“I speak like I do because I spent years trying to impersonate Vivian Stanshall”: Comedian and musician Ade Edmondson’s prog record collection

Ade Edmondson and Vivian Stanshall
(Image credit: Getty Images)

He owns a violin with a horn on it and once grew his thumbnail to play like Jan Akkerman. In 2013 comedian, actor, musician and MasterChef Ade Edmondson told Prog about the inspirations behind his folk-punking band The Bad Shepherds, who were active between 2008 and 2016.

I went to a boarding school in the very small town of Pocklington, Yorkshire. It had one record shop, and we did a lot of mail-order record buying. In the common room everyone shared records, but there were four houses in the school and ours was the rock house. One of the other houses was kind of arty – they had things like Kraftwerk on the go – and then there was another house that was all West Coast Americana. Going between them all was quite an education!

Our house had the best house band and we’d belt out Free, Black Sabbath and Elton John’s Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting. Of course, we listened to a lot of prog too. Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon was a huge album for us all – it was always on somewhere in the house, and so was Wish You Were Here. But my biggest prog favourite – and mainly side one, as I was so captivated by it that I never used to turn it over – is Jethro Tull’s Thick As A Brick. It was so exciting to listen to and one of my most-played things.

I’m still constantly surprised by the guitar stabs and arrangements – I find it really thrilling and I love the lyrical strain of Really Don’t Mind. I still listen to side one about once a month. When I swapped media and got it on iTunes, I was delighted to find it included an interview with them all. They talk about how they rehearsed and rehearsed and did it pretty much live. It’s fascinating.

One of my other most-played things is Sylvia by Focus. I love it – it just sounds right, you know? Focus made a huge impression and at school we all wanted to be Jan Akkerman. We all grew our thumbnails like him and tried to pick guitar strings with them. It didn’t work!

I went to a friend’s house one day and their older brother had Gorilla by The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band on. One listen and I was hooked. It’s their best album. My entire family speak with a thick Yorkshire accent but I speak like I do because I spent years trying to impersonate Vivian Stanshall!

The Bonzos are extraordinary. I made several attempts at comedy music groups, like Bad News, and before that Nice Weather, and it’s a very hard thing to pull off. But they do it. Great lyrics, fantastic playing. It’s in my will that I’m going to have Jazz, Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold as my funeral march. When Rik [Mayall] and I used to write together and we got a block, we’d put that on. It really clears the head!

I got to play at their reunion gig in 2006 and ended up on an album, Pour L’Amour Des Chiens. And when Viv’s character Sir Henry was revived for [Mike Livesey’s] Sir Henry show two years ago, I went to see it above a pub in London. Of course, something ridiculous was going to catch my eye. Someone was playing a Strohviol, a violin with one string and a horn attached. I had to track one down after that. They’re amazing – some of them are violins with four horns on, like it’s the most natural thing in the world!

Are The Sensational Alex Harvey Band prog? I was playing Next in my dressing room just the other day, preparing to go on stage. It’s a Jacques Brel song that really does the business as a piece of theatre. Framed is also a brilliant track from the album before. We all liked him at school and his sound covered so many styles – and so did the costumes. He’s the complete opposite of the polite and charming mime artist Marcel Marceau, who he looked a bit like. An evil ‘parallel universe’ version – very angry and very noisy!

I never got into ELP. It was like somebody’s got Grade 5 piano and they decided to be in a rock band. Then King Crimson came along and showed you how it was really done. 21st Century Schizoid Man is phenomenal. I’ve become friends with Crimson affiliate Jakko Jakszyk, so he keeps me in the loop with his Fripp business, like Jakszyk, Fripp And Collins.

I’ve rethunk my view on punk. People say it was ground zero, obliterating what went before, but it was a progression in itself. I was the same age as the punkers when it struck – 18, 19, so it felt like mine. I was in Manchester from 1975 to 1978 and we had a place called The Squat, with live bands playing every weekend, mostly flash-in-the pans but very exciting. It was all girls in bin bags and blokes trying to play the bass with one finger. Then 100 yards away was an Irish pub, The Ducie Arms. The music was the same speed as punk but with fiddle, pipes... it only took me 30-odd years to put the two together to come up with my band The Bad Shepherds.

The Ducie wasn’t the only folk exposure I had – the charts were full of it. Lindisfarne, Steeleye Span... but my big favourite was Fairport Convention. Looking back, I probably found them tracing Sandy Denny back through Led Zep IV. Liege & Lief is the Fairport record I go back to over and over; Richard Thompson invented a new way of playing that changed everything.

But the mainstay of what we do is The Bothy Band, formed out of Planxty. Planxty were great but slightly polite. Dónal Lunny was the one who started playing bouzouki and came up with crazy chord progressions behind fiddle tunes. Their album After Hours (Live In Paris) is a stupendous piece of work. The Bad Shepherds steal from that, and the first four The Bothy Band albums, regularly. We steal from Planxty as well, from albums like Cold Blow And Rainy Night and The Well Below The Valley. The instrumentals are great.

Folk music is so good because it’s not concerned with the self – it’s stories of other people. None of your ‘my girlfriend doesn’t love me’ stuff; it’s [adopts throaty country accent] ‘there was a road leading to a bar and a body hanging from a girder’! That’s like Murder Of Maria Marten, something from Shirley Collins And The Albion Country Band’s No Roses. A brilliant album, and a huge prog track that fades in and out with hurdy-gurdies.

Troy Donockley is part of The Bad Shepherds and he brings his influences in. He’s a proper member of Nightwish now, so I’ve been to see them. The last time was with that very tall singer [Floor Jansen]; Troy told me it would be symphonic metal but it was total folk prog, with a lot of Timotei hair-flinging. Great fun!

The other main member of our band, Andy Dinan, was a child prodigy in 70s Manchester, playing reels in sessions at The Ducie when he was just 10. There’s a high chance I was watching him back then. Funny how things come full circle...

Jo Kendall

Jo is a journalist, podcaster, event host and music industry lecturer with 23 years in music magazines since joining Kerrang! as office manager in 1999. But before that Jo had 10 years as a London-based gig promoter and DJ, also working in various vintage record shops and for the UK arm of the Sub Pop label as a warehouse and press assistant. Jo's had tea with Robert Fripp, touched Ian Anderson's favourite flute (!), asked Suzi Quatro what one wears under a leather catsuit, and invented several ridiculous editorial ideas such as the regular celebrity cooking column for Prog, Supper's Ready. After being Deputy Editor for Prog for five years and Managing Editor of Classic Rock for three, Jo is now Associate Editor of Prog, where she's been since its inception in 2009, and a regular contributor to Classic Rock. She continues to spread the experimental and psychedelic music-based word amid unsuspecting students at BIMM Institute London, hoping to inspire the next gen of rock, metal, prog and indie creators and appreciators.