One man army: Billy Childish

This article is from 2009.

One man army: Billy Childish

Stewart Smith salutes the singular genius of Billy Childish

‘Your paintings are stuck. You are stuck. Stuck, stuck, stuck!’ said Tracy Emin of former boyfriend Billy Childish. In response the artist, writer and garage rocker founded the Stuckist art movement, rejecting the conceptual practice of his erstwhile BritArt chums in favour of representational and expressionist painting. Some would say Childish’s music is similarly stuck, an endless series of variations on a narrow set of influences. Yet working within strict parameters is a key feature of Childish’s art and, thanks to his sheer talent and personality, it pays dividends.

As Archive From 1959, an excellent new compilation spanning his 32-year career, attests, Childish’s music is surprisingly diverse. There’s snotty punk rock, amped-up R&B, ragged folk and blues, wild freakbeat and even slinky Gallic girl-pop. He’s often laugh-out-loud funny, shamelessly rewriting The Premiers’ classic garage stomp ‘Farmer John’ as a sexual lampoon of Davey Crockett or satirising America’s founding myths in ‘Cowboys Are Square’.

The searingly honest accounts of an abusive childhood that feature in his novels and poetry are reflected in songs such as ‘The Night I Beat My Father Up’ and the grimly sarcastic ‘Christmas 1979’, possibly the least festive Yuletide single ever released.

Everyone from Kurt Cobain to Kylie Minogue has praised Childish’s music, but when The White Stripes’ admiration for his work was not reciprocated, Jack White threw a hissy fit. ‘It all smacks of jealousy to me,’ Childish responded. ‘I have a bigger collection of hats, a better moustache, a more blistering guitar sound and a fully developed sense of humour.’

Damn straight. If you need any further convincing, don’t miss this Billy Childish solo blues poetry show, part of Bang Bang Club’s rather splendid Fringe season. Punk rock ist nicht tot!

Gilded Balloon, 622 6552, 9 Aug, 12.30am, £12.

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