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Wild Billy Childish
And The Musicians Of The British Empire

L'il Lost Lou
Dirty Water Club @ The Boston Arms Music Room, London
Saturday February 28 2009

R 'n' B-heads, Garage-punks and enthusiasts for the raw and brash end of ye olde rock 'n' roll gather tonight for another episode of London's long-running Dirty Water Club, home of all that is organic and unsophisticated and rough and ready - in short, all the stuff rock 'n' roll should be.

Tonight is the latest in what is, basically, a residency by Wild Billy Childish And The Musicians Of The British Empire. Wild Billy and his cohorts plunge in to the Dirty Water on a regular basis, and so do the fans. It's a packed house, it takes approximately three years to get served at the bar, and before we've even got pint in hand it's time for the opening band.Lil' Lost Lou
Lil' Lost Lou clatters out a righteous blues-punk hoedown, all hooting harmonica and squalling guitar. it's as if she's Doctor Feelgood's receptionist, goading the patients in the waiting room to get to their feet. Her drummer drives it all along from centre stage, wielding a bewildering array of sticks and brushes and things that look bizarrely like egg beaters. Possibly this is standard fare for drummers, but to me it looks like he's raided the cutlery drawer.

The songs are punchy, banshee-blues workouts, nodding here to country stylings, there to the most urban rattle of sixties garage r 'n' b. But Lil' Lost Lou never seems retro, even though I would guess most of her influences come from three or four decades ago. Just goes to show - rock 'n' roll in the raw never goes out of style.

A glance at the merchandise table drops the hint that Wild Billy Childish isn't just another punk rocker. It's not many bands which have their main man's art on sale, and yet, among the vinyl and the T-shirts, it's possible to buy souvenirs of Billy Childish's other life as an artist and writer.

Nothing if not a conceptualist, the on-stage set-up of his band is stripped to the essentials. The drum kit is not miked up, the guitar and bass play through backline only. There's a vocal PA, a splendidly vintage Shure Vocal Master rig, complete with cloth-covered speaker cabinets in groovy sixties grey. I know bands who would regard this limited technology with abject horror - indeed, they'd probably assert that it's impossible to play through such a minimal rig.

Wild Billy ChildishBut the Musicians Of The British Empire are made of sterner stuff, and they've got the uniforms to prove it. Billy Childish himself looks like Field Marshall Montgomery, in his army cap and bristling moustache - a benevolent officer, unafraid to mix it with the other ranks. And off they go, cranking up an implacable racket, Billy Childish's plaintive Medway wail of a vocal right there in the thick of it. The songs are little vignettes of life in Britain's back streets, some apparently autobiographical, some apocryphal, all of them wittily incisive.

'Christmas 1979' relates Mr Childish senior's last words upon this earth, a bilious 'Merry fuckin' Christmas to you all', while in 'He's Making A Tape', bassist Nurse Julie takes the vocal role of a lovestruck teen, equal parts angst and adenoids, who finds her boyfriend making a mixtape for another girl.

There's a nifty acapella rendition of 'John The Revelator' (I was, I confess, hoping to get the rather niftier full-band version - you can't beat that storming guitar part) and for a moment this North London boozer becomes a ramshackle tabernacle in the swamplands of Missisippi.

Then the band brings back the noise, giving it the full freight train rattle and hum, and we're back in London, enveloped in the heady, overdriven sound of a sixties PA rig being pushed beyond normal operating temperature. Wild Billy Childish has this stuff in his blood, and in the space of tonight's set he's given us all a transfusion. May the sun never set on his empire.


Essential links:

Wild Billy Childish & The Musicians Of The British Empire: Website | MySpace

L'il Lost Lou: MySpace

Dirty Water Club: Website | MySpace

For more photos from this gig, find Wild Billy Childish And The Musicians of The British Empire by name here.


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