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Interview: Ade Edmondson

19 May 09 interview: Jared Wilson

"These days it seems that there’s no kind of real subculture at all. In the seventies and eighties people were justifiably angry about stuff"

You’ll recognise him from his appearances on TV, writing and performing alongside long-term comic partner Rik Mayall in programmes like The Young Ones and Bottom. But did you also know that Ade Edmondson is also a published novelist, a devoted father and a baddass playing punk songs on the mandolin? In fact this funny man also has a rich history in the music business and is bringing his band to perform in Nottingham at the end of May…

So, introduce us to your band, The Bad Shepherds…
We play punk songs on folk instruments, as we like the sound they make together. It’s not a gag, it’s a noise we really like and find exciting. For example Down at the tube station at midnight by The Jam is, in my view, a classic folk song. If you like punk music and you like Celtic music then you’ll like our set. Come and watch me thrash the mandolin. What we offer is basically a good night out. We have fun and we joke around a little on stage. In line with our anti-Christ name we’ve rewritten some bits of the bible and we’re really out there to cheer people up. I’m not at all religious, in fact I’m quite keen on making people not believe in god at all. It’s a bit of a hobby of mine, especially to people who turn up at my door to preach.

Did you always want to be in a band?
Yeah, but I suppose in a kind of heal-hearted way. When I was at school it was definitely what I wanted to be, but you could probably say the same for everyone else there. But other things got in the way for me and I followed a path trying to be funny instead.
But I’ve been a member of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band for about five years now and I also went on tour with Bad News and we had quite a large road crew of musicians with us to do that. So in many ways it’s a dream I’d fulfilled, even before The Bad Shepherds.

You’ve also directed quite a few music videos. Tell us about them…
Yeah, I did quite a few in the mid to late eighties. I even won the MTV Best Video award one year for a video I did for Squeeze for a track called Hourglass. You can look at it these days on YouTube. I guess I got into it because I’d been directing videos for Bad News and one of them was a spoof heavy metal video and Zodiac Mindwarp and The Pogues asked me to do the same sort of thing for them. So I did. It was a great little time actually, just before the huge recession in 1987 and there was quite a lot of money around at the time for spending on things like videos. All my videos are heavily art-directed, so I like to think they’re all quite visually exciting.

Did alternative comedy fail in its mission, seeing as so many of its leading lights are now as establishment as the comedians they were attacking in early eighties?The Young Ones was spectacularly successful and many of us still watch it today. Did you ever realise what a hit it would be?
I can’t remember much of it these days to be honest. But when you make things you don’t really try and second guess how successful it will be, you just do things because you enjoy doing them. We were just amusing ourselves really and it’s usually the best way, I’m pretty sure the same is true nowadays of people like Ricky Gervais and The Mighty Boosh.
At the time there was very little about in terms of the type of comedy we were working on. Comedy on TV was mainly men in dickie bows telling racist and homophobic gags… they were all like Jim Davidson. It was kind of dull, so we started our own type of comedy which was a bit more surreal. Nothing is completely new and we borrowed from the likes of Python, The Goons, Laurel and Hardy and Tommy Cooper. But it was just what we thought was funny. We didn’t really give a stuff about our ‘careers’ as such, we were just having a laugh.
I think that’s probably changed a bit nowadays though as with all these bloody TV talent shows everyone on TV seems obsessed with their careers and thinking that they’re on the scrapheap before they’re twenty. Half the fun in creating stuff is the journey and not getting there!

What do you think about youth subcultures of today? Are they less interesting than those of the eighties?
What’s bizarre to me these days is that it seems that there’s no kind of real subculture at all. I don’t see any young people talking about politics, and I don’t mean they have to talk party politics. In the seventies and eighties people were justifiably angry about stuff and they might not always have been speaking about it directly in their music, but they were certainly reflecting that. Whereas these days all bands, for example, seem to do is talk about themselves and all they ever seem to write about is ‘love’. People don’t seem to be cross or angry about anything at all.

The student lifestyle depicted by The Young Ones is a million miles away from the current one. If you were doing it today what would the characters be like?
Obviously I don’t have as much experience of it, but I’ve had daughters go through University and I can see that it’s just a lot more comfortable. Students now live in nice flats, eat nice food and wear nice clothes. I never had enough money for any of those things when I was a student. For me university life was about living in a situation that was just ‘a bit shit’. But then again with the current recession, you never know, we might get back to that stage within a year or so. There could be some interesting comedy coming along…

I get questions like this a lot and I don’t really know what they mean about our ‘mission’. People talk about our group of ‘alternative comedians’ like there was a group of people who set up an agenda to achieve a certain objective. I can only really speak for me and Rik, but all we ever wanted to do was make people laugh their bollocks off. We wanted to laugh and we wanted everyone to laugh as well, that was our whole agenda. The reason it got labelled as ‘alternative’ comedy was because it was an alternative to the comedy at the time, which as I mentioned was usually racists in dickie bows. We provided something different to that and I like to think that we were quite funny. What more do you want from us?

