The second to last paragraph of the Bad Shepherds' band biog is unexpected, a candid moment in the middle of a fairly standard explanation of the band's origins. It reads like this:

“Then they got ------ over by their manager/promoter and had their tour cancelled, though with hindsight that seems like a lucky escape (it's not worth saying too much about him as he's already been very quick to threaten legal action).”

This setback early in the course of the band's career seemed to almost derail them before they'd really got going. Luckily, it didn't. The Bad Shepherds is the kind of band that you want to succeed. It is a band borne out of one man's desire to have fun playing a bunch of songs that he loved.

Granted, the man is in a fairly good position to start a band that plays folk versions of punk songs, being veteran alternative comedian and sometime actor Adrian Edmondson, but his vision is pure. He's been playing the majority of songs in the Bad Shepherds' set for years, at home, on acoustic instruments.

“I've always liked that body of songs, the songs I grew up with, from like 77 through to 82, that punk and new wave output,” Edmondson told us before the band's managerial problems. “I've always found them really exciting and I've always played them at home on my acoustic guitar as you do, to entertain yourself.”

The initial idea for the band came together after a pre-Christmas drinking session with friends in West London, which culminated in Edmondson buying a mandolin from a shop in Denmark Street.

“I got it home, didn't know how to play it, but I started learning to play it and I learned the same songs on the mandolin. They just sounded great.”

It didn't take Edmondson long to improve his mandolin playing, though elements of the instrument's maintenance took some time:

“They're a bugger to tune. You have to learn a certain way to string them so they don't slip,” said Edmondson. “The tension on mandolins is so high that you have to put the string on so it catches itself...I'd have to do a drawing for you in order to explain it properly. But it works - mine stopped going out of tune once I learnt this new technique.”

The idea progressed from a home project to a more serious prospect while Edmondson was touring with the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. He played a few punk songs on a mandolin to Bonzo frontman Neil Innes in their dressing room one night.

“He started playing guitar along with it and it sounded really good. The manager of the Bonzos passed by the dressing room while we were playing and he said 'what's that?' I said 'It's punk music played on acoustic instruments.' 'Yes. I hate punk, but I like what you're doing.' It just kind of grew from there. The manager kind of gave it the impetus. He said 'you should do that'.”

It was the Bonzo's manager that helped Edmondson get his first band member, Uillean pipe player Troy Donockley, who has played with varied artists such as Midge Ure, Roy Harper, metal band Nightwish and Status Quo.

“I knew Troy Donockley...well I didn't really know him. I knew of him and I'd shaken his hand backstage because I'd seen him with Nightwish. I'd spoken to Bob, this manager bloke and said: 'I really like Troy Donockley, but how do you go about approaching somebody like that?' And he found his number immediately and had him on the line in three minutes.”

Donockley was really interested in the project and suggested they get Maartin Allcock involved as a guitarist and bass player. The three arranged to meet at a rehearsal space for a couple of days to see if the project was going anywhere. They found that they all clicked quite naturally and the band progressed from there. The band initially recruited Eimear Bradley, but she has since left the band. Andy Dinan and Mark Woolley joined the band after they regrouped, playing fiddle and Bodhran (it's an Irish frame drum) respectively.

For someone like Edmondson to start a such a band as the Bad Shepherds may bring the words 'mid-life crisis' to mind, but Edmondson says that it was never about capturing lost youth:

“It's hard to think to yourself, shall I form a band? It's a very grand idea to have late in life. Shall I form a band? But it just kind of happened organically.”

Adrian Edmondson and the Bad Shepherds are touring the UK throughout December.

PB : What is it about the songs you play that keeps you coming back to them?

AE : I've always thought that those songs from that era have had a bad press in terms of how good or bad the songs are. Most people think punk songs are just a load of rubbish, and it was only the attitude and the spirit that got them across, but a lot of them are actually good songs. They may be a bit naïve, but that's the same with folk music. They're naïve, but they're still brilliant songs, and I think they deserve to be remembered not just as performances which were originally recorded, but as really brilliant songs. That's the intellectual pursuit of it. The other thing is, I've always wanted to be in a band, haven't you ?

