Friday, December 12, 2008

Billy Childish and the Musicians of the British Empire

Friday 5th December, The Farmhouse, Canterbury.

My first visit to The Farmhouse, set up by the same people who brought us the last few summers' Lounge on the Farm festivals. Billy Childish was meant to play this year's, but cancelled for some reason, so this was him making it up to the good people of Canterbury, I suppose.

I'd seen the Musicians of the British Empire at the 2007 LOTF, inside a horribly functional agricultural building with horrible acoustics, couldn't really get into it at all. This gig fully made up for that, and more. Billy had a ridiculous military helmet and jacket on then - this time it was a kilt and sporran (and still sporting that fabulously twirly moustache). Nurse Julie (Billy's American wife) was still on bass in her early 20th century nurse costume, and Wolf Howard bashing away at the back in a most uncomfortably heavy looking jacket and bearskin hat.

BC has distilled raw, stripped down garage rock'n'roll to an artform. I've never seen it done so perfectly. It's funny, cos the support act (Armitage Shanks) were playing basically the same riffs on the same instruments, and they just seemed pointless - bored me after a song-and-a-half - whereas the Musicians had the place electrified from start to finish. They were on top form.

Billy Childish and the Musicians of the British Empire

There's a new album called Thatcher's Children. I'd heard the title track when I saw him in Margate earlier this year (poetry reading plus solo set), but we didn't get that tonight. Lots of songs everyone seemed to be familiar with, plus a new(?) one called "Christmas 1979", about his dysfunctional family, the rousing "Merry f***in' Christmas to you all!" chorus directly quoting his drunken, abusive father.

To break up the noisy stuff, Bill did some accapella traditionals: the spiritual "John the Revelator" (everyone singing it back at him!), "In the Pines" and Leadbelly's "When I Was A Cowboy".

It's funny how you can just keep recycling the same basic riffs (mostly "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night") for decades and still keep it interesting. Reminds me of something the architect Gaudí once said (quoted in my very first blog entry):

"Originality should not be sought after since then it is extravagance. One should look at what one normally does and try to improve it."

To finish off, we got multiple encores, ending with Hendrix's "Fire". I'm not sure if BC is aware of the Kent connection, but it turns out that the original fire which Jimi asked if could stand next to was an electric one in Noel Redding's mum's bungalow near Folkestone, Christmas 1966! "Move over Jimi, let Rover take over" (that's what got sung).


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