What made you write The Gobbler? And why do you think it is that you, Alexei Sayle and Ben Elton all went on to try your hand as novelists?
I just started doing it as a hobby and it eventually reached a certain number of pages and people were interested in publishing it. It was a lot like therapy for me really. So I guess the reason that the likes of Ben, Alexei and I have all done books is because we’re all intelligent people who can write. We’re all used to writing comedy and it’s not a big step away to try your hand at a novel. When you write a script for example, you’re just writing a code for what a novel would be – and TV comedians are writing scripts all the time.

Were you pissed off with the success of Spinal Tap, seeing as you got there first with Bad News?
We got there first, but we didn’t get as far, yeah! I wouldn’t say I was ever pissed off with it at all. You know, Spinal Tap was very funny. It was obviously a genre that was ripe for picking at the time and I think the Bad News films still stand up alongside it. We approached it from a slightly different angle – which was the end I knew of being a schoolboy band trying to get up the ladder, playing the shitty end of gigs. So in some ways they were very similar and in others they were quite different. But I certainly have nothing against Spinal Tap at all, it’s very very funny…

You filmed an episode of Hardwicke House in Sneinton Dale, but the series was pulled before it went out - what did we miss?
There was a lot of controversy about that programme, but to be honest I’m not really sure what it was all about. Rik and I were just guests in one episode. I was a crap sitcom about a school and we played two old boys in one episode that came back and terrorised a few people. I can’t remember why it got pulled at all to be honest, but it wasn’t our project, we were just guests on it.

I’ve heard you used to live in Nottingham…
I did, I used to live in Mapperley with a girlfriend from there. When I was a student in Manchester we used to go back to her house in the holidays. I used to work in the Pork Farms pie factory in the summer and the horizon factory of John Players in winter. Pork Farms was a completely disgusting place to work, but some bits of it were quite amusing. The jelly guns were always good fun – you have these two holes in the top of a pie which are filled from these jelly guns which are under great pressure. You can shoot that quite a long way in a factory. I bet the pie-making process is a lot more automated now, but it used to be quite labour intensive, which is why they got dickheads like me to come in and work there during the summer. We used to tear up bits of the pastry and we found that, if you had a good right arm, you could get these stuck to the ceiling – even in a very tall building like that. You’d see how long they stuck there for and when they fell down, you’d put them back in the tray to go out to the customer. For obvious reasons, I don’t eat a lot of pork pies these days…

Do you remember you and Rik Mayall doing a signing session at Selectadisc back in the day?
I know we did it, but I’m afraid I don’t remember that very well. But I remember where the record shop is, it’s the one on the corner near the square, right?

Yeah. Unfortunately the shop is finally closing up this month after thirty years…
Oh, that is a shame. Everything happens on MySpace these days I guess, huh? But I would say that the new way that the world of music works probably helps more people than it hinders – or at least it helps a lot of young people trying to get their music out there. You can be an artist and get paid for it, without having a record deal and having to sell your records in a shop. It’s quite liberating…

What was it like to be the one of the first comedians to be treated like a rock star?
It was good fun. I was chased down Shaftsbury Avenue in London once by a group of girls like in a Benny Hill sketch. It was a bit scary and I fell over, but I managed to get away from them in the backstreets of Soho. It must be quite frightening to have to put up with that sort of thing all the time…

So how is Rik these days?
I don’t see him that often to be honest. Obviously we haven’t worked together for five or six years now and so I probably see him once every six months or so. We meet up, have a bite to eat and chew over the fat.

Do you think you’ll ever work together again?
I reckon in about ten years… but probably not until then. It’s not that we aren’t happy with what we’ve done, but I think we just got a bit bored and tired of doing it. But it’s hard to do anything else together as you tend to get tied to the public perception of yourselves. But we’ve got an idea for something we might do, set in an old peoples home in ten years or so. I imagine it will still be the Richie and Eddie characters, but having had such a long time off they might come across a bit differently. There’s a lot of fun violence to be had with enemas and Zimmer frames. Also I just find the idea of old people hitting each other really funny…

Why do you think Filthy Rich and Catflap never really succeeded, when Bottom and The Young Ones did?
I think it was watched and enjoyed by enough people, but it just got slammed by the critics. Critics can be very weird people – a lot of them hated The Young Ones when it first started, but eventually when the public showed they really liked it then they jumped on the bandwagon. Then when Filthy Rich and Catflap came out, all they could say was “well, it’s not as good as The Young Ones”.

How is Jennifer? Have you made a conscious effort not to be perceived as a ‘celebrity couple’ because you seem to have managed it quite well?
She’s very well thank you, as are our children. But just because we’ve both been in the public eye, it doesn’t mean that we have to be some kind of celebrity couple. Some people like to live like that, but to me it’s just bollocks. We’re both quite private people, who enjoy our lives and are proud of each others work.

What do your kids think to Bottom and Absolutely Fabulous?
They’re all quite grown up now really, but I think they realise there is a strong body of work between us. The youngest one is 18 and the middle one, who is 22, is now a comic in her own right. She works with a group of six girls called Lady Garden. They’ve come out of university together and are doing quite well. They had a good Edinburgh and have a radio show on the cards. Not that I understand any of this modern comedy at all. Hahaha.

The Bad Shepherds play live at Seven on Saturday 23 May 2009. 

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