Billy Childish, former Milkshake, Pop Rivet, Headcoatee, Buff Medway, Musician of the British Empire, stuck, stuck stuckist, self confessed prolific masturbator, painter, poet and musician, strokes his impressive moustache and rebalances his feathered hat.
As the endless beano of Popkom rumbles on and the industry’s assorted liggers and chancers scoff complementary canap�s and congratulate themselves on the units shifted by James Blunt, Childish’s resolute amateurism appears as timely corrective.
A famously dyslexic auto-didact, Childish left school with a solitary “O” level in art and was subsequently expelled from artschool, graduating to long years on the dole and in his own words, becoming a man who wore second hand shoes until the age of thirty three.
After more records than can be counted, several self-published novels, thousands of rather bad paintings and a number of very public spats with celebrity fans, including Jack White and Beck, who regard him as a totem of authenticity in the mould of Daniel Johntson or Jad Fair, Childish is finally beginning to gain the fame and recognition he so clearly deserves and yet has sometimes appeared to have gone to perverse lengths to avoid.
Tonight’s set is the second of two consecutive nights here in Berlin, a low key affair in which the bard of the Medway towns (a blighted grey stretch of Kent, famous, once, for its naval dockyard and not much else) will be accompanied by his wife Julie, on bass and friend Wolf, on drums.
Before they join him on stage, however, the audience, crammed to capacity between bar and stage, are treated to a handful of poems and accapella folk songs by an unaccompanied Childish. Their whoops and hollers seem somewhat inappropriate given the sad and savage imagery of his verse.
Twelve pounds worth of petrol, as much as his leaking tank can hold, is enough to accomplish a temporary escape from blighted Chatham and its desperate men. Sour and sad and in and out of love. Angry with artists, poets and poseurs. Surprised by parenthood and betrayal. Bitter and funny in equal measure, Childish’s words deserve the audience’s attention. Women are often subject to his ire and disappointment, an unfortunate streak of misogyny which will also manifest itself in the mixture of blues standards and reworked material from his extensive back catalogue which will make up the ensuing music.
The Chatham Singers, the latest of his many musical projects, play a stripped back and basic blues but the delta from which this sound emerges is not the Mississippi but the fetid Medway. They do not rehearse and haven’t played live since New Year’s eve but though the set gets off to a bit of a shaky start, Childish’s presence and the evident chemistry carry the day.
His wife, a statuesque American beauty of Indian descent, laughs with evident pleasure at Childish’s many self depreciating jokes and asides. Their stomp blues is crude, belted out with conviction rather than finesse with the assistance of vintage instruments and P.A.
Ultimately the crowd’s enthusiasm demanded a set that felt a little overlong and the relative weakness of Julie’s voice began to grate a little but even though the final number of the encore, a solo from Childish, was abandoned half way through the audience’s reaction was justifiably euphoric.