Billy Childish & Musicians of the British Empire – Live

Dirty Water Club. London. 18/09/2009
By Simon Poole

Capitaine Cochon

At the beginning of August I had a decision to make. This was due to the fact that Billy Childish and Musicians of the British Empire had lined up two dates at The Dirty Water Club in Tufnell Park. I had to decide whether to attend one or both. On deciding to attend just one, I then had to choose which one, so I chose the September date, as opposed to the October date. 

This journey down from Salford would make it the fourth time I have seen them play this year. I would very much like to be able to say that I have been an avid follower of Mr Childish since he started his musical career back in the late seventies. Unfortunately, I can’t even brag that I discovered him in the eighties, or even the nineties. For me, it was only a couple of years ago that I was loaned the appropriately titled “My First Billy Childish Album”. 

Within seconds of hearing the opening track, I was hooked. I immediately did a search on the internet to see what I could find out about the purveyor of this fine mix of blues, garage and rock n roll. To my amazement I discovered that this man is so much more than a talented musician. On top of this, when I saw the enormity of his back catalogue, there were two thoughts that crossed my mind. Firstly I wondered how I could have ever considered myself a true music fan without ever having heard of him, and secondly, if I ever wanted to own his previous recordings, I would have to take a trip to the bank to take out a sizable mortgage. So if like me you are new to him, do as I did and do a quick bit of research and I’m sure you will be suitably impressed. Anyway, back to the gig. 

First song played tonight is Joe Strummer’s Grave taken from the album Punk Rock at the British Legion Hall. It’s a great opener and gets you all revved up for more of the same. After this, we are informed that his performances with the MBE’s are to be put on hold due the fact that his bassist wife, Nurse Julie, is pregnant. Amid the shouts of congratulations, I was rather glad at my choice of this gig above the October one, as it had now been cancelled. We are then told that in the meantime, he shall be reforming the Buff Medways with Johnny Barker taking over on bass. According to Childish, the only difference will be the backing vocals will now be slightly higher in pitch. 

After a few more tracks, it is clear that Nurse Julie is the main theme running through the set list, as many of the songs she lends her vocals to are included, such as He’s Making a Tape, Date with Doug and Snack Crack. Even though it is obvious that she is struggling to find a comfortable place to rest her bass on the bump of her child to be, she gives a great performance and it will be a shame she won’t be on stage again for a while. 

Others played tonight are Lie Detector, What’s Wrong With Me and Thatcher’s Children. When we get to hear the acapella John The Revelator, the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, as they always do when I see this performed live. The last song for tonight is Archive From 1959 and it’s time for them to vacate the stage, but not before their traditional salute and bow to the crowd. 

All I can now do is look forward to my next journey south for another fix of Childish & Co.

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