Adrian Edmondson and The Bad Shepherds.

Adrian Edmondson is probably best known in this country for his role as Vyvyan in British television's The Young Ones, the early-80s series about a shambolic household of students. Or his follow-up series, Bottom, in which he played Eddie Hitler in a tale of two slightly older but no less maniacal men.

What is less known is that for the past five years Edmondson has fronted a trio of musicians called The Bad Shepherds, who play punk rock with folk instruments.

Edmondson is lead singer and mandolin player in The Bad Shepherds, along with uilleann pipes player Troy Donockley and folk fiddler Andy Dinan.

The trio will perform for the first time at the Perth International Comedy Festival in a concert billed as the festival's "first straight musical show". Ade Edmondson not fooling around on stage with the customary manic glee of his television characters, but appearing as a serious musician? Come on.

It would appear from a phone interview that Edmondson has left well behind his crazy student past and early television years and now performs with the talent and enthusiasm of the professional musician he has always aspired to be.

But performing the songs of the Clash, Sex Pistols, Stranglers, Undertones, Ramones, the Jam and other punk favourites in the folk idiom is surely spoofing something - or someone?

Is it spoofing punk or is it making fun of folk? Neither, responds Edmondson. "No, we're not a comedy band," he explains patiently. "We don't spoof either. Punk music has always had the same instincts as folk music. A lot of people who have heard us think the punk songs are brilliantly done this way.

"Punk music is much better than some people think and it can be argued that punk was the folk music of its day. You didn't go to music school to learn punk, the same as folk musicians never went to music school. Our motto for The Bad Shepherds is maximum joy, which is about having fun with music and communicating with people."

Edmondson, an accomplished musician who also plays the trumpet, says he discovered a mandolin in a London music shop and bought it on an impulse.

"At that time I was touring with the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and I learnt to play (The Clash's) London Calling on it," he says. "I worked out I needed to get in some s…-hot musicians who could play punk music on folk instruments, so I got in touch with Troy Donockley and Andy Dinan."

Donockley is a multi-instrumentalist who has released three solo albums and toured with such big folk names as Maddy Prior, while Dinan was twice the All-Ireland fiddle champion.

The cast of The Young Ones, with Adrian Edmondson, right, as Vyvyan.

Their first performances, however, were not in London, or even at folk festivals, but on the Caribbean island of St Lucia.

"I had an agent who was a tax exile on the island who suggested we try out our material in the off-season.

"So we flew out there when fares were cheap and played a few gigs in crap bars without any publicity."

The out-of-town try-out obviously worked because when the trio came back to Britain The Bad Shepherds soon became regulars at folk festivals up and down the country.

They released their first album in 2009, with a follow-up in 2011. A third album is now being recorded but it won't be released in time for their Australian tour, which will take in dates on the east coast as well as the Perth festival.

These days Edmondson juggles his folk-punk commitments with his other creative roles as musician, television presenter and writer.

He is married to fellow comedy writer and performer Jennifer Saunders, of Absolutely Fabulous fame, and the couple have three daughters now in their 20s.

A second series of his television show, Ade in Britain, has just been aired in Britain. The show sees him exploring ancient British folk and food traditions such as clog-making, mussel farming, wood whittling and the ancient sport of shin-kicking.

"We go around and find people who like to talk about what they are doing," he says.

Adrian Edmondson and The Bad Shepherds perform at the Astor Theatre on May 8 at 8.30pm.

The West Australian

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