DAVE BARBAROSSA: THE SOUND OF THE BARBAROSSA BEAT - INTERVIEW BY TEDDIE DAHLIN
When new wave swept over us after punk and post punk slowly demised to a sweet memory; the new look, the sound and the attitude was exciting and appealing to me. Such bands as Adam And The Ants and Bow Wow Wow were on the top of my play list. So, it was interesting to catch a glimpse of one of my favourite band’s drummers at last years Rebellion Festival. Dave Barbarossa was John Robbs guest on the Spoken Word stage to talk about his debut novel 'Mud Sharks', followed by a one-off gig with his old band mates Bow Wow Wow. Seeing him took me back to my teenage years at the disco dancing to the incredibly catchy 'I Want Candy'. Bow Wow Wow’s style at the time was new and fresh and girl fronted by Annabella Lwen. Their sound was cool and different and I couldn’t get enough of them. Posters of Bow Wow Wow adorned my bedroom wall far away in Norway from all the cool stuff that was happening in London. I caught up with Dave Barbarossa recently to reminisce and chat about music, writing and life in general.
TEDDIE: Tell me about the early years. How did you get in to drumming?
DAVE: It wasn’t anything I looked to do as a career. There was a drum kit in the house I lived in. I knew a guy who asked me one afternoon if I could play a gig. I said I would, but I’d never played a gig before. He put my drum kit in to the van I enjoyed it and that’s how I got in to it.
TEDDIE:Is this your only instrument?
DAVE: I play percussion bongos and that, but the drums are my speciality.
TEDDIE: What's the biggest compliment you've ever had from anyone in the music business about your drumming?
DAVE: 'Blimey, you ain't shit!'
TEDDIE: You were in the original line up of Adam And The Ants back in the 70’s. How did you get in to that? Did you suddenly decide you wanted to be in the band after you played together?
DAVE: No, not really. I didn’t have a job. I was unemployed, as were a lot of people around that time. There was a big recession in England. I had no qualifications or a job or prospects or anything. I just luckily got a call to ask if I could play a little bit. That call was from a guy who played for The Ants, as they were. After doing one show with Adam without rehearsal, he asked me if I wanted to be in the band. And that’s it. That’s how I started playing.
TEDDIE: There's a story that Malcolm McLaren gave Adam And The Ants/Bow Wow Wow a lot of music tapes from different parts of the world and you got fascinated by the Burundi tribal drumming stuff which is so much your own sound. Is this true or did your drumming style come from somewhere else?
DAVE: Yeah it’s a well known story. What happened was that Adam asked Malcolm McLaren to direct a video for him. Malcolm came to the rehearsal room; saw Adam, saw me, Matt (Ashman, guitar) and Leigh (Gorman, bass) ; the three Ants as we were. And he was more interested in the Ants than he was with Adam, as Adam was already established as a self made star in the punk scene. There was nothing that Malcolm could do to make Adam any better. So he split…… he was more interested in the three musicians. He felt he could use that potential there, because we were effectively just a backing band.
TEDDIE: After the release of 'Dirk Wears White Sox '(Adam And The Ants) in 79, you had a cult following, but you wanted widespread recognition so Adam hired Malcolm McLaren as the manager. Was that a wise move on Adams part ?
DAVE: When we left Adam…. whilst we were working with Adam, Adam wrote the whole songs and presented them to the band to play. But with Malcolm, his idea was to pry Adam from us, and have us do the music, which was quite revolutionary. So he gave us lots of music from all over the world. Lots of Jazz and African music, obscure aboriginal music and tribal chants. Even old pop records from the States and soul records. We sort of submerged ourselves into those records at Malcolm’s bidding and we came up with that Bow Wow Wow sound.
TEDDIE: McLaren did effectively split the Ants. He got you to leave Adam and form Bow Wow Wow. Was there much animosity between you all and Adam after this ?
DAVE:There was a lot of sadness. You know, I’d been with Adam for 4 years as his faithful drummer. It was a brilliant gig. Adam was a great mentor for me as a young man; he had a great work ethic. He was a serious, professional dedicated guy, and he made me the same on the drums so it was brilliant, but the time had come for me to go my own way, and Malcolm said ‘here's an opportunity to be your own boss with your own sound’. I grabbed that opportunity with both hands, so it was mutually beneficial.