PB : People often make comparisons between punk and folk music. What do you think links them?

AE : They're both sort of protest movements. They're both pretty based hands down learning, like here's three chords, go and learn the guitar or here's a fiddle, just play it and something will come out of it eventually. There's no formal training in either. They're both based on kind of naïve songs and they're both pretty much based around three chords. Well, that's a gross generalisation, but it's not that far from the truth.

PB : They are both seen as fairly direct art forms.

AE : They have the same excitement value, I think. The same kind of thrill. When you sit in on a proper Irish session and a jig suddenly takes off in double time, it's the same kind of thrill as when they really start hammering away at it at a punk gig. It's kind of visceral rather than intellectual.

PB : You've quit your day job in order to perform with the Bad Shepherds. Isn't that a risky strategy? Can you see the band becoming a full-time job?

AE : There's no plan really. I've never had a plan - my whole career's just been a series of accidental things that make sense somewhere to me, you know. One thing stops, another starts, I've done so many different things anyway. It shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. Were you surprised?

PB : Not really.

AE + To me it seems a completely natural progression, but that's because I'm me. I can't see that people will find it that shocking.

PB : You are known as a performer within the medium of comedy. Is there any difference in how you approach the two?

AE : There is, and I haven't quite got to grips with that yet. I've done sort of musical things before and I've done sort of spoof bands, like Bad News, where you're really just working at comedy but you're attempting to play music at the same time. The Bonzos is kind of more in between. It falls in between the two schools, basically – it's quite musical and quite comical. I'm kind of feeling my way at the minute. We did a bunch of low-key gigs last week, where the music went down very well, but I was aware I wasn't giving the most exciting performance. I need to work out a way of doing that. It's slowly coming to me. It's just a matter of confidence with the material that allows you to kind of do something else, express yourself in a different way. I'm hoping it's an entertaining gig. I've got little bits in between the songs that I've been saying.

PB : Which would you say is more nerve-wracking, music or comedy ?

AE : Comedy is much more nerve -wracking. We were always jealous of musicians when we were comics. But there's always been a great interest between comics and musicians when we were growing up in the late seventies and early eighties. It seemed that all comics wanted to be musicians and all musicians wanted to be comics. The reason comics want to be musicians is that once you've started a song, you've got three minutes without anyone trying to get in. I think that's kind of true. You're on a happy path once you're into a song. Whereas with comedy, you're being judged on every line. Every line has to illicit a laugh, because that's what comedy is. Comedy doesn't exist on its own. It has to exist with laughter. Otherwise it's not comedy. Whereas music... I wouldn't say it's an easier ride, but it doesn't have that complication. It does have that other complication in that you have to kind of move people in an emotional way with sort of abstract noises.

PB : When you took on the role as singer in the band, were you ever unsure of how your voice would sit with the music?

AE : I've always sung to myself, and with other people, you know. Debbie Harry once said I have a very good voice, so I tend go with her opinion. My mum thinks it too, but I don't think anyone cares about that.

PB : The concept for the band is fairly rigid. How do you see the band progressing ?

AE : It's only a rigid concept to get people to understand the kind of thing I like doing. It's easier to package it like that as a concept – punk songs, folk instruments, me, people can understand what it's going to be like. We're actually foraying further afield into a Kraftwerk number and a Specials number and there's other stuff in the pot.

PB : Thank you.

















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18080 Posted By: Steph (ATL, GA, US)

My husband and I both love the music of The Bad Shepherds! It just goes to show you can be innovative, hip and happening at any age (thank God for that!) And, if this is a result of a "mid-life crisis", Ade is totally rockin' it!! Well done!! We hope The Bad Shepherds will one day cross the pond and bring their musical stylings to the colonies! First round's on us, mate!


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