Dave Barbarossa talks to Eyeplug

Dave Barbarossa drummer with Adam & the Antz and Bow Wow Wow

01 Where were you born, and where did you live as a child if different?

I grew up in Hackney ‘til I was about fourteen, then lived in Enfield for another five or six years.

02 What sort of neighbourhood was it? Did it inspire you?

It was all Jamaican, Jewish, and Irish in those days, now it’s all the Guardian reader, Socialist Worker party, in those days it was a very urban, vibrant, edgy sort of place to grow up. I imagine environment steers any musician.

03 What first got you into music, specifically joining/forming a band?

I grew up listening to a lot of Latin American music; my Dad was a huge Latin American fan that inculcated rhythm into me without knowing it. I listened to chart music, glam rock of the era, Bolan, T. Rex, and Mud. I started quite late, fifteen, sixteen, learning the drums, saw someone playing them and tried really hard to get some drums. They were very expensive things; I would jam around with some guys in the school hall. I was into everything musically, I found I enjoyed the constant repetition of drumming, the learning of it, and then I got a break with the Ants.

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04 What memories do you have of your Ants days, specifically writing/recording ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ did you feel you really had something there?

No, not at all, I played with the usual combination of fear and desperation playing for Adam, but we knew we were good; the shows were really good, we would sell out everywhere, we were really loved by the underground, and we knew the album was a bit different, it wasn’t the usual banging punk rock tunes. Adam was a special guy; he had his own vision, and a great leader. It was all Adam, apart from the drums, because he couldn’t play the drums. You just live in the moment don’t you? You just get it done and look forward to the shows after that. We didn’t realise it was going to be such a well thought-of LP. Adam was a very open-minded guy when it came to the rhythm side; he knew I was quite an experimental musician for a punk rock drummer, so he encouraged me to go out on a rhythmic journey within the constraints of his songs, which are very ordered.

05 The Burundi drumming was very much the signature sound of the early 80s. How did you arrive at it?

I was exposed to a lot of what I suppose you’d call World Music by Malcolm McLaren. I was told not to play a straight four/four beat in his presence, on pain of death. That style just came out of me. It was my Hackney version of what I thought Latin American or African music might sound like.

06 What were your feelings about the fashions of the period?

It was just one of things that happened. We were dressed in BowWowWow, by Vivenne Westwood, those squiggle designs. It was nice having new clothes, felt a bit of a pillock at times, nobody else looked like it, but looking back it was extremely stylish and it was pioneering, like the sound of BowWowWow. You got quite a bit of abuse, and strange looks, but it united the band. We were the first people to wear it; all the builders having a go, the other lads taking the piss, but it was alright.

07 When the original Ants were disbanded, how did you feel?

I’d had three, four years of Adam, and it had been brilliant, but he was very much the boss, you did what he said. With Malcolm, he said we could be bosses, I could lead the band with the drum sound, incredibly exciting and it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down, especially from the great Malcolm McLaren.

08 How did you feel about BowWowWow at the start, particularly being fronted by a young girl?

It all seemed part of the whole ‘out there’ wild tribal style, we were all so gung-ho about it and she was really brilliant performer, the chemistry worked. I think it was Malcolm’s way, to be pioneering, to break down barriers. Today, nobody looks twice at anyone, but maybe the way we looked in BowWowWow opened the doors for people to be themselves. I don’t want to sound like were claiming responsibility for the lifestyles of today, but they were seminal attitudes. We toured and toured and toured, got tired and Matthew Ashman, guitarist at the time, contracted diabetes, he’d had enough, people were in hospital, we were over-toured. There was no real leader in the band, so the thing just folded. Matthew went off to do Chiefs of Relief, which I was a part of for a while, then I ended up a year or two later, broke, working on building sites and cabbing.

09 When you started session work, did you feel enthusiastic about it, or was it just paying the bills?

It was a mixture of both. It was great to be able to work without having to think of the direction or the writing, or the image, or anything to do with the machinery of the band. Little sessions and bits of work, I can’t remember them all, but there was Beats International, Republica, and then there were people like DrizaBone, that’s all I did for a while. Session work does have its advantages, but the disadvantage is, you are not really part of the band, you are staff. It’s not that pleasant, but if you want to run your own band, run your own band.

