—Last summer, inscrutable indie-rock three-piece The Wave Pictures set off for Kent’s Medway Delta to record an album with Chatham’s most famously moustachioed psych-punk, Stuckist leader, painter, poet, novelist and all round bohemian polymath, Billy Childish. Here, The Wave Pictures’ drummer and art-school veteran Jonny Helm gives us the inside scoop on the collaboration that resulted in the critically acclaimed album Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon. Childish is also known for his outspoken political views, but, says Helm, on this occasion “he didn’t mention politics at all, he was too busy holding forth on rock’n’roll…”
Billy Childish is a brilliantly creative man. The fact that he has produced work in so many fields, and has continued to do so in different ways, is pretty wonderful. I do like his poetry; it has a very honest, human quality to it. The Wave Pictures first met him as a band at his painting studio in Chatham, and it was amazing to see some of his canvases up close. I haven’t seen his woodcuts in real life but I like them a lot, they seem to be a particularly strong aspect of his art practice.
He has a reputation of being hard to work with and generally a bit grumpy. After meeting him in person, it became clear that neither of those things were true. At our first meeting in his painting studio, during which he was working on two canvases, wearing a beret and overalls, while pinpointing the exact moment that The Who “went shit”… It was obvious that we’d have some fun with him at the very least.
The collaboration came about thanks to Marc Riley [BBC 6Music DJ and erstwhile Fall bassist]. Marc was DJing at a show we played at Ramsgate Music Hall. He asked us what we were listening to and it happened that we’d been listening to a lot of Billy Childish in the tour van. We really liked the sound of his records and Dave [Tattersall, WP’s singer-guitarist] mentioned that he’d be interested to find out if Billy would be up for recording The Wave Pictures, at which point Marc said that he was in contact with Billy and would ask him for us. We didn’t really expect anything to come of it, but Marc sent him a link to a recording of us playing at [retro, all analogue studio] Toe Rag, and he liked it enough to get in touch with Dave. The result was that meeting at his painting studio and Billy saying that it would be more fun for him if it was a collaborative project and inviting Dave round to his house to write some songs.
The Wave Pictures have always tried to work as quickly as possible and capture the moment of a live take. Billy has been recording like that since the ’70s, he knew exactly how to get the sound that he wanted, and the engineers at Ranscombe Studios had worked with Billy for years. We used the same studio set up that Billy uses, including his guitars, amps and drum kit. This resulted in the first track being recorded 45 minutes after we’d entered the studio: that’s a record even for us! It was fast, and if something wasn’t working it was discarded.
The main difference between this album and other WP albums is that Billy wrote the music and Dave wrote the lyrics (Dave normally writes everything). We’ve never really had someone produce us like Billy did, either; his ideas for overdubs and backing vocals are a big part of the record.
I don’t sing any songs on the new album; but you will still see me getting up and singing some songs live.
Billy described how the drums should be played: “from the hips, like a cart with a wonky wheel”… I liked that a lot.
Photo © Jonny Helm