A twenty-minute conversation with Adrian Edmondson about his punk and new wave covering folk band was never going to neatly fit onto one page. Our sardonic British icon spills into how most festivals are ‘shite’, how he disturbs his wife’s TV watching with excessive wrangling of his mandolin beside her and his dislike of internet music recommendations, all of which can be read online – for now, a snippet of the unbridled character we love…
Where do we find you at the moment Adrian – I deduce a London code, do I? Yes, I’m in London, yeah.
Are you busy prepping for a string of dates coming up? Erm, no I’m not really; I’m busy doing all kinds of shit things that you do when you get home!
I see, so you’re actually at home in London, not in Devon? Yes, well, no – I’ve got two houses and this is where all the shit bits of paper come to. When you’ve been on tour, they build up into a pile about 8ft high.
So London is just like a huge doormat for you. Yeah, it takes me two hours to open the door.
Adrian, I feel I could have done more research for this interview if it wasn’t for you getting me on to Songify via Twitter! Haha, yeah.
I’ve been enjoying your tweets – what’s your relationship like with social networking? I’ve sort of given up. It’s got too boring. I haven’t done anything for a while.
You’re bringing Bad Shepherds to us this month, which we’re excited by. It was something that was meant to be a hobby for you, I read… All my work’s supposed to be a hobby. I try not to do any real work; I think if you have something you feel passionate about, it’s not a job to make other people feel passionate about it. You can’t feel passionate about work, can you? Work is drudgery. Although this is quite hard in terms of the amount of effort we’ve put into it, I still think of it as a hobby.
The touring is a huge commitment though… at the crux of the matter, do you find it hard to leave your cows?! Oh, I sold all my animals; I just wasn’t there enough. We’ve done about 250 gigs in the last two years and there just wasn’t the time to do both things really, so I stopped being a farmer… I’m just a bad shepherd now!
Do you still have the farm? Yeah – I rent out the grass to my neighbour who’s a proper farmer. I was only a toy farmer.
I saw your daughter in Lady Garden at Latitude, and I was thinking that with Ella singing too, and with your bit of land, you could be the new Michael Eavis and curate a festival together… Hehe, I think running a festival is the way to madness! I’ve been to a lot of festivals and some of them are brilliant and a lot of them are OK, and some of them are shite.
It’s all about portaloo logistics, I believe… Oh dear, people just get the idea of a festival very wrong sometimes. You end up where you’re basically just in a field and you think, “Well why are we all here in a field? Why are we all in a field with a stage? Why isn’t there anything else here? There’s nothing else here, this is just a field. A field with a stage.”
I was reading a review of the Bad Shepherds recently and someone had written “punk music was ferocious, angry and energetic – folk music is the antithesis of this…” I don’t agree with that at all, and I’m fairly certain that you wouldn’t either… No, folk music covers a wide spectrum, as does punk and new wave really, I mean there are some horribly twee bits of folk but a lot of folk music is protest music. It’s just not loud because it’s un-amplified. Doesn’t mean it’s not energetic. I think a reel or a jig kicking off is as violent as any kind of punk gig I ever saw. They’re visceral and exciting. When you pass an Irish club and it’s kicking off in there you think, ‘God, that sounds heavy’.
I think with Bad Shepherds you’ve really found the attitude of folk music, which as you said, isn’t always done. I’ve found bands like Levellers manage to do that too – who to your mind plays vigorous folk? Well there are an awful lot of new folk at the minute… I don’t know why I say that in a disparaging way, haha! I don’t think there’s anyone who does what we do. I think a lot of people could play harder, d’you know what I mean? Especially at festivals; I think this is true of all genres, not just folk music, that people turn up at festivals and are content to just play through some mellow songs and they never quite fit what they’re doing to the crowd. We generally change our sets depending on how it’s going and who’s there and what’s happening, you know. So we’ll play a kind of morning set in front of a lazy, field of people lying down and that will be low energy, and then in a hot, sweaty tent we’ll ramp it up. It’s horses for courses really, isn’t it?
The whole mechanic of taking on cover songs is a huge mantle for you to take on; has there ever been a song that’s been too difficult, that’s wriggled away from you, that can’t be tamed? Oh, hundreds of ‘em. Loads of ‘em. Yeah, we try loads of stuff and what we do probably represents about a quarter of what we try to do. It’s not that we don’t like the ones that don’t work, it’s just we haven’t found a way of doing it. We generally take the songs completely to pieces and then put them back together again without thinking about the original and try and find instrumentation for them. Primarily they fall down on lyrics because I’m a middle-aged man and they’ve got to suit my age, and most folk and most punk songs surprisingly do because they’re surprisingly adult in content, most of the punk canon, y’know. They were written by people who were really thinking; they’re not just solipsistic, selfish kind of ‘ooh, I’m in love, I’m not in love’ songs. They’re about social commentary and social protest and things like that and it’s very exciting. But some songs, for example, we’ve tried a few songs by The Damned and none of them worked because they’re all – and I don’t mean this to deride The Damned but they’re all just a bit childish when you take them to bits and you read the lyrics without thinking about what the music’s about. It just doesn’t work. It doesn’t go anywhere. We tried moving up the years as well thinking there must be a load of stuff in the 80s with Tears for Fears and OMD and stuff like that, so we scoured through those and tried to work on that and again, that kinda falls short, lyrically. It’s too childish. I mean, they’re brilliant, original things but they don’t fit the ethos of our band; they don’t become folk songs.
