Tag Archives: Billy Childish

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: The Full Story


You can blame a chap called Philip Kane for this. Back on 1 December, he posted on Facebook the social media version of the old chain letter thing that went as follows:

“So the idea is to fill facebook with music, breaking the monotony of nasty, divisive headlines and images on our news feeds.

If you ‘like’ this post, you will be assigned a letter for a musician, band, artist, song, track or dj to post to your time line with this text”.

I liked it. He came back to me with the letter R. I came up with Rodrigo y Gabriela & C.U.B.A.’s ‘Santa Domingo’ – as you do – and before you know it I’d committed myself to the idea of stealing the whole concept and coming up with some music of Medway origin (or, if you will, MOMO) for each letter of the alphabet.

26 blogs later and I can finally move on with my life.

It has actually been fun – not least because there’s been the opportunity to focus on individual songs in a way you might not otherwise. Being an alphabetical list, there’s been less need to focus on continuity and history.

One day we’ve had a song by Balance Lost (a current band), the next we’ve had a song that’s had two outings: once in the early 1990s and then just a couple of years ago. Then, the day after that, we’ve had a song from 2010 which expresses its boredom with Medway bands from the 1980s.

It’s meant there’s been a wide variety of styles and sounds which all goes to show what an amazing melting pot of ideas this small collection of towns in the north of Kent is.

If you missed any of the blogs, not to worry: here they all are listed for your convenience – in alphabetical order, obviously.

A – The Singing Loins – ‘Alien’

B – Funke and the Two Tone Baby – ‘Bella’s Kiss’

C – Stuart Turner and the Flat Earth Society – ‘Call Me Dave’

D – Brigadier Ambrose – ‘Decembered’

E – Thee Headcoats – ‘Every Bit of Me’

F – Wheels – ‘Forget It’

G – The Dentists – ‘Gas’

H – Bob Collins and the Full Nelson – ‘Holy Man’

I -Theatre Royal – ‘I Believe in Father Christmas (Don’t Get Me Socks)’

J – Wolf’s Head and Vixen Morris – ‘Jump at the Sun’

K – Frau Pouch – ‘Krakthulu’

L – The Claim – ‘Losers Corner’

M – Broken Banjo – ‘Might As Well Be Hell’

N – Hand of Stabs – ‘The Night Had No Terror For Us’

O – The Daggermen – ‘One More Letter’

P – The Prisoners – ‘Pop Star Party’

Q – Wild Billy Childish and the Musicians of the British Empire – ‘A Quick One – Pete Townsend’s Christmas’

R – The Ambience – ‘Rome’

S – Balance Lost – ‘Shield Against the World’

T – The Kravin’ “A”s/Suzi Chunk – ‘Tripwire’

U – The Love Family – ‘Up in the Air’

V – The Flowing – ‘The Voyage’

W – Lupen Crook – ‘World’s End’

X – CTMF – ‘X-Craft on Tirpitz’

Y – Bear vs. Manero – ‘YRANYRBYM’

Z – KILL RPNZL – ‘Zombie Midwife Afterbirth Squad’

Find out more about many of these bands and artists – and many, many more, in my book: Do it Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: X is for ‘X-Craft on Tirpitz’

‘Tis the festive season of advent calendars and countdowns to Christmas. To mark the occasion, what better way than to have a completely non-festive A-Z of Medway songs.

CTMF - All our Forts

CTMF’s ‘X-Craft on Tirpitz’ from their 2013 album All Our Forts Are With You sees the coming together of two motifs from Billy Childish’s musical palette: the twentieth century’s two world wars being one; instrumental interludes being the other.

There’s been a long strand of references to World Wars One and Two (often focusing on German participants) in Childish’s music since The Milkshakes appeared beside a German Junkers Ju 52 on the cover of their 1984 album The Milkshakes in Germany.

(Is it just me, or does “Junkers Ju 52 sound like a bingo call?).

Since then, there’s been a cheerily named Headcoats album, The Messerschmitt Pilot’s Severed Hand – together with a song of bearing the same name – and The Buff Medways’ entire visual presentation revolved around band members dressed as soldiers from The Great War. One album was even named 1914 after the year in which that conflict began.

The Musicians of the British Empire continued with the military theme – both in dress and song: one particularly obvious example being ‘Merry Christmas, Fritz’, inspired by the 1914 ceasefire, from that band’s Christmas 1979 album.

So the appearance of a CTMF tune referencing the 1943 attack by small Royal Navy submarines (the ‘X-Craft’ of the title) on the German battleship Tirpitz makes perfect sense.

‘X-Craft on Tirpitz’ consists of a guitar line imitating the regular dot and dash pulses of Morse code.

It’s played over Wolf Howard’s incessant, thunderous drumming. All of which makes for an intense, claustrophobic sound perfectly recreating – through the medium of music – a life of tension beneath the sea.

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: Q is for ‘A Quick One (Pete Townshend’s Christmas)’

‘Tis the festive season of advent calendars and countdowns to Christmas. To mark the occasion, what better way than to have a completely non-festive A-Z of Medway songs.

And, amazingly, we have another actual Christmas song today. Although this is Medway, so it’s hardly going to be Shaking Stevens, Wham or Mariah Carey…

Billy Childish and the MBEs - Christmas 1979

A Christmas album from Billy Childish was never going to be a schmaltzy, tinsel garbed romp through snow-filled streets past log fires and carol singing children.

