With Baxter Dury about to play Sound City, Getintothis’ Simon Kirk runs through the output of a unique artist.
Baxter Dury is a special creature. A man who revels in a crisis, Dury has casually meandered around the fringes of the artist landscape since the turn of the century, stimulating those curious enough to hold an ear to his musical travails.
He is an ugly duckling of sorts. A displaced troubadour that has taken years to take flight. Despite this, Dury’s drudgeries have captured the imagination of his modern day contemporaries who have revered his works. Sadly, this doesn’t instantly translate to success. After all, the Melvins didn’t sell more records just because Kurt Cobain heralded them as his favourite band. I’m sure there are many other examples of this, too.
Yes, he is the son of the legend that is Ian Dury, but without sounding disrespectful here, I’d like to shift the focus away from this well-known fact as swiftly as possible because a) it’s been said far too many times; and b) because Baxter himself is a budding artist in his own right, therefore it’s not necessary to enhance the shadow he has long since emerged from.
My first encounter with Dury’s music was back in 2005 with his second album, Floor Show. From the first drum beat which led to the opening riff of Francesca’s Party I was sold. A drop dead classic and one of the greatest albums released from these shores in this century, thus far.
Listening to Floor Show today and it’s still as stirring and illuminating as yesteryear. In an age where absorbing new music is proving to be a fulltime job in itself, Floor Show is still a mainstay in the go-to department.
From there, as a curious specimen, the only place to turn to was Dury’s first oeuvre, Len Parrott’s Memorial Lift. The title itself is brilliant, containing an instant dry wit that is one of the many hallmarks of Dury’s body of work. For a start, there should be more young people in this world called Leonard. Or Lenny. Or, just good old Len, for fuck’s sake! Or, perhaps not…
Len Parrot… maps out the agenda for Floor Show. Dury’s cockney spoken diatribes with the sound of thinly veiled druggy psychedelia. Closing track, Boneyard Dogs, is a seamless entry point towards Floor Show and from there the rest is history.
Cocaine Man is a track that perhaps inspired the Sleaford Mods to conjure up something like You’re Brave. Written in pre-social media age and prior to the days of rampant disposal cheap fame, No More Heroes surges with prescience. A disturbing snapshot of the future through a vapour of Pink Floyd pastiche. “There’s no more heroes/For us to love”. Thirteen years on, and arguably not a truer song has been produced from behind the studio glass.
Following the lack of fanfare surrounding Floor Show, Dury does what he has done so often throughout his career. He disappeared. Apart from the odd foray throughout the backstreets of London, we didn’t really hear from the furtive front man for six years.
Perhaps it wasn’t intentional, but more to do with a man who took a shot and didn’t feel as though he landed a glove. There is a definitive skiver element with Dury’s persona, which is naturally projected through his art. The period may well have been his “can’t be arsed” moment.
Then in 2011, completely out of nowhere, Dury returned with Happy Soup – a transition album which saw Dury slowly depart from the psychedelic underpinnings of his previous two affairs towards a pop sensibility. The heavier leanings of male/female vocals was another interesting facet of the new and refined Baxter.
The title track captures this perfectly with a backdrop that wouldn’t have looked out of place on an Elton John record. It was a shock to listen to, but after repeated listens you sensed his inner-Bowie appear. A brash attempt to chameleonise his sound.
While ironically his father wasn’t a big hit in France, Baxter broke through and emerged, almost like an overnight sensation with It’s A Pleasure. For many it was their first dose of Baxter Dury. A mangy messenger who had just appeared out of thin air and, indeed, arrived. It’s A Pleasure is an album that explored the Gainsbourg-esque crossover qualities that Happy Soup subtly portrayed.
It struck a big chord in France whereby Dury effectively had a nation eating from the palm of his hand. It was national hero-esque admiration someone like the late Mark E. Smith probably would have been afforded had he been born there. One’s loss was another’s gain and Dury is certainly enjoying the adoration from a place that can be described as his second home. An adulation which has now transcended above cult status.
With France well and truly boxed off, three years on and Dury’s sonic endeavours are starting to gain traction in his homeland. Where previously his albums would coincide with sporadic club shows throughout the year, Dury’s music had initially made as much impact as an underwater fart in a tsunami. Times They Are-A Chagin’.
Enter Prince Of Tears. The game changer. An album that has garnered ceaseless plaudits from not only Dury’s contemporaries but critics alike. Not only has Dury sold out all most his own shows in 2018, he’s also jagged the opening spot on Noel Gallagher’s national tour this year, as well.
