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1st October 2009
METAL DISCOVERY: The Bad Shepherds got off to a shaky start with the first batch of live dates last year…
ADE EDMONDSON: Yeah, it certainly did!
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(Ade Edmondson on transforming old punk songs into a folk idiom)
"It’s bizarre what works and what doesn’t work, and I think it’s a measure of how good some people’s songs are. We can’t get any of The Damned to work!"
Ade Edmondson in The Drill Hall, Lincoln, UK, 1st October 2009
Photograph copyright © 2009 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
Ade Edmondson is a name firmly cemented in British popular culture through his comedy genius at work in hugely successful TV series 'The Young Ones', 'Bottom' and 'The Comic Strip Presents...'. However, despite sporadic, and disparate, flirtations in the music industry including spoof band Bad News, a number one charity single in his erstwhile guise Vyvyan Basterd alongside Cliff Richard, directing various eighties music videos, a stint on 'Comic Relief Does Fame Academy', and a period of touring with The Bonzo Dog Doo-dah Band, he is less well known for his musical talents...that is, until now. Forming The Bad Shepherds in 2008 following the seemingly random (and alcohol-inspired) purchase of a mandolin in London's famous Denmark Street at the end of 2007, Ade's primary aim was to rearrange punk classics in the stylings of the folk genre. Recruiting Maartin Allcock on guitar (of Fairport Convention fame) and uillean pipes virtuoso Troy Donockley, the three men crafted their art to perfection before adding a fiddle player to the ensemble and unleashing their innovative punk/folk fusion upon the world...well, the UK...at a handful of live shows towards the end of 2008. This year has seen the release of debut album 'Yan, Tyan, Tethera, Metheral' (which translates to 'One, Two, Three, Four' in an ancient Cumbrian dialect for those who are curious) and a lengthy touring schedule from May until the beginning of November, and with a plethora of live dates already booked for 2010 it seems The Bad Shepherds is far from an ephemeral venture. I arranged to meet with the multi-talented Ade Edmondson before the band's performance in Lincoln's Drill Hall right at the beginning of October. After introductions are made, we engage in initial discussions about tonight's show being simultaneously affiliated to the Lincoln Comedy Festival and what's been billed as '6 Days of Lincoln Folk' before settling down by the venue's stage to commence the interview...
MD: Was that a promoter letting you down?
AE: It was a very complicated story…well, not that complicated. We had a young fiddle player with us who wasn’t very good, and we tried to sort of…you know when you try and suggest to someone they play a bit better? Well, we didn’t do it very well and she stormed out! Our manager at the time, and our promoter, had sort of taken a bit of a shine to her. They were apparently an item, and he just ran off.
MD: Ah, relationships and bands can be a bad mix!
AE: Yeah.
MD: I’m not going to ask about why you cover punk in the style of folk because that’s covered on your website and I think just about every interview I’ve read, but do you see an affinity between the punk and folk genres?
AE: I think punk and folk are the same genre myself. You know, they’re both kind of naïve musical forms; there’s not a lot of written learning involved.
MD: Yeah, I see them as raw, unpretentious genres of music.
AE: Absolutely, yeah. They’re kind of music of the people, aren’t they.
MD: Definitely. Did the folk arrangements come quite naturally, or was it more of a struggle to get the sounds and kind of style you wanted for the songs?
AE: It’s bizarre what works and what doesn’t work, and I think it’s a measure of how good some people’s songs are. We can’t get any of The Damned to work! When you try to dismantle them and try to remantle them…is that a word?!…their lyrics are rubbish! They’re just not about anything, and all the songs we play are about something. I think that’s what punk music was refreshing for - music that’s about something; not just pop music.
MD: Apart from The Damned, were there any punk covers you tried out and then had to abandon because they didn’t really work as folk songs?
AE: Well, we do punk and New Wave so we were doing…the only one we haven’t mastered that we really want to is ‘Ghost Town’ by The Specials.
MD: Who are back on the go, of course.
AE: Yeah. We do a cover of ‘Friday Night, Saturday Morning’…you know that song?
MD: Yeah, definitely.
AE: And that works really well.
MD: It’s in your set tonight?
AE: Yeah, it is actually. It’s only a new one - we only played it the first time last night.
MD: Are there any punk songs you don’t even try to attempt…like, one that springs to mind is Anti-Nowhere League’s ‘So What’…because they overstep the taste barrier?
