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8th July 2013
Five years since their formation, and following a year long hiatus, The Bad Shepherds are back with a new album, 'Mud, Blood & Beer'. Innovatory purveyors of rearranging (and deranging) punk, new wave and ska songs of yore into sonically imaginative, folked-up stylings, their third full-length offering also showcases the band's first venture into original material. Frontman Ade Edmondson - who, aside from his sporadic career as a musician, has become firmly rooted in British popular culture as a comedy legend, actor, TV presenter, writer and generally all-round talented geezer - told Metal Discovery during an interview back in autumn 2009 that he had no intention of composing new material within the context of The Bad Shepherds. Nearly four years on, Ade reveals what's engendered this change of sentiment. It's also pleasing to learn that he still considers himself as 'living the dream' with what has evolved from a hobby band into a steadfast and congenial musical brotherhood alongside his virtuosic partners in folk, Troy Donockley and Andy Dinan. And during the twenty minute chat, conversational divergences include, expectedly, beer, his unmitigated love of festivals and what to expect should you ever approach him at one...
METAL DISCOVERY: I’ve been listening to the new album the past couple of weeks and it’s absolutely stunning stuff. It has a really good sound as well so, with Troy and yourself producing, was it important to maintain control over exactly how you wanted the album to sound?
ADE: Well, we worked with the engineer, Euan, and we kind of know what we’re looking for. It seems pointless to get someone else in to… get in the way! [laughs]
(Ade Edmondson on reeling in unsuspecting audiences at festival shows)
"It's like fly fishing...You throw the fly out on the water and they bite it, and you pull it… you’ve got the fucker!"
The Bad Shepherds - promo shot
Photograph copyright © 2013 Uncredited
Interview by Mark Holmes
MD: So keep it within the band sort of thing…
ADE: Well, it’s not that we’re control freaks; it’s just we know what we’re looking for. I mean, Troy produces loads of albums.
MD: It’s got a really nice and warm, authentic sound to it so did you make use of some of the vintage gear they’ve got over at Chapel Studios, like the big, old analogue desk maybe?
ADE: No, we used a digital desk. I don’t think the analogue desk is up anymore.
MD: So you obviously attained an authentic sound from modern gear…
ADE: It’s all to do with microphones, isn’t it, these days. I don’t really know much about microphones but I know a man who does!
MD: Spending all that time up in the Lincolnshire Wolds, did being surrounded by beautiful countryside prove inspiring in any way during the process?
ADE: The worst thing about Chapel Studios is the local pub closed down.
MD: Oh, really?
ADE: A real pisser because we’ve made two albums there now and it’s quite a trek to a pub.
MD: Yeah, it’s Alford, isn’t it, the nearest pub?
ADE: Yeah, that’s a bit of a pisser.
MD: A band I interviewed last year said part of the attraction of going back to Chapel for them was the pub but they said it had shut. I presumed they meant for refurb.
ADE: It’s a real shame, isn’t it, when that happens.
MD: Yeah, definitely. We actually last did an interview back in 2009 and I asked whether you’d considered writing original material as a band and you said, at that time, you couldn’t see the point of doing that. Now you have done, with the album’s two closing numbers, what prompted that change of mind?
ADE: It’s just kind of been building, really. Last summer, I was missing all the festivals that we normally do - we took a year off last year. I was missing doing all those festivals and the refrain for the chorus just came to me. Things happen by nature, I think, don’t they… [laughs] It was a kind of unstoppable force! If you feel like writing it, it just comes. So Troy and I got together and spent a few days and wrote it.
MD: So it was nothing that was pre-planned as such?
ADE: When we were getting this album together, we knew we had a few tracks that we’d been doing live that still needed recording, so we had half an album ready. And the idea of writing ‘em just felt like something exciting; it felt like something we could do. You know, we’ve been together long enough and we trust each other enough to do that sort of thing.
MD: So almost like the next logical step with The Bad Shepherds?
ADE: Yeah, absolutely. I’m writing a couple more now so, hopefully by the tour, we’ll have a few more in the set. I think it stands up pretty well on the album.
MD: Absolutely. The actual title track, ‘Mud, Blood & Beer’, I gather is based on your own experiences of playing festivals?
ADE: Yeah.
MD: Mud and beer are pretty much givens at festivals but I’m presuming blood isn’t a literal reference as well?!
ADE: No, blood’s about the feeling of community and family, and being linked to everyone.
MD: I guessed it was metaphorical in that sense. You haven’t shed any blood at any point, anywhere?!
ADE: We don’t shed too much blood.
MD: Good to hear. It’s not the kind of genre, is it!
ADE: No!
MD: You state in the lyrics: “The fun begins, we’re in heaven”, and: “It’s the reason we’re still here.” So are festival shows what you enjoy the most? Do The Bad Shepherds thrive in the festival environment, would you say?
