Ian was a wordsmith. He started as an artist splashing colour but he ended up painting pictures with words. He loved playing with them. He was an outspoken, controversial and cantankerous person.
His childhood was blighted with polio, which left him permanently crippled, and what sounds like a horrendous experience in a home for disabled children. It left a lasting impression on his personality.
Emerging from Art School to take on the Pub Rock scene with Kilburn and the Highroads Ian began honing his writing skills. They really came to the fore with the production of his first solo album with the Blockheads. Not only was it musically more developed with a crisp production but the Stiff label release of this, along with the single ‘Sex and Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll’, set the tone for controversial lyrics and put Ian and the Blockheads at the forefront of the British New Wave/Punk explosion.
Nobody sounded like Ian. His voice wasn’t exactly operatic with its exaggerated Essex twang and the expletives certainly gave it an edge but his use of words was unique. It must have been interesting to see the rivalry between Ian and Elvis on the first Stiff tour. They were both masters at word play.
The music from the Blockheads was very tight and Ian formed a tight assemblage with the likes of Chas Jankel, Mick Gallagher, Charlie Charles and Norman Watt-Roy. They produced a rocky funky feel for Ian to string his words over like a manic Ray Winston.
Ian’s live act was extraordinary and totally different and bizarre. It was like a vaudeville clown on acid. He come on in various colourful and striped attire like a psychedelic tramp; divest himself of hats, ju-jus, bells, scarves, jackets, shirts, T-shirts, canes and various props, stuff things in his mouth, toot on horns, blow on whistles and yell out ‘OI OI!!’. It was the most visual and interesting spectacle I’ve ever witnessed. The wonder of it simply does not come across in film.
The songs were immensely varied with deployment of humour and extremely clever lyrics and topics as diverse as geniuses, reasons to be cheerful, his (also crippled) Rock idol Gene Vincent, employment choices, sex, his father, interesting Essex characters, and a recipe for utopia. His song Spasticus Autisicus was a howl of angst aimed at what Ian viewed as a condescending attitude towards the disabled in the International Year of the Disabled Persons for which he had been asked to contribute. It got him banned by the BBC which I bet really pleased him.
Ian was entirely original, had a great vision and complex character. He never shied from causing offence or tackling subject matter that might cause upset. His death from cancer robbed us of a master song-writer and idiosyncratic performer who conformed to nothing.
Fortunately the Blockheads are still going strong storming out Ian’s songs. His spirit lives!