Pop; Smash bang wallop

THERE COMES a time in every man's life when he must make the fateful decision - another night down the boozer, or a dinner party at home with a select few friends. But, occasionally, you can keep the whole family happy by taking them to a show by the patron saint of geezers, Lord Upminster himself, Ian Dury.

So a good-humoured crowd - after all, geezers with the missus in tow are always on their best behaviour - were thrilled, amused and entertained by Dury and his loyal Blockheads, longer-serving than the Arsenal back four but considerably more skilful.

Dury's well-publicised struggle with cancer - last year Bob Geldof even prematurely announced his death on a London radio station - has overshadowed his latest work. But this unheralded father of Britpop - what is Blur's Parklife but a funk-free nod to the man's style? - is enjoying a deserved resurgence. Last year's Mr Love Pants is his finest record in two decades, making up half of tonight's set, and is in no way inferior to old favourites such as What A Waste and Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick. His lyrical gift remains untarnished, as new songs such as "Jack Shit George", which addresses mortality by entreating the young to consider their future without ever stooping to patronise, or the hilarious, rueful tribute to eating away a lifelong hangover "Heavy Living" ("heavy sausage is the price you pay when you're on a corroder!") clearly show.

However, this is no mere poetry reading with musical accompaniment. The Blockheads, including the old core of guitarists Chas Jankel and John Turnbull, Mickey Gallagher on piano, and Norman Watt-Roy, looking strangely like Robert Lindsay in some Dickens adaptation, on the old "faith and grace", er, bass, are superb, and their unique blend of jazz, funk and music-hall is apparently effortless.

Dylan Howe is a fantastic substitute for the sadly missed Charley Charles behind the kit, while Dury's rasp is as filthy as ever. Not until "Bed O'Roses No 9" does he tire, yet the band can always lift the level.

The new "Mash It Up Harry", with its absurd "We're on our way to Wembley" coda, and the stomping "Itinerant Child", telling the long-running story of "Police V Travellers", are well-received. "Sweet Gene Vincent" and the inevitable "Sex and Drugs and Rock'n'Roll" bring the house down. The world's oldest stage invader ambles up and gives Dury a curiously appropriate cuddle. Clearly, reports of his demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Steve Jelbert