- 30 Sep 21
44 years ago today, Ian Dury released his iconic debut album, New Boots and Panties!!, on Stiff Records. To mark the occasion, we're revisiting an edited extract from Richard Balls' biography of the late musician, originally published in Hot Press in 2001.
At 9am on Monday March 27, 2000, Ian Dury died peacefully at his Hampstead home. He had been surrounded by his family in the weeks leading up to his death and they were with him when the final moment came. He was 57 years old. I was at work when Mickey Gallagher telephoned me to tell me the sad news. I knew Ian's health had declined in the previous few weeks but it still came as a shock. About an hour later his passing was announced on the news wires and on radio stations.
Dury's pal Rainbow George was one of the first to hear that his friend had died: "Sophy phoned me up about lunch-time and told me the news and asked me to come over. I made my way over with quite a lot of trepidation because I didn't know what the atmosphere was going to be like in the house. I rang on the door and Sophy answered with Albert and Bill and they re both smiling and saying, Daddy s gone to heaven , so there was a good atmosphere.
"I went into the bedroom and Sophy had dressed Ian up smart, with his flat cap and everything, and laid him out on his little bed and he looked absolutely fantastic. Then Bill got his guitar and Albert got his bongos and sat at the foot of the bed playing music it was just a brilliant atmosphere in the place, but that's Sophy. Ian really didn't have any beliefs beyond this existence and it's nice that Sophy was able to get that sort of imagery into Albert's and Bill's minds."
Ian Dury was held in unusually high regard in Britain and the fact that he had reached all sections of society, young and old, was movingly reflected in the coverage of his death. The Daily Telegraph and Independent carried large pictures of Ian on their front pages, it was front-page news in the Guardian and extensive obituaries were published by all the quality broadsheets. The tabloids also ran prominent tributes. The high-profile BBC2 current affairs show Newsnight included a tribute in its programme that evening, while old documentaries were rebroadcast in the days following his death.
Musicians and figures from varying walks of public life paid their respects to a man who had struck a chord with so many people. Jools Holland, the pianist and presenter of BBC2's Later With Jools Holland, said: "I was made an honorary Blockhead, which is one of the proudest accolades of my life. He should be posthumously made our Poet Laureate." Annie Nightingale, the former Radio1 DJ, described him as "the most cheerful genius I have ever met". Suggs from Madness added: "Ian really was the reason Madness started. He was still giving his all right til the end. He will be greatly missed."
Mo Mowlam, who had come to know Ian personally, said: "Those who knew him as a performer and a friend know that the world will be a duller place without him. We have all lost a wonderful man, a real human being." Jo Bexley of UNICEF, with whom he had travelled on polio immunisation missions, said: "There is only one word which describes him: awesome. He said there were three things on his agenda: his music, UNICEF and cancer, the disease to which he finally succumbed."
Ian had campaigned for the charity Cancer BACUP and throughout his illness attempted to remove the taboos about the disease. A spokesman for the charity said: "Ian was a tireless supporter. Even during his illness he raised £100,000 for us. His energy and enthusiasm were an inspiration for all cancer patients."
Baxter Dury, speaking on the day of his dad's death, told The Times: "I and the whole family were with Ian when he died. It's difficult to say exactly how we feel because none of us has had any sleep. All I can say is that he did everything that he wanted to in his life and he even died when he wanted to. He was very ill. For the last day and a half he could barely speak. But he was himself he was himself to the very end. He had all his dignity intact, right to the last second."
Bright sunshine bathed the courtyard of Golders Green Crematorium on the morning of April 5, as Ian's kaleidoscopic circle of friends gathered outside the west chapel for his funeral service. A glance at the faces of those who had known him revealed a great deal about his universal popularity and his flair for connecting with people from all walks of life. Celebrity, money and material possessions meant nothing to Ian and he made people feel valued and loved by appealing directly to their human side, communicating in the same robust and ribald manner with one and all.
The invited guests included well-known figures: Mo Mowlam, former Radio 1 DJ Annie Nightingale, Neneh and Eagle-Eye Cherry and Robbie Williams. Also among the mourners were ex-managers, ex-girlfriends, former Kilburns, art college friends, and stars from the heady days of Stiff Records, Nick Lowe, Lene Lovich, Wreckless Eric and Madness. Press photographers perched on the crematorium wall, training their lenses on the motley collection whom Ian Dury had like the Pied Piper led into his distinct and unordinary world. They were all there; friends with stripy woollen hats, Teddy Boy threads, shaved heads, mobster shades, camel-hair coats and trilbys, and others on crutches, sticks and carrying gold-topped canes.
Ian loved life's curiosities and felt an affinity with people who, like himself, knew what it felt like to be on the margins or physically vulnerable. Despite varying degrees of material success, Ian's friends have remained true to themselves; continuing to paint, draw, play music, write songs and put their talents to creative use. There, in the early summer sun, they were united; those who had given Ian so much friendship and who felt they had been repaid in the most handsome way.
