It’s a wonderful irony that the two lyricists who most embodied punk’s libertarian role in helping banish the last vestiges of straight-laced Victorian values in the mid-70s were the two who most resembled a Dickensian nightmare. Johnny Rotten and Ian Dury both sought release from a social system designed to keep working class oiks like them in their place, and although one approached the task through head-on confrontation and the other with art school nuance, the message was the same: Think For Yourself.
After hundreds of pub gigs as Kilburn & The High Roads, Dury went solo in 1975, writing New Boots and Panties!! over the following year with young and precocious multi-instrumentalist jazzer Chaz Jankel, recording it on the fly with session rhythm section Norman Watt-Roy (bass) and Charley Charles (drums), soon to be the core of The Blockheads. With major record companies running scared of the graphic lyrical content, independent label Stiff licensed it and stepped into a storm around Dury’s misunderstood signature single Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, which duly had him banned from BBC radio. Absent from the album’s earliest pressings, Sex & Drugs… was misconstrued as a celebration of debauchery and hedonism when it was actually a call for people to question their daily grind.
It was far from a lone jewel. Sweet Gene Vincent is a blast of rockabilly hero worship for a kindred spirit, felt by Dury not least because of their common disability – Dury’s leg wasted through childhood polio, the Virginia Whisperer’s through a drunken motorbike crash. Lustful opener Wake Up and Make Love With Me sets out Watt-Roy and Charles’s stall as the pub rock JBs; the squalid Billericay Dickie shows that TOWIE has no new light to shed on Essex ways; Clever Trevor and Plaistow Patricia (with its child-unfriendly opening gambit of "A***holes, bastards, f***ing c***s and p****s") were down-at-heel characters straight out of an imagined modern Dickens novel.
Dury’s work quickly mellowed (well, relatively), but the combination of cheeky ire, libertarianism and jazzed-up music hall punk on New Boots… was defiant, original and, 35 years later, stands as a mighty missing link between The Kinks and Blur.
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