Baxter Dury Has a Lot to Say, in Person and on a New Album
We spoke to the Prince of Tears about B.E.D, his new side-project with cult French producer Étienne de Crécy and Skinny Girl Diet's Delilah Holliday.
(All photos by Tom Beard)
“French fucking music is a lot of bollocks,” barks Baxter Dury, emphatically wagging a digit. “And quote me on that and send it to the French office.” I’m sat with Dury on his balcony overlooking the Thames, enjoying the last vestiges of summer while drinking good coffee out of his son’s Liverpool F.C. mug. His comments about France are surprising, when you consider he’s built a viable career in the country – charting consistently there, selling out theatres when the UK was shrugging its shoulders; a man – lest we forget – whose last album, 2017's Prince of Tears, borrowed heavily from Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson.
And then there’s B.E.D, a new side project with emerging London talent Delilah Holliday (of Skinny Girl Diet), and enduring cult French house producer Étienne de Crécy. Recorded at the latter’s studio in Paris, it’s fair to say Baxter’s gone native. He’s dismissive of the competition though. “Daft Punk? They're just a pop band. You get one of those in every territory.” He likes Aznavour, and Gainsbourg too, naturellement – well at least when the latter’s not “being tight-trousered” and singing controversial songs about incest with his 13-year-old daughter. “I dunno at what point they allow that not to be investigated”, he chuckles.
Baxter is in a good place right now, and I don’t just mean his digs. The flat used to belong to his father, pub rock poet-singer, Ian Dury. Baxter was bequeathed a share in the west London flat and thanks to recent successes he’s able to afford the remainder of the rent, paid to other members of the Dury clan. He spent an unhappy period in Tring a few years back, a “Brexit-y town” where – in a flashback to the 1970s – his south Asian neighbours’ house was egged following the referendum. He broke up with his girlfriend too, and wrote Prince of Tears there while plotting a return to the metropolis. Now he’s back in the place where he was brought up.
The walls are adorned with lurid pop-art paintings by his dad, more figurative pieces by his mother Betty Rathmell (including the cover of Kilburn and the High Roads’ 1975 album Handsome), works by pop art progenitor Peter Blake (who taught his parents at art school), and a war etching by Goya. The mise-en-scene is all rather highbrow for a geezer.
Baxter lives with his 16-year-old son, Kosmo, who he says is musical (“more so than any of us”) by osmosis. Baxter's own upbringing here was bohemian, though he tries to make things less chaotic as a parent himself. The night before, Baxter deejayed in Paris – a heavy night by the sounds of it. He can’t really mix himself, he says, so he “called up a mate” to do the honours. At the tail-end of Paris Fashion Week, he says the club was “full of cunts” but that he had a good time nonetheless, consolidated by the overly generous fee. Contrary to his DJ pal’s immaculate electro instincts, he dropped “Another Brick In The Wall” by Pink Floyd and packed the dancefloor. “The place went fucking nuts,” he grins.
B.E.D fills the space between Prince of Tears and a new album he’s been writing, which he says has taken a Sly and Robbie-influenced cod-reggae direction. He was bored in Paris not so long ago and got back in touch with de Crécy, who he’d made the spartan-yet-funky dance gem ”Family” with in 2015. The Frenchman mainly produced the new collaboration, while Dury provided an almost stream-of-consciousness narrative recounting his naughty escapades around the city of light. “I opened up a valve and spilt it all out,” he says.
Noisey: You’re not currently touring with Étienne. You’ve got a young band right now though haven’t you?
Baxter Dury: I'm not going to choose the young, teen, spoon-licking, putting-liquid-acid-in-their-eyes types. I don't want to see anyone stubbing cigarettes out in food, you know what I mean? All my mates who are in bands in their mid-thirties are still stubbing cigarettes out in food. You should have passed that by the age of 17 really.
Prince of Tears was quite a breakthrough some 15 years after your first album. Is it better (and by better I mean less dangerous) that you tasted success now?
I don't really have a brain that thinks historically; I just go, “oh, that's nice.” It depends on what sort of personality you've got. It would have alleviated a few issues when I was younger.
You didn’t bring out a first record until you were in your thirties. Were you running from something?
I was doing other things. I was in film school in New York at one stage. I'm also a cliche of a chaotic upbringing. I had quite stable middle-class parents with a lot of nuttiness as well. So basically it was just enough to make you confused.
Things must have got weird when the big hits by your dad’s band started rolling in?