The cortege, led by a Victorian glass-sided hearse pulled by two bay horses with black plumes, came from the funeral home in Haverstock Hill, Belsize Park, having stopped outside Ian's home in Hampstead to pick up his family, band members and other mourners. Little Billy Dury waited in his cowboy hat, sheriff's badge and a Blockhead tee-shirt, while Baxter and Jemima wore grey suits and white silk scarves, tied in the way their dad always wore them. The procession snaked through north London, passing within half a mile of Kilburn High Road, towards Golders Green NW11 the final destination in the journey of a performer whose songs were like a poetic London A-Z. From Billy Bentley s adventures in the capital to Fulham Broadway Station ('What A Waste'), Lambeth Walk, Turnham Green and Harold Hill ('This Is What We Find') and all the stops along the 'Bus Driver s Prayer', Ian took his followers on a colourful London tour.
A respectful silence fell as the horse-drawn hearse appeared through the crematorium gates and around 250 people filed slowly inside. The same music that announced his arrival on stage a strange mixture of sleigh bells, singing and yodelling was played as his coffin was carried into the chapel by Chaz, Johnny, Norman and Mickey, along with Chris Foreman and Lee Thompson of Madness. A black cloth bearing the Blockhead logo covered the casket, and his old overcoat was draped over one end. Death, for a man who had lived so joyously and who always looked to the future, suddenly seemed desperately cruel and unjust. But this was no sombre occasion. Rather, it was a celebration of Ian's inspirational contribution to 'The Passing Show', a chance to reflect on the counterfoil he had left behind.
It was a humanist ceremony, in accordance with Ian's wishes, and there was music and laughter as tributes were paid. Tears flowed when The Blockheads, seated around a music stand, played a song Ian had written only a few weeks before he died, 'You're The Why'. The words of his last composition would have moved even the hardest heart and the sight of his group performing without him epitomised the sense of loss. "I shuffled through the modes of bad behaviour/And hankered for the desolated dawn/I couldn't cope with yet another saviour/To steer me from the way that I was born," sang Chaz. "Then like a ton of bricks the dawn descended/Recalcitrance was hurtled to the floor/The citadel lay breached and undefended/You brought a love I'd never known before. I'll want you till the seasons lose their mystery/I'll need you till the birds forget to fly/I love you more than anyone in history/Wherever there's a wherefore you're the why."
When the service was over, the mourners moved past the coffin, some pausing thoughtfully to lay their hands lovingly on the cloth; jazz records and other favourites of Ian's played through the speakers as they did so.
Outside, family and friends admired the extraordinary display of flowers and wreaths which had been sent. Durex read one from Kosmo Vinyl, Uncle Ian from Madness spelt out some bright yellow flowers, while the floral tribute from his friends Jock Scott came in the shape of a pint of Guinness. 'Say hi to Don' read a card from the Cherry family, while other bouquets were sent by Paul McCartney and the kids, Charlie and Shirley Watts, Roger and Heather Daltrey, Chas & Dave and his former neighbours from Oval Mansions. One eulogy simply read 'Oi Oi'.
What was to follow at The Forum in Kentish Town, was the kind of occasion that Ian would have loved: a night of drinking, laughter, music and even some fighting. The venue itself was especially appropriate. It sits directly opposite The Tally Ho, the music pub where Kilburn & The High Roads served their apprenticeship, and the scene of the benefit concerts played by Ian and The Blockheads after the death of Charley Charles, who also died from cancer.
A large photograph of Ian used on the 1999 Sex And Drugs And Rock n Roll compilation looked down from the back of the stage, as the booze and the stories began to flow. Ian's favourite jellied eels and pie and mash were served to those arriving from the crematorium and musicians paid their own spontaneous tributes on stage throughout the evening. Some were raucous, such as Wilko Johnson's pulsating R&B and Wreckless Eric's Stiff classic 'Whole Wide World', while others were heart-rending. Baxter was ushered on stage by Derek The Draw a re-enactment of his father's time-honoured stage entrance and he gave an inebriated rendition of 'My Old Man', reading the poignant lyrics from a sheet of paper as he tried to keep time with The Blockheads.
Meanwhile, Humphrey Ocean, wearing a flat green cap and a coat adorned with coloured badges from the Stiff tour, led the audience in a sing-a-long of 'Hit Me' and 'Billericay Dickie' for which song sheets were given out. Chas Smash from the Kilburn's tribute band Madness also drunkenly helped conduct proceedings. Saxophonist Gilad Atzmon, one of the last additions to The Blockheads, gave a breathtaking jazz performance, aided by Dylan Howe on drums and Ed Speight on keyboards.
Possibly the most moving contribution of all came courtesy of Ronnie Carroll. He stunned the party into silence when he shambled towards the microphone in his buttoned-up overcoat to deliver an unaccompanied, note-perfect rendition of 'Danny Boy (The Londonderry Air)', changing the words to 'Ian Boy'. For those few minutes, the image of Ian above him seemed larger than ever and a peacefulness descended. It was indicative of the emotional ebb and flow of the occasion; moments later, figures could be seen brawling on the balcony. As the music ended, the crowd called for more, with Chas Smash reminding the guests that The Blockheads had just lost their best friend .
Somewhat curiously, the wake was reviewed in The Guardian two days later, with critic Robin Denselow grading the event, awarding it four stars no less, as if it was a paying gig. The review prompted a letter to the paper the following week to the effect that Ian's wake was probably the first in history to be classified in this way. Ian would have laughed his socks off.
Revisit New Boots and Panties!! below: