“My first job was in a watch shop on Oxford Street, but I accidentally burned it down. The flames went up and triggered the sprinklers, and eventually they went off in every shop nearby which then flooded the whole road,” chuckles Baxter Dury. Serenaded into the world by his dad’s band The Blockheads banging out Chuck Berry’s ‘Johnny Be Good’ in the basement below, and with 6’8” ex-Led Zeppelin roadie named ‘Sulphate Strangler’ for a babysitter, Baxter was never
destined to work in a ‘proper’ job.
Regal Records must have agreed for they snapped up the Buckinghamshire-bred chap and are currently gearing up to release his third full-length album ‘Happy Soup’. Mixed by Craig Silvey (Arcade Fire, Arctic Monkeys, Portishead) it’s worlds away from the darkness and romantic disappointments of 2005’s ‘Floor Show’, so much so that Dury refers to his new effort as “seaside psychedelia”. Its ten tracks narrate everyday tales of dancing on the patio in Marigolds and seedy sex in Portugal, yet Baxter’s lyrical playfulness and acute character analysis ensure the songs are anything but mundane. Just take the amusing picture painted of London’s Portobello Road in love song ‘Trellic’ or ‘The Sun’ in which Madelaine Hart’s honeyed guest vocals swim inbetween bursts of Baxter’s mad, infectious laughter and colourful, rippling guitars. It’s not quite all rainbows and carousels though – had Joy Division scored a Batman soundtrack, the looping bass and menacing spoken-drawl of ‘Picnic On The Edge’ would undoubtedly have made the cut.
Sandwiched inbetween mainstream icons such as Tinie Tempah and Katy Perry on his label, Dury jokes that he enjoys “being the only one in the weird hat making bonkers music”. It’s not hard to see why, as he explains: “Growing up there’d be twelve or so people sat in a circle in our living room wearing funny glasses and jamming. I’d join in by
shaking a packet of Kelloggs cornflakes or soya beans.” Food packets and pots and pans soon led to guitars and poetry, and in 2001 Baxter released his debut single, the ‘Oscar Brown EP’. Sampling the Velvet Underground’s ‘Oh! Sweet Nuthin’, the delicate, spaced-out track couldn’t have been further from his pa’s boisterous, cheeky chappy rock and roll. As NME, who christened it their ‘Single of the Week’, put it: ‘Baxter’s surname means nothing. This is a work of casual assurance that no family tree can provide. The record is all you need to know.’ Soon snapped up by indie label Rough Trade, Baxter released ‘Len Parrot’s Memorial Lift’ (2002) and ‘Floor Show’ (2005).
Both albums received further praise from the press, and Dury headed to France to do what he describes as “some thinking”. Between then and now ‘Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll’ (2010), the much publicised biopic about Ian Dury, hit cinemas worldwide. It came ten years on from the performer’s untimely death from cancer. Starring Andy Serkis as Ian, the film documents The Blockheads’ rise to stardom and the effects that this and the lifestyle that followed had on the frontman’s relationships with loved ones, in particular young Baxter (who famously appeared on the cover of his dad’s ‘New Boots and Panties!!’ LP). Heavily involved in the making of the film, Baxter claims the experience helped him to draw a firm line under his past.
“I did the film, the play, the book and whatever else – there were about five different products out at one stage – and I got a thing called information nausea. 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.”
You wouldn’t know it from listening to ‘Happy Soup’, but the evermodest wordsmith claims that he finds writing songs “the most arduous male birth. 1,000 years ago people would see an ox and just run at it. Eventually the ox would fall down and die and the human would be able to eat it, and that’s how I write songs – I carry on with persistence until eventually I come to something that’s reasonably coherent.” In the two years it’s taken Baxter to chase the ‘Happy Soup’ ox, he claims he’s been “just focused on music. My principle was that the album had to be about exactly who I was. It had to be really honest, uplifting, soulful music, whilst not taking myself too seriously. Whilst making this album I realised it doesn’t matter who you are. Until the music’s any good it doesn’t matter.” Anything else?
“Yeah, my leather trousers don’t fit me anymore.”