Thee Chatham Renaissance Man

The Pop Rivets, "Fun in the U.K." (Hipocrite, 1979).

Thee Headcoats, "You're Looking Fine" (Hangman, 1989).

Billy Childish, "Bourgeois Blues" (Sympathy for the Record Industry, 1999).

Billy Childish, "Get Out of Here Pretty Girl" (Damaged Goods, 2002).

The Buff Medways, "Saucy Jack" (Transcopic, 2003).

Thee Headcoats, "(We Hate the Fuckin') NME" (Damaged Goods, 1999).

The Milkshakes, "She's Just Fifteen Years Old" (Harp-O, 1984).

Thee Mighty Caesars, "Career Opportunities" (Crypt, 1992).

Thee Headcoatees, "Davey Crockett" (Damaged Goods, 1992).

The Pop Rivets, "Disco Fever" (Damaged Goods, 2000).

Billy Childish, "Iodine in My Coffee" (Sympathy for the Record Industry, 1999).

Billy Childish, "Evidence Against Myself" (Amphetamine Reptile, 2002)

Real rock and roll doesn't need dressing up. Yet Billy Childish has managed to do so for a quarter- century; with over 100 recordings, numerous bands, one-offs, protégés, and solo work—all based on a handful of chords. Childish, born William Hamper in Chatham, Kent (where he still resides), may filch the rattles of Dave Davies' amp and Joe Strummer's vocal chords, but in the end his greatest influence just might be himself. From the Pop Rivets' first wave anti-punk (smirks, not sneers) to the Milkshakes' British Invasion blasts, Thee Mighty Caesars' toga party, Thee Headcoats' capped-and-caped Sherlock shtick, and the Buff Medways' fanciful military drag, Childish has built a real-estate empire on sticks and stones primitivism. But he can't hide behind the blues.

As proven by in his moaning over Leadbelly's "Bourgeois Blues," his romans à clef of boyhood abuse and proletariat poetry, and the drowsy psychedelia of "Iodine in My Coffee" and "Evidence Against Myself," Childish is at his most fragile when accompanied only by acoustic guitar. Tape hissing adds a ghostly aura, a second-party serenade. A number of his mid-'80s blues recordings are collected on Crimes of the Future (Sympathy for the Record Industry). The amplified Billy is far more puckish, whether aping Julius Caesar or constructing an entire record (the Buff Medways' rollicking 1914) around the final third of the Who's "A Quick One (While He's Away)." He'd rather poke fun at disco and flirt with birds than make tea at the BBC—even famously flipping one to the NME. A few of those birds, including garage siren Holly Golightly, formed Thee Headcoatees, a Brill Building–style combo with punk edge, backed by the guys on instruments. Slipping new lyrics over old chords (or old songs over new groups) is just one way he perpetuates his legacy. "She's Just Fifteen Years Old," itself a revision of Chuck Berry's "Sweet 16," entered Childish Songbook oblivion with the Medways' "Just 15."

This makes harnessing the complete Childish oeuvre damn near impossible; even a box set couldn't cover it all. The majority of Childish's recordings are in print thanks to flagship garage-punk label Damaged Goods, as well as numerous compilations such as 2002's 25 Years of Being Childish, all of which continue to repackage and reinvent a classic sound. Much like Childish himself.

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