TEDDIE: Was Bow Wow Wow formed or created if you will, by Malcolm to promote Vivienne Westwood's New Romantic fashion lines ?
DAVE:(..laughs) : Yeah I would say that there is a great deal of truth in that. With Malcolm you always had the clothes and the music. With the Pistols you had the Sex and Seditionaries. With Bow Wow Wow it was Worlds End, I suppose. I think if you look at other stuff later on that he always tries to marry up a sound with a look. Malcolm was like the Grand Wizard of your band and the great intellectual thinker. He had that sway over young men. Malcolm McLaren made us, the young unemployed men musicians and the people we are
TEDDIE: McLaren got Annabella Lwin on vocals, but she was only 14 years old at the time. How did you feel about this ?
DAVE: Cor blimey. We auditioned about 60 different people. All kinds of people. We had this really individual sound. We had this crazy drumming sound and this virtuoso bass player And you had Mathew on the guitar who was very sort of punk rock style so there was a very strange chemistry, and to get somebody to front that was just very, very difficult. It took us over a year. Then Annabella came down and because she was so ‘un-musical’, she just launched herself in to the sound at rehearsals and within seconds we knew that this was the person: And so it was to be!
TEDDIE: There was some controversy about Annabella being referred to as a sex kitten, given her very young age.
DAVE: I think I was the most sexy and kittenish of the band (laughs). At the time it was a very intense musical project. You couldn’t fuck about, be an egomaniac or try to be a big star. You really had to get your nut down and work very hard, and she did! Her credit. She was a assiduous rehearser; as we all were. With Malcolm it was a very tough regime. We had to rehearse and we had to get that sound right. The publicity angle, that went on, but believe you me, we were trying to get the sound right.
TEDDIE: Is it true that Malcolm had Boy George in mind as the lead vocals, but thought him too wild at the time ? Was Boy George (known as Captain Lush at the time) a serious contender for the role of lead vocals?
DAVE: I don’t know that Boy George was too wild. I mean listening to Boy Georges music I would have to say that he has a far more conservative sound than Bow Wow Wow. I mean, it’s kind of classic song writing, and he’s a great singer. His arrangements are very traditional verse-chorus arrangements and catchy and poppy, so I don’t really see where this ‘too wild’ bit comes from. He was Captain Lush back then. What a stupid name! We were all very young and it was all silly names and silly clothes. He was a brilliant singer and went on to be a great success, but he wasn’t right for Bow Wow Wow, because simply put; he wasn’t wild enough. He couldn’t go out on the edge, like Annabella could or any of us.
TEDDIE:In 1983 you had released three full length albums and been on an exhausting tour of the US. You were set to go on a world tour, but were too exhausted. Suddenly everyone decided to get rid of Lwin. What happened ?
DAVE: It’s the same old story you’ve heard a 100 times: We were just ‘toured to death’, really. We’d been on the road across the states and the world, Tokyo and Europe. We were just constantly making money for agents and businessmen and we hit the wall. People got very, very ill.
TEDDIE: You formed a new group with Mathew Ashman as lead singer. Chiefs of Relief. To begin with it was Bow Wow Wow without Annabella Lwin.
DAVE:Yeah, I was in that for about 10 minutes. It was more Mathew’s thing than mine. I did a bit. I played on a couple of records probably. But Mathew wanted to be his own man. He didn’t want anyone fronting a band that he was in any more. He teamed up with various people. Paul Cook (Sex Pistols, Man-Raze) and some other musicians and he went on and by then I was not involved at all so I can’t tell you how long it lasted
TEDDIE:What was it like being back in BWW again at Rebellion, even for the one show? And were you tempted to do anymore with them?
DAVE: It was like going to bed with a girl you had a wild thing with 25 years ago. It just wasn't the same, you simply 'can't go back'. I did that because I was reading there firstly and Leigh said it would be cheaper to have me there than fly someone in from the US, so that was the nice thing to do.
Big NO to the second question!
TEDDIE:You played with a list of bands during the next few years. What have you taken from the Punk/New Wave era that has influenced your views on the music scene ?
