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Reason To Be Cheerful

My my, but the anniversaries are creeping up on us thick and fast. We're only a year away from marking a quarter-century since Phil Lynott passed away. And coming onstream in the coming weeks we have a biography and biopic of one of the most fascinating characters to have come to prominence in the great leveller that was the punk period: Ian Dury.

Dury was the classic outsider who probably wouldn't have gotten a sniff at stardom had the doors not temporarily been knocked off their hinges in 1976 and '77, and even by the standards of those times he cut a most unusual figure. Crippled as a result of childhood polio and 35 years of age by the time he really announced himself to the world with the anthemic Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Dury had a background as an arts teacher and had come through the pub rock circuit with an unlikely collective, Kilburn and the High Roads.

Once Dury teamed up with guitarist and co-songwriter Chas Jankel in the Blockheads, however, it all came together.

The Blockheads were a curious outfit who appealed to both punks and old farts alike as they could stir up a fearsome jazzy, funky stew, while, out front, Dury's street-savvy, practically rapped lyrics were totally in tune with the rebellious times.

The 1977 debut New Boots and Panties went Top 5 while Top of the Pops was privileged to have Dury and his fellow misfits on view for three magnificent singles, What a Waste, Reasons to Be Cheerful and the 1979 chart-topper Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick.

Irish gig-goers certainly responded well to Ian Dury over the years, although he had a nasty side to him -- which Will Birch's biography certainly doesn't try to bury and nor, apparently, does the movie biopic of his life, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll.

I only interviewed him once and found him to be a gentleman, albeit one you knew you wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of.

He was particularly amusing on the subject of Bob Geldof, who'd been a guest host on a London radio show a couple of weeks prior to the interview and announced that Dury had died without bothering to check his facts ("So what the f*** does he really know about Africa then?"), and prepared to fight to the last against the cancer of the colon and liver which would eventually claim him at the age of 57.

Ian Dury: the Definitive Biography, by Will Birch is published by Sidgwick & Jackson. Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll is in cinemas from tomorrow