Ian Dury was and is the unsung hero of the UK music scene in the late 70s. Crippled by polio as a child, the singer/songwriter’s ungainly gait only added to his cache at the vanguard of the new wave punk movement; as the front-man of Ian Dury and the Blockheads, he shouted and crooned his way through legendary lyrics that remain embedded in the UK’s national psyche to this day.
Born to the sound of falling bombs in Harrow, London, 1942, Dury was the product of an awkward union of a female doctor of Irish gentry’ descent, and a London bus driver. Following a brief spell in Switzerland, where his father worked as a chauffeur, the young Dury and his mother moved to Cranham – a small Essex village in 1996
Dury contracted polio in the 1949 epidemic, and spent nearly two years in hospital, before going on to Chailey Heritage Craft School in Essex – a school of hard knocks for disabled kids, that taught trades and self-reliance. Dury excelled and learned cobbling and printing there before moving on to grammar school, followed by art college before winning a place at the Royal College of Art in 1964.
After a few years teaching art in various colleges, Ian was characteristically honest enough to realise he had made it as far as he would ever go with art. Dury found himself drawn toward music and spent the years between 1970 – 1975 at the front of Kilburn and the High Roads, a moderately successful pub rock band whose zenith was opening for The Who.
Following the break-up of the band in 1975, Dury took a year out of the music scene before a chance meeting with guitarist Chaz Jankel who put music to the reams of lyrics Dury had compiled, and Ian Dury and the Blockheads were formed.
What followed was a string of hits that became a musical standard of the time - Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, What A Waste, and Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3, all became indelibly etched in the minds of the nation thanks to Dury's Ruskin-like ability to paint pictures with words, and the jovial accessibility of Jankel's music.
In 1980, with two hit albums - New Boots and Panties, and Do It Yourself - behind them, the band broke up as Jankel and Dury went in different directions. Dury, dipped in and out of the music scene, and began to carve a niche for himself as an actor on stage and TV, and to a lesser extent in cinema with a series of cameos.
Dury was diagnosed with cancer and bravely fought the disease, touring with the reformed Blockheads, he said:
"I'm not scared of dying, I just don't want to."
Ian Dury died in 2007, aged 57.
Ian Dury makes the You2uk.com list of Great Britons for his victory over polio, and his massive contribution to post-war UK culture. His life and lyrics gave us all reasons to be cheerful.