A great introduction to a ramshackle, unrefined and deliberately contrary band.
Alex Deller 2011-12-12
Where to start with former Headcoats frontman Billy Childish? Known in highfalutin circles for his art, prose and poetry, he’s similarly feted amongst the punk rock illuminati for a deceptively lumpen brand of garage rock that hasn’t shown many signs of change over three decades while garnering the admiration of tastemakers from Larry Clark to Jack White and Kurt Cobain. Longevity isn’t the half of it, either, with Childish fronting scads of bands and responsible for such a dizzying number of releases he makes fellow outsider-for-life and prolific punk rock autodidact Mark E. Smith look like a slouch-shouldered idler kicking a can about a supermarket car park.
If you’re baffled as to where to start then this vinyl reissue from Thee Headcoats – arguably the finest and most feted Childish vehicle to date – offers up prime pickings; released back in 1990 (along with three other LPs!) and featuring 11 tracks of impeccable stomp ‘n’ holler that suggest The Kinks by way of The Clash and acknowledge a tradition of wonderfully raucous, inept garage rock that includes The Sonics, The Swamp Rats and The (Fabulous) Wailers.
Tracks like Davey Crockett, All My Feelings Denied and I Can Destroy All Your Love showcase the band at their most potent, possessed of the ability to charge the simplest materials with raw, gutsy power and mingle a wry sense of play with pangs of genuine angst. Amid the brusque three-chord ditties you won’t find much by way of embellishment bar the occasional chink of single-minded piano, Bo Diddley shuffle or, on tracks like Monkey’s Paw or Nanook Of The North, emulated simian howls and lupine ululations. The vision is always pure, and if the music is steadfastly anachronistic then the language it’s couched in is similarly archaic – foes are condemned as "pinheads" or "squares" while the fairer sex seem intent on playing "dirty tricks" – albeit enunciated in Estuary English rather than the drunken frat house hollers of the genre’s American forebears.
The results, it should go without saying, sound more than a little familiar, and whether that’s thanks to a light-fingered pilfering from the past or from Childish’s own considerable oeuvre is open to cyclic, self-defeating debate. The most important things to focus on are the songs themselves and the clarity of the vision of those who wrote them: a ramshackle, unrefined and deliberately contrary band who were all the more wonderful thanks to their many intentional imperfections.