On Monday night and Tuesday morning the phone started ringing and the e-mails started arriving and the news wasn’t good. Ian Dury was dead – aged 57 – from cancer. No more Billericay Dickie for him, no more Sex and Drugs and Rock n’ Roll.
I used to work with / for Ian in the 70’s and 80’s but it would be inaccurate to call him a friend and the word acquaintance suggests more intimacy than we shared. However for a number of people I presume that the fact I knew him was enough for them to want to reach out and share the sad news. And I felt strangely moved especially as my memories of the man were spread across the map.
I remember in my first week at Stiff driving the company car East along the Marylebone Road on a warm autumn afternoon. The windows were wound down, the sun roof open and the stereo cranked up high as I played New Boots And Panties for the very first time. I pulled up at the lights and cast a wily eye at the attractive, but respectable lady in the Volvo in the next lane. At that moment Blockheads came to an end and there was a moment of glorious silence…and then Ian’s voice yelled the intro to Plaistow Patricia: “Bastards, arseholes, f+++ing c+++s and pricks!” Oh I don’t know who was more shocked, me or Volvo lady.
In time New Boots And Panties became Stiff’s biggest selling album and Ian had our first number one hit with “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick.” One summer night Paul and I drove up to Manchester to see a gig on the tour. It’s a no win sitch being a drone at a label when you go to a gig: if you turn up backstage no-one really wants to see you, if you don’t show your face then you’re not supporting the artist. Paul and I sat in the band’s dressing room before the gig. I felt self-conscious and ill at ease. Ian was watching the World Cup on the telly and upstairs the punters were going nuts in the theatre, we could hear their stamping feet and their slow-hand claps. The band were getting increasingly itchy and ready to go on but Ian wasn’t budging: he was going to see the end of the game band or no band.
Enter Fred, Ian’s “personal,” a tough looking bloke from the East-end with a serious amount of porridge under his belt for various blags. “C’mon Ian, time to do the business,” says Fred. “Knob off I’m watching the match,” says Ian. Fred looks at the band who shrug their shoulders at their employers resolve. Ian is Fred’s boss. Fred doesn’t care that his boss had polio at the age of eight and can only shuffle about with the aid of a stick, he moves and stands in front of him blocking his view of the TV. Fred leans forward, points a finger at his boss, clenches his teeth and spits, “Listen to me you f+++ing cripple there’s 3,000 kids out there who paid good money to come and see you tonight, now you go out there and do a gig before I brain you with that f+++ing stick!” To the credit of both men, Ian said nothing, turned round and went out on stage followed by his faithful Blockheads. Fred continued to be Ian’s minder for years afterwards.
A year or two later I had become Stiff’s press officer and I took great exception to a review Paul Morley of the NME had written about Dirty Looks one of our new bands. Furious at the unjust paragraphs of bile written by a bitter and miserable journalist I wrote a letter to the paper standing squarely behind everyone of the artists on our label. I was stunned when the paper actually printed my letter and even more speechless when later that same day Ian appeared in my office with a huge bunch of flowers, “Thanks Nige, this is from me and all the other blokes on Stiff, we appreciate the support.” He smiled and shambled away with his pork-pie hat at its usual jaunty angle.
And now he’s gone. No more clever rhymes about Nina and Cortina but he gave me some laughs and I’ll never forget all those boxes of SEEZ4 that I had to carry down into the Stiff basement or the way the girl I fancied stared longingly at him that night at the Lyceum on the first Stiff tour. Those were great days.
Official Ian Dury web site: www.iandury.co.uk/biog.html