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    Review of Genius of Billy Childish, The: Thee Headcoats / Thee Milkshakes

    3 / 10


    Billy Childish is quite a lad. Born in 1959 in Chatham Kent, where he steadfastly remains to this day, he has earned something of a cult status as a painter (and one time companion to Tracey Emin), a writer, poet and musician. He`s relatively prolific too - with over 100 LP`s to his name, and a large number of paintings and woodcut prints to his credit. His early years were `dole` financed and he`s remained an outsider, refusing to be categorised or to be drawn into the corporate world of music, preferring to publish his own works in small quantities, recorded live in his bathroom. This homespun, lo-fi approach to music has earned him admiration from such luminaries as Nirvana, Mudhoney and The White Stripes, who admire his purist and spirited approach. His music has been described as a hybrid of Eddie Cochran and the 101-ers (Joe Strummer`s pub-rock outfit pre-Clash), and that`s a fair starting point. For someone so caught up in the creative world it`s something of an anomaly that all his music is formulaic; spirited rockabilly renditions of classic numbers amongst his own compositions, all spirited rockabilly renditions in their own right. In a world be-riddled with corporate rock and Pop Idol Karaoke, his hands on, get down to it approach is certainly refreshing.

    This DVD offers up two previously available concerts (published by leftfield video label, Visionary Communications) which capture Billy Childish in two manifestations of his band concept; Thee Milkshakes from 1984, and Thee Headcoats from 1994.
    Apparently, he uses a 30-Watt amplifier, no effect pedals, no off-stage mixing or fold back, and just a 100 Watt PA. (These aren`t big venues). As he says, "We don`t hide behind volume. If you go to see a group play you want them to be there for you. You want to be able to tell if the guitarist is happy or angry". He epitomises the Punk DIY ethic, and this is reflected in these spirited performances.

    So what do you get? Well (in true Cherry-Red consistency), in truth, not much. Two cameras per gig, which offer up the sort of footage you`d normally associate with security camera recordings. The sound is variable and tinny, though there are one or two sparkling moments. The 1984 rendition of `Brand New Cadillac` is a lot of fun, as is `Comanche` and the superb `Wild Man` featuring vocals from his female cohorts, Thee Headcoatees.


    Not good. Think security camera footage, generally in the wrong place at the wrong time and you`ll get the picture.


    Well, it seems surly to suggest that the sound is horribly lo-fi as that`s what Childish`s oeuvre is all about. That said, the sound is poor.


    You can access all the separate tracks, which is a bonus, and there are trailers for a whole host of other sub-standard Cherry-Red releases. There`s also a clip from a `Beach movie` featuring a track by Thee Headcoates, which really isn`t up to much and comes across like a sixth-form video project.


    Billy Childish is a fascinating person. He`s the archetypal outsider, not even fitting into any of the artistic or musical circles that have embraced his work. He`s a self-confessed work-shy idler who actually has some considerable artistic talent. His woodcuts and paintings are impressive. His music won`t be to everyone`s tastes, but is generally spirited - full of spontaneous energy and fun. This video reflects his homespun, lo-fi style and is of a very low quality. Certainly not for everyone.

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