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Billy Childish: Archive from 1959 : The Billy Chilidsh Story

Reviewed By: Mark Rowland
Label: Damaged Goods
Format: CD X2

As the decades roll on, Billy Childish remains a constant figure on the outskirts of art, music and poetry. Working solidly from his home in Chatham, Kent, Childish has developed a set style for each of his major interests, which remains unchanged by the passage of time and fashion.

His works hark back to an earlier, simpler time – before home PCs, iPods, conceptual art and digital watches. Childish’s approach is rooted firmly in the past.

It is easy to see why Childish would have his detractors – his work never moves forward, he borrows extensively from the pop and art culture of the past, he’s overly critical of people in the public eye who don’t adhere to his way of thinking. But he is also a fascinating character – a sort of anti-pop art magpie, taking what he wants from recent British history – be it cultural or his own personal history – and makes it into something very much his own. With his handle bar moustache and military uniforms, he looks like a walking museum exhibit. He likes abstract expressionism and impressionism, so that’s what he paints. His poems and literature are smeared with the grime of a forgotten era. His music is almost all based on the skuzzy sound of 60’s garage rock – with a little blues and rock ‘n’ roll thrown in for good measure.

‘Archive from 1959’, a release to celebrate Childish’s 50th birthday, features most of the best moments from Childish’s many bands and albums from the past four decades, giving a good insight in the development, or anti-development, of his sound. With two CDs and 51 tracks, the compilation is difficult to take in one sitting, particularly given Childish’s predilection for recycling the same riff many times over (some might call this musically thrifty), but the vast majority is still very exciting to listen to.

It’s interesting to listen to the subtle differences between each of his bands. It’s not much of a difference, but it is there. There’s slightly more of a beat influence on the Milkshakes’ tracks, for example, while thee Headcoats had distinctly more bile than most of his other bands, at times (such as on ‘Punk Rock ist Nicht Tot’) sounding like very early Fall.

The bluesier feel of the Chatham Singers tracks, which come on like the early attempts at British R 'n' B, are welcome breaks from the punky mod onslaught of most of the tracks, as do the pop-punky female led tracks (usually those by The MBEs, which feature Childish’s wife on bass and occasional vocals).

The pure punk rock of the Pop Rivets tracks, which was Childish’s first band, are fascinating from a vaguely historical point of view, listening to a very youthful sounding Childish railing against the system with an inexhaustible energy.

It’s hard not to admire Childish for eschewing the well-trodden path of adulthood in favour of doing exactly what he wants, regardless of what anyone else thinks. Considering he’s made the same basic record well over 100 times, it’s a testament to him that he is still creating something interesting.

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