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An interview with Adrian Edmondson: introducing new album Mud, Blood and Beer by his band The Bad Shepherds

Comedian Adrian Edmondson boasts many strings to his bow: as a musician with The Bad Shepherds he rearranges well known punk tunes into foot stomping folk and their new album is out now. I caught up with him to find out more.

Written by Amelia Gregory

The Bad Shepherds by Lizzie Donegan at New Good Studio.

Readers of my generation will no doubt best know Adrian Edmondson for his role in the seminal 80s TV comedy The Young Ones, but it turns out that this polymath is also an accomplished musician. The Bad Shepherds was formed in 2008, infusing classic 80s punk tunes with a riotous folk sensibility, and this August they released their third album on Adrian’s own Monsoon Music label. Snarfle and I have spent many a morning dancing around the living room to Mud, Blood and Beer – a foot stomping pean to festival culture and all that it entails. I asked Adrian some questions…

Mud Blood & Beer Cover Art
I love your festival folk re workings of classic pop tunes form the likes of Madness, the Stranglers and The Jam – how did you these come about? I imagine them as the result of a late night jamming session with friends and ale on hand, much as suggested by the album title. 
It’s true that modest and occasionally not so modest quantities of real ale can help to lubricate the creative process. It goes a bit like this: Troy and I meet socially rather than ‘to work’, we chat, we discuss the world, we might nip down the boozer for a quick couple of pints. Then we sit in a room with instruments and talk about songs we really like. If we both feel enthusiastic about a song we try and remember the lyrics. WE DO NOT PLAY A RECORDING OF THE SONG – this is very important, otherwise we’d just end up copying. Instead we try and remember the emotional impact the song had on us when it originally came out. Then we might pick up an instrument or two and play around with some chords that might fit the melody, we don’t care if they’re the original chords or not, sometimes we reduce things to a simple drone, sometimes we change the melody – what matters is that we develop a version of the song that fits who we are and how we feel about it. We might record a demo so that we remember what we’ve done. A few weeks later we’ll listen to the backlog of demos we’ve built up with fresh ears and pick out the ones that sort of work, and work on them some more. It’s a hit and miss process. Quite a few songs don’t work out at all. Some get to go through the treatment two or three times – the version of ‘No More Heroes‘ on the album is actually the third version we’ve done of that song.

The Bad Shepherds by Jardley Jean-Louis
The Bad Shepherds by Jardley Jean-Louis.

How did the Bad Shepherds form, and how long have you been playing music like this?
Just before Christmas 2007 I went on my annual pre-christmas booze up with some friends in London. Traditionally we end up in Denmark Street – the street with all the old second hand guitar shops – it’s like porn for middle-aged men. I can’t remember the particular details of what happened but when I awoke the next morning there was a mandolin on the kitchen table. A rather nice one made by Paul Hathway. I collect stringed instruments but I didn’t have anything tuned like a mandolin (GDAE) so I set about working out a few chords. Most strummers have a repertoire of songs they play instinctively when they pick up an instrument – mine are all punk a new wave – so I started working out ‘London Calling‘. As it progressed I had a kind of Eureka moment. I could sense that I was onto something different. It sounded so bright, it sounded so different, it made me sing in a different way, it sort of forced me not to COPY but to INTERPRET. I was working with Neil Innes and the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah band at the time. I played him what I’d discovered. He was immediately interested. We went round to his house and started working on the idea. After an enjoyable weekend he turned to me and said ‘You know what? I’m not right for this idea. What you need are some shit hot folk musicians‘. It was sad but true. What a glorious idea! I’d always had an interest in folk. I’d been at Uni in Manchester in the mid 70′s when the Students Union regularly put on punk bands, whilst 100 yards away, the Ducie Arms, an Irish pub, regularly held sessions where fiddle, pipe and banjo would come out. It struck me even then that there was something equally exciting about the raw energy of punk and the raw energy of a reel or a jig kicking off.

