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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This review is too long - but what the hell!, 23 Jan 2011
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P. J. T. Brown "edmo" (Palmers Green) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ian Dury: The Definitive Biography (Hardcover)
'Hallo sausages...' were the only two words that Ian Dury managed of his autobiography, understandable as he was exhausted and enduring the final stages of the cancer that would kill him a few weeks later. Will Birch's remarkable biography let's Dury speak for himself utilising the author's interviews with him, his family, and the many people who met and worked with Dury. Birch has a secure grip on London's post flower power/hippie scene as it fractures and partially morphs via pub rock into punk,as well as developments on the fringes of reggae and rap. If you enjoyed Mat Whitecross's biopic 'Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll' (2009) - with Andy Serkis's stunning portrayal of Dury primarily as a singer, Birch's wider lens records Dury's considerable talents in a variety of fields including his appalling behaviour to others whether family, friends, lovers or colleagues.

Dury did not commit to a career as singer until he was thirty - until then artist and painter seemed a more likely career, having trained at Walthamstow College of Art and the Royal College of Art and been taught by, among others, Peter Blake. On his marriage to the artist Elizabeth Rothmell, he described himself on the marriage licence as a `painter and freelance illustrator', he was at the time working for the Sunday Times. Over the last four decades of the Twentieth Century he would also be a photographer (under the pseudonym `Duncan Poundcake'), actor - both on stage and in films (with Polanski directing), raconteur, interviewer and teacher and charity worker - a role he relished towards the end of his life.

Ten years after his death he is primarily remembered as a singer - with his group the Blockheads - a name devised from the uniform head shot image cricket fans present: `whose "shapeless haircuts" failed to enhance their "ghastly patterned shirts"'. The other abiding memory appears to be `that he wasn't a very nice man' - the most common response I received when people noted that I was reading his biography. My old man says that he was known in certain London art circles as `Injury' and said he was often to be seen around the capital with a teenage girl on his arm. How did this middle class grammar schoolboy from Bucks become `Old Mr. Shagnasty' a single minded charismatic raspberry ripple who reflected in his musical style the working class demotic of London's East End - and catalyst for punk and rap?

Pat Few, an early girlfriend wrote:

`I was a little Cockney girl, and Ian was posh. I became posh later, and he became a Cockney!'

One of his students describes him thus:

`An intriguing kind of Cockney, who was not only very bright but veered giddily between middle class and working class.'

Dury said of his own lifestyle: `We were living a sort of flat-cap, Brideshead life.'

Even though he realised he was a `crap singer', performing gave him the adrenalin and power that he required to make the hugely desired impact of his personality. Dury's abilities in the music industry were a combination of perseverance, business sense, talented partners and more importantly his skill in penning great lyrics. `I consummated Linda, on a bench in Tufnell Park' doesn't sound very promising, but as Will Birch points out even at this early stage it has the key elements, a psychosexual geography of place, that comprise a Dury lyric, sexual conquest, everyday object and local geography.

Dury was also influenced by the post-war American scene - and particularly the poets. Ginsberg, Corso, Ferlinghetti, the Beats, he also attended the renowned Poets of the World festival at the Albert Hall (1965). He utilised William Burroughs's cut-up technique for lyrics, as had Mick Jagger in the early seventies when completing some of the lyrics for `Exile on Main Street'.

Dury's hit band `Kilburn and the High Roads' were described as an `eclectic mix of rock `n roll, reggae & calypso' and they established a small following of loyal supporters via the `pub rock' movement. This grass-roots approach appealing to Dury's working class solidarity persona. They gained more national exposure when they made appeared as the warm up act for groups such as Thunderclap Newman and The Who, though the former was only a college gig.

Birch's biography details nearly 60 years of Dury's antics - a gradual progression towards megalomania and almost psychopathic behaviour as the fame, the money, the drugs and the alcohol took hold. He was addicted to drugs (particularly sleeping pills, rejecting cocaine on the grounds that it was a posh drug) and alcohol for much of his adult life, yet his inner demons growl for more. Some of Dury's victims, often close friends responded by walking away for years, and one previous girlfriend, identified only as `The overcoat', declines to be named, gives a detailed account of his controlling and demeaning behaviour. Martin Rhys Jones says `Ian's attitude towards women was extreme in both his contempt and his adoration'.

Dury's fractured vision of childhood was a consequence of a number of traumas: the disappearance of his father in 1943 when one year old, contracting Polio from which he was not expected to survive, being sent away to boarding school where he was bullied by staff and older boys as well as being sexually abused, `I saw some heavy duty sadism a couple of times with a bloke hitting a kid with a stick, kids who were small and disabled and mentally not on the case'. No restoration or repair beyond the partial catharsis driving his own artistic vision:

In the deserts of Sudan
And the Gardens, of Japan
From Milan, to Yucatan,
Every woman's every man,
Hit me with your rhythm stick
Hit me! Hit me!
Je t'adore, ich liebe dich
Hit me! Hit me! Hit me!
Hit me with your rhythm stick
Hit me slowly, hit me quick
Hit me! Hit me! Hit me!

Acknowledgement must also be given to a number of other writers and musicians with whom Dury worked, particularly Chaz Jankel who was so key to Dury's success, and Russell Hardy. It was the Jankel and Ed Speight who helped him with his utterly original song to commemorate the International Year of the Disabled - `Spasticus Autisticus':

I'm Spasticus! I'm Spasticus!
I'm Spasticus Autisticus!!
I widdle when I piddle
`Cos my middle is a riddle

According to Birch he wrote it to be an `anti-charity song' - to celebrate his love of the film `Spartacus' starring Kirk Douglas - and to get it banned by the BBC - which it was.

