Not Frank Turner: Bad Shepherds World Tour Finale

Happy piper 674 x 280

No team is truly seamless and despite having worked together for over six years we’re not without our rifts. Nick is a music buff, Kathryn hasn’t got the first clue… put this together and it doesn’t always make for the easiest gigging experience. Now for the first time in three years we finally agree on something (and it’s not just the strawberry milkshake beer), however, will it finally erase the awful memory of Frank?

Ever since Kathryn was subjected to a ‘compulsory’ Frank Turner gig at Brixton back in 2010, she has been most vocal in her hatred of the experience.  The ranting, hand-flapping, drink-spilling Turner-mockery can become quite intense… and every time she is inveigled into attending yet another new musical event, the Frank episode is raised, rinsed and rubbed in anew.

At the heart of this problem is the fact Kathryn only really likes classical music, Moz, the Smiths, Abba… and a limited selection of other elderly indie tunes. Whilst Nick – also a massive Smiths fan – is a true music geek, has an encyclopaedic knowledge of musical history, is permanently tuned into BBC 6Music or an MP3 player and really wants to share his interesting discoveries. The whole arrangement is unfair on both parties… but does mean we’re privy to some pretty different experiences and points of view.

Safe to say Ade Edmondson and the Bad Shepherds – a group which takes punk and new wave songs and gives them folk arrangements – was Nick’s idea.  And naturally the whole thing was foisted onto Kathryn after a few drinks… and met with a very sceptical eyebrow and an eclectic range of pre-event venting, which wasn’t really fair on Nick, who got the tickets.

It was two Saturdays before Christmas and we arrived at the Shepherds Bush Empire just after 8.00pm. Rather than catch the end of John Otway – Kathryn hadn’t the foggiest, after all – we opted to chat nonsense in the bar over a few drinks. We couldn’t hear what he was playing, but the weird CCTV arrangement did show him careering around the stage like a man possessed… and he looked to be having a jolly old time with it.

It’s a funny place the Shepherds Bush Empire; its walls all adorned with photos from famous gigs, a bizarre selection of boxes to sit on, and the unmistakable – not unpleasant – vibe of a working man’s social club. Unfortunately, like most other music venues, there is only a limited selection of draft beverages. Nick went for cider as usual and Kathryn opted for Tuborg, the only available lager. Bizarrely this appeared to taste and smell faintly of strawberry milkshake… a point which couldn’t be ignored.

Suddenly mid taste-test, Nick yelled at top Northern volume: “Jennifer Saunders is literally standing right behind you.”  Without a moment’s hesitation Kathryn whipped round in her seat to stare straight into the face of the aforementioned actress. The sudden silence was massive. And no awkward, “Ooh yes, definitely strawberry milkshake…” made the blindest bit of difference. Thankfully at that moment a Bad Shepherd (not the singer) entered the bar and whisked the embarrassed star away. We quickly took this as the cue to make our own sheepish exit, lest we found further ways to faux-pas it up… besides, the main event was due to start any minute.

The place was busy but by no means packed, so juggling bags and beers we tracked down a couple of empty seats in the circle. Before the band even arrived the instruments lining the stage were a site to behold… these included a stand full of mandolins and a long pipe-looking thing that barely appeared playable.

After an amusing stop-start sound check, the music kicked off.  The long pipe-looking thing turned out to be some kind of bagpipe called uilleann pipes, with air fed into it by a set of bellows strapped to a guy called Troy Donockley, who as it turned out was ridiculously talented. The fiddle player, Andy Dinan, was just as good and we couldn’t believe how fast his fingers and hands were moving…

Then there was Ade Edmondson. We, well one of us, had seen him perform with the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and knew that he was quite passable as a musician and singer. However, we really weren’t expecting the whole experience to be so good. As a band they were impeccably tight, although, when their “tightness” was postured to Kathryn, it then needed translating to: “They play remarkably well together, what?” Before the blank look disappeared from her face to be replaced by enthusiastic nods of agreement. The band was great, the singing was quite excellent… but it was the musical arrangements that really stood out.

Road to Nowhere (Not from the Empire gig sadly)

Rise, Once in a Lifetime, Road to Nowhere, Shipbuilding and a blistering cast of punk classics were given a ridiculous makeover. Both of us were very impressed, and Ade compared the evening with Vivian-esque vignettes and anecdotes that worked especially well with the material. Even their original stuff was pretty decent. They also played a version of Girlfriend in a Coma by one of the few bands we do agree on, the Smiths… which set us off giggling like delighted schoolchildren.

Girlfriend in a Coma (as above)

As we scanned the crowd in the balcony around us, we speculated as to who they all were: old punks, folk fans, Thatcher-hating-lefties-from-the-80s? All three? It was hard to tell… and we didn’t like to pry. They certainly appreciated the music, the stories and the seamless interchanging of unusual instruments that looked puzzlingly difficult to play well. The atmosphere was fun and strangely homely… but it also had a certain edge that made you sit up and take note.

Later when we were examining the CD cover for Mud, Blood and Beer, and Nick pointed out that the cover art had been done by the daughter of Ade Edmondson and Jennifer Saunders, the penny finally dropped with Kathryn as to their husband and wife relationship. The ever dazzling lack of popular culture knowledge that Kathryn brings to the table on a daily basis is quite astonishing.

Yet on the trudge (well, bus ride) back to Chiswick we were both – for once – in solid agreement as to the quality on display and how enjoyable it all was; an unprecedented situation that hasn’t happened since we saw Chris Farlowe at the 100 Club back in November 2010. That event featured a weird nip-back-to-1963 atmosphere and an audience of enthusiastic pensioners who literally combusted when “All or Nothing” came on… we actually had to leap out of the way so hysterical dancing grannies could do their thing. You can see them – just starting to calm down – in front of us at around 5.30 in the video below.

All or Nothing – the 100 Club

Unfortunately, Farlowe was then overshadowed by the infamous Frank Turner gig a few weeks later. Hopefully this time we can get a roll going… although with a success rate of one great gig – that we both love – around every three years, it’s doubtful that the Turner-mockery will be out of action for too long.


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