The day that changed my life: Ade Edmondson, the comedian recalls the raucous night he bought …

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By Paula Kerr


Every year I have a get-together with my male friends. We generally get drunk, go for something to eat, then head to Denmark Street in Soho to buy inappropriate musical instruments.


I’ve always enjoyed playing music. I bought a guitar when I was 13, then at 15 I bought a bass guitar to get into the school band.


I mastered the one-finger technique on my bass, got into the band, then elbowed my way to the front and became the singer. Later on I learned to play the trumpet and the violin.


Anyway, back in December 2007, after one of our raucous evenings, I bought a mandolin – and it changed my life. 


I woke up the next morning and was surprised – and delighted – to see it on the kitchen table. That same day I started to work out how to play it. I worked out some chords and started to play songs, mainly from my youth by the likes of The Clash and The Sex Pistols – they all sounded very different on a mandolin! Then I met with my songwriter friend Neil Innes and played him London Calling by The Clash.



I spent the weekend at his house, persevering. Eventually he said, ‘What you need is some brilliant folk musicians.’


So I set about finding some. My first call was to Troy Donockley, who plays the bagpipes. I rang him up and told him about my idea of doing punk songs with a folk band. After a pause he said, ‘Let’s do it… and can we play stuff by Kraftwerk?’


We met up at an arts centre in Pocklington, Yorkshire, where he lives and where I grew up and that was the start of The Bad Shepherds. There are now four of us, and we rehearse at my house in London.



So there I was, aged 50, moving sideways in my career and making new friends. It felt great to be able to do something new. In the early days we played some rough places where the dressing rooms were complete tips. The other guys are seasoned musicians so they were moaning, but I was thinking, ‘Isn’t it all so romantic?’


Troy and I discovered that we share a love of Laurel and Hardy. A lot of the comedy Rik Mayall and I have done is based on a cross between Laurel and Hardy and the cartoon character Wile E Coyote. So now we recite bits of Laurel and Hardy to each other after our gigs and it’s sublime.


We tour a lot, in fact we’ve just come back from Australia. Our only aim is to have loads of fun. Our motto is ‘Maximum joy, glorious racket.’ We’ve recorded three albums of covers but now we’ve started writing our own stuff too.


There’s a big difference between music and comedy. The Bad Shepherds have been going for seven years now and some of the gigs I’ve played with them have been the best of my life, certainly better than any comedy gigs I’ve done.


Playing music is more emotional – we played Glastonbury once and it went down so well that we all came off stage and burst into tears. When you do comedy it’s an exercise in crowd control and it can be quite an aggressive art form. But music is inclusive. At the risk of sounding like an old hippie, you become one, and it’s fantastic.



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