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Billy Childish: A Short Study

By Neal Brown

(The Aquarium)


It’s another Boston Arms, dirty water Billy Childish night; those same three chords, biting joy, twenty years of dancing to the hip-shaking bone crunch in thee church of Billy C. I’m wondering how you’d explain the whirlwind of rock’n’roll force, this giggling demob prince, to those too unfortunate or too hip to climb aboard his rusty freighter. So I get this new book [Billy Childish: A Short Study], beautiful brown paper cover, short and concise like a Milkshakes riff, a mere 42-page essay on the very same subject – the wylde and wayward world of Sir William Childish. First of all it’s NOT, happily, one of those scholarly, pretentious tomes of thesaurean blabber (the very antithesis of the Childish credo) but a simply enrapturing read – well done Mr Brown, sir. It’s divided into three parts: Billy the man/force, his art and finally his religious, social and artistic protest. At the back is a nice array of thumbnail paintings, book covers, record sleeves and so on. 


To explain the world of such a polymath is no easy task but Brown makes astute links between Childish’s Van Gogh-esque painting, his dyslexic prose and that Bo-Diddley garage thump. What Brown gets across is the undeniable reeking roar of LIFE in all Childish’s work – a vitality of anger, joy, love and hate. The paintings burst with moving colour; the bitter, naked texts spew spittle, the Link Wray-esque garage punk splits the speakers. Like the tales and images of Chatham low-life and high spirits, everything here manifests in simple, from-the-heart directness. Childish’s unrelenting volume of work seems to be some kind of revenge on existence; the poetic punk soul disturbed by physical evils, sorrows and sick excitements – a stoic standing up to death with a gurning mouth and a Sid James cackle. I won’t dwell further on the study as you should buy it and read it yourself – but I dug the metaphor of Billy as a fruit farmer tending to his various crops.


Needless to say, this is no 'outsider art' – that most voyeuristic of modern terms. Childish speaks of, and to, the community – naked and howling for the disappearing proletariat. He’s a man who bows not to the bovine commentators of the art/poetry/music scenes, one who prefers not to call his song lyrics 'poetry' but 'words that rhyme' and who started making records that sound the way they do because it’s what he and his mates wanted to listen to. That’s also why he paints and writes – for the sheer enjoyment and release rather than the pull of the pound or the stroke of the ego. Much like fellow punk survivor Mark E Smith, Childish is a pub William Blake – poetic mysticism replaced by the concise, howling sound of the naked soul and a life bent on catching the elusive spirit of life with humour, spite, a paintbrush, a pen and a Vox amplifier. 


David Christian


 
 
CSM
David Hockney - Picture House
Royal Court Theatre
London Art Fair
Art Fund