Have you heard the Nouvelle Vague treatments of punk and new wave songs? They do it in a beautiful way… Yeah, I have. They’ve got some gorgeous singers, haven’t they?
What is it about those genres that seem to lend themselves so well? Because they’re forgotten songs and people all imagine that that sort of era is full of jumping up and down, shouting and spitting and it didn’t mean anything apart from anger in the performance. They’re disastrously wrong; they’re some of the most complex songs. The idea that all punk songs are three-chord wonders is completely erroneous. There are vastly complicated chord sequences and tuning in some of the songs we play.
Now Adrian, folk, like jazz in some respects can be quite a cliquey genre – have you ever received criticism from die-hards? We’re aware of the folk nazis. Hahaha. Every genre can be a cliquey kind of genre. They nominated us at the Radio 2 Folk Awards, which I thought was a bit of a laugh that they let us in there. I’ve hung about the edges of the folk scene for ages, as a punter, so I think they’re less afraid of me than they could have been because they know that I’m genuinely in to it and not just kind of doing this project as a kind of joke. Actually, I don’t think it’s the folk nazis that come to our gigs. People that come to our gigs are people that get the concept. A lot of people that you talk to who say, ‘Oh, what are you doing?’ and you say, ‘well at the minute I’m doing this thing that’s a folk band, but we do songs from the late 70s and early 80s’ – they don’t get it. They just don’t get it at all. Some people say, ‘Oh yeah! I understand that!’ They might not know what it’s gonna sound like, but they can see the possibility and they come and they generally kind of leave very happy, you know, ‘cause it’s a kind of joyous event when you rediscover… We rediscovered these songs for ourselves, then when the crowd comes, they rediscover them as well.
I think ‘Making Plans for Nigel’ is one of those songs for me, and must be the only song ever with the name Nigel in it… Haha, yeah, I think you may be right!
Ade, you are a handy trumpet-wrangler, as you are a proficient mandolin-fiddler. Has it always been in your nature to get inside a song? Er, I’ve constantly annoyed my wife because I always play while we’re watching the telly. I may not play very loud but I’ve always got it in my hand, haha. Not the trumpet, that would be a bit too… but I often have a stringed instrument sitting idly in my hand so that I can play along with any bits of theme music there may be to play!
Really? So any theme music on the telly gets the mandolin treatment?! Yeah, or a guitar, or a banjo, ukulele…
There’s been a revival of the ukulele – - Yes, it’s being taught in schools now; it’s replaced the recorder I think.
Thank God – it’s much better than the recorder. Would you like to see the mandolin challenge the ukulele revival? Erm, I don’t think it’s as welcoming an instrument. The ukulele’s fantastic because a) it’s quite soft and the strings are nylon and it doesn’t hurt your fingers, whereas a mandolin is heavy steel and there’s two courses of them and until you’re practiced a lot you have very sore fingers. The ukulele’s very forgiving, I think.
You have to be a bit more hench then to play a mandolin? You can play instrument, it’s just about the amount of hours you put in, but the ukulele’s softer and you get a result immediately. That’s what you want people who are starting to play, to get. You want to think, ‘oh yeah, I can!’
I didn’t have you down as an iTunes man as your preferred musical vehicle as written somewhere in an interview – I had you down as a vinyl guy… Oh no, I haven’t had vinyl for ages; I’ve got a load of vinyl in the cellar but I haven’t played it for years. No, I mean I’m on the move all the time and when I’m touring the idea that you can get your entire record collection onto your phone is just brilliant! It’s phenomenal.
And do you discover via iTunes? Do you like to wander and find things? No, I don’t actually. I hate all that Ping stuff.
I looked for you on Ping actually, and you were not to be found. No, I don’t enjoy that ‘if you like this, then you will like this.’ That doesn’t appeal to me at all. I’m quite happy finding my own way. I will buy stuff at festivals; we play a lot at festivals and if I see other bands while we’re there that I like, I’ll go to the record and CD tent and buy a couple of CDs, you know.
Adrian Edmondson and the Bad Shepherds come to The Waterfront on 10th November. For tickets, go to www.ueaticketbookings.co.uk.