Now & Then: Billy Childish on The Milkshakes as they release retrospective boxset

This week ever excellent punk imprint Damaged Goods release Milk Box, a four disc retrospective box-set of Medway Sound cult heroes The Milkshakes.

Comprised (mainly) of Mickey Hampshire (Git/Vox); Billy Childish (Git/Vox); Bruce Brand (Drums); Russ Wilkins (Bass), the band were formed from the ashes of the similarly ace Pop Rivets in the early eighties. The prolific outfit released nine albums in four years, smashing together a primordial take on the British beat bands of the sixties with the harder end of US rock & roll to create a raw but melodic sound of their own.

With the reissue imminent, we caught up with Billy Childish for his reflections on his time in The Milkshakes and what’s changed in the intervening years.

How did this reissue come about?

By the high demand for quality releases of top grade rhythm and beat by the discerning public.

How did it feel revisiting the records and looking back at pictures, reviews, and footage from that time?

I managed to avoid all of the above, but if it had happened, I’m sure I’d have felt all warm and snug.

What are your memories of writing, recording, and releasing these records?

Staying up for 48 hours, drinking cough mixture when we ran out of whisky, writing thru the night with Mick, and having a stinking cold whenever we recorded – 14 songs in one day, then mix the next day.

Looking back at The Milkshakes’ time in existence in the early 80s, where do you think you fitted into the music scene of the time and what about the records has meant they’ve been able to stand the test of time well enough to warrant a reissue?

We fitted in with nothing. This was at the hight of the new romantics and drum machines. We were diametrically opposed to everything else going on (and the audience). We came out of punk rock and wanted to keep our sound small and real, and to have total control. The reason it stands the test of time is because we refused to be contemporary to our times – therefore it doesn’t sound ‘80s dated but enters the world of no time.

Were there any bands back then that were on a similar wavelength to you or that you felt a sort of kinship with?

No, not really.

Thinking of the musical landscape into which the albums are being reissued, what has changed compared with putting out a record at the time of their original release?

Everything and nothing. When we made them, it was against the tide, and now it’s still against the tide. And that’s where we’re happy.

Who are the current bands that you admire? Are there any in whom you can hear or feel a similar spirit to what you were trying to achieve with The Milkshakes?

I wouldn’t know about that, sir.

What have you got going on at the moment/coming up soon?

I just did 17 LPs over lockdown, but it’s hard getting the vinyl out. Plus, I just recorded an 18th last week with my old pals from The Singing Loins (Medway folk group). My pal Chris, the singer passed over in January and he wanted the lads to carry on, so I signed up. Also just starting work on a CTMF LP, and I have an exhibition opening with my Berlin gallery in June, and another in Kensington with my NY gallery. I’m just publishing three collections of poetry and finishing the final chapter on my new novel The Student.

We asked Billy to pick up to six tracks from contemporaries of The Milkshakes and up to six bands of the current era for playlist. This was his response:

I’m totally unqualified to do that as I didn’t, and don’t listen to contemporary music. The last real show I attended in a contemporary sense was the Rich Kids in January 1978. Seriously.

Milk Box is out on 27th May via Damaged Goods Records – pre-order here

Interview by Paul Maps

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