Bringing Punk to Folk…
Exclusive interview By Karen Shaw
I was over the moon when offered the opportunity to interview Adrian Edmondson. The only downfall was the day it was organised for meant I was on holiday.
Interviewing Ade from a mobile home in the middle of a campsite with three kids and a husband all sitting on top of each other nearly brought on a panic attack. But ever the professional, the interview had to be done so once the kids were zipped up into their waterproofs I kicked them out of the mobile home into the wet weather to explore the campsite while ‘mummy rang Ade up’, with the promise of chocolate ice cream once I’d finished.
For many the name Adrian Edmondson conjures up the words actor, comedian, The Young Ones, Vivien, punk, Bottom, The Dales, Celebrity Chef, TV presenter, writer… not the words mandolin and layer! I always thought that a mandolin was an orange shaped fruit, but shortly before I start the interview my husband assures me that it’s a mandarin, and to be careful not to get confused.
This chap can write, sing and play and since his arrival on our TV screens in 1981, he has entertained our nation for over 30 years, however this golden boy has been entertaining fans UK wide and as far afield as Australia with The Bad Shepherds. Sounds dreadful doesn’t it? Watching someone desperately trying to round up a herd of sheep, is not my idea of entertainment. However, don’t be misled – The Bad Shepherds is the name of his band they play punk songs on folk instruments, not as a joke, but because they really like the noise. The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Stranglers are just a few choice bands who they cover. With Adrian playing the mandolin, worldrenowned Troy Donockley playing the ethereal uillean pipes and the bouzouki, Tim on the double bass and Terl Bryant on percussion, the four of them now form the core of the band. To date they have released three albums and will be starting their tour in April beginning in Australia and will land back ready to play The Muni in Colne on May 15th.
“I’ve never visited Colne before,” says Ade. Despite playing in a multitude of venues throughout the UK, it’s the first time that Ade has played Colne. His last gig before Colne will be in Perth; nothing like going from one extreme to the other. “Well, one of them is the arsehole of the world,” he laughs. He goes on to say “Australia has good folk following; you only have to scratch a bit to find them.
“As a teenager I was into folk music without knowing it, there was an awful lot of folk music in the chart. Led Zep were a heavy type of folk band, then punk came along and blew all that away. It was a very seductive noise and then I think as you get older you want more intellectual kind of fun. In a nutshell, would it be fair to say that you’re basically playing the songs of your youth in the style of your age? I ask.
“That’s a very good sentence. I wish I’d thought of it. I’ll start using that one.”
It was in 2007 after getting very drunk in Soho that Ade literally stumbled across his first mandolin and ‘accidentally’ bought it. Surprised to see it sitting there on his kitchen table the following morning he nevertheless picked it up, worked out a few chords, and started playing the same songs with a mandolin accompaniment.
“I was working with Neil Innes from Bonzo Dog Doo Dah band we had a go together and he said ‘What you need is some good hot folk musicians’ and I found them and it’s been a joy ever since.
“We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t like it. It’s a hard job as it is. You know when you go and see some bands and they go on stage and you think they don’t want to be here do they it’s one of the most disappointing things in the world, and it makes you wonder why you’re doing it.
Seven years on and it’s plain to see that this isn’t a fad, he owns nine mandolins and plays a wealth of instruments “I’m surrounded by instruments but I don’t know if I could play them all. I could play lots of things to a moderate standard because I have guitars, mandolins and string things, ukuleles piano, recorders and a strovile.
Personally, I’ve never heard of a strovile (is it an animal of sorts?) but anyway with Adrian being a Bradford lad, I was curious to learn if he could do a good imitation of George Formby’s Leaning on a Lamppost… “I certainly can and I lean on the bedpost too, is his reply.
The drunken afternoon in Soho played a significant part in the type of music he wanted to play, so he must have been roaring drunk was he when he came up with the name Bad Shepherds. All I can surmise is that he once tried to herd sheep but failed miserably…
“I was a shepherd once. I had a farm with a few sheep and cows, just to eat you know. But they do mate and then you do end up with an awful lot. Once you’ve got a whole sheep in the freezer it takes you a whole day or two to eat it!” he laughs. “But the name stems from Bad News and the Bad Seeds and that’s the kind of punky side and then the shepherd is the folky side.
“When we first had our website there was another website called the bad shepherd, it wasn’t called that but if you put it in a search engine and it came up with naughty vicars,” he laughs.
Once formed, the band wanted to try out their material on people and decided on St Lucia. Now my experience of rehearsals for most musicians is a damp, stinking cellar, but not for The Bad Shepherds, it seems miles of golden sand and cocktails is the way forward for up and coming bands.
“We had a manager at the time who was very dodgy and I think he lived in St Lucia, for A. a tax break and B. a way of getting away from the police so we ended up there. It was very off season and you wouldn’t have liked it because it rained an awful lot and the drains overflowed and there were all sorts of crap floating in the street. We nicknamed it shit island.
“We wanted to lock ourselves away and concentrate on what we were doing and we could play these little bars at night and it didn’t really matter if we failed or not. No one out there knew us, which really helped.”
His comedian wife of 30 years Jennifer Saunders makes for a lousy groupie. He goes on to say: “I’ve never really had a groupie. I remember being chased down Shaftesbury Avenue about twenty years ago. They’d stand less chance now than they did then. I’m a lot fitter now. I’ve already run three miles today.” Ade and his bandmate Troy share a love of Laurel and Hardy. I reckon a punk, and folk version of The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia would wow the fans…
“I see where you’re going with that one. That would be great. We sing that to ourselves in the van quite a lot we do an awful lot of reciting Laurel and Hardy.
“We do our reconstructions as we like to call them. We do write some of our own stuff on the latest album. We do what we like. It’s an obvious niche market so there’s no pressure from anyone. We are the record company. We’re our own bosses. It’s about fun and our motto is maximum joy, glorious racket.”
Ade left his home city of Bradford in the late seventies, but remembers his time there favourably, especially Busby’s Department Store, “I know it closed years ago but it used to have a very clever payment system via tubes. You would put the order in a tube and it would get sucked along by a vacuum and your change would come along in another tube.”
Ade divides his time between London and Dartmoor but has never deserted his Northern roots. He presented 36 episodes of the popular show The Dales, but according to ITV “they’ve had enough of that apparently. I was pissed off I think we could have gone on with it.”
Despite the end of the show our Ade is still a regular visitor to the North. “My folks and my sister all live in Selby. So I still go there a lot,” he answers, “and I love Yorkshire pudding!
“Do you know how to make a proper Yorkshire pudding?” he asks.
“Of course I do. I am a Yorkshire lass after all,” I answer. However I may know how, but they never seem to work when I try, so I end up buying them frozen!”
“Do you want to know the secret of Yorkshire Puddings? He asks.
Celebrity Masterchef champion 2013 is offering me advice, so I readily accept.
“It’s to measure the eggs by volume and make everything else the same volume. It’s chemistry. You can’t say two medium eggs, it could be any size.
“You’re not a Yorkshire woman at all. I’m beginning to suspect you’re from Lancashire,” he laughs.