The Chatham Singers is the another outlet for Billy Childish’s blues work. Their first album was released in 2006 and although Billy had been playing and recording blues for over a quarter of a century, this was the first LP has made in this genre in for many years. As well as featuring great tunes, Heavens Journey also served as a showcase for many new poems that have been recorded by this legendary painter, writer and musician.
On the first outing Billy is accompanied by his wife Julie on backing vocals and bass guitar. Julie is American by birth and her father’s family are free Blacks and Winyah Indians from North Carolina. On drums we have Billy’s friend Wolf, who has collaborated with Billy for the past 15 years, most notably with his ‘dustbin mod’ group The Buff Medways. Sitting in on Harp is ‘Bludy’ Jim, an old friend since the punk days. Heavens Journey was a great introduction to The Blues and poetry of Billy Childish and showed his versatility and unique position in writing and music: An anachronism who is forever influencing the world of contemporary art and music.
As ever, these recordings are sophisticated, homemade and primitive, which Billy explains is ‘the only way to connect with the heart. Heavens Journey certainly achieves that in spades.
Their second album JuJu Claudius was released in 2009, proceeded by a limited 7” ‘An Image Of You’ in December 2008.
The Chatham Singers are: – Billy Childish – Vox / Guitar Nurse Julie – Vox / Bass Wolf Howard – Drums and & ‘Bludy’ Jim on Harp. Guest players on Juju Claudius include James Taylor (The Prisoners /James Taylor Quartet) on piano and hamond, and Graham Coxon (Blur) on occasional guitar.
After a gap of over ten years there is finally a new album from the band. Kings Of The Medway Delta is set for release on 21st February 2020, along with a new 7″ single ‘All My Feelings Denied’.
The album features twelve tracks of gritty Chess Studio style blues with Billy on great vocal and lyrical form throughout. We asked Billy a few questions about the record…
This album follows CTMF’s Last Punk Standing LP and is something of a left turn. What prompted the decision to make a blues album?
I’ve been making blues recordings since the early 1980s. We’ve made a few Chatham Singers LPs over the years and I’ve been meaning to record another and just got round to it. I’m still making regular CTMF recordings at the same sessions it’s just the fun of working with different sounds. I was listening to Slim Harpo (‘Got Love If You Want It’) in a cafe, Jim form Ranscombe Studios was having a coffee and I said “this is a great song, we should try to get that echo chamber going.” Next day he said he’d been messing with it and I said “right, let’s record!”
How does this differ from the previous two Chatham Singers albums?
Less country, no poetry, more developed sound, otherwise the same.
It features fantastic blues harp playing by guest player Jim Riley, tell us a bit about him.
Jim plays with us on the other LPs as well, I just wanted to highlight that a bit on this LP. I’ve known Jim since ’77 when he was in the local R&B group, Wipeout, and I was in the local punk outfit The Pop Rivets. We played together a few times and became pals back then. Jim now runs the local studio where we record with my drum kit from Thee Mighty Caesars.
You’ve really captured that authentic gritty urban blues sound. Gearheads will want to know what guitars and amps you used?
My same old Selmer Truevoice guitar 15 amp I’ve used since the Milkshakes, a 15 Selmer bass combo (15 quid from Rochester flea market. A ’59 Jazzmaster guitar and an old Hagstrom bass that Thee Headcoats got on the cheap in Seattle.
As the album is titled Kings of the Medway Delta, what do you think those other Kent-born musicians, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger would make of the album and how does it compare to their work?
We got the sound of that Chess Studios echo chamber, so I guess they’d be pretty envious. I love the Rolling Stones when they were R&B fans, not so much after the rock set in.
Your recent live shows have been very well-received. Any plans to play some specifically blues-based shows in 2020?
Not at the moment, let’s see.