commercial. Ian acted in several stage plays, including Road by Jim Cartwright and Talk of the Devil with Annette Crosby and TP McKenna and under the guidance of Max Stafford Clark he wrote songs with Chaz and Mickey for Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money and his own stage musical, Apples, produced by the Royal Court Theatre in 1989.

In 1990, the Blockheads drummer Charley Charles became ill with cancer and the group supported its bandmate with a series of benefit concerts but sadly Charley did not live to see these shows. The re-united Blockheads, with new drummer Steve Monti, produced the live album Warts ‘n’ Audience, released on Demon Records. Throughout the early nineties, the group played gigs on a regular basis, often in mainland Europe. A second album for Demon, The Bus Driver’s Prayer & Other Stories, was released in 1992.

In late 1995 Ian returned from filming in America feeling unwell and in 1996 he was treated for colorectal cancer, undergoing surgery and making a good recovery. He and the Blockheads began work on material for a new album and Ian became a UNICEF Ambassador, accompanying the organisation to Zambia to witness an immunization programme. Ian’s work rate didn’t slow throughout the following year in spite of being re-diagnosed with cancer in early 1998. In June that year he and the Blockheads released their first album in seventeen years – Mr Love Pants. It was greeted with rapturous acclaim, many critics saying that it was Ian’s best album since the seminal New Boots and Panties!! It was followed by a guest appearance with Paul Weller at an open-air gig in London, and a sell-out UK tour.

Ian continued to work with UNICEF, traveling to Sri Lanka with Robbie Williams in October 1998 and, using his continued high profile to good effect, he joined forces with Cancer Bacup on the launch of a new helpline number. In April 1999, Ian and the band played three sell out London gigs followed by a string of shows around the country and later that year they returned to the studio to start laying down tracks for a new album – Ten More Turnips from the Tip. Sadly, Ian became too ill to finish this album which was released posthumously in 2002 with the unrecorded vocals covered by Chaz and Robbie Williams.

Right before he died, at the start of the new Millennium and alongside the Blockheads, Ian managed to entertain an audience one last time. “New Boots and Panto” was performed at the London Palladium on February 6th, 2000 and was a special and memorable evening with Kirsty MacColl as guest support and Phill Jupitus as MC. Ian drew on his meagre reserves of energy to deliver an astonishing final gig. Six weeks later he passed away peacefully at home with his family.

Ian Dury died in Hampstead, London on March 27th, 2000.