He was a musician and singer-songwriter born in Harrow Weald, England. He was struck down by polio at the age of seven during the polio epidemic of 1949 which affected him for the rest of his life.
He studied at Walthamstow Art College followed by the Royal College of Art and from there became a college art teacher. Alongside his career in art he also sang and wrote songs and after his idol Gene Vincent died he decided to form a band which he called Kilburn and the High Roads. They had a London pub following and opened for The Who on a tour, but never seeing much success they split up in 1975, and shortly after he became the producer and drummer for Wreckless Eric on his album Wreckless Eric.
The Blockheads were formed by him and they would become Ian Dury and the Blockheads who saw fame with their hits such as “Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick”. His songwriting was often a mix of humorous looks at everyday people in everyday life and he became a popular character in the 1970s music scene. The Blockheads and he parted in 1981 and he went on to work with a group he named “The Music Students”.
As an actor he has played several small roles in films including Judge Dredd, Hearts of Fire, The Crow: City of Angels and The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. He wrote the stage musical Apples with Mickey Gallagher at the request of theatre director Max-Stafford Clark and composed the theme song for the TV series The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, but he turned down an offer to be the librettist for Cats when asked by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with the explanation “I can’t stand his music”.
He was very much involved in making people aware of the plights of the less fortunate and appeared on TV to make people aware of AIDS, became involved with the Cancer BACUP charity and become and ambassador for UNICEF. However, 1981 song “Spasticus Autisticus”, which he wrote as a person who suffered from a disability, for the International Year of the Disabled, was prevented from being played by the BBC.
He was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 1998 but he still continued to work and in 1999 he collaborated with Madness on a track for their first album in 14 years. His final performance was at a Cancer BACUP charity concert and although he needed assistance to get on the stage he gave a strong performance.
He died on 27th March 2000 aged 57 and he was mourned by hundreds of fans and fellow celebrities. A solar powered bench that played his music, if the seated person desired, was dedicated to him at Poet’s Corner in Richmond Park but has been the victim of vandalism.
He had four children from two marriages, Jemima, Dexter, Billy and Albert, and Dexter is carrying on his legacy as a current recording artist.
Here he is with his “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick”…