Band Ade!

STEVEN RUSSELL is taken aback to find ex-Young One Adrian Edmondson topping the bill at a Suffolk village music festival.

Steven Russell

Not much surprises us now that the world is as topsy-turvy as the mad hatter's tea-party, but STEVEN RUSSELL is still taken aback to find ex-Young One Adrian Edmondson topping the bill at a Suffolk village music festival . . . and that his band plays punk songs on folk instruments. Eh?

HE'S best known as punky student Vyvyan in the 1980s comedy show The Young Ones, as a similarly loose cannon in the grungy Bottom, and until last October as an anti-authoritarian doctor who quit Holby City to live in Ghana with a feisty nurse. Oh, and he's also the husband of comedienne Jennifer Saunders. Now Adrian Edmondson is getting his thrills playing “thrash mandolin” on stages from Somerset to Cumbria - his band belting out “punk songs with a Celtic feel”. Imagine The Jam's London Calling and The Undertones' Teenage Kicks played with instruments such as uilleann pipes, cittern and whistles. It sounds bizarre, and on paper it shouldn't work, but it does. East Anglia has the chance to hear what it's like on July 31, when The Bad Shepherds are at Hachfest 2009 - the music festival just off the A12.

Music has long been part of Ade Edmondson's soul, though probably not a lot of people know that. He got his first guitar at the age of 13 and at home picked his way through the songs of groups like The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Stranglers.

“I was 19 in '76 when punk arrived. Those songs were the soundtrack to my life as I went through uni and started pretending to be a comedian. I loved the noise, the faces and the attitude,” he says.

That love was evident in the 1982 Channel 4 series The Comic Strip Presents . . . which featured a “documentary” episode shadowing spoof rock band Bad News. Ade was singer and lead guitarist Vim Fuego and other band members included fellow Young Ones Rik Mayall - his long-time comedy partner - and Nigel Planer.

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Bizarrely enough, Bad News played the Monsters of Rock and Reading festivals - and the Bradford-born son of a teacher went on to direct lots of music videos in the 1980s for the likes of The Pogues, Squeeze, Elvis Costello and 10,000 Maniacs.

So how did this folksy vein arise?

“I accidentally bought a mandolin when I was a bit p----d. You know those Christmas lunches where you wander about afterwards? I have an annual one with a group of friends. Because we're all kind of musician manqu�s [frustrated wannabes], we wandered down Denmark Street, window-shopping. I don't know why I bought a mandolin . . .”

During subsequent days he started strumming and knew it sounded good. He had a notion about starting a band - playing post-punk and new wave songs but with that folky twist. East Anglia was integral to what came next.

Ade had been touring with The Bonzo Dog Doo-dah Band, one of whose members is Suffolk-domiciled Neil Innes. “I went up to his house - wherever it is . . . near Snape? . . . - and we had a go at it and had an idea about doing these songs in a different way. It didn't quite work, and he said 'What you really need is some sh*t-hot folk musicians.' So I set about finding some.” That was spring, 2008.

Adrian got in touch with Maartin Allcock and Troy Donockley and - two days, many beers and two curries later - they'd arranged eight songs and the band was born. They did six test-gigs at little bars in St Lucia, completed the line-up with Andy Dinan on fiddle, rehearsed with zeal, and did a smallish British tour of about 16 dates towards the end of last year.

The 2009 tour kicked off in May. “We've got an average of about three a week until the end of August and then we've got 25 dates in a month in October. Quite looking forward to that,” chuckles Ade, who's 52.

Do people come to stare at him because he's a celeb? And are there some who arrive not knowing he's part of the band, and then experience the truth slowly dawning?

“I think most of them, 70 per cent, come because of me,” he admits. “I think very few of them have much interest in folk - probably 10pc. The rest come because of punk.”

People are blown away by the reels and the jigs they do, he says. “It's the same excitement as when punk started - when you get a really fast jig going. A few of them I speed them up and speed them up, and whip 'em along until they're so fast and exciting that people just become hysterical!”

The Bad Shepherds project has evoked that raw energy of the post-punk and new wave years for him.

“The spirit of it was extraordinary. I remember thinking that when Rik and I were starting out doing our stuff at around the same time. I can't say we saw them and thought 'We must do this immediately!' but there was a kind of spirit, a philosophy, that said 'You can do whatever you like. You don't have to copy what's gone before.'

“As comedians, we were finding it really difficult to find places to play. We were applying to all these old working-men's clubs. That was the only established circuit for comedians, and it was full of the Berrnard Mannings of the world. It wasn't right for us at all, so we just started setting up our own venues. Which is exactly what punk did. They couldn't compete with Emerson, Lake & Palmer, so they just did it in their living rooms, or hired the back room of a pub in Soho.

“Rik and I came down to London in 1978 and we booked our own show by hiring village halls in London. I have to say we played to virtually no one, but we did play to [the critic] Michael Billington, who gave us a bit of a write-up and things started to move from there.”

Has the ghost of Young One Vyvyan followed him through the years?

“It was a bit of a millstone for a while,” he admits. “It's been about 15 years since it felt like that. I'm mostly known for Bottom, actually. My postbag is very weird. I get a lot of letters from grannies who think I'm a real doctor from Holby City. There's a lot of punky-type people from Scandinavia who seem to think Bad News and The Young Ones are real people. It's a broad church!

“Actually, there was a great review the other day” - of the gig at Taunton Brewhouse - “that said I looked like Vyvyan Barsterd's father! I thought that was rather good.”

Could it not almost be the anarchic punk himself, grown-up and mellowed?

“Don't think so. I think Vyvyan grown up would actually be a right-wing doctor. Vyvyan was a medical student and was based on medical students we knew at uni. A lot of them were seriously mental people - and most of them did become consultants . . .”

A showbiz dynasty?

Adrian Edmondson and Jennifer Saunders have three daughters

Ella, 23, launched debut album Hold Your Horses this year

“She had a very bizarre rebellion,” says her dad. “It's very hard to rebel when both your parents are famous rebels, so she rebelled by becoming a painter and decorator! I've got nothing against painters and decorators, but it did seem a kind of waste. I thought 'Well, I'll let her get through the first winter; she'll soon lose the hunger for it.' But she didn't. She lasted two years.”

Middle daughter Beatrice, 21, is part of the comic sketch group Lady Garden

Freya, 18, is just finishing school and has thoughts of fashion journalism

The family has a home in London and a small farm in Devon

“I'm a bit like Marie Antoinette,” says Adrian

Hachfest is at Hacheston, near Framlingham, on July 31 and August 1 and 2

The Bad Shepherds appear on the Friday night