The Epic 2017 Project #059: 170228
Ian Dury – Laughter (1980)
The Blockheads had undergone a significant personnel change since their previous album, “Do It Yourself”. Chaz Jankel, who played keyboards and co-wrote most of that album’s songs, had left in the wake of a stressful tour. Jankel’s place on guitar was taken by Wilko Johnson of Dr. Feelgood. Johnson had considered retiring from the music business until he was asked by Davey Payne and Dury, old friends from their pub rock days, to join The Blockheads. The new-line up first appeared on the ‘I Want To Be Straight’ single, which was released before the album, and reached number 22 in the UK pop charts.
Although Ian Dury was becoming harder to work with, the production of Laughter had started out as a relaxed affair, without the presence of Jankel and Dury. Rehearsals commenced in early 1980 at Milner Sound in Fulham, after keyboard player Mick Gallagher had returned from an American tour with The Clash. The group was, at that time, on hiatus after the gruelling promotional tour in support of Do It Yourself. Spurred on by recording commitments, Dury took over the rehearsals to form the basis of his new album and brought in Wilko Johnson, all without consulting the rest of the band.
At that time Dury was an alcoholic, and also addicted to Mogadon, a brand of sedative. Coupled with his bad reaction to celebrity, and his bouts of depression, these addictions caused him to be cantankerous, confrontational, argumentative and controlling. Although these traits had come out during the recording of the group’s previous album, they were at their peak during the record sessions for Laughter. Attempts to question Dury’s judgment would cause explosions of defensiveness and aggression. He also insisted on synchronising the instruments to a click-track, which aggravated a number of the musicians, especially Wilko Johnson. To make matters worse, guitarist Johnny Turnbull suffered a head injury and was afflicted with mood swings. He eventually had a nervous breakdown.
The album was preceded by the single “Sueperman’s Big Sister”, intentionally spelt wrong so to avoid any copyright issues with DC Comics. The single, Stiff Records’ 100th, employed the label for Stiff’s very first (Nick Lowe’s “Heart of the City”) with the track names crossed out and the correct titles and artist (for “Sueperman’s Big Sister”) written in, as if by biro. Laughter was released the same month, November 1980, but the album was not well received by critics and its sales were mediocre. The “Soft As a Baby’s Bottom” tour to support it, however, was a sell-out success. Stiff and Ian Dury parted ways afterwards and he signed a short-lived deal with Polydor Records without The Blockheads.