DAVE: In my opinion it is the finest era of music, there has ever been and not necessarily because of it’s music, but more because of it’s pioneering and adventurous attitude. There was a great belief that art and ideas could change the hearts and minds of society and culture and that all stems from Malcolm McLaren. That a bloke like me, who wasn’t taught professionally to play, could make music. I didn’t need to be some middle class rich kid with a flash drum kit and loads of drum lessons. It was in my heart and people like Malcolm McLaren and Adam Ant; these were people who made you believe that. That’s why it was a great movement
TEDDIE:That’s what it was all about, getting up and doing it for yourself.
DAVE: Exactly. That’s what it was about; not to have to be endorsed by some sort of certificates, being taught or having it done the right way. In Punk there was no right way; there was only YOUR way.
TEDDIE:And it’s not all corporately structured. It gets popular on it’s own merit.
DAVE:You had to have a lot of belief in your own artistic endeavour. That’s what you had to believe in. You had to believe in yourself and what you could do and what you could bring, and it still stands for me today. I haven’t had a great education, but I’ve written a novel and it’s doing all right.
TEDDIE:When did you start writing and have you always written?
DAVE:I’ve always been a veracious reader. I loved books from a very early age and I’d read all the time. I loved all sorts of different literature. There came a point in my career where I became a little disillusioned touring. This was in the 90’s. I’d done a lot of touring with bands like Republica and all sorts of other people and I though I had to do something else. As I’d always loved reading, I started to write. I was encouraged by people to carry on. It has taken a long time, but I have written a book called 'Mud Sharks', which is published, has been well reviewed and is doing well.
TEDDIE:Your book 'Mud Sharks' was released in November 2012?
DAVE: Yeah I read from the book at last years Rebellion Festival. Mud Sharks is not a biography, but it is about a mixed race kid who lives in a broken home. He gets slung out of school and finds the drums, punk rock and becomes a success and then failing. Falling in love, life, death.
TEDDIE: Why the title Mud Sharks?
DAVE: There is an 'episode' in the book that relates to the title. It is to do with fishing for small barracuda sharks out of a hotel window in Seattle.
TEDDIE: What made you decide to write this particular story, surely it has some elements of personal within the character?. You must have used what you knew from the music scene to create it....
DAVE: I have been told that most first novels deal with the writers past - mine is no different. I suppose, my 'past' is a little more known that many first writers is. The story includes many elements of my childhood, schooldays and early 'punk' career in London. It is not a biography, I'm not a great fan of that genre. There are not any people, dates of places that are set in fact. It is a story made up of past events (as are most novels). It is a 'boy to man' tale set in the punk era. It travels the world. Sex, music, drugs, birth and death are included.
TEDDIE: Any more books in the pipeline ?
DAVE:Yes I’m writing another. I’m 121,000 words into my next one. That won’t be out for a while because it has to be edited and all the rest of it…you know the game, Teddie. It’s a long haul. But 'Mud Sharks', I’m really proud of that.
TEDDIE: You were recently promoting your book, at the Soho Society Club in London, what was that?
DAVE: I did a reading and sold a lot of books and people ask questions. It was a very nice thing to do. The Soho Society Club is also a book shop.
TEDDIE:You did a gig with Adam Ants former all girl support band Dressing For Pleasure not to long ago?
DAVE: I play once a month with a band called Scant Regard. It’s not really a band, it’s a guitarist called Will Crewdson who played for Adam. His main band was Rachel Stamp. He put a gig on in London recently and Dressing for Pleasure supported Scant Regard. We were just on the same bill, I wasn’t playing with them.
TEDDIE: What bands fire you up these days?
DAVE: No one in particular although music, made by the under classes, is still the best. 'Great art comes out of struggle', and all that....
TEDDIE:What are your plans for the future, is there anything exciting on the horizon?
DAVE:Yes in the true tradition of Punk rock I am doing a whole solo project called Cauldronated. It’s me playing tribal wild beats and patterns with programmed electronic music behind it. I’m going to have girls doing weird strange vocals through machines. I’ll be playing bits of keyboards and bits of drums as well.
TEDDIE:That sounds exciting, as the drummer who started the tribal drumming sound and trend, there are so many bands that have been inspired by you.
DAVE: I was just lucky. I was in the right place at the right time. What more can I say?