I love Billy Childish in all his various guises – author, poet, painter, artist (I own one of his woodcuts of a stag beetle), agent provocateur, moustache-toting misanthrope and survivor, but what I love most about him is his savage, savage music. Now for the uninitiated Mr Childish has been the artist, or force majeure behind, at a conservative guess some 80 or 90 LP’s under a huge array of names and talents. I got into him around 2003 and I own about 15 of the suckers, but I’m still only scratching the surface. Every so often the latest big thing discovers Childish (Jack White, Kurt Cobain to name two) and his star rises for a bit.
Basically Childish and nearly all his bands, there are some exceptions but I haven’t got all night, play a hard-nosed version of the Stones and The Who’s maximum R&B* – imagine if the Beatles had stuck at their Hamburg sound, the Stones had never moved beyond ‘Who’s Driving Your Plane?’ and The Who had done away with all the nonsense and stuck at My Generation, blend all three, repeat ad infinitum refining it all the while and there you have it. Great music is, in Mr Childish’s universe, only great if it is both simple and true. This is punk in the sense that all the early great punk bands based their sound on similar roots.
Released under the guise of Wild Billy Childish & The MBE’s Thatcher’s Children is from 2008 (on the ever-great Damaged Goods label) and not some rush release job to cash in on the death of our former leader. Now I’ll park politics at the door, but I will say that whilst I am able to feel sorry for her family, friends and I do hope her passing was easy, I can’t pretend I was otherwise sorry at the news of her passing and I have downloaded ‘Ding! Dong! The Witch is Dead’ (a protest campaign at her £10m funeral was aiming to get the tune for #1 – it failed). I’m a child of the left and a veteran anti-nuke brat, as far as I was concerned she, or more precisely the politics she was such a perfect standard-bearer for, exerted a baleful influence on my young world. This is the only LP I have who refers to her directly by name – although Iron Maiden’s covers for Women in Uniform and Sanctuary have more to say on the subject.
Thatcher’s Children is not a particularly good starting point for the Childish-curious*, it’s not a particularly good LP full stop. In fact the first side, including the title track isn’t very good at all – the sole exception being the sad, raw ‘Again and Again’ which details Childish’s childhood sexual abuse and descent into alcoholism, started at 10 years old, ‘they said I was cruising for a bruising’. I like the lyrics of ‘Thatcher’s Children’ , but it could do with better tune –
You said it would be fun
Now we’re staring down the barrel
Of our own gun
The first side is also home, uncharacteristically, to two of the most forgettable, tuneless tracks I have ever heard from any Billy Childish project, ‘Loray Head’ and ‘An Image of You’, just dire.
But, turn the sucker over and wallop! an absolutely killer 1-2-3 punch of tracks and three other excellent ones to finish the side off – if they had just released the second side as an EP (remember those?) it would have been lauded forever. ‘Coffee Date’, ‘He’s Making A Tape’ and ‘Dole Drums (The Wolf Howard Theme)’ are just brilliant. The latter is a stinging instrumental (Wolf Howard being the trio’s powerhouse drummer) and the first two being tales of romantic treachery sung by Nurse Julie (bassist and Mrs Childish). The former, which has a great tune, being about catching your man getting closer than you want him to with a girl and the second is my favourite track on the LP, about catching your man making someone else a tape of his favourite tunes, ‘He’s making tape and it isn’t for me and you know what that means / He’s cut out little pictures and listed all the tracks with his ransom note letters stuck on the back’ – as someone who wooed Mrs 1537 by this very means** this rocks my world. The low-down menacing ‘I Fill All of Your Dreams’ is also a winner, as is the blistering finish of ‘Back Amongst The Medway Losers’ (geographical note, Medway is the area of Kent Childish is from/lives in still), which is a 100% rip of Joan Jett’s ‘Bad Reputation’^.
So basically, Thatcher’s Children defies every music business convention there ever was involving front-loading your record to keep the customers listening. I suspect Mr C doesn’t give a flying one about that as chances are, if you bought this you’re a fan anyway. I’d recommend anything off the second side, unreservedly. You have to love a band who look like World war 1 soldiers, don’t you?
Aren’t you glad you came?
Preaching a gospel of
Greed and Gain
*go for a compilation, there’s a few good ones about – especially on CD.
**it was called The Sublime & The Gothic (after a course she was doing) and featured Ramones ‘I Wanna be Your Boyfriend’ amongst other heavy-handed hints, in a bit of true narcissism it had a picture of me on the front (the ‘sublime’ bit of the title I guess …).
^if you’re going to steal a song, you have to admit this is a great choice.