Not a chip off the old Blockhead

British rocker Baxter Dury would rather talk about anything than his famous ‘Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll’ father.

January 1, 2012 21:46
Baxter Dury

Baxter Dury 311. (photo credit: Courtesy/PR)

Considering that his childhood nursery rhymes were probably the punk-era anthems “Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll” and “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick,” Baxter Dury sounds quite well adjusted.

However, the modification process of growing up as the son of snarly, suspender-wearing new wave oddity Ian Dury has taken Baxter most of his 39 years to work through, and it’s clear that he hasn’t completely moved on.

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“You know, do you mind if we don’t do my father? It’s just a troubled path I don’t want to go down,” Dury mumbled in response to a query by The Jerusalem Post, in the same broad Cockney drawl his father brought to the pop mainstream decades earlier along with a warped sense of humor and the pulsating beat of his band The Blockheads.

Dury was traveling in a van “somewhere in France” in between shows in support of his new, well-received third album, Happy Soup, a spry, modern sounding collection of idiosyncratically endearing songs that prove that Dury family genes haven’t moved away far from the blockhead.

Dury’s weariness at discussing his father and his childhood – which he’s described in previous interviews as “heavy... extreme... fantastic at times... gruesome,” – may have something to do with the soul purging that took place last year with the making and release of the acclaimed Ian Dury biopic Sex Drugs and Rock & Roll.

The film included scenes of the character playing the young five-year-old Baxter posing on the cover of his father’s 1977 breakthrough album New Boots and Panties, and later as a teenager being minded by “The Sulphate Strangler,” a 6’8” tattoo-covered ex-road crew member for his father’s band.

“I did the film, the play, the book and whatever else – and I got a thing called information nausea,” he told British website Glee last year after the film was released. “It was then that I stopped talking about my old man at dinner parties. Before it was a prop, a thing I may have relied on at insecure moments. Now that the film’s been made I don’t feel the need to discuss it anymore – it’s done and dusted.”

However, one legacy that his father, who died in 2000 of cancer after a lifetime of living with the physical effects of childhood polio, left with Baxter was music – an element of stability that he latched on to when most everything else in his childhood was chaotic.

“I came from a musical background, so it was very natural, being surrounded by it all the time,” he told the Post. “I was always encouraged to play music, never discouraged.”

Still, as a young adult, he pursued other interests, including working in a watch shop and acting in various indie films, before making his musical debut, singing “My Old Man” at his father’s wake. Soon after, with the help of Portishead’s Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley and Pulp’s Richard Hawley, Dury released his debut EP, Oscar Brown, in 2001. He was then snapped up by the indie Rough Trade label and his first full-length album appeared two years later, Len Parrot’s Memorial Lift, followed by Floor Show in 2005.

“A lot of theatrical families pass the baton, and it’s an accepted thing to do, but it’s a f****** miracle if it happens in a musical family,” Dury told The Guardian earlier this year.

“Each person that’s famous for pop, especially English pop, is so individual – my dad was a 5’4’’ disabled guy with a mockneyesque collaboration of weird things. A lot of the time his songs began around a narrative, not musically, and there was clever engineering around it. I started off somewhere different, learning about music and how to write music. And my music is quite shy compared to his. He’s bold, I’m whispery and more hidden.”

WHICH BRINGS us to the newly released Happy Soup – a sparkling collection of songs produced by Craig Silvey (Arcade Fire, Portishead) that Dury describes as “seaside psychedelia.”

“There were these postcards in the 1950s depicting British people enjoying themselves at the sea. I thought it would be interesting to juxtapose that image with my music – sort of the opposite of California psychedelia,” Dury told the Post.

”My principle was that the album had to be about exactly who I was. It had to be really honest, uplifting, soulful music, while not taking myself too seriously,” he explained to Glee. “While making this album I realized it doesn’t matter who you are. Until the music’s any good it doesn’t matter.”

The music on Happy Soup is indeed, very good – like the bouncy single “Claire,” featuring Dury’s puppy dog, melancholy vocals over minimalist but playful pop production. “Don’t waste your life, Claire. Don’t waste the things that you might do,” Dury admonishes the subject of the song. And it’s clear that he’s taking his own advice.

Dury and his four-piece band, who recently opened European dates for Pulp, will be arriving in Tel Aviv for a show on Wednesday night at the Zappa Club. It won’t be the musician’s first visit to the country, but it will hopefully leave a better impression than his previous travels with a friend on a backpacking trip over a decade ago.

“I found Israel kind of mixed up. I really enjoyed what I did there, but I went with a Jewish friend of mine, and I found myself marginalized by not being Jewish,” he told the Post.

“I didn’t like that racial aspect of the country. I’m pretty non-political, and I like Israel and the idea behind it, but I didn’t like ostracizing anyone because they didn’t belong. There were aspects I really enjoyed, aside from the racial politics, but that was dominant for me at that time.”

It’s clear that besides the musical genes, Dury has also inherited his father’s penchant for blunt speaking. But whatever impressions of Israel that Dury garnered on that trip will likely fade to the background when he arrives this time as a VIP – appearing live on 88 FM midweek and then performing for hundreds of fans on Wednesday night.

In one last attempt to return the discussion to his formative years and his father’s music, I brought up a recent talk with Leonard Cohen’s son Adam, who after years of refusing to acknowledge his father’s musical influence, was now fully embracing it.

“He probably had it worse than I did, there’s no doubt,” said Dury. “But still, I don’t want to talk about it.”

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