Weird? No. It's not really weird to me because I expected the weird shit to happen. The only thing that was weird with dad was lifestyle. Around here's really posh actually, but Hammersmith itself – the core of it – is really tough. You've got two rivers: this has really posh energy with people rowing and jogging and doing posh things, and then the street parallel to this is a deeply tough area, and all sorts of scrapes and situations go on there all the time. They oppose each other in a way. This bit's immune to that, and that bit's immune to this. [Points at yacht sailing down the river]. These are the people who are immune to all of it. That's 20 million quid worth of boat there. Mad innit?
It must be nice living here?
I fucking love it. I mean I was a bit worried about moving back in because it was so chaotic when I was a kid. It wasn't easy living here. It was really mental. I mean it was great, but I've done that, and I didn't want my son to be brought up like that.
Did you have parties with Vanessa Redgrave swinging from the chandeliers?
There weren't famous people. Dad just lived a certain way. There were amazing times and not amazing times. I had to live on the fucking chaise longue in the front room and a drug dealer friend lived there [points] and he died. And I was in hospital...
Oh, whatever. Stuff happened. My dad lived in a post-austerity I’ll-do-whatever-I-like kinda way: you've just come out of a war – or your parents have – and you also caught polio and you've been in hospital, and you’ve suddenly made a few quid and joined a certain class, and you go: "Fuck you all".
Rock stardom was quite an aspirational thing in the 70s and 80s. Bryan Ferry is practically aristocracy isn’t he?
Yeah, but I mean Bryan Ferry is an idiot; don't compare him to dad. Dad's class ambiguity is strange anyway. I mean we're not really that working class, we're – as he put it – more arts and crafts. Bryan Ferry was definitely on a trajectory based on rejecting something. It's much more complicated with someone like dad because his mum had a doctorate. His dad was an East End boxer but his mum was a philosopher.
I’ve heard you described as Danny Dyer with A-levels.
I bet Danny Dyer has got more A-levels than me. Danny Dyer with A-levels? [Thinks about this for a moment, then bursts out laughing, and then keeps laughing]. Someone at the Independent the other day called me the mockney-in-chief. And everyone goes "oh my god", but I love that term mockney, because I guess that's what I am. I've got a Goya painting. And yet my grandfather was a boxer and a drug dealer did die in there.
Were you surprised by the universal acclaim Prince of Tears received?
Nah, I would have been more surprised if it didn't do well. I don't mean that in an arrogant way. I just thought, 'I've put quite a lot of effort into it' and I had an angle. I’ve got a good sense of objectivity and I thought: if this doesn't get picked up then I'm just confused. I was always relying on France or other European places to react, and then this record happened back here and I'd forgotten how much that that was what I really wanted. No matter how much I enjoy being in France, it's not really where I'm from.
It got amazing reviews everywhere.
That was really nice wasn't it? It's kind of what I wanted, even though you're not meant to say you want to get the album of the week thing, you're meant to go, ‘I don't care about that or what they say’. It went [gestures] ting ting ting ting and I went: “Fucking royal flush. Look at that.”
I read several times that the record was “Baxter stepping out of his father's shadow…”
They say stuff like that. It's an easy literary device. [Exhales]. I don't think of it like that. I'm not trying to compete with dad, and I don't really care what anyone thinks. My concern is more about quality than individuality. And also I don't wanna have to not sound like him. Some of those albums people love I'm as equally as obsessed by. It’s all about getting those balances right. It takes quite a while to tame your heritage, or it did in my case, very subtly. I tunnelled but I only had a toothpick.
There’s obviously plenty of truth on that album, but you also deal in caricatures. The narrator on Miami for instance is more of a grotesque than a true representation of yourself, surely?
There's a lot of you in it, but you also want to say the things that you're not allowed to say so you launder it through something else. It's boring to be too candid and detailed about yourself. You don't want it to be too... Ken Loach.
So back to B.E.D. I know quite a bit about you and Étienne. Who’s Delilah Holliday?
She's well London. She lives on the 18th floor of a north London council estate. A friend of mine introduced me to her because we were looking for a singer. And she rolled up with her sister – because we bought her and her sister a Eurostar ticket to Paris – and they had three days in Paris. They were quite a breath of fresh air.
As a collaboration between two Londoners and a Paris-dwelling Lyonnais, this record is anti-Brexit in attitude and execution wouldn’t you say?
Maybe. It could be. I like loading it with that much importance but it's not really. I love being there though, and I love the fact I can see six people in a day and I'd never do that in London. But fashion week parties and blokes with moustaches? I could push all of them into a disused canal.
Baxter Dury plays a selection of live UK dates from Tuesday 6 November – find out more here.
You can find Jeremy on Twitter.