His influence on Punk Rock comes from Malcolm McLaren's advice to John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) `to study the Dury stage persona "and learn" '. Dury initially dismissive of the Clash - calling them public school punks - quite! `Reasons to be Cheerful (Part Three)' has been credited as the first Rap record. He also assisted in the propagation of `Essex Man' with `Billericay Dickey' - post-modern music hall - influenced by such figures as Max Wall and Lenny Bruce. He was also a major influence on `Madness'.

Will Birch's biography is a thorough portrait of the life and times of Ian Dury as East End troubadour & rock icon. The book appears to have had little coverage and fewer reviews - attention being focused primarily on Mat Whitecross's film. This is a pity - maybe he wasn't `a very nice man' but his style has left a unique impression and this book should be read if you want to know what was going down on the London Music scene in the seventies and eighties.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Reason To Be Cheerful, 4 Feb 2010
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This review is from: Ian Dury: The Definitive Biography (Hardcover)
You don't have to be a fan of The Diamond Geezer, or to be of an age (like me) and grown up knowing what Oi Oi! meant to enjoy this marvellous book. Easy to read and full of humorous and sad true stories about a man and his music. But more than this, a picture is painted of places and events and people that entertain. Be a Clever Trever and buy this. Read it more than once - you will want to!
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New Books and Panties!!, 14 Jan 2010
By 
John W. D. Bobin (Essex) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ian Dury: The Definitive Biography (Hardcover)
Will Birch has written an excellent and authoritative biography which charts the lows and highs of Ian Dury during an incredibly eventful life. By having ready access to his musical peers, his family and other friends and acquaintances Will has built up a very well informed picture of a complex and multi-talented character. Ian's disability and difficult times, particularly when growing up, have not been shied away from, neither have they been allowed to distract the reader from a thoroughly well-researched and entertaining life story. Will has discussed how Ian's early experiences may have affected his temperament and attitude to life. Will also believes that they may also have given him added strength to cope with many ups and downs, especially during his tragic illness during his later life. Ian could apparently be domineering and cruel at times. However the book is littered with many episodes where he and peers have fallen out, only to get together again after a period of time, thus proving that his friends had major respect for his talents and an abiding affection for the man himself. Ian referred to his own "wordsmithery" - Will is no slouch in that direction. He has already proved that with his dry and witty lyrics for The Kursaal Flyers and many other artists. If you haven't already read Will's first book: "No Sleep Till Canvey Island" buy that too - hence the title of this review: "New Books and Panties!!"
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reasons To Be Cheerful, 2 Feb 2010
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Mr. Simon P. Casson (Horsham, Sussex, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ian Dury: The Definitive Biography (Hardcover)
I have three connections to the Blockheads, so it was easy for me to buy. I was delighted and read this in a week. As it says on the tin - definitive. Well written, chock full of information from those who knew the man. Will Birch has opened the vaults and delivered a 'warts and all' account of the life/times on the genious wordsmith (punk) poet laureate. Go see the movie and buy this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Robin Hood, he's retired now, 16 Nov 2013
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lespaul2012 (London England) - See all my reviews
HIT ME! This is a great great rock biog and explains the difference between the lovable Ian and the terrifying Tom superbly. I met Ian on several occasions during 1984-1986 as I knew his managers (Jenny) Cotton and Carruthers (Andrew King) and Birch's book is absolutely spot-on recreating (A) the mood and flavour of that time (B) Ian's strangely attractive insanity (C) the entire suporting cast of figures such as 'Strangler'. I laughed out loud every minute ( it triggered off other memories such as when I broke out in uncontrollable tears of astonishment watching Ian at Hammersmith Odeon when he began singing "Bernard Cribbins for 'er hair"). I went back to the albums to remind myself what a fantastic thing ID and the BH was. If you loved New Boots and Panties you will really enjoy reading this fascinating biog. Oi Oi!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Top notch, 8 Aug 2013
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Mike Wade (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This book is long.
Don't worry because it's also very good indeed.
Meticulously researched and immaculately written, it never drags.
Even handed (which means it is not a bland love letter to its subject) and open hearted, the author 'gets it' - all the complexities and the compromises and the cop-outs - because he's a musician, too, he's been there.
Most revealing and an object lesson in how to write a rock biography.
(But would he have had the nerve to write it if the subject was still alive? I reckon he'd have got a kicking if he had!)
Highly recommended
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5.0 out of 5 stars Life of a complex character, 24 Jun 2013
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Ian Dury was a complex character who produced some great music.A well researched book giving a balanced look at his life.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Oi Oi, 21 April 2012
Quite simply a special book about a special bloke. Funny, sad, shocking and a great read that I read very quickly and enjoyed every page.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A WONDERFUL READ., 2 July 2010
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HONEST, WELL RESEARCHED, FAIR - WITH JUST ENOUGH SENTIMENT. THE BEST OF THE BOOKS ABOUT IAN OUT THERE BY FAR.
HIGHEST RECOMMEND.
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5.0 out of 5 stars ian dury-the definitive biography, 24 Jun 2010
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N. S. M. Perks "eebs de plume" (eastbourne) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ian Dury: The Definitive Biography (Hardcover)
excellent-informative-it gives a valuable insight into the 70's pub rock scene-a real warts and all depiction of an incredible man and the life he lived-told by those who were closest to him. there is only one drawback-more pictorial evidence of his artwork would cement the link between ian dury and his mentor, peter blake.(a small quibble.)
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Ian Dury: The Definitive Biography
Ian Dury: The Definitive Biography by Will Birch (Hardcover - 15 Jan 2010)
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