ADE: Yeah, we do incredibly well. I think the two best gigs I’ve ever done in my life, in any genre, have been at festivals so I feel very keenly about them. I miss them greatly.
MD: What’s the essence of a genuinely good festival for you?
ADE: We’re a niche band, we understand that, but there’s a thing that happens at festivals which I really love. We’ll be on and, because people have paid a festival ticket, there’ll be people that don’t normally come to see us at a gig who’ll come along for the first couple of numbers, thinking “we’ll have our fears confirmed then we can piss off again.” And we win them, that’s what we do. I see it happen. We always kick off with ‘Anarchy in the UK’ which has a long kind of lament on the pipes to begin with, then the lyrics come in and you see them laugh. Then their heads just start to rock and it builds up. And, by the end, they cheer. It’s like fly fishing. Have you ever been fly fishing?
MD: Right, yeah.
ADE: You throw the fly out on the water and they bite it, and you pull it… you’ve got the fucker!
MD: It must be very gratifying, in that sense, to see.
ADE: Yes.
MD: I guess you’re almost quashing people’s preconceptions.
ADE: Our audience always builds at a festival. You know, the tent gets fuller and fuller.
MD: On the other original track on the album, ‘Off To The Beer Tent’, a marvellous name for a good old Irish jig, or whatever you want to call it, there’s a sound bite where you say at the end: “Shall we go to the beer tent?” Is that a question you usually pose to your band mates as soon as you arrive at a festival or after your set?
ADE: That’s me and Troy there. We like to get to festivals a day early or stay on a day afterwards because we enjoy the fun of wobbling about a field half-cut! You know, it’s really good fun.
MD: It’s the best place to spend a summer, isn’t it, really.
ADE: Yeah. And whenever people approach me, saying, “can I have a photo?”, I say, “fuck off, I’m on holiday!”
MD: I’m sure they get the humour in that as well…
ADE: They do, they treat it very well.
MD: …rather than a direct insult!
ADE: Yeah, they say, “yeah, good on ya” actually!
MD: So I’m guessing you’re a big fan of real ale?
ADE: I have drunk quite a lot of it, yes!
MD: I have to ask, have you tried the Iron Maiden beer that’s come out this year?
ADE: No, is that any good?
MD: Yeah. It’s called ‘Trooper’ and Bruce Dickinson spent six weeks at Robinsons Brewery perfecting the taste so it’s not just some random beer Iron Maiden have slapped their name on to make even more money.
ADE: What kind of percentage is it?
MD: It’s 4.7%. Taste-wise, it’s a nice summery beer actually; a nice festival beer.
ADE: Ahhh, so they haven’t gone mad about it; it’s a session pint.
MD: Well, I guess 4.7 might be strong for some people. They brewed their millionth pint last week, I think it was announced, so people have gone crazy for it all over the world just because of the Maiden thing, but it’s good beer as well. So now you’ve done two original songs, I guess the question has to be, would you ever want to tip the balance and make an album of primarily original material with only a couple of covers bunged in there?
ADE: I think that’s what’s coming next, yeah. That’ll be what happens.
MD: I think when people hear just how good those two tracks are, everyone will be happy to hear that.
ADE: I think you have to grow as a band, don’t you, and that’s our obvious direction.
MD: Definitely. I have to say as well, I think it’s probably the most diverse album out of the three you’ve done so far…
ADE: Yeah, I think it is, isn’t it. Fun Boy Three and Ian Dury are weird covers, I think.
MD: Yeah, the Fun Boy Three one was quite a surprise inclusion with ‘The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum’. So were you always a fan of them back in the day?
ADE: You know, there’s some great stuff came out of The Specials and Fun Boy Three and I’ve always liked it. I’ve always liked ska. That’s a cracking number and absolutely cracking lyrics.
MD: Fun Boy Three were almost like a more poppy offshoot of The Specials – did you rate them as much as The Specials?
ADE: Yeah, I did. I’ve got no problem with people being populist; it’s a question of how good the song is, really.
MD: I think as well, for me personally, you’ve actually bettered the original with your arrangement…
ADE: Ohhhh, you’re speaking my language!
MD: I think it works beautifully as a folk song or, rather, you’ve made it work beautifully as a folk song, so do you ever end up preferring your own versions?
ADE: I don’t listen to the originals anymore. Quite often, I don’t listen to them when we start arranging them because I have a memory of them and you’ve kind of got to get away from that; you’ve got to make it your own song. So when we take ‘em to bits, we just go back to the beginning and just see if we can find some chords that work for it that we like. So we often start off completely differently and then make it into our own song.
MD: That’s a really interesting method… so you don’t revisit the source material at all?
ADE: Well, we get the lyrics sheet down and then we sort of imagine what we think it was.
MD: Do you think if you listened to a song on loop for a couple of days as you were trying to rearrange it, it’d end up too much like the original?
ADE: Yeah, and it would be pointless, wouldn’t it. I mean, I know we’re essentially doing covers but we’re rearranging rather than just covering.