Sunday, February 14, 2010

The British Medway Scene

In 1986 I picked up an Lp at Streetside Records by a band called Thee Mighty Caesars and it was my introduction to Billy Childish and the wonderful Medway Scene.
Within a few months I'd bought everything I could find related to the scene and to this day I think it's one of the best and most refreshing one's in music. Medway is a term I use to describe all the various bands that came from the Chatham Medway area of Kent in the United Kingdom. Billy Childish and Graham Day are the central figures in this scene and everything is somehow connected by these two talented and prolific men. Both have been putting out music continuously since the early '80's in various bands and solo projects. Before long the scene spread to other parts of the United Kingdom and Europe, and 45's and Lp's seemed to pop up from everywhere. Record labels like Hangman, Big Beat/Ace, Damaged Goods and Get Hip (from Pittsburgh) released a ton of great stuff and all with cool, retro cover art. I think what I liked most about the scene is the '60s influenced feel of the music crossed with the punk spirit of bands like the Clash and the Ramones. Below is a list of some of my favorite bands and albums to come from the Medway Scene.

The Milkshakes-My favorite Medway band. After the Pop Rivets split, Billy Childish joined Mickey Hampshire to form The Milkshakes, they shared song writing, vocals and playing guitar.
The band was a mix of Hamburg-era Beatles, Chuck Berry and Link Wray with '77 style punk energy. In a short time they released a ton of Lp's, most have been released on cd. "The Men With The Golden Guitars" and "They Came, They Saw, They Conquered" haven't, hopefully someday they will. The compilation cd "19th Nervous Shakedown" is a great place to start your collection. Also, I want to point out that drummer Bruce Brand is a talented musician and he would end up teaming with several of the groups below.
The Prisoners-Graham Day's mod/garage punk band is probably the closest a Medway band ever got to receiving mainstream attention. They were grouped in with the big Mod revival in England spearheaded by The Jam, The Chords and Secret Affair. To me they were more Freakbeat than Mod. All of their stuff has been released recently, mostly by Big Beat/Ace records and all are great. Day went on to form The Prime Movers and James Taylor (keyboards) went on to The James Taylor Quartet, who are also very cool.
Thee Mighty Caesars- After The Milkshakes, Billy Childish put this one together and it sounds like a more striped down version of that band. Again, he put out a ton of stuff quickly. "Beware The Ides Of March" was the first album I bought from the Medway scene and it's still my favorite. "Thusly, the Mighty Caesars English Punk Rock Explosion" is a compilation of their best. Graham Day played drums and he's fantastic, check out his mini solo on the song "Man Taken From Guts".
Thee Headcoats- Childish again! Sounds like a punkier version of his other bands, but with more anger and humor. They even released one album on U.S. label Sub Pop, "Heavens to Murgatroyd Even! Its Thee Headcoats". Billy Childish has continued on with The Buff Medways and Wild Billy Childish And The Musicians Of The British Empire. Each one sounding more or less the same. Billy's also released solo albums and books with his poetry and artwork featured.
The Delmonas-A female version of The Milkshakes with a nice mix of original material and old rock covers. Billy would do same thing with Thee Headcoatees, which figured Ludella Black (of The Delmonas), Holly Golighty and Kyra La Rubia.
The Masonics-Mickey Hamphire's post-Milkshakes band. He's been making great records for years with The Masonics and with Ludella Black. I always liked his songs and vocals a bit more than Childish's, so for me this is a treasure.
The Squares- A French version of Thee Mighty Caesars. Their first and second albums ("Trapped In A Square" and "Curse Of The Squares") were combined on one cd and I highly recommend it.
The Kaisers- From Scotland. A lot like The Milkshakes, only more polished. Very good sound on all their releases, especially the ones recorded at Toe Rag Studios. I think 'Beat It Up" and "Wishing Street" are two of the best Lp's in the whole Medway scene. Kaiser George (the one who looks like John Lennon) has gone on to work with Los Straightjackets and The Hi-Risers.
Holly Golightly-Maybe the biggest surprise to me has been the success Holly Golightly has had away from Thee Headcoatees. All of her solo projects have been good and she might be the most recognizable of all the Medway alumni. Her first album "The Good Things" with the great song "Virtually Happy" was a revelation to me. Her voice, lyrics and choice of cover songs have all been perfect. Being connected to Billy Childish and Jack White have helped, but to me she's done it all on her own. Get the singles comp "Singles Round Up" if you can.
Fabienne Delsol-The Bristols' two albums were both favorites and her two solo Lp's have been just as good. She has the sweetest voice and her backing band is talented (featuring a few Kaisers and Toe Rag's Liam Watson). Reminds me of The Diaboliks, but with french-accented vocals.
Graham Day & The Gaolers- After The Prime Movers split, Day put together The Solarflares, then his current band Graham Day & The Gaolers. All have been just as great as the classic Prisoners. His newest album "Tripled Distilled" is maybe his best yet, the songs "Better Man" and "Wanna Smoke" have terrific lyrics and strong vocals. After all these years Graham Day, Mick Hampshire and Billy Childish are all still putting out fantastic stuff.

Also check out The Kravin A's, The Wildebeests, The Bogeymen, The Discords, The Thanes and The Embrooks. Also The Neatbeats and Mama Guitar (both from Japan).


  1. Hello Jon Kelly,
    I was googling for Masonics in blogs and i found your nice postng about the Medway scene. It was about the same time 1984, i discovered Thee Milkshakes.
    As soon as i heard their honest and primitve sound i became a fan for life. Back in those days i was kind of tired of all those overproduced Rockabilly bands. And Thee Milkshakes sounded more basic.
    5 years earlier i saw Link Wray solo and in combination with Robert Gordon both realy nice gigs, but Wray sounded not dark and mean, only loud. I think it's cool people all over the planet like the Medway sound, allthough you have to search for it.
    Thanks for your posting.

  2. Arno, thanks for the kind words. I've not met many people who share my interest in this kind of music living in Kansas, so hearing from another fan means a lot to me. Do you still follow rockabilly? Soon I hope to post about some of my favorite rockabilly bands. One's like The Polecats, The Space Cadets, Darell Higham and Dave & Deke Combo. Hope to see you then.

  3. Jon,
    Thanks to, after my switch back in 84' i never returnd to Rockabilly. At that time i discovered Gene Vincent recorded more than bebopalulla
    and there were more intressting old bands like Johnny Burnette. In England there was a brandnew wave of young Rockabilly bands like The Blue Cats
    ( And The Jets + indeed The Polecats.
    So for me now i like more and more garagebands and Surf related stuff, The Trashmen and the Trashwomen, for example.
    All those ingredients of 55 years of R&R i use for my own band now.

  4. Yeah! Trashwomen, Phantom Surfers, Satan's Pilgrims, maybe a little Lyres and old Chesterfield Kings. All good stuff.

  5. Hi, everybody....
    thanks for this post about The Medway Scene, i'm a Medway addict too.... if you want to hear some tunes or LP you can visit my blog :
    I've posted a lot of Medway stuff...
    Most of the links are dead but ask me what you want to hear

  6. Mr.Noon, nice site! Can't read most of it, but the content is fantastic. Especially all the King Khan and BBQ Show stuff. And the nudie girls too.

  7. Nice overview of a cool, but criminally overlooked music scene!

  8. Seriously, I don't remember writing this. I remember searching for the album cover art and putting the collage together but that it. I must have been on medication at the time. It's almost embarrassing.