The vehicle of this success is lead single, ‘Miami’, which was one of the best tracks written in 2017. A true original, bursting with pub land rhetoric and sneering cynicism, all in front of and hooping funk-led bass lines which offer the perfect sonic bedding. As a self-professed Sleaford Mods fan-boy even I don’t think they could have conjured up something like this:
“I don’t think you realise how successful I am
I’m like a shipping tycoon
Full of promise and cum
I’m a salamander
Short riff lover boy
Causing grief to the bleeding eyes
I’m the turgid fucked-up little goat
Pissing on your fucking hill
And you can’t shit me out
‘Cos you can’t catch me
‘Cos you’re so fat
So fuck ya
And more greatness follows from the protagonist, conveying his various guises not limited to being ‘the sausage man’, ‘the shadow licker’, ‘the urban goose’, and of course, ‘Morgan Freeman;. You can buy the T-shirts with Miami’s lyrics etched across the front, further demonstrating the naked audacity which surrounds Dury’s immaculate musical conception.
I’ve never been one for singles, but Miami is arguably the very moment which proved as the gateway for a new demographic of Dury’s sonic auditors. Truth be told, I’ve not seen anything like it in the last fifteen years. The rise in popularity on home shores isn’t in a sell-out kind of way, but in an organic, progressive, we’ve-told-you-this-bloke-is fucking-good kind of way. A way where there’s been an obvious stirring of the collective sub-conscious.
It’s a dark album, but that’s Baxter Dury. A man born for crisis, merely living on the edge, who harnesses it perfectly through his artistic persona. His bravado damaged and from that damage, forever scarred. Released on the same day as his father’s reissue of debut album, New Boots and Panties!!, Prince of Tears is Dury’s moment where he has finally shattered the glass ceiling.
That same ugly duckling seemingly transformed into a majestic bird of prey. ‘Oi’ drags us through a dark vortex of his youth in a situation where most of us have experienced somewhere. Not since Floor Show has Dury created such an earnest milieu of incongruously disturbing yet witty moments as demonstrated through Prince of Tears.
Dury’s show at Gorilla in Manchester is my first encounter with the man. The band enters the stage and after the bass rumble that is the beginning of Isabel fills the room, the man of the moment struts out onstage.
Grey suited like he has finished a day’s work selling second-hand cars, Dury’s infectious smile shines across the crowd who return serve with the customary howls. It’s like a greeting from a long-lost friend. Like it’s great to see them after all these years apart, despite the fact it’s my first time seeing Dury in the flesh. I didn’t know it beforehand, but having been enveloped in Dury’s albums for years on end, it’s almost as if I fucking know the bloke!
Vixen artisans, Madeline Hart and Leslie Bourdin, provide the perfect pop lustre while the rest of Dury’s band could have easily sat behind Mark E. Smith from 81 to 89. That’s what this reminds me of the most – The Fall. A group of junkyard oddities cobbled together to create a glam racket. But instead of Smith’s visceral essence that made The Fall’s members shudder in collective trepidation, here it’s a sight of merriment.
This band is drum-tight and happy in each other’s company, directing smiles at one another all night. Standing at the front of stage you can feel this band is firing on all cylinders.
Like Isabel, rather than the customary drawl, Picnic on the Edge and Mungo also sound more rollicking, switching the funk framework for a more straightforward rock sound with Dury delivering his vocals in a more shouty manner with a nervous playful energy.
The encore includes two of Dury’s finest sonic slices. The fan favourite Cocaine Man that is injected with a feminine touch with the backing vocals replacing the male falsetto associated on Floor Show. The emotionally drained Prince of Tears follows, and notwithstanding the brilliant Miami, the finest track of the eponymous album.
Shortly after the final note is delivered, an elder statesmen in the crowd who initially burst to the front of stage during Miami continues her piercing whistles of praise. When the band give their final goodbyes, she climbs to the stage and embraces Dury who parts with his trademark and raised eyebrows as if to say “why the fuck not?” There’s no losing his rag a la Josh Homme here. Full of ale and adoration, the woman has probably endured one of the best moments of her life and Dury is complicit to this moment.
It’s a set top heavy with Dury’s newer material, which is hardly surprising. Days after the gig, and there’s still a job piecing together the hour and five minutes of the show. Was it good or not? It was certainly good, but I didn’t envisage a “fun” set which is exactly what it was.
The band’s exultant vibe had a vicarious effect on all involved and it was something I wasn’t expecting from this experience. Perhaps it was Dury’s way of shifting the focus from the bruised bravado he so often portrays throughout his songs. It worked and the more I think of it, maybe this is Dury’s greatest feat as an artist, further elucidating why he is, by some, and should be, by many, simply celebrated.
- Baxter Dury headlines District at Liverpool Sound City 2018 on Sunday May 6