Ian Dury And The Blockheads - "What A Waste"

1 Conversation

This song was released in 1978.
You had to wonder exactly what was a waste and fortunately for us, Ian came to tell us what was a waste according to him and The Blockheads.

I could be the driver an articulated lorry

Well he had mentioned Scammels in "Reasons To Be Cheerful". Maybe it was a waste of a missed career, where he would have been on the open road.

I could be a poet I wouldn't need to worry

Poets corner in Richmond Park, London was a favourite viewing spot of Ian's to just sit and watch the world go by. A lot of his fans and fellow artists who viewed him as a peer would argue he was a poet of the people and of the street so there was no waste here.

I could be a teacher in a classroom full of scholars

Possibly here Ian is berating the wasted chance to impart knowledge to a future generation. He certainly raised disability awareness which was definately not a waste.

I could be the sergeant in a squadron full of wallahs

This is an interesting one. A wallah is someone employed in a particular occupation or activity, the word originates from the British occupation of India. Perhaps this is the wasted opportunity to have joined the military, travelled somewhere exotic and commanded locals. Having suffered from Polio, Ian would have certainly never been considered for military service.

What a waste,
What a waste,
What a waste,
What a waste.


Because I chose to play the fool in a six-piece band,

Well along with Davey Payne on Sax,
John Turnbull and Chaz Jankel on guitars,
Mickey Gallagher on keyboards,
Charley Charles on drums
and Norman Watt-Roy on Bass,
Ian Dury was ideally placed at the front of The Blockheads.

A Fool he may have been, but a highly articulate one at that. The only truly wise man is a man who knows he is a fool. They gave us great music and lyrics, and if he was only fooling about then that wasn't a waste.

First-night nerves every one-night stand.

Every gig may have felt like the 1st night of a tour for Ian, starting out with a record company which had only just formed, the same kind of nerves that could be felt on a one-night stand.

I should be glad to be so inclined.

Perhaps Ian is thinking about wasted chances (due to those first-night nerves) that could have led to the one-night stands he referred to in the previous line.

What a waste! What a waste!
But I don't mind.

Here Ian is looking on the bright side, things can only get better.

I could be a lawyer with strategems and ruses

This is Ian looking at being a highly paid professional, which of course he would become (Musician, of course). Perhaps he was thinking it was a waste that he had only trained at an Art College, even if he had actually trained Art Students as well.

I could be a doctor with poultices and bruises

Is Ian thinking that a chance was wasted for his Polio to be cured?

I could be a writer with a growing reputation

Well his reputation as a song writer was certainly cited by Suggs as a great influence on him. Not a waste.

I could be the ticket man at Fulham Broadway Station

Well, why not be the man who helps many others get around the mighty metropolis that is London.

What a waste (x4),


I could be the catalyst that sparks the revolution

Perhaps he was, a front man in a band that certainly wasn't ordinary by any description. The whole Stiff movement and the punk revolution.

I could be an inmate in a long-term institution

When they sing this live, Ian always laughed after he sang this line. Perhaps he's thinking how many of the disabled used to be treated, institutionalized. He was at least free to live his life as he chose. Perhaps it was a waste for those who didn't have the freedom he did.

I could dream to wide extremes, I could do or die

I don't think even Ian could have dreamt he'd become an Ambassador for UNICEF, about as wide an extreme as he could have ever hoped for. He certainly did more than people could have expected from a boy with Polio, appearing in films, on the stage, writing music for Tv.

I could yawn and be withdrawn and watch the world go by

Which he frequently did at his favourite spot in Richmond Park. Perhaps he was even inspired to pen this little ditty there.

What a waste (x4),

Repeat CHORUS,

(Repeat CHORUS with crescendo, then again with fade.

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