AE: Well, we only play songs I like! [laughs] That sort of narrows the field! And like any kind of genre, punk has got as much rubbish in it as any other. We kind of know who we’re playing to, and know they want to hear songs they know and like, and that we know and like, so we might as well just get down to it. There’s a lot to choose from so we might as well cherry pick the best…for the first ten years! [laughs]
MD: Have you actually received any feedback from any of the original artists of the songs you cover…from those that are still alive, of course?!
AE: No, we haven’t. I imagine Joe Strummer would like it because he went off and joined The Pogues, didn’t he. We had that guy from The Vapors turn up and he seemed to like it. We don’t actually do any Vapors numbers, but he seemed to like it.
MD: Have you considered composing original material as a band, or would that stray too far from the essence of The Bad Shepherds?
AE: I can’t see the point of doing original material, really. Part of the joy is in reinventing what’s already good. It would be indulgent if we started writing stuff. Having said that, we’ll probably start writing tomorrow! [laughs]
MD: Has it always been a childhood dream to be on the road with your own band, and…
AE: Absolutely!
MD: ...playing the music you love…
AE: Absolutely, absolutely, and absolutely! [laughs]
MD: …and has it lived up to your expectations so far?
AE: Yes, absolutely! I love it; I absolutely adore it. It’s all I’ve always wanted to do since the age of thirteen.
MD: Is that when you got into punk originally?
AE: No, I’m afraid I’m a bit older than that! [laughs] I was about nineteen when punk came. And it’s just glorious. It’s absolutely glorious; I love every second of it. My wife can’t understand it, you know! We kind of…well, this is quite a posh one, but we do some real sticky little carpeted clubs! [laughs] Really shit dressing rooms…
MD: Do you ever think - “what the fuck am I doing here?”
AE: No, I think…this is romance! [laughs]
MD: Because you’re well known by the British public in general for your TV work, do you feel you have to prove your worth as a musician in fronting your own band and each new show provides you with a challenge to do that, or you just…?
AE: Well, you know, your baggage is useful and gets in the way at the same time. I just ignore it these days…I’ve been doing it so long. The reason a lot of people are coming is because they’ve seen me on the telly…
MD: Yeah, your name and photo is quite prominent on the posters!
AE: Yeah, we use it and…I don’t know, I’m just what I am! [laughs] I’ll just be myself, I think!
MD: If you hadn’t accidentally bought that mandolin down Tin Pan Alley…while pissed I think I read on your website…
AE: Yeah, slightly inebriated…
MD: …do you think you still would have conceived of the idea of doing something like this?
AE: I doubt it, no.
MD: I remember seeing you on Jools Holland doing ‘Anarchy in the UK’…
AE: Yeah, I was doing ‘Anarchy in the UK’ as a kind of big band thing. Well, I was in The Bonzos for a few years, and I got into the trumpet there and doing kind of weird stuff. They’re a kind of jazz band, really. I really enjoyed that but I kind of thought I was reborn into folk about…I don’t know…it was about 2003; we were playing Sheffield City Hall. There’s two venues in the same building and they share a corridor at the back, and I could hear John McCusker and Kate Rusby playing during our interval, and it was just fantastic. I just started looking out for it ever since. So it’s sort of…I don’t know…kismet! Do put kismet ironically! [laughs]
MD: You’re the second person to use “kismet” in an interview I’ve done recently! Anvil was the other one. Have you seen ‘The Story of Anvil’ movie?
AE: No.
MD: It’s like Spinal Tap/Bad News for real. They’re a metal band, and…
AE: Ahhh, I’ve heard about this, yeah.
MD: They started in the early eighties…Metallica and whoever else got big off the back of them, but they never really made it big themselves.
AE: Ah, I really want to see that - is it out on DVD?
MD: Yeah. I recommend it! Michael Moore said it’s the best documentary he’s seen in years.
AE: Have you ever seen ‘Dig’?
MD: No, I haven’t.
AE: That’s a story of The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre from really early days, before…it’s over seven years. It’s a fantastic film; really good.
MD: I’ll check that out. Obviously it’s only the second date of the tour tonight, but how is touring with your daughter?
AE: Well, we’ve done it before actually. We do it occasionally over the Summer anyway…we’ve been on the road since May, really.
MD: You’ve been doing the same festivals?
AE: Yeah, quite a few the same. It’s weird; it kind of changes your relationship. She’s not with her band tonight because we can’t afford to get them all this way out, but when we play nearer home she brings her band out.
MD: So is she playing to backing tracks tonight?
AE: No, she plays solo with her guitar. Backing tracks! [laughs]
MD: Ah, I just wondered if the bass and drums were on backing tracks!
AE: No, no. It’s just like touring with a very young band…which is quite nice! [laughs]