From The Desk Of The Pogues’ Spider Stacy: Billy Childish

The Pogues on record are never short of inspirational, and in person, they might be a life-changing experience. This hackle-raising blend of traditional Irish folk music, politically charged broadsides and electric rock ‘n’ roll, delivered by charismatic frontman Shane MacGowan flanked by a grizzled band of veterans that includes penny-whistle virtuoso/alternate vocalist Spider Stacy, was formed in the King’s Cross district of north London in 1982. Despite occasional time off for good behavior, they’ve been playing ever since and have a handful of festival dates planned for this summer. Here’s hoping it lasts for at least another 10 years. We are proud to say that Stacy, who is currently appearing as a street musician in season two of HBO’s Treme, will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new Q&A with him.

Stacy: Where do you start? We played a show supporting Billy Childish when he was in the Milkshakes back in our very earliest days, and he was as fucking mesmerising then as he is now. Actually, that’s not true. Years of stripping rock ‘n’ roll right down to the primer have left an elemental force called Billy Childish that plays the most visceral, chaotic, pared-down garage/punk/blues you’ll ever hear. “Iodine In My Coffee,” in particular, sounds like Lightning Hopkins strained through the coldest air you’ll ever breathe. Forget Jon Spencer, and let’s not even mention Jack White. No one in the whole world but Billy Childish could come up with a song title like “The Messerschmitt Pilot’s Severed Hand.” And his versions of ATV’s “Action, Time, Vision” and the Lurkers’ 1978 classic “Shadow” are blisteringly authentic examples of what punk rock should actually fucking sound like.

Billy grew up in Chatham, a rough-as-a-docker’s-fist of a town on the estuary of the River Medway, just south of London. Not only an immensely talented musical force, he is the author of more than 40 collections of poetry, as well as several works of what I hope is largely semi-autobiographical fiction. Dark, cruel, unremittingly bitter and hopeless; best not read if you’re easily upset by domestic violence leavened with heavy drinking. He is also a superbly talented painter and creates woodcuts of an exquisitely rich starkness. All this in addition to being a highly regarded filmmaker and photographer. Crucially, he has an innate understanding of what makes this kind of music work, and he makes it work like no one else. Buy his records! They’re all out there somewhere. But if you get the chance, go and see him live. Extraordinary.

A painting by Billy Childish of the Swiss writer Robert Walser after the jump.