The Buff Medways @ The Dirty Water Club
The Buff Medways.
Tufnell Park Boston Arms Music Room. 15jan10.
It is not as though Billy Childish isn’t fond of a reinvention, having performed over the years as part of the Thee Headcoats, The Pop Rivets, The Milkshakes, Thee Mighty Ceasers, The Blackhands and most recently The Musicians Of The British Empire (or The MBE’s). However, for the past couple of months, there has been a kind of pre-invention, with the MBE’s immediate predecessor, The Buff Medways, rehabilitated for the stage.
Mind you, as reformations go, it’s hardly up there with Martin Luther nailing his ‘Top 95 reasons the Pope can do one, from Angry of Wittenburg’ letter to a church door. Nor is it Take That using the nostalgia market as a springboard for an AOR transcendence of teenage fashion. It is merely a product of circumstance with original Buff’s member Johnny Barker drafted in whilst MBE’s bassist Nurse Julie delivers her young.
Not that there’s a great deal in a name though as the dividing line between the Buffs and the MBE’s is so blurry you could go swimming in it. If The Fall can be summed up as Mark E. Smith + whoever (ex-girlfriend in tap-shoes, a load of blokes out the boozer or, famously, “yer granny on bongos”) then it’s fair to say Billy Childish’s last two incarnations share the same equation i.e. Billy + 2 (one of which is likely to be Wolf Howard on drums).
Both acts have also tended not to play too often outside the confines of the Dirty Water Club, the regular rock n’ roll night at the Boston Arms, amongst which they have long held a kind of monthly-ish residency. So, whichever bird’s plumage I was looking to admire I have, at least, caught them here in their natural habitat.
What you can always be assured of, whichever group is on the poster, is the witheringly dry between song wittering. This show began with a long Childish ramble about how, by way of protest about the quality of rider alcohol given to the band as opposed to the Dirty Water DJ’s, Wolf Howard would be making deliberate errors in his playing; “I don’t drink so it don’t affect me, but I ain’t no scab, so I’ll be making mistakes as well.”
Also, there is firm guarantee that Billy’s sartorial eccentricity will be on display, tonight being clad in Tam O’Shanter, fur vest and a nightclub comic’s ruffled shirt, his decorative rolling pin of a moustache still twirled proudly beneath his nose.
The musical blueprint is certainly very much the same for both groups, fired by an enthusiasm for Who and Kinks style beat rock n’ roll played punk; all frayed edges and a gung-ho lack of intricacy. Yet while the MBE’s set is usually chock heavy with songs from the Buffs era, there was little to nowt from more recent years in this Medways set.
Yet as Steady The Buffs was Billy’s finest recorded work of the last decade, it is hardly surprising that songs from it, such as Ivor, Sally Sensation and Archive From 1959 remain staples of his live repertoire.
However, with childbirth now wrapped up, and Nurse Julie due to return to the fold in March, The Buff Medways handle is coming to the end of its second shift. Rest assured though that the ringing of the bell and the changing of the guard will not see any discernable variation to either productivity or product.
Pic: Billy Childish and The Musicians of The British Empire, Rough Trade East, August 2009