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Dury took a confrontational attitude to his condition.He would often describe himself as a “raspberry” – a case of getting his retaliation in first (“raspberry ripple” is rhyming slang for cripple) – and he actually considered calling his first solo album The Mad Spastic.
He went on to study at art school in East London and then at the Royal College of Art, working as an illustrator and art schoolteacher before abandoning painting for music.As Birch points out in his excellent biography, a favourite device was the conjunction of sexual conquest, an everyday object and a bit of local geography – nowhere better illustrated than in the sublime Billericay Dickie – “Oh golly, oh gosh, Come and lie on the couch, With a nice bit of posh, From Burnham-on-Crouch”.Humour was an essential element in his songs, but Dury took the writing of them extremely seriously, in his more immodest moments talking of himself in the same breath as such illustrious wordsmiths as Noël Coward and Cole Porter – a man, Dury once said, who had written “four good songs”; he thought he himself had written “maybe three”.It almost killed him, leaving him withered on his left side and obliged to wear a calliper.His disability was to shape his life; it led to him being bullied mercilessly as a child, it was the root of his anger and of his determination.Wiser counsel prevailed and the album was instead entitled New Boots and Panties.
Called upon to make a contribution to The International Year of the Disabled in 1981, he came up with the song Spasticus Autisticus (“I widdle when I piddle, 'Cos my middle is a riddle”).His career was rescued by two things: the arrival of Jankel, who would make Dury’s music a little less Chuck Berry and a lot more James Brown, and the launch of the small independent label Stiff, which also nurtured the careers of Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and the Damned, and which signed Dury when nobody else would. He could be a highly convivial man and a dazzlingly funny raconteur.He released his first single for the label, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, in 1977, and in October of that year, with his new group The Blockheads, joined all of the Stiff artists on the Live Stiffs Tour. He also had a vein of single-minded ruthlessness, an ability to charm people when he needed them – a former bandmate from Kilburn and the High Roads describes him as “the best personal manipulator I’ve ever met” – and no hesitation in discarding them once their usefulness was exhausted. Meeting people for the first time, he liked to test them, to see exactly how far they could be pushed.Gene Vincent – whose own disability caused him to walk with a limp – was an early hero and influence, but so too were Max Miller and Alma Cogan (her novelty song Twenty Tiny Fingers was a staple of Dury’s early performances).He also professed a strong admiration for the trouper qualities of Bruce Forsyth, who was dying nightly at the end of Woolacombe Pier a week before he landed Sunday Night at the London Palladium.The film is a vividly impressionistic view of Dury’s life, which if not always factually correct seems remarkably faithful to his incendiary and often chaotic character.