In 1977 I was 14 when my much older brother returned from law school in San Francisco. I have always said that he was responsible for my interest and taste in music — for the most part because he opened my eyes to wide varieties of music beyond the bounds of top 40 or even late-’70s “progressive” rock radio. Among this amazing new music were the artists that came over as part of the British New Wave rock invasion, specifically the artists associated with Stiff Records (“The World’s Most Flexible Record Label!”): Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Elvis Costello, and of course Ian Dury and the Blockheads. Most of these artists were closer to the power-pop end of the New Wave period, rather than the punkish end that the Clash and Sex Pistols occupied. One of the exceptions was Ian Dury whose punk-rough voice was backed by a band that could almost be mistaken for a jazz combo playing rock. Like his labelmate Nick Lowe, Dury’s songs often had a tongue-in-cheek quality, though a look deeper could reveal some biting commentary at times. Good, bawdy fun was much in evidence.
Dury’s greatest US success was with the single “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick”, which was a bonus record included with the second Dury album, Do It Yourself. The flipside was nearly as well known: “Reasons to Be Cheerful, Part 3”. But beyond those two, Dury was barely a blip in the recorded history of the British New Wave in America. England was a different story (the first record, New Boots and Panties!!!, charted for a year), but this did not prevent the band from breaking up after the third record, Laughter, in 1980. Dury continued to record, but nothing memorable came of those recordings. The Blockheads rejoined on two notable occasions since 1980. In 1990 the band rejoined for a three-night stand at the Town and Country Club in London, a benefit for Blockhead Drummer Charlie Charles (who died of cancer after the second show). This was a big enough success that other reunion shows were put on elsewhere — a December 1990 performance at the Brixton Academy is the source for All the Best, Mate: Live.
This live CD shows Ian Dury and the blockheads still at the top of their form, as if they’d never stopped performing together. True to the title of the record, this really is the best material, mostly from the first and second Blockheads records (Laughter was not as successful as the first two). There are the sweet ballads (“Wake Up and Make Love to Me” and “My Old Man”) as well as the harder hitting “Sweet Gene Vincent” and the expletive outburts known as “Plastow Patricia”. Most of those in between are the more jazzy tunes like “What a Waste” and “Quiet”. And of course the Big Ones are here.
The other occasion of a Blockheads reunion was the 1997 release Mr. Love Pants which had no US release, though by all accounts it is every bit as good as any other Blockheads record. Sadly, Ian Dury died of multiple forms of cancer in March of this year, and thus we lost a true original of the British music scene. This release of a 1990 concert is a very fitting tribute to this self-proclaimed Blockhead.