There is nothing I hate more than a majestic piece of history just forgotten, worse still nothing I hate more than history forgotten so soon after it's time. Saturday on Pentonville Road, Kings Cross, London is the well known Scala Nightclub, a location popular with upcoming bands and singers and now legendary in the Drum And Bass scene. Since 1999 Scala Nightclub has carved itself a certain reputation in London nightlife. But what is the saddest tale of all is that beneath what you see now, is an infinitely more appealing Scala that for over 10 years became a hub of activity and controversy.
Made in 1965, filmed in West London and shot in black and white, by a then relatively unknown young film director Roman Polanski, this being his second feature and first English speaking film.
I remember thinking how good his band were but what a strange character he was, dragging himself across the stage in a leg calliper dressed in his trademark Crombie and silk scarf and using the mike stand as a crutch, and thinking ‘this bloke can’t really sing but he’s got some serious attitude’.
A lot has been made of the 70’s pub rock scene, but it’s no wonder Punk Rock wiped it out, because there were so few bands with any real balls or passion. Only Dr Feelgood would fall into that category and I guess Ian Dury and a few others.
After Malcolm McLaren had dreamed up and launched The Sex Pistols and his mate Bernie Rhodes did the same with The Clash- featuring of course Joe Strummer from the pub rockers The 101’rs- a lot of the clever muso bands or simply older good players (successful or otherwise) ran for cover. Whilst others donned the motorbike jackets and plastic trousers, dyed their hair peroxide blonde giving us the excellent Stranglers, The Only Ones and The Vibrators, followed by the likes of Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and Ian Dury & The Blockheads on Stiff Records. So I was delighted to see him crack it with the album ‘New Boots and Panties’, in fact I recall being in a Brighton hotel overlooking the seafront, drinking into the small hours with The Jam, and drummer Rick Buckler wouldn’t stop playing the album until the sun came up, so I got to know it rather well. Dury was truly London’s original Punkfather.
The film is a bit of a sad affair to be honest, and a real warts ‘n’ all, but highly stylised and brilliantly directed by Mat Whitecross .Having read extracts of the new biography and interviews with his son I could see how cleverly this had been scripted and with great casting and performances all round. A lot centres around Ian’s miserable institutionalised childhood stricken with Polio and how it coloured his life, the early chaotic days of the band, the fights, the sackings, his strained relationship with his first wife and how life on the road and his music made him an errant and rather selfish father to his son. We see some creative moments of genius between Ian and his long suffering right hand man and co-writer, Chas Jankel, and some live performance moments faithfully recreated-but not nearly enough for me. His clever blend of simple word play and rhyming, cheeky chappy cockney slang and hilarious observations on working class life spoken in a rap style, put to a soft funk backing, was unique then-although Chas ‘n’ Dave had made their name doing much the same but in a music hall ‘knees up mother brown’ kind of way-and you hear his influence in so many acts these days; think Blur and the ‘posh mockney set’ Lily Allen and Kate Nash.
But as he continually yo-yos between wife and lover, and drags his son through the mire, Ian appears to let success get to his head, hits the self destruct button and let’s his lynchpin and musical partner Chas walk off in frustration. Of course the music slips as he tries to go it alone and by the time Chas comes back the moment, sadly, has gone.
There is a priceless segment on his involvement with the International Year of The Disabled and how splendidly he pisses everyone off with the song ‘Spasticus Austisticus’ a cathartic trip back to the institution that robbed him of his childhood, which the politically correct were appalled by and it was subsequently banned by the BBC . What did they expect- a soppy ballad?
The film then seems to end rather abruptly and doesn’t attempt to cover his decline into ill health and his untimely death from cancer at the age of 57. Nor does it touch on his extensive charity work for UNICEF, which was a bit puzzling and a little unfair I thought, but I’m sure there were reasons for that.
This stylish biopic comes across as a very honest portrayal and doesn’t pull any punches (borne out by comments from his son Baxter) but a little too hard on the man, as I’m sure anyone who suffered the way he did could be forgiven for being more than a little bitter at the cards he’d been dealt in life.
I wondered off down the Holloway Road humming Ian Dury’s ‘What A Waste’ -a sad omission from the soundtrack.
© Words - Dave Cairns/ ZANI Ltd