Bad Shepherds
Where to find ‘shit hot folk musicians’? And ones that wouldn’t mind bastardising their art to play with a twat like me? Well… I remembered seeing Troy playing the uilleann pipes with Finnish prog/metal band Nightwish at the Astoria (now sadly gone!). I badgered people for his contact details and got his phone number. I rang… ‘Hello, you don’t know me, I’m Ade Edmondson, the bloke off the telly, I’ve got an idea for a new kind of folk band that does covers of punk and new wave songs in a folk style…‘ The line seemed to go dead… Eventually, after what seemed like 5 minutes, Troy said ‘That’s a fantastic idea, I’m in, can we play The Model by Kraftwerk as well? I’ve always wanted to play that on the pipes‘. And so the band was born. We went through a few fiddlers before we settled on Andy, and a few bass players and percussionists before ending up without a bass player or a percussionist. Live we fill in the bottom end by Andy occasionally playing the octave fiddle, and me occasionally playing octave mandolin, it’s a much more dynamic sound. Though Tim Harries plays double bass on the album. Tim was in the band at one stage. When he joined he said ‘I’ll play with you until you discover I’m a cunt‘. He isn’t one, but we mutually agreed that touring with him wasn’t the best fun.

Bad Shepherds Promo 2013
Your title track Mud, Blood and Beer is your first original track – how many years have you been playing at festivals and what are the best and worst aspects of the festival circuit?
We done loads and loads of festivals, it’s our favourite thing to do. We even like playing the shit ones, and there’s quite a few of them. There’s something incredible about the human spirit in the way festivals spring up. It’s by sheer force of will, and a kind of group psychosis, that a small field, or a barn, or a derelict building get converted into something so beautiful. It’s hit and miss obviously – the one’s where people are primarily interested in making money are by and large quite dull, and the one’s where people have thought about what they want it to FEEL like are usually brilliant. Though you should never forget that most festivals are a kind of refugee camp. I remember playing Glastonbury on a Sunday, we’d been playing anther festival the night before, so we arrived around Sunday lunchtime – from five miles away the smell of human excrement was overpowering.

What we love most about festivals is that we generally manage to convert people. The people who are only marginally interested – ‘What’s this Ade Edmondson punk/folk thing, sounds like a crap vanity/novelty idea, let’s go along and sneer for a couple of numbers‘ – they wouldn’t pay to come and see a solo gig, but they’re at a festival, they’ve paid already, they might as well have a quick look to confirm their suspicions… those are the ones we like. It’s like fly fishing. We used to kick off with a version of Anarchy In The UK. We’d start it with a lament on the pipes building into a drone on the octave mandolin, the words would kick in (I am an antichrist…) and you’d see people’s heads roll back, then Andy would start scrubbing away at the fiddle and the song would get more and more urgent (in fly fishing terms this is when you cast the fly), the final choruses break out of the long drone into an epic set of harmonies and pull back on the rod and you’ve got ‘em. We’ve always enjoyed seeing our audience build during a festival set, we’ve never seen it get smaller. It’s thrilling. 

I can honestly say the best gigs I’ve ever done in my life in any art form have been with The Bad Shepherds. Comedy and music are very different beasts. Comedy is quite aggressive, you take the audience on. With music you invite them to join you. It only works if you meet in the middle. It makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck when everyone really connects. Our two best ever gigs – Avalon Stage at Glastonbury 2010 and Beautiful Days 2011 – had us in tears as we came off stage.

Bad Shepherds Tour Poster
In November you embark on a major tour of the UK, how does this fit in with your other commitments? And what else are you working on at the moment?
I keep my hand in making documentaries like Ade In Britain, but mostly I think of myself as a musician with The Bad Shepherds. Everything else has to fit around the band.

What next for The Bad Shepherds? Can we expect a full album of your own tunes, now that you’ve ‘tasted the forbidden fruit?’
I think our next album will contain more of our own stuff but might also shoot off in some other directions. All artistic endeavours are best one they keep shifting. I’m not sure you could call it ‘going forward’ but it’s definitely going somewhere. Sideways, probably.


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