I’m not sure who compiled “Archive From 1959 – The Billy Childish Story”, reducing something like 100 albums’-worth of material down to 51 tracks, but I suspect it may not have been Childish himself.

I’m not sure who compiled “Archive From 1959 – The Billy Childish Story”, reducing something like 100 albums’-worth of material down to 51 tracks, but I suspect it may not have been Childish himself.

When I interviewed him a few years back (you can read the full Childish interview here), Childish was so committed to creating new art that he was painting over his old pictures, having run out of money for new canvases. The act of poring over his archives and boiling those thousand-odd songs down to 51 seems completely uncharacteristic. Why obsess over your past (like this bloke, say) when you can surge on with something new?

New, of course, is something of a relative concept for Childish. If “Archive From 1959” shows us anything, it’s the breathtaking consistency of the man. Over, what, three decades, with The Buff Medways, The MBEs, The Milkshakes, Thee Headcoats, The Pop Rivets, Thee Mighty Caesars, The Chatham Singers and so on (Jack Ketch & The Crowmen, anyone?), Childish has proved to be diligent and unrelenting in his commitment to a fixed set of aesthetics. High fidelity, musical progress, an extended remit all remain doggedly off-limits. Only the moustache, more or less, evolves.

“Archive From 1959” isn’t arranged chronologically, but it wouldn’t sound much different if it were. As a snapshot of one man’s herculean obsession, it works pretty well. As a primer in Britain’s foremost exponent of garage rock, it works even better. There’s an argument that Childish’s music works best in seven-inch bursts, but massed together, it starts to make a kind of sense as an art project, too; one where quantity and an artisanal commitment to homogeny are paramount.

I can’t pretend to be a total expert, but most of my personal favourites do seem to have made the cut here: The Buff Medways’ “Troubled Mind”; Thee Headcoats’ “Punk Rock Ist Nicht Tot”, “What’s Wrong With Me” and “We Hate The Fuckin’ NME”, a rare example of Childish’s bile being specifically directed towards pop culture (and a big favourite with many of us NME writers back in the day, of course). Who knew he’d even heard of Mega City Four?

Like many, perhaps, I have Billy Childish phases, and it’s always comforting to know that you can dip back in to find that more or less nothing has changed. My strongest period of engagement coincided with the early Buff Medways records, and so it’s these songs that resonate most here – “Strood Lights”, “Sally Sensation”, the aforementioned “Troubled Mind” and so on – from familiarity.

That said, things like Thee Mighty Caesars’ “Cowboys Are Square” sound superb, too, and the Chatham Singers stuff is strong, too. Anyone seen him play recently? I wonder what the setlist looks like these days?