CTMF Wild Billy Chyldish – All Our Forts Are With You (Damaged Goods)
Billy Childish, painter, poet & garage rocker is to some, the greatest living Englishman. And now he has formed a new band called CTMF or Chatham Forts. Ged Babey salutes.
Billy Childish has, in typically idiosyncratic style, changed the (mis)spelling of his adopted surname to Chyldish for some reason, perhaps just to confuse search engines.
In one of his Hangman Communiques some years back Billy said:
“The artist creates, the critic bleats.”
Which, nine times out of ten is true. But I bleat not. I come to praise, not to bury. I have nothing to gain or lose. I just want everyone to get as much pleasure out of this disc as I do, and that is a shitload of delight. According to the CTMF press release
“Some say this stands for Copyright TerMination Front, others claim it is simply short form for Clarity Through Fuzz. There have been numerous rumours that Jimmy Cauty plays bass and that it is none other than Bill Drummond that can be heard on Xylophone. Billy, however, muses that though he is indeed friends with Jimmy Cauty and has in the past been in correspondence with Bill Drummond, he has never knowingly heard of the KLF as he “gave up on music after punk turned crap at the end of 77”. People in the know can vouch that all this is in fact truth.
CTMF, whether or not they feature the KLF, still sound like the Buff Medways and prime Billy and mark his getting back in the drivers seat after the Spartan Dreggs where he took a backseat playing the wonderfully named ‘tugboat bass’.
A friend of mine once said sagely, but with a side-helping of cynicism that “once you’ve heard one Billy Childish album, you’ve heard them all”. Which is, in a way, true. After all he is Stuck-stuck-stuck in 1964, 1977 or 1914 as Tracey Emin once remarked, resulting in the formation of the Stuckist Movement.
This is a really good Childish album though, after a few over the past ten years which were a bit patchy. But then again, that’s all part of his charm and genius, the glorious imperfection, the lack of ‘quality control’, the repetition and disregard of any businesslike advise. In Billy’s words, from track three – he Validates himself.
The standout songs for me personally on this are two where the lyrics are taken from poems by A E Housman of A Shropshire Lad fame ( me neither). The Olde English language just seems right tripping off Billy tongue. It’s poetry that tells a story of hangings and the lives of working men / soldiers from the provinces yet seems to fit perfectly with music which sounds like the Kinks / Who recording Spiral Scratch. The guitar playing is as wayward and scrabbling as Shelleys Starway guitar in 1976. The harmonies are beautiful, the sound has one-take immediacy but an incredible clarity.
If you only download one song, get this one, On Moonlit Heath. Here are the lyrics, by Housman.
On moonlit heath and lonesome bank
The sheep beside me graze;
And yon the gallows used to clank
Fast by the four cross ways.
A careless shepherd once would keep
The flocks by moonlight there,
And high amongst the glimmering sheep
The dead man stood on air.
They hang us now in Shrewsbury jail:
The whistles blow forlorn,
And trains all night groan on the rail
To men that die at morn.
There sleeps in Shrewsbury jail to-night,
Or wakes, as may betide,
A better lad, if things went right,
Than most that sleep outside.
And naked to the hangman’s noose
The morning clocks will ring
A neck God made for other use
Than strangling in a string.
And sharp the link of life will snap,
And dead on air will stand
Heels that held up as straight a chap
As treads upon the land.
So here I ’ll watch the night and wait
To see the morning shine,
When he will hear the stroke of eight
And not the stroke of nine;
And wish my friend as sound a sleep
As lads’ I did not know,
That shepherded the moonlit sheep
A hundred years ago.
It may read as a dry, archaic, old poem from 1896 but once adapted by Chyldish it becomes alive and somehow relevant. It’s a mark of the mans greatness. The only other person who has done anything simillar was the late Simon Gregory of Nox Mortis ( a Southampton 80’s anarcho-punk band) who took the 1914-18 War Poets work and used it as lyrics for his band.
Which brings me to another of CTMF’s hobbyhorses; a song called the Second Generation Punks which slates every punk band and fan after ’77. I have to admit this niggles me, as Childish ‘authorial voice’ comes across as being like Jon Savage and the London-centric Punk-Died-in ’77 bores like Marco Pirroni. Whether he truly believes what he’s singing or it’s a characterisation of a viewpoint I don’t know. There is a brilliant book which is available to read online here by Neal Brown which examines the man and his art and songwiting (which is where I stole the authorial voice bit from!)
Punctuating the album are three great cover versions; Willie Dixons I Just Wanna Make Love To You, She Said Yeah and Otis Blackwells Daddy Rolling Stone (famously covered by Johnny Thunders) which are all storming and you wouldn’t know from the sound of them that this is a band who are mainly in their fifties (Nurse Julie Hamper of course the exception being some years younger I imagine).
There are a couple of Dustbin Mod instrumentals (Billy’s description not mine) including the follow-up to Comb-Over Mod, the March of the Grey Mod Mullets. Drummer Wolf Howard plays an absolute blinder on this track incidentally; after seeing him play last night with Graham Day & the Forefathers, I have no hesitation in declaring him one of the very best drummers I have ever seen (‘Either all or none are special’ said Childish in the Hangman communique about Art & the Critic, but he is special!)
In ‘The Story of Pop’ Childish sorts out the sheep from the goats, the pearls from the swine, apropos the history of rock ‘n’ roll. Link Wray, Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly, the Beatles and the Ramones are in, as are the Clash, but only the first album, “Excluding Rock the Kasbah and too much hash!” The MC5 make it in, unsurprisingly, as the songs riff is practically Kick Out the Jams, but “we don’t even bother with the Rolling Stones! ”
The only song which Damaged Goods have made a piss-poor video for, ‘I Should Have Been in Art School’ is one of the least interesting tracks I’m sorry to say.
Musical Tribalist manages to channel Hendrix in a beautiful garage rap with some great ad-libs.
Musical Rogues slags off Nick Cave and the Pogues whilst rhyming Kylie Minogue with Musical Rogues which in my opinion is pretty poor form as there are far more worthwhile targets (Billy has probably not encountered Mumford & Sons and Jake Bugg though I guess).
‘I’m So Lucky To Be Alive’ closes the album in fine style. The line about “Their tears dropping down like bombs” is a touch of genius.
Billy Childish may be an acquired taste. He may go in and out of fashion but to my mind, and that of other fans / critics, he is a genius ranking alongside Dickens, Shakespeare and the like rather than musical contemporaries like Lydon and co, as he truly has followed his own path and never made any art or music for money or accolade.
(Successfully avoids using the phrase ‘sell out’ there Ged, well done).
Billy Childish is not on Facebook, Twitter or Myspace. He does not own a mobile phone. He rides a bike and wants to bring back the horse and cart.
All words by Ged Babey. More worthless bleating from Ged Babey here.