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Ian Dury: Many Happy Returns To 'New Boots And Panties!!'

Tuesday, 03 October 2017 Written by Graeme Marsh

There are only a handful of artists who can claim they saw off extreme physical odds to forge hugely successful careers. Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder, certainly, also Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi and Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen.

Gene Vincent, too. The rockabilly legend severely injured his left leg in a motorcycle accident in 1955, playing on through the pain for the rest of a career that captured the imagination of one Ian Robins Dury.

On Dury’s debut LP, ‘New Boots and Panties!!’, he included Sweet Gene Vincent, a tribute to one of his heroes. Dury had overcome polio in his youth, the virus leaving its mark on his left side, and a school life beset by bullying and abuse. By the time he came to music, he was the angriest of young men.

In 1971 Vincent died at the age of just 36 from a stomach ulcer. His end would dovetail with a beginning for Dury, who had formed a pub rock band – Kilburn and the High Roads – a year earlier. Just months after Vincent died, they played their first gig and would later go on to open for the Who.

Kosmo Vinyl, who would become Dury’s press officer, remembered the band in an interview with the Guardian in 2009. “I was only a kid and I was taken aback and then mesmerised,” he said. “The trouble was I could never find anyone to go again. They were just too chaotic, too threatening. Then suddenly punk made it alright to be like that.”

In 1976, Dury met future songwriting partner Chaz Jankel. A friendship eventually formed, despite Dury initially telling him to fuck off the first time they met. As his band petered out, Dury continued churning out innumerable songs, now passing them to Jankel, who would reshape them.

It was around this time that Dury signed for Stiff, the nascent punk label and home to, among others, the Damned, Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello. “We knew Ian’s music and we saw his potential,” explained Stiff founder Dave Robinson to the Guardian. “We were prepared to put up with his antics.

"He was one of the most remarkable performers I ever worked with, and the one I most wanted to throttle on a regular basis. He had a lot of baggage. Whatever he had suffered as a child, I don’t think he ever really processed. I was always there. It made him angry and impossible from time to time but it also made him a great artist.”

Originally sarcastically called ‘Live At Lourdes’, after the site of a Roman Catholic shrine purported to have miraculous healing powers, ‘New Boots and Panties!!” was released in September 1977. A mix of punk, jazz and music hall, the pre-Blockheads album was a revelation and one that Dury would never top.

Everyday, down-to-earth tales of real-life characters like Plaistow Patricia, Clever Trevor and Billericay Dickie all shared centre stage, as did that tribute to his idol, Sweet Gene Vincent. The slang language peppering the songs gave it a gritty edge.

Preceding the album’s release was the non album single Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, which was driven by a riff stolen from Ornette Coleman (who himself had lifted it from an earlier folk song). It was banned by the BBC and it failed to chart, but it later became an anthem and a well-coined phrase, albeit an oft-misconstrued one.

“Sex & Drugs started as a mild admonishment and ended up as a lovely anthem,” Dury told Unpublished in 1995. “There was a time when I got fed up with it, but it got a new lease of life. With this song I was trying to suggest there was more to life than either of those three – sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, or pulling a lever all day in a factory.

“Of course when I go out and perform the song, everyone sings along, and you can’t stop ‘em! People say to me, ‘now there’s AIDS about, don’t you think that song was awful?’, I explain it was always a question mark about those activities.

"And I wrote it before all those dreadful sexual diseases like Herpes and AIDS appeared. I was saying, ‘if all you think about is sex and drugs and rock and roll, there is something wrong’. The title was used in headlines all over the world. I wish I’d got a quid every time that title has been used.”

Inspired in part by the single stirring up interest, ‘New Boots…’ hit number five in the UK charts. More so, it shone a light on Dury. He became a hero, having navigated a life of trials to achieve amazing things, giving hope to numerous others in the process.

Dury’s son, Baxter, who appears on the album cover as a boy alongside his father, told the Independent why it was so special: “It was music that fought the forces of expectation, about what you can do and what you shouldn’t do. He wasn’t much of a singer at all. He was a short, disabled guy. He was never meant to be an icon.

"It’s just that a great deal of effort over 10 years – 10 years of performing, singing, writing, talking – culminated in ‘New Boots...’. All his test tubes had been boiling from an early age and it all came together at once. It blew up, like a manhole cover exploding out of Tarmac. It wasn’t a choice.”

Dury died of cancer in 2000. Defiant to the end, he told the Independent in 1998 that feeling “sorry for yourself is for wankers, innit!”. For all the troubles he went through as a child, sympathy is the one thing he never wanted. Reluctant icon or not, the man remains a legend. His biggest legacy is his brilliant debut.

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