IAN DURY FINDS THE BLOCKHEADS, MAKES NEW BOOTS AND PANTIES!! 1977
He was the 35-year-old pub rock ruler and genius wordsmith, straining to break out. A series of fortuitous meetings led him to his dream writing partner and the only band for the job. But how did it all come together?
“HE SAID, ‘YOU AND I ARE GOING TO BE AS BIG AS LENNON & McCARTNEY’.”
“In 1976 I’d joined Ian in the Kilburns, and we’d played together for about nine months. He was the king of the pub circuit, but I think he felt dissatisfied, tired even. When I asked him if he fancied writing some songs, he said, ‘God, yeah’. He started accepting less gigs and we started writing. We were both prolific, I’d go to his third floor flat opposite the Oval (nicknamed ‘Catshit Mansions’) and we’d work from midday to 10, 11 in the evening. I had my Wurlitzer electric piano parked there and he had this basic Olivetti typewriter set up on this old wooden trestle table, and a pile of lyrics on top of his desk, which I’d wade through. I wrote three-quarters of what became New Boots And Panties!! with him over the course of a few months. His lyrics were so rich and dense, so well-crafted and poetic, with so much information in a line. I think he saw himself as the voice of the disenfranchised, writing about heroin addicts and racism, as well as bringing a lot of warmth and humour. His strength of spirit and self-belief was like a steam train: life wasn‘t easy for him physically, because he’d had polio, so he’d grit his teeth and he had to believe he was the best. Ian was definitely, hugely ambitious. He said to me, ‘Chaz, you and I are going to be as big as Lennon & McCartney.’ I also think that it was almost like no one was challenging him before I met him. The Kilburns were quite eccentric, very fired up and driven by Ian: because I was tapping into American music a lot, I was coming from a very different direction to other musicians he’d worked with. He was an architect in the way that he could sense a really nice shape to the record, from the songs we’d written. Wake Up And Make Love With Me was the perfect opener, Sweet Gene Vincent suggested his love of rockabilly and it all flowed from there. Side two was significant, it just got more fervent and more angry as it went on with Plaistow Patricia and Blackmail Man, which was very much his intent. Once he got that shape, that’s when he said we were ready to go in the studio. We were demo’ing the songs in Alvic Studios in West Kensington, and one of the guys who ran the studio, I can’t remember if it was Al or Vic, said he knew this great rhythm section from a band called Loving Awareness, as Ian and I didn’t play drums or bass. It was Norman Watt-Roy [bass] and Charlie Charles [drums]; our influences were funk and soul and jazz, which Ian loved, but no musician up to that point had offered that as a musical environment for Ian. Norman and Charlie, God, they could. At this session we did Sweet Gene Vincent, Blockheads and maybe Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. Also, it worked the other way – I’ve heard Norman talk about how they loved the music but the real clincher was this English poet bloke as a front- man, with lyrics like they’d never heard before. We went to a basement studio in Bermondsey where we demo’d the whole album, then re-recorded it properly at Workhouse on Old Kent Road. Geoff Castle played synth, Davey Payne played sax and Ed Speight from the Kilburns played guitar. The album sounds very confident because we’d had a trial run at it. With New Boots…, things got more balanced. Ian wanted musical development, with people who’d put the time into their craft. When we put the combination together we didn’t even know it was a genre we hadn’t heard before. When Charlie Gillett came down to the studio we were recording I’m Partial To Your Abracadabra. He said, ‘Ian you sound like Barry White.’ He was like, ‘Right, fuck that.’ He went back into the London vernacular, which he never gave up. [Single] Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll had come out [on Stiff Records], with the album following: Ian’s management wanted him out on tour. Ian brought Davey and we asked Charlie and Norman to do it, and they said, ‘Only if we can bring the rest of our band’.”
Dury musician and co-writer Chaz Jankel recalls ambition, anger and musical freedom.
Upminster fully: (far left)Ian Dury and typewriter in ‘Catshit Mansions’; on-stage with Kilburn And The High Roads’ alumni Ed Speight (guitar) and Davey Payne (sax); (bottom row, from left) Chaz Jankel; Dury enjoys an oily rag; the album in question; bassist Norman Watt-Roy and Charlie Charles’s kit; Stiff promo badge; Loving Awareness and Dury wax.