Ian Dury – New Boots And Panties 40th Anniversary Edition – Album Review
4CD + Vinyl LP/2LP set/DL
Released 27th October 2017
Bumper reissue of the ground-breaking debut solo album by the ex-leader of Kilburn and the High Roads Ian Dury. Vinyl and CD versions of the original LP come complete with a further three discs toting a Peel session, rarities, demos and a complete live show from the BBC Paris Theatre, all housed in hardcover 12 x 12 book format. LTW’s Ian Canty recalls a shocked household whilst playing Plaistow Patricia for the first time………
At the end of 1976 Ian Dury seemed, for the untrained eye at least, to be all washed up. Handsome, the sole Kilburn and the High Roads album, had not got anywhere near capturing the manic energy and spectacle of their live show and after being dropped by Dawn Records the band had split. Dury relaunched himself as Ian And The Kilburns with a revolving cast of players, but the magic was just not there. After a gig when supported by some up and coming herberts called the Sex Pistols (I wonder what happened to them?), Ian had in effect retired from the road on the advice of his doctor (it has never been made quite clear whether this was PR spin so he could get some breathing space and work on the upcoming record, or genuine).
Between this announcement and the release of New Boots And Panties, the Pistols and the UK Punk Rock phenomenon had become a national preoccupation, with Dury’s part in the genesis of the form mostly forgotten (Lydon for one had borrowed plenty from his stage act, mixing it in with Wilko Johnson’s 1000 yard stare). But he had retreated with the aim of getting his act together, with musicians that could power the music along, not just look the part as had been the case with some of the Kilburns. Chaz Jankel had been involved at the tail-end of that band and his musical nous would become an invaluable component in Dury’s success, with Steve Nugent being the other major contributor in writing the music. Ex-Kilburn Davey Payne returned on sax with Ed Speight coming in on guitar, plus the crack rhythm section of Norman Watt-Roy and Charley Charles providing a rock solid backbeat. Things were now all set.
For his part Dury worked tirelessly on his lyrics, determined that the new LP would capture his best work ever, even if it was rebuffed again by an indifferent general public. At last chance hotel, he toiled, but in doing so he created some of the most memorable and well drawn character portraits committed to wax that not even Ray Davies himself could have bettered. Stiff Records, a natural fit, got him under contract and released the anthem Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. And then, the album appeared.
It does seem odd to review New Boots And Panties as it has been a constant presence in my life since I first heard it at the start of 1979. I know it sounds corny but this is an album that I go back to time and again and the songs are like old friends, ones who never let you down. Most of the words and tunes are pretty much etched into my brain in their exact running order. The LP ebbs and flows, from a mellow beginning with Wake Up And Make Love To Me right through to the caustic ending of Blackmail Man. One thing this record is not is Punk Rock, Dury was clever enough to know he didn’t need to jump on any bandwagon, even one he might have played a part in starting to roll. But New Boots is a pure snapshot of mid-70s Britain, in all its gritty, grimy glory.
I’m Partial To Your Abracadbra has a lovely flow to it and the tribute to fallen hero Sweet Gene Vincent is in turns touching and sad in the intro and a high energy evocation of early Rock & Roll later on. Plaistow Patricia has of course that shocking opening (after my initial playing of the record when my Dad went ballistic, my hand always instinctively goes for the volume control as Blockheads comes to a close, even today), but Dury cannily tacked on a (reasonably) happy ending, subverting the negativity. The personal and more downbeat My Old Man is so heart-breaking and human, emotions laid bare. Clevor (incorrect spelling on purpose) Trevor still is the most spacey Moon Dance on offer and of course the Music Hall of Billericay Dickie goes right back to Ian’s roots. It is just a brilliant album, finely drawing a wide range of feelings, ideas and attitudes as though in painting, apt and entirely logical when you remember Dury’s art school past. His words are used wisely at all times, in a poetic but down to earth way. He didn’t dumb down things, instead putting them in contexts and situations which people could identify with, whatever their circumstance.
Most people who would be interested in purchasing this deluxe release will probably be familiar with the album itself, so let us look more closely at the extra stuff. The second disc probably provides the main points of interest for diehard Dury fans. As well as Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll and its brilliant flipside Razzle In My Pocket (a big influence on Madness) we have Close To Home, only previously available to my knowledge on the C81 tape and a 1977 Peel Session. Also there are three late period Kilburns efforts, You’re More Than Fair (the flip of the Sweet Gene Vincent single release) and the two sides of the NME freebie single England’s Glory and Two Steep Hills (first time I think this one has been on CD too).
