This is an extract from Sex & Drugs & Rock’n’Roll: The Story of Ian Dury by Richard Balls. Although Ian declined to be interviewed by Richard, the great man raised no objections when Richard talked to his family, friends and musical colleagues, over 50 people in all. In the event, the book was completed just days before Ian’s death from cancer in the spring of 2000, and had to be hastily rewritten as a result.
“Ian took a most generous attitude towards [the book],” says Richard. “Towards the latter end of my research, I met him at his home and discussed the book with him, and at no stage did he seek to prevent me from writing his story. Although he did not give an interview himself, he gave me his blessing to talk to family members and friends and, knowing I was a fan, made it clear that he did not the book to be a ‘hagiography’.”
It’s 1986. Ian is a star but he never really behaved like one.
Unlike so many rock’n’rollers, Ian Dury had shown little interest in hard drugs. He had smoked dope since his college days and remained a heavy cannabis user, but those who knew him say Class A drugs were always out of bounds. Booze, however, was a different matter. One source said that Ian’s “love affair with alcohol” had put them off drinking. His drunken behaviour often caused incidents as the more drink he consumed, the more cocky and confrontational he became. But the consequences were usually short-lived and his antics are remembered with great fondness by The Blockheads and other friends. One episode, which took place towards the end of the eighties, has gone down in Blockheads’ history.
[Blockheads bassist] Norman [Watt-Roy] had played bass on a solo album by Who singer Roger Daltrey and as a result, both he and Ian had been invited to appear in a video being filmed in a boxing club in Harrow, west London. Arriving at 9am, they had found the filming process long and boring and had spent their time emptying bottles of champagne down their necks. At about 7pm, during a break from filming, the pair went to an exhibition of Humphrey Ocean’s work at the National Portrait Gallery where they bumped into Peter Blake and his wife Chrissie. Peter suggested they meet him later at the highly fashionable restaurant, Le Caprice, near The Ritz Hotel, and after returning to the video shoot in Harrow they went on to the restaurant. By now, they were extremely drunk and Ian was in typically ebullient form.
Norman describes what followed. “We sit at the table and we’re having dinner with Peter Blake and his wife. There’s all these stars all over the place, and in the corner is Omar Sharif with two minders and a girl. Ian suddenly looks round and he happens to know the girl with Omar, from art school or something, and he’s going, ‘I’m gonna go over and talk to her’. Peter is trying his hardest to talk him out of it, saying, ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea’, because Peter knows Omar, and we’re saying, ‘No Ian, you’re a bit too drunk.’ But Ian goes, ‘Naaah, I’m going...’ and he hobbles over there and I’m watching what’s going on.
“Peter’s sitting at an angle and doesn’t want to look up and watch, so he was asking me ‘What’s going on? Is Ian getting angry? Is Omar angry?’ and I said, ‘No, it’s all right at the moment, he’s sitting down talking to the girl.’ So, Ian sits down next to the girl and starts talking to her and I could see Omar wasn’t too happy and then I saw Ian lean over and start talking to Omar. Ian said something, Omar said something, Ian said something back, and the next thing, Omar stands up and he’s going bang, bang, bang, and he’s really punching fuck out of Ian and there’s blood and everything. So I jump up, run over and I grab hold of Omar Sharif from behind and throw him across this settee thing and his two minders jump up and I just go ‘Wow’ and I pick Ian up and carry him back and I say to them, ‘Look, I’ll just take him away, he’s not going to hit you back or anything, that’s enough’. Luckily, the minder didn’t go for me. So I take Ian back and he’s sitting there with blood everywhere and Peter Blake’s really angry and Omar and his party start going to leave and as they walk past, Peter says to Omar, ‘There was no need for the violence at all’ and Omar is all flustered and they walk out. I said to Ian, ‘What did you say to him?’ and Ian says, ‘I leaned over to Omar and said ‘I think the first film you made was your best one, everything else was shit’ and Omar turned round to him and said ‘I don’t give a fuck what you think’ and Ian said, ‘Well, then you’re a cunt.’
“We were going home in the cab and Ian’s covered in blood and his lip is all swollen and he says to the cab driver, ‘‘Ere, I just got punched in the teeth by Omar Sharif’ and the cabbie goes ‘Well that’s the most expensive fist you’ll ever have in your mouth’. What a night!”