A large chunk of Christmas 1979, a festive offering from Wild Billy Childish and the Musicians of the British Empire in 2007, is a reworking of highlights from Childish’s non-festive back-catalogue, be they original songs or songs he has covered – with a Christmassy twist added for good measure. And, as you’d expect, it’s no bed of Christmas roses

And so we have ‘Christmas Lights’, a Yuletide-ified version of The Buff Medway’s ‘Strood Lights’, ‘Comanche (Link Wray’s Christmas)’, which is self-explanatory, and album opener ‘Santa Claus’ which takes as its inspiration The Sonics’ ‘Davey Crockett’, a regular staple during the era of Thee Headcoats and Thee Headcoatees. It all makes for a Christmassy tinged greatest hits from Billy Childish and friends.

Amidst all this comes ‘A Quick One (Pete Townshend’s Christmas)’, taking the ‘You Are Forgiven’ section from The Who’s ‘A Quick One While He’s Away’ medley.

The Buffs had first recorded a cover of the song, under the ‘Ivor’ moniker, on their album Steady the Buffs. The song, in part a documentation of Townshend’s abuse as a child, no doubt had a resonance for Childish whose own experiences are recorded in his song ‘Every Bit of Me’ and elsewhere.

And apart from a generally upbeat rendition of the song, celebrating how “presents will be given” (in place of “you are forgiven” on the original”) and the excitement of how “I can’t believe that it’s Christmas again”, there are still worrying lines about how “[I] later with him had a nap”; him, in this case, being Santa Claus.

Despite this – and it’s probably a big despite – ‘A Quick One – Pete Townshend’s Christmas’ is bouncy, even joyous sounding tune where the band sound like they’re having a great time of it. We even get an “Enjoy Christmas” at the end of it.

The same level of merriment is definitely not present in the closing song from the album, the title track.

If you ever worried that there wasn’t a Christmas song that met your punk/mod/garage band needs, your search may well be over.

Read more about Christmas 1979 in my album review and buy the album on Amazon or iTunes.

Find out more about Billy Childish, The Musicians of the British Empire and plenty of other music acts from Medway in my book, Do It Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.


A Medway Christmas Alphabet: E is for ‘Every Bit of Me’

‘Tis the festive season of advent calendars and countdowns to Christmas. To mark the occasion, what better way than to have a completely non-festive A-Z of Medway songs.

Thee Headcoats - Every Bit of Me

And today’s offering is particularly unfestive. ‘Every Bit of Me’ by Thee Headcoats is as unforgivingly cheerless and intensely harrowing as it is possible for a song to be. But given the subject is a very personal account of child abuse, that should be of no surprise.

Thee Headcoats had the most prolific career out of any of Billy Childish’s bands. And it proved to be particularly varied with everything from the comedy of Sherlock Holmes-themed singles to the most gruelling of personal confessionals.

It’s into the latter of these categories that ‘Every Bit of Me’ fits. For all the knockabout humour of ‘Headcoat Lane’ and ‘My Dear Watson’, it was during his time in Thee Headcoats that Childish started to use his music to address his own painful past.

Recordings from 1992 found Billy Childish explain how he was “too afraid to start to admit this needy heart” (‘Too Afraid’ from In Tweed We Trust) and that “because I was weak, I destroyed my world/because I was weak I went berserk” (from the same album).

Some of this could be explained because “my daddy was a drunk because he hurt so bad…I drown my heart just like he did” (‘I’m Hurting’, again from In Tweed We Trust).

But the culmination of these confessions  can only be the single, ‘Every Bit of Me’:

He was 40 years old inside my jeans.
I was nine years old and feeling unclean.
He told me it was a secret to keep to myself.
I wanted to hate him but I hated myself.

It is a gut-wrenching experience even to hear the words recalling such abuse – the sound of a still-beating heart being torn from a child’s chest. And as the song unfolds, it’s clear there are repercussions many years down the line: “I want to blame the world but I blame myself/I want to hate you all but I hate myself.”

But even through this experience, there’s an awareness and understanding  of – possibly even an empathy with – the perpetrator of these sick crimes:

He was hiding under my mother’s bed.
I blackened his eye till it was pissing red.
He whispered ‘I love you’ but he didn’t love himself.
I wanted to hate him but I hated myself.

The relentlessly graphic lyrics alone are enough to inspire revulsion and sickness at what a boy in the first decade of his life had to go through. But the pain – the sheer heartbreaking trauma – is only intensified by the music that accompanies it.

The grainy, angular, thrashing guitar is enough to make your ears bleed. Bruce Brand’s drums thunder and pound through the tune as if there is no tomorrow. And the shouty, louty chorus of “with every bit of me”, hollered out by the three band members, makes a compelling case for why this has to be one of the finest punk songs ever spewed out into the world.

Johnny Rotten may once have sung about there being “no future” on ‘God Save the Queen’, but that was just comic book stuff compared with what we have here. The pure anger convulsing through ‘Every Bit of Me’ is surely what punk was invented for.

It’s unlikely this song will ever get played too regularly – even in the most die-hard of Billy Childish fan’s homes. It’s just too dark to bear repeated playings.

Nevertheless (and, quite possibly, because of this), it has to be one of the best songs he has ever written.

Find out more about Billy Childish, Thee Headcoats and many other Medway bands and artists in my book, Do It Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

You can buy ‘Every Bit of Me’ from Amazon or iTunes.

Further reading: This is New Art School!