Don’t fart before your arse is ready and win an Ian Dury biography!

As highlighted in Will Birch’s tremendous Ian Dury biography, the creative relationship between the late singer and Barney Bubbles was one of the most fruitful in the history of pop.

Of similar ages with deep art school roots, Barney and Dury commenced their partnership in the spring of 1977 just as both were heading for the top of their game, with Barney installed at Stiff after a hiatus of more than a year and Dury preparing to unleash the career-defining records and performances which brought him enduring national treasure status.

Back cover photograph by Chris Gabrin.

Unlike his treatment of others, Dury was never-less-than respectful of Barney. “Barney was easily the most incredible designer I’d ever come across,” Dury told Birch.

Poster for Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Stiff Records, 1977. Tom Sheehan Collection.

Dury said Barney “scared the shit out of me. He was righteous. He didn’t have the faults or the ego and he made me feel second class. I wanted his approval in a strange kind of way”.

And, as Birch details, when Jake Riviera departed Stiff with Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello at the end of 1977, remaining partner Dave Robinson was left with Dury’s recently released New Boots & Panties!! as his main chance for commercial survival.

The decision was made to throw all resources behind the polio-stricken performer and his band The Blockheads. Barney art-directed a sustained marketing and promotional campaign made up of several elements: his Blockhead logo, numerous press ads, several posters, a songbook and a tour programme. Together these helped maintain the album’s presence in the charts for more than a year and set up hits What A Waste and number one smash Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick.

NME, February 4, 1978: Ian Dury and Davey Payne.

The cover of Birch’s book is a delightful rendition by Dury’s friend and mentor Sir Peter Blake, while on the back is a photo by Chris Gabrin from sessions for a series of music press ads.

Melody Maker, February 4, 1978: Fred Rowe and Ian Dury.

These are littered with Dury’s skewiff humour and guttersnipe poetry and feature some of the  possible titles he had drawn up for his debut solo album.

NME January 28, 1978: Ian Dury and Charley Charles.

Gabrin’s monochromatic clarity  and his strong working relationship with both parties was an important element in the Dury/Bubbles dialogue. “We were working full-pelt at the time,” said Gabrin the other night. “There was so much to do to keep up with press ads and tours.”

Right: Melody Maker, January 28, 1978: Norman Watt-Roy and Ian Dury. Left: Sounds, February 4, 1978: Ian Dury and John Turnbull.

Gabrin’s band portraits of Dury and The Blockheads (and minder Fred “Spider” Rowe) hit the UK’s music weeklies in February 1978.

Poster, Stiff Records, 1978.

A Gabrin photograph from an earlier session (which Barney had overlaid with a lurid orange screen for one of five giant posters for the Stiff tour) was used for a standard sized poster to hammer home the album’s availabiity. The year ended with more band shots in the incredible fold-out programme for the December 1978 Hanky Pantie tour.

8" x 6" tour programme cover, December 1978.

The matchstick portrait cover was even used for the manufacture of hankies (to be knotted and worn on the head). A couple of Stiff employees – maybe Paul Conroy or Andy Murray can identify them? – sport these in the Top Of The Pops audience for Dury and The Blockheads’ triumphant performance of Hit Me.

Ian Dury & The Blockheads perform Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, Top Of The Pops, December 1978.

By 1983, when Dury was filmed by director Franco Rosso for a Channel 4 documentary, the wordsmith was in a very different place. 

 

On one of his regular separations from The Blockheads and main writing partner Chaz Jankel, Dury’s career was about to hit the skids as he recorded the half-baked 4000 Weeks Holiday. During the making of the film, management company Blackhill collapsed, but there are some sequences where it’s office can be seen decorated with Barney’s designs.

As well as Blockhead logo stickers there are posters for Do It Yourself and also the spoken-word album Blackhill’s Peter Jenner  released on Charisma by cricket commentating legend John Arlott.

This was cooked up with Charisma publicist and Barney’s friend Glen Colson, who recalls how he came up with such faux cricket positions as “Wayward Short Leg”.

Poster, Charisma Records, 1982.

By the time the documentary was screened in 1984, Barney had died at his own hand.

“Barney Bubbles told me a few straighteners towards the end of his life,” said Dury, towards the end of his own. “Barney told me: ‘You were a horrible piece of work in those days Ian.’ I said: ‘Barney, I didn’t want to be’.” 

Left: 12" cover, Jukebox Dury, Stiff, 1981. Right: 7' cover, What A Waste, Stiff, 1981.

A couple of years earlier, Barney had delivered his views on Dury’s behaviour via the designs for 1981 greatest hits Jukebox Dury and it’s single, the reissued What A Waste.

Gone is the affection of the New Boots & Panties!! era. In it’s place, with stark contrasts, the bleached-out image renders Dury as Frankenstein’s monster, while the jaunty razor-blade earring is now used for chopping out coke, lobotomising the artist.

Will Birch’s book is a fully rounded portrait of this extraordinary man, and is heartily recommended.

Here’s a chance for you to get your hands on a FREE copy SIGNED by the author.

Send your answer  to the question below to thelook@rockpopfashion.com – we’ll be announcing the winner’s name on February 14 .

Q: What is the title of the B-side of Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick?

Good luck!

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4 Responses to “Don’t fart before your arse is ready and win an Ian Dury biography!”

  1. John Ozed Says:

    Ohhh missing Ian Dury with each day. Hope to win the book. I live in the States, and I hope you won’t hold it against me.

  2. Paul Gorman Says:

    Not at all John – we are non-discriminatory in terms of mail-outs – best of luck!

  3. Paul Gorman Says:

    Caramel Crunch has just let us know she did the lettering on the New Boots & Panties!! – the original lettering was done under Barney’s instruction by Stiff’s Cynthia Lole (these days video commissioner at Universal UK).

  4. MISS ANOOP GHALE Says:

    I hope I win the book. Miss Ian a lot, got all my old videos of him still which I recorded in the 80’s. Loved him and the Blockheads since 1978.

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