Ian Dury’s biopic is the story of my life
Out tomorrow, a film that’ll mean a lot to me, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, a biopic of my hero from Upminister, Ian Dury. I’m not sure I’ll be able to watch it without crying.
I’m from nearby Elm Park on London’s East End border. Ian defined my white working class identity, theatrically and parodically thuggish, gaudily irreverent. Bits of Byron and bits of Mr Pastry thrown in. He was more art school than me (and back then, the difference between art school, university, technical college and plain worker was quite something).
Ian embodied English white working class culture long before my clan recognised the chip on their own shoulder. But this was suburban streets working class – lower middle really – not even your two-up, two-down terrace (later your seven-storey, deck access) working class. His was no racist spat. He was a Bohemian with an attitude problem, aesthetic aspirations, with a bully-or-be-bullied cockney swagger. And then there was the limp, which made him sit up and fly right in a way.
For all his career I identified with his roots and vast grasp of the world of music, poetic lyrics and his f***-you, leave-me-alone guttural gruff Essex-boy bellow. During my teens I pushed fruit & veg barrows on Saturdays on Romford Market, and on Sundays I unloaded the van and manned the stall selling blankets and bedspreads on Peitticoat Lane, Wentworth Street. I knew where Ian was coming from: his father drove somebody else’s Rolls Royce, my father worked on the back of somebody else’s Routemaster bus.
I left Dury Falls Secondary Modern in 1975 with no qualifications. (Even my school in Upminster Bridge was a punning homage to my later hero.) I was into football violence and Motown. Friday’s and Saturdays were for getting drunk and punch ups.
My first job was as a railway operating apprentice on London’s Underground. I lasted one day. I phoned my mum from White City tube station and told her I’d resigned because uniforms with caps were not for me.
Instead, I enrolled at Havering Technical College. Everybody was shocked – I’d failed both maths and English at school. What people didn’t know was that when I was bunking off school (I was rarely there in the final year) I was wasn’t out causing trouble. I was touring London’s museums. I was gate-crashing lectures at the Science Museum, Victoria & Albert and the British Museum put on for other schools’ parties. My horizons were being widened.
I knew there was a better world out there than wasting my life in the Elm Park Hotel, as rough an East End boozer as ever there was, or at Zero Six in South End, with its Kermit Pogo Stick Double Ups and onstage knees-ups. So I told London Underground to do the other thing and set out on my great adventure to develop myself.
At Havering Technical College I was a chaotic disaster. I spent too much time flirting in the Spencers Arms at lunch time to ever stand a chance of passing my exams. But from the students’ union events I found arty films, left wing politics, Ian Dury and how to lose badly at poker (no logical connection).
I was never fully comfortable with punk, which like the hippies I dubbed middle class wankers. Motown became boring. I needed something more grown up, more modern, more me. The Clash appealed, I’ll admit. I liked the Sex Pistols, but couldn’t stand their act-tough but soft fans. I sang Tom Robinson’s Glad to be Gay at the Victoria Park anti-racist gig in 1978. Those were empowering times that opened our working class eyes to new ideas.
I’ve never forgotten seeing Ian Dury and The Blockheads at Hammersmith Odeon. During the break my gorgeous companion distracted the man behind the kiosk in the foyer with a full-on view of her bust while I stole a large box of Maltesers. It was very Ian Dury:
In my yellow jersey, I went out on the nick.
South Street Romford, shopping arcade
Got a Razzle magazine, I never paid
Inside my jacket and away double quick.
Good sense told me, once was enough
But I had a cocky eye on more of this stuff
With the Razzle in my pocket, back to have another peek
If the film lives up to the great reviews it has been getting, I’m gonna be in for a treat.
If anyone had told me, back then, that I’d be living in perhaps Switzerland’s most prosperous village, on Zurich’s lakeside, amongst the billionaires, bankers, oligarchs and entrepreneurs, I’d have said they were Barking as well as Romford. Reasons to be cheerful? You bet!
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Paul, quite fascinating… I have no such personal connection to Ian Dury – I just liked the few tunes I heard growing up in Los Angeles amid the disco duck mainstream and KROQ-FM’s surreal embracing of The Clash, Devo, Sex Pistols, and Ian Dury – no one had ever heard the like… Assertive, funky beats, good sing-a-long fare…especially if one had, um, enjoyed a few cocktails.
” because uniforms with caps were not for me”
Nice insightful, entertaining piece.
Lovely piece. Enjoyed that. You really should get my book about Ian, if you haven’t already, as there is so much about his childhood that people don’t know. And while his father was working class and originally worked as a bus driver, his mother and her family were upper middle class. Ian wasn’t born in Upminster or Romford or Billericay. He was born in Harrow in Middlesex, attended Royal Gramar School in High Wycombe – still one of the best schools in the country – and even spent time in your neck of the woods. As a child he lived briefly in Switzerland when his father was driving for a wealthy businessman. He always talked to reporters and writers about his dad, but his mum rarely got a mention, just as she doesn’t in the brilliant film starring Andy Serkis. My biography is Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Life of Ian Dury (Omnibus Press). I think you’d find it fascinating.
Richard, thanks for the comment. I’m looking forward to reading your book and to seeing the film. I certainly had no idea he had spent time as a child in Switzerland – perhaps that explains je t’adore, ich liebe dich.
What a brilliant piece, well written mate, Dury Falls the good old days a !
Paul, very much enjoyed your piece. Did you know that Ian’ childhood chum – who accompanied him the day he contracted the poliovirus in a Southend swimming pool – also lives in Switzerland?! Also, interested to see you mention Zero 6 – where Kilburn & The High Roads played a number of gigs back in 1973. You can read about it all in ‘Ian Dury: The Definitive Biography’ by Will Birch (Sidgwick & Jackson) out now. If you let me know your address in an email via http://www.willbirch.com I will mail you a signed copy of my book (rare softback edition). Best regards, Will Birch
Thank You for that interesting insight in Your relationship to Ian Dury – and his music. For Me “New Boots & Panties” opened the gate to the large and still fascinating world of Rock’n’roll. It was one of my first records ever and for sure it was the first one, my parents argued against (“turn the volume down, son.” This ist no more Music, they used to say. Escpecially when i played “Plaistow Patricia” ). SInce then Ian Durys early records are my favorite recordings in a large collection of rock, Jazz and Punkbands.
And of course: I am also longing to see the film in Zurich.
Best regards, Marcel
[…] Ian Dury’s biopic is the story of my life | 21st-century PR issues › Paul …Jan 7, 2010 … Best regards, Will Birch. Marcel Zulauf says: March 9, 2010 at 9:15 pm … course: I am also longing to see the film in Zurich. Best regards, Marcel … […]
being at a Ian Dury and The Blockheads recital in April 28 of 1978 marks a memorable day in my life…it was intense cool spinning and effervescing into a screeching frenzy at the climax of Sex Drugs And Rock And Roll and Blockheads…my wife of two years reached climax for the first time in her life_we had been trying doggedly_she said the funny guy on stage was so relaxing…it was to end badly but that was within the possibilities…anyways, I remain a fervent blockhead too. Reading your piece was like fresh breath imbued with pertinent times and places. Regards…Emilio