The Buff Medways ‘Medway Wheelers’
The Wild Billy Childish saga continues apace - his latest musical ship is the mod/rock/pop combo The Buff Medways. Depending on whose point of view you listen to, we will call this the Buff’s fourth offering of hip-dom. It’s all got a little funkier on this new Damaged Goods release, ‘Medway Wheelers’.
The album kicks off with a variation of Billy’s ‘Troubled Mind’ (‘The Man I Am’) - blessed with a blast of Jim Riley on mouth harp. The whole thing bounces along with Who-eque vigour and energy. Billy feels the high-energy levels that run throughout the whole album emanate from the Buff’s attitude and total lack of aspiration. They don’t try to be, or do anything, in particular. It’s a freedom - that’s where their strength comes from. With a rhythm section that now boasts the very special talents of one Graham Day (yes, he of legendary Prisoners and Prime Movers fame), Billy confirms that with Graham the Buffs are a lot groovier unit now.
Billy: “I always liked the Daggermen the groove they had. With Wolf (ex Daggermen drummer) and Graham there’s your answer. Graham also plays his bass almost like a lead instrument”.
‘Karen With A C’ tells of an encounter with one of those great characters that punk used to ‘throw-up’ in its early days.
Billy: “Yeah, I was knocking around with this Chatham girl - everyone thought we were together - but weren’t really. She used to wear these dungarees which had these pink pigs attached, which used to peer from the top of one of the pockets. When I asked her name I was met with a firm ‘Karen with a C!’”
This LP has a great sound & feel. The energy of the Buffs is cooking at it’s full potential. No Toerag/Liam Watson engineering this time. Billy had always thought that a high ceiling when recording was an advantage when trying to get the ‘right’ sound. Previous recording venues had included John’s (ex-Buffs bass man) workshop - with its elevated ceiling - but a bar area at Ranscome studios in Rochester (with low ceiling) is where a number of the ‘Medway Wheelers’ tracks were captured this time - to great effect. As usual - each track was nailed on the first or second take. This group doesn’t even rehearse for fuck’s sake! Quite remarkable - when you hear how tight they sound. Just like Billy always has done with any of his previous outfits, really. It’s real. It’s live. It’s a warts‘n’all approach that allows the human element/feeling to be fully realised.
So what/who were the Medway Wheelers? Their story is told on the LP’s title track (next scheduled single release from the album) it’s the tale of Billy’s Mum, June, & her exploits with her local cycle club, the Medway Wheelers, which she joined in 1944. June had a Hop Supreme cycle. Billy recalls with amusement the manufacturers claim that the bike was ‘made-to-measure’. Not quite the case it was a man’s bike! Unperturbed, our intrepid June got around quite a bit on that Hop Supreme. Days to Wales and Brighton are fondly remembered. This is my favourite track on the LP. I’m sure June is pleased to have her great adventures retold.
The overriding musical feel of this album recalls Brunswick period Who. When I ask Billy about their influence, I’m somewhat surprised to learn that Billy has never owned a single Who record & only recently (four or five years or so) became familiar with their work.
Billy: “That early Who stuff, you know, before that Daltry bloke started to shake his stuff around too much, was very Link Wray (one of Billy’s favourite artists). Townsend, now he’s good, big Link Wray fan you know!”
At this point in the proceedings Billy proves a point: with guitar at the ready he bashes out the intro to ‘My Generation’ before morphing into ‘Comanche’ at a flick of his well formed moustache. It’s true! The Who are the bastard sons of the guitar twang genius, Link Wray.
The talk finally turns to future Billy projects, which include a Buff Medways’ tribute album (and why not?) - & a possible female version of the band: The Buffets (this guy has got a great sense of humour). I am sworn to secrecy regarding a proposed name for Billy’s next musical voyage (clue: it involves a type of WW2 plane) more on that next time.
We at trakMARX love Billy and all those that have sailed with him in different vessels over the years. The Buff Medways’ are no exception: a reliable workhorse-like tugboat. Truly great entertainment. Love The Who? Love Link Wray? Get on your bikes and ride with the ‘Medway Wheelers’.
Suburban Kid tMx 19 04/05