Conversation with Billy Childish: “Van Gogh is my hero”

A conversation with British artist Billy Childish about painting Easter eggs, throwing gym clubs and the simplistic aspect of rock ‘n’ roll.

Billy Childish wears a hat

Billy Childish in Berlin Photo: Rikard Österlund/Courtesy theartist& neugerriem Schneide

Wochentaz: Mr Childish, do you count your own albums?

Billy Childish: No not true. Other people sometimes tell me how much they came up with. I’m guessing it will be 130 to 160.

I ask because pretty much every article about you emphasizes the sheer volume of your publications.

This is because people prefer to rely on what has already been said rather than do their own research.

Billy Childish is the best-known pseudonym of William Charlie Hamper, born in 1959 in Chatham, Kent. The British singer and guitarist became known in 1979 through bands like the Pop Rivets and later Thee Mighty Caesars or currently CTMF and numerous publications. Childish has also produced albums by The Golden Lemons and Holly Golightly. He writes and translates. Since the 1980s, Childish has been painting in an expressive style that is committed to classic modernism; collages and photographs have also been added. Childish’s extensive visual work has recently received increased attention.

It’s like having a Billy Childish article generator.

There is the website Discogs.

Her musical repertoire includes beat, garage punk and folk. Next to it are Skiffle Jazz with the Blackhands or the World War Memorial with Sexton Ming.

Or the poetry LPs and the British blues ones.

Nevertheless, one often reads the sentence that all Billy Childish albums basically sound the same.

The dozen records of the William Loveday Intention since 2020 are again different from those of the Headcoats. I think my music is very variable, but what runs through it is its elementary aspect. The tempted to disqualify them. My painting was similar. There were critics who claimed that I couldn’t paint. Even though I didn’t even pretend to.


Variety and movement are something that makes journalistic access more difficult. I know the common notion is that I composed a song that goes “Dam-di-dam-dam-dam.” (laughs) Okay, if anyone wants to believe that, you’re welcome.

Who is the ideal listener, viewer or reader?

I haven’t thought about that yet. To be honest, I am entertaining myself. Now, if someone is entertained by it, gladly, but my first thought isn’t actually for the audience. In painting I try to find out what and how the painting wants to be. It’s the same with music. I do what I do because I find it easy and natural. And because it allows me to leave the world outside. If you have humor, intelligence and soul and are not impressed by technology, you might like it.

What bothers you about the world outside?

It’s not that I don’t like the world out there. I just don’t get along well with being told what to do, what art should be, and what music should sound like. I’m not interested in social malaise, partying, or trying to be anybody. I’m actually a domestic guy, always have been, and not a public figure.

With the intention of William Loveday you released three albums with covers of Bob Dylan. Is there a love-hate relationship?

I am not a Dylanologist and, as in many things, treat his work with more respect. Hate doesn’t matter. I haven’t heard much of Dylan’s music in a long time, other than The Times They Are A-Changin’ LP, which we had at home when I was five. I was certainly aware of Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of “All Along The Watchtower,” which is widely considered a stroke of genius, but overproduced and clever for me. I love Jimi Hendrix, but I don’t need to be impressed.

You came to Dylan from Jimi Hendrix?

A few years ago I wanted to hear Dylan’s original version. Then Yotube gave me more suggestions, including a live recording from 1976 that made Dylan sound like Joe Strummer. And that’s how The New and Improved Bob Dylan came about. But because Dylan is always put on a high pedestal by his fans, which I find ridiculous, I thought I wanted to be a poet like that. And so on the William Loveday albums I cultivated the lyrical side of my songs, which usually comes through more than 30 percent. Coming back to Dylan, I realized from listening to it and covering it, where he’s good, that’s where he’s really good.

Not everyone likes his voice.

I’m not a fan of how Dylan has been singing for about 20 years. He croaks like Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, doesn’t have to be! But it was precisely what was inconsistent, awkward and angular, that attracted me to him. Hats off to Dylan! He once said he made bad records on purpose. I thought that was a really smart move.

They often use terms like “fundamental” and “elementary.” Are you looking for beauty in simplicity?

It reminds me that not long ago in my hometown, a gigantic moon, about the size of the room we’re sitting in now, was hung in the cathedral and lit from within. I passed when people, all the way from London, were queuing and paying to see the fake moon in the cathedral while there was a full moon in the sky. That says a lot about people. When I visit a gallery I can have a hard time finding beauty, while outside the windows, on the plants on the walls, I find it easy. Sibelius was inspired by geese. Van Gogh, one of my heroes, brought nature home to people. Much of what is sold to me as art celebrates the commonplace, misery and death. I’ve had enough of that. Surely it has to come out at some point. But I also think that it doesn’t have to be sung about in the highest tones.

In the Berlin gallery Neugerriemschneider, where we are talking, you had the exhibition “skulls wolfs rudes rope pullers and a nervous breakdown” in 2020/21. It included a whole series of images from the world of work. Did you want to show something that is disappearing?

In fact, I have my studio in Chatham where there is a huge rope mill. But I had no intentional thought in these pictures. What interested me was the process of pulling the rope and the discovery that with many rope pullers you don’t see what they are actually pulling. But that too is an afterthought. I don’t want to force anyone to think or feel. There is also a William Loveday song, “The Rope Puller”.

In 2010 you painted Winter in Carwitz (Fallada) in oils. How did that happen?

That was when we were touring the US. I looked for something to read, picked books at random, read the first sentence, and put them back. I don’t like literature very much, but I want to. That’s when I came across Hans Fallada’s “The Drinker”, realized it was really good, read more of him, was enthusiastic and then got myself a photo book that I liked very much. I often feel like I really want to connect with things that I like, that I want to identify with them. That’s what drives me. I find friends in the dead of history.

What do you do for contemplation?

I train with gymnastic clubs and meditate, do some yoga and study Vedanta.

In 2013 you painted a 70 centimeter Easter egg, the “Razzle Dazzle Egg 13”.

Do I have this? Wait, that was for a fundraiser, that’s the only reason for me to paint an Easter egg. I don’t always know why I paint. Sometimes I paint winter in spring and spring in winter, and sometimes I can’t decide. I painted the Christ and the Cross after Rubens. I am a great worshiper of the real Christ, not the ecclesiastical one, but the original Christ as a historical figure, which I find inspiring and fascinating. I’m not religious.

How about spirituality?

Rather. What I don’t like is peer pressure and idolatry, be it religion, pop stars or political viewpoints. I reject totalitarianism in any form.

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