10 What do you feel are the differences in the music business today, compared to when you started out?

One of the better things, possibly, is that recorded music is worthless now. From when I was a kid in the Ants, BowWowWow, the dream was to get a record deal, an advance, make records and sell them. Today, if you make a record, it will just get ripped from the internet in seconds, without anybody having to pay. It’s almost pointless, apart from a promotional tool, so you can play live. When I was a kid, you could play live and nobody would give a fuck, an agent was just someone who would get you gigs, if you had a good agent, he’d get you better gigs. Today, the agent is king, and the A&R man is the dwarf. It’s just the complete reverse of when I started.

One of the most brilliant things, the country’s so proud of its great musicians and great bands, the Olympics paid tribute to it. I think the reason that all these great bands existed, was that they could go on the dole, and just indulge their musical predilections. I was on the dole, I had no money, but I could get together with the lads and play. Now, you have to get a job.

I still do OK out of my old records, it’s a generational thing, the people who bought my records will still buy records, but for a young band now, how can they make a living? How can they become professional? That said, there’s not that many places to gig any more.

I’m involved with Will Crewdson, a session man who’s played for Rachel Stamp, lots of other people, the band’s called Scant Regard, we play Spaghetti-ish rock, evocative styles, with loops and sequencers, and I jam along with the tribal beat, funky drum n bass, bits n pieces. I’m hoping to do a whole tribal show-off project, that’s still in my mind at the moment, but I think I could possibly go out on my own and play those styles for people.

11 Your novel Mud Sharks – Is it autobiographical?

It isn’t an autobiography. There are no names, dates or events that actually happened, but you could say it’s a story about my story. It’s because I have a past that people know about, they think it’s an autobiography I’ve been told that you should write your first book about what you know, and what I know happens to be drumming in pop groups. It’s also about my childhood, my relationship with my Dad, schooldays, it all about those. I’ve fictionalised my story, a couple of times removed, and I can say more doing that, than if it was factual. I think it’s that old one, that everybody’s got a book in them. I was on the road with a very famous band, in the mid 90’s, and I became very disillusioned. As a session man, it’s a pretty loveless task, I was travelling round the world, I was missing my family, and in the end it sort of collapsed into a nightmare. I was just sat in front of one of those big old computers, and just started writing a character, and I just enjoyed the writing, and about four or five years ago, I started this on-road travelogue.

12 Do young musicians ask your advice? Do you offer any?

It’s very gratifying when they do. I say if you’ve got something inside you, you want to express, don’t be fearful, express it with what technique you have.

13 Burundi drumming is fairly consistent throughout your career. Why do you think this is?

I’m playing it now, more than ever. It’s just a style I have where I just refuse to pay kicks or snare as a backbeat. I use all the drums to create different patterns and textures, because it pleases me. It’s not really derivative of anything ethnic; it’s like the Latin I grew up with in Hackney, the Glitter Band and The Sweet and punk rock and the soul I listened to in discos as a schoolboy, and it all blends and comes out like that.

14 Which of today’s artists do you like? How do they compare to your earliest favourite artists?

No-one in particular. My two sons are in the music business, my eldest is MCB Live, quite a notorious grime MC, professional, and I do like a lot of that modern dance music, it does remind me of the Roxy Club and the Vortex, people going potty with whatever they can, I really like that sort of abandoned recklessness in music. You don’t really hear that in guitar bands today, you get more coming out of tower blocks and illegal stations.

15 If you could backtrack through your career, what would you edit, if anything?

There isn’t man. I’ve been lucky, I’ve had my health, I’ve had lot of love around me, I’ve had a great career, I’m playing I’m writing, I can’t complain.




Scenester lives in London and Brighton, as time allows. Enjoys music, film, television, books, design and anything else which won’t leave well alone. Old enough to know better.

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Originally posted 2012-11-21 18:00:25. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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