Billy Childish & the Musicians of the British Empire @ Barden’s Boudoir
Billy Childish & the Musicians of the British Empire.
Dalston Barden’s Boudoir. 29mar08.
I have some history in the garage sphere. I used to do a record and merch stall at gigs for Portsmouth’s The Green Hornets. There I was behind me table loaded with mono LPs, with the quiff and crushed velvet knee-length jacket to go with it. It’s not a genre I’m an expert about though – I know what Toe Rag Studios is and what it represents, but that’s about it – but it’s a music that gets my knees a-movin’, whether tickled by crushed velvet or not.
I like the energy of garage; I like the fact that it’s coarse and rugged, but more often than not performed by musicians who espouse a distinct sartorial élan. All the garage rock n’ rollers I’ve ever known have always been pretty well turned out. However waistcoats, flamboyant silk shirts and shiny shoes will always be trumped by military uniforms, braces and the kind of handlebar moustache a family of six could hang their washing from.
So, with me, Billy Childish and the Musicians of the British Empire hit the ground running (most likely with imitation bayonets). Billy, of course, is a bit of an everyman: part of the Medway scene; a poet; a painter; a founder member of the Stuckism art movement; and an author of several volumes of poetry and autobiography. On top of this, he has recorded more than a hundred LPs in a variety of guises; Thee Milkshakes, Thee Headcoats and Wild Billy Childish & The Friends of the Buff Medways Fanciers Association (aka The Buff Medways) being, arguably, the most well known.
More salaciously his name appeared prominently in Tracey Emin’s tent. Furthermore, in recent years, he has been lauded by, and fallen out with, the White Stripes, while he also turned down an offer to appear in the 2006 Celebrity Big Brother house. All this info is a bit gossip rag though and Childish is more representative of a Fugazi-esque work ethic – getting down to business without all the exploitative add ons. His website states firmly “I do not like fashion culture.”
“Welcome to our Stoke Newington re’ersal” he says by way of greeting tonight, later adding, “What other bands would let you come to their re’ersal…and charge you ten quid for the privilege?” As it goes, it’s only seven sheets yer in, representing particularly good value, what with the Flaming Stars providing sturdy, and suave, support.
Buff Medways tune <em>Dawn Said</em>, recent BC&TMOTBE LP title track <em>Christmas 1979</em> and the grizzled gospel of an a capella <em>John the Revelator</em> are the stand-outs in a vivid, stout and sweaty set, but it appears not everyone is satisfied, one heckle requesting that the guitars be turned up; “What? That’s like asking Beethoven to turn up his Moog” is Billy’s swift riposte.
While you might not get unexpected tangents or substantial changes of pace from Billy’s guitar, Nurse Julie’s bass or Wolf Howard’s drums, they stir in all the ingredients you need for an absorbing and distinguished garage set. As Billy himself said early in the evening, “nothing wrong wiv a bit of drums an’ racket.”