Close To Home was recorded at the same time as New Boots – you can see why it was left off, being perhaps not as strong as the 10 songs which made up the album, but the track is pretty good nonetheless. This is a mid-paced insistent rocker with boogie woogie piano, a nice tribute to London late nights. Two Steep Hills is a little different, just Chaz and Dury on their own live at one of the Kilburns’ last shows, a Jazz poem set to music, a meditation of the worst points of the human condition. Neat and funny. England’s Glory salutes an array of forgotten heroes breathlessly in what is a classic list song.
If anything, the playing by the Blockheads (with their name now firmly in place) makes the Peel Session sound more accomplished than the officially released versions, but the pleasing rough edge Ian bought to the table was still there to be clearly heard. Davey Payne’s sax appears to be missing though, possibly influencing the choice of material with the more upbeat and rocking tracks included, ones that did not rely so much on his instrumental flourishes. Still Blockheads is a load of raucous fun and if Sex & Drugs is far more guitar-led than the single take, Sweet Gene Vincent loses nothing from the slightly more musically austere approach, a powerful version in fact. This is a fine session for Peel and one wonders why a return visit was never arranged.
Disc three appears to reproduce the second disc of the 2004 2CD reissue, with the demos portraying a pared down version of the sound of the album proper (sometimes with only Ian and Chaz supplying all instrumentation). These early versions by their very nature appear sparse to what the soon to be Blockheads created for New Boots, but they’re interesting works in progress. Moving onto material that didn’t make the cut, I Made Mary Cry (aka Mary, as it is billed on the live disc) is a Country-flecked psycho killer Kilburns track, where live Dury used to whip out a knife halfway through the performance in a theatrical flourish to shock newcomers to the show. Something’s Going To Happen In The Winter, a twisted ballad on the subject of mutual commitment/reliance, ploughs a similar psychically twisted furrow.
Then there’s Apples, a track already a few years old at the time of recording, which became key in the short-lived musical 80s of the same name. Two early takes of Sink My Boats, which would eventually end up on the follow up to New Boots Do It Yourself, are also included. Tell The Children, while having nothing to do with the Sham 69 song of the same name, is song is a touching portrait of a marriage break up. Perhaps it’s a progression for the characters in Wifey, a classy bit of Dury observation on the rituals of a marriage gone stale.
The fourth disc consists of a BBC “In Concert” performance from the famous Paris Theatre recorded in 1978. It is prefaced by an introduction from DJ Brian Matthews, where he slightly inaccurately identifies Ian as “the East End’s answer to Bob Dylan”, well geographically at least. Still this is a document of a band on fine form, with Ian and the Blockheads really coming into their own as a live force at the time of recording.
Complimenting six songs from New Boots And Panties are the A sides of the Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (which is reprised at the end) and What A Waste singles plus two Kilburns era efforts in Mary and Upminster Kid. The band are on fine form and Ian, as is his wont, slips in odd different lines in his recital and is alternately cutting and warm in his stage annoucements. Davey Payne’s sax really flies on Clevor Trevor, its lurching basis bolstered by enthusiastic Blockhead backing vocals. The unbroadcastable intro to Plaistow Patricia is very amusingly amended to “Blackburn, Hamilton, Nightingale and Peel” (all Radio One DJs at the time) and although Mary is slightly marred by the BBC editing the sound down on Ian’s vocals (presumably for public consumption), it segues nicely into a storming version of What A Waste.
It is nice to hear a Funked-up take of the old Kilburns standard Upminister Kid with some rollicking piano that really sets it off. Both Blockheads and If I Was With A Woman are full of fire, much more boisterous than on the LP. This set ends with another go at Sex And Drugs, this one showcases the mighty Norman Watt-Roy’s consummate bass dexterity. No surprise that this is one of the most fondly remembered in the “In Concert” series.
New Boots And Panties 40th Anniversary Edition is great in that it brings together a lot of material unavailable for a long time and if you’re a Blockhead with only the “vanilla” version of the LP, well this would be a very nice upgrade for you indeed. Those that own the 2004 2CD version face a more tricky decision, but there still is the carrot dangling in front of you of that live disc and the rare stuff on CD2. Also the hardcover book packaging, sleeve-notes and vinyl repro may tempt (not available for me at the time of this review). This type of collection is of course aimed squarely at the more committed fan and anyone new to Dury and Blockheads may want to start with a little less financial outlay. Having said that, this new edition is full of fantastic music, some of the best lyrics ever put to paper by one of the brightest stars of England’s Glory. If you are hearing all this for the first time, you lucky rascals, for what a treat you have in store.
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All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here