Five years since their inception, and after a year-long hiatus, Ade Edmondson’s Bad Shepherds are back with a their brand new album – Mud, Blood & Beer – and with a diary packed full of UK shows. Andy Hughes caught up with folk-punk purveyor, Ade, ahead of the album’s release…
Well-known faces doing something other than what they were initially famous for can be in for a seriously rough ride. Of course, it depends on where the original fame lies, and how good the star is at that “something else” they try, but it is a path fraught with danger.
That’s not to say that it always fails – indeed, the example of Ade Edmondson, comedy writer and actor who formed a punk-folk band back in 2008 is a shining one. The Bad Shepherds performed to huge acclaim in theatres, concert halls, clubs and festivals until the end of 2011 when they took a hiatus. Now, in 2013, the band are back together with a new album and tour – so the first question we ask Ade Edmondson as he relaxes in his London home, is whether it was a planned time-out or not.
‘It wasn’t really a firm decision. We finished the tour in December 2011, and we all knew we had different things to do in 2012, so we weren’t going to be working together. We were wondering if the whole thing has run its course, and it might be worthwhile to take a step back and see if we really do want to do this again, and it turned out that we really did. I just really missed doing the work, which is an odd thing to say about work, but that is the way it is.’
So did everyone pick up where they left off? ‘Troy (Donockley, pipe player) and I were working on the arrangements, so we got together and drank steadily for a few days, just to catch up on the beer levels! We had a number of songs that we had been playing on the road, and never recorded. I had a handful of songs that I thought we could do, so we started working on those, and then we started composing an original song of our own, which was quite a leap forward. I had been in another band in the meantime, The Idiot Bastard Band, (with fellow comedic luminaries Phil Jupitus, Neil Innes and Rowland Rivron) and we did a pub residency, and got into the habit of turning up each week with a new song, so I was more or less in the habit of writing songs, albeit comic ones for that band, so I was in the writing mood. I was thinking about all the festivals that we used to do, which were wonderful fun, and that gave me the idea for our original song which is ‘Mud, Blood & Beer’ the title track of our new album.’
The Bad Shepherds may feature a high profile comedy writer and performer, but they are not actually a comedy band, believe it or not!
‘We call it joy; there is joy in the band, and people who come to see us smile a lot, which is something we aim for. Maximum joy is our motto. They’re not comedy songs, but it is something to make people smile and laugh, if that doesn’t sound too much of a contradiction,’ he laughs.
So, for those new to The Bad Shepherds, time to backtrack to one Christmas where it all began. ‘It was back in 2007, and I was in the habit of joining up with a bunch of friends for a Christmas drink in Soho and, of course, it’s round the corner from Denmark Street which is where all the musical instrument shops are, and that is a very dangerous place to be with a group of friends, drunk, if you have either cash, or a credit card about your person,’ he says. ‘So, I bought a mandolin, and it is still my favourite instrument. My mandolin was made by a guy called Paul Hathway, who works out of his semi-detached house in east London. Most of the rooms are work rooms, and he and his wife live in one room, and he makes amazing instruments. I’ve got four of his instruments now, they suit me because I have got quite fat fingers, and they fit me. I have an octave, a mandola and two mandolins. I have another octave made by David Buchanan, and another mandola made by a Portuguese luthier, which has a nice sound, but is a bit bowed. We have a double-bass player on the album, but we go out live as a three-piece, and we need some bottom-end so I have the octave. I switch between that and the mandolin, and Andy (Dinan) has his fiddle and an octave fiddle. I keep trying to be a tune player, and I’m not sure if I will ever get there. I can play tunes, but not to a standard where I could play them live on stage. I love tunes. We have lots of tunes in our set, but I back them rather than play them.’
Fans of Ade’s comedy work will recall plans for the much-loved Bottom series to reappear, reuniting Ade with his writing partner Rik Mayall. It was quickly discovered that this wasn’t to be. Time for Ade to set the record straight… ‘I’ve had a strange relationship with Rik since we stopped working together in 2003. He never understood why I didn’t want to carry on with what we were doing. I didn’t want to carry on because I wanted to do other things, one of them being in bands like this. So, last year we had our annual lunch when we reminisce, and he tries to talk me into writing another Bottom episode so I thought: “What the hell!” So, we banged out an episode in four days, and sent it to the BBC, and I thought it had no chance, because they cancelled it in 1996, and they went and bought it! That meant we had a series to write. We started, and after two episodes, I realised that it really wasn’t something I wanted to do any more, it didn’t give me half as much joy as being out on the road with The Bad Shepherds.’
‘I find comedy a bit desperate now. I used to enjoy it, but now I find watching it is a little desperate, people trying really, really hard to make me laugh. The very best gigs I have ever had have been with The Bad Shepherds. One was at Beautiful Days, the Levellers’ Festival, and the other was the Avalon Tent at Glastonbury. I don’t know why, but they were just phenomenal, very emotional, and I never felt like that ever doing comedy. Comedy is combat, you have to batter people into laughing at you, but with music, you join together, the band and the audience make it work. I adore festivals because they are unpredictable. You start off in your space, or in your tent, and there are people wandering around looking sceptical. They are people who wouldn’t pay for a theatre or club gig, so they wander in to hear a couple of songs, have their prejudices confirmed, and walk off again. And we love to watch them change their opinion as we get going. We know we will get them, it’s like fishing, throw out the line, let them bite and reel them in, and that is a fantastic feeling.’
Like many musicians, Ade is finding that some of the influences he had when he was younger are starting to come back around. ‘When I was growing up, the charts were full of folk influences, Lindisfarne, Steeleye Span, mandolin on Rod Stewart songs; Led Zeppelin IV is full of folk, so it was all there. When I was at university, there was a traditional Irish pub that put on live music sessions, and I heard a lot of them without really thinking too much about it. It just seemed to me that a jig taking off was like hearing the punk band a few doors down in their squat doing their thing. The link between folk and punk is the telling of tales of people in their situation.’
Are you inspired to be a better musician now? ‘We have used the same engineer for the last two albums, and I was absolutely thrilled to bits when he commented on how much my playing had improved! I’ve been a musician manqué all my life; I have always been in bands with people who have played better than me, which is probably a good thing. I feel very confident, and I am getting close to good. I do put the hours in; I will play for about an hour or two a day. I used to play watching TV but my wife has put a stop to that! The mandolin is a very bright instrument, and it does interfere pretty much with the drama on evening TV,’ Ade says.
There is no doubt talking to Ade Edmondson that he is living his life exactly as he wants to – a rare gift for most people, to be able to set down one career choice and pick up and succeed with another – is there going to be a time when he is going to be known as a composer and musician and not only a comedy writer and performer? ‘I think it’s always going to be hard to leave behind the work I have done, but it can happen. A few days ago I was on the phone, and I was standing by the front window because the signal is better there, and the window was open, and a lady walked past and noticed me, and then she walked on and turned around and came back to look at me again, and she said: “Are you that musician?” and I was so pleased! I was really really delighted! It’s what I am now, and it’s what I’ve really always wanted to be. I am having the best time of my life!’
Adrian Edmondson and the Bad Shepherds’ Mud, Blood & Beer is out now. They will tour the UK throughout November. Tickets are on sale now.