In Conversation with Author and Musician Dave BarbarossaWritten by Siane Daley
© Words Siane Daley
Dave Barbarossa’s Mediterranean good-looks are still very evident; the once curly dark hair has been replaced by a shaved head, but the dark penetrating, intelligent eyes remain the same. He looks impossibly young for a man in his early fifties, but his eagerness and passion for music remains undaunted. Dressed in a smart black shirt with red collars, trousers and smartly polished shoes, Dave has an interesting tale to tell about his many music incarnations from “Adam and the Ants”, “Bow Wow Wow”, “Beats International, “Chicane”, “Republica”, “Driza Bone”, “The Horse Brothers” and his current-band “Cauldronated”.
“The whole thing is a long time ago”, he recalls, “Obviously most of it is a bit of a blur. I wasn’t doing very much with my life. I played a show in 1977 supporting ‘The Slits’ and another band, and afterwards Adam asked if I would join his group; Adam and the Ants. This was before they had made a name for themselves and were playing on the gig circuit. I had never been in a band before or played many gigs so it was a brilliant opportunity”.
Barbarossa’s career appears to have come full-circle as he recently played with Adam and the Ants on their recent sold-out, one-off gig at the Hammersmith Apollo, celebrating thirty years of their seminal album “Dirk Wears White Sox”.
“Adam and the Ants have never split up, and have continued playing gigs year in and year out”, Dave states, “I played a recent show at the Apollo with the band, which was the 30th anniversary of the album we did together called “Dirk Wears White Sox”. It was a great gig and a great thing to do!”
“Adam and the Ants” were a British rock band active during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The group became notable as a cult band during the transition from the punk rock era to the post-punk and new wave era and were noted for their high camp and overtly sexualised stage performances and use of Burundi drums. One lineup of musicians – Dave Barbarossa, Matthew Ashman and Leigh Gorman – left the band in January 1980 at the suggestion of then-de facto manager Malcolm McLaren, to form the instrumentalist and controversial Bow Wow Wow.
“After joining “Adam and the Ants”, I was approached by Malcolm McLaren to join ‘Bow Wow Wow’. The group was structured around Malcolm’s ideas and concepts. After ‘Bow Wow Wow’ split up, I had a musical hiatus, and then got back into music via Norman Cook and ‘Beats International’. I toured with them for a few years and then I worked with ‘Republica’, then ‘Chicane’, ‘Driza Bone’; lots of different bands, then with ‘The Horse Brothers’, which was a band that played local pubs in London. The music was a blues tribal-rock thing, but we couldn’t keep it going because of timing and luck”.
Barbarossa has been closely associated with the Burundi tribal drum sound that influenced many punk, post-punk and new-wave bands. He recalls his first foray into playing the drums and what the instrument means to him.
“There was a guy at school who had a drum-kit and I saw him playing and was inspired to play, but it was a very expensive and big item”, he remembers, “so I just got hold of some sticks and bashed about on furniture and bits of wood and basically anything I could find. At fifteen, I got a job as a messenger-boy in the West End and I bought an old drum-kit and basically practiced along. I’ve never had a lesson and when duty called and Adam said; ‘Do you want the job or do you want the gig?’ , I guess I was kind of ready because I was so crazy about playing the drums and imagining playing gigs and stuff. I just did it”.
Dave continues, “There wasn’t a name for it. They call it ‘Burundi drumming’ or Burundi beat’ or whatever, but it’s just a combination of my influences growing up. My dad used to play a lot of Latin-American music at home, my brothers were into soul and reggae in Hackney and of course the glam rock bands such as Glitter, Mud and Sweet -they had a tribal sound of their own; the glam rock drums. It was a combination of that and then Malcolm McLaren’s influence with a lot of ethnic albums and a lot of African music, and out of that was born this sort of sound that I’ve got, which I can adapt to different bands”.
Barbarossa has also turned his talents to writing, and his first novel “Mudsharks” gained critical acclaim, with Q Magazine awarding it four stars. The book is loosely based on Barbarossa’s own life, and tells the tale of Harry Ferdinand who is in trouble at school, home and with the police. He’s battered, bruised and lost until he meets the love of his life: the drums. Things are never to be the same again. Plunged into the world of Punk Rock, Harry finds purpose, adventure and heartbreak as he transforms from boy to man. A powerful, nostalgic story of a boy growing up in 1970′s London, ‘Mud Sharks’ confronts racism, violence and the reality of life behind the trappings of fame.
Dave explains further, “Mud sharks is loosely based on my childhood and school-days and it’s to do with being in a punk-rock group. The character, Harry, is basically a few personalities removed from me, and he goes through very similar things. It’s a short story with a ‘beginning’, ‘middle’ and ’end’. The book is about growing up in the seventies and describes the racism and the political strife, along with school and parental-bullying. The character finds that through punk-rock he can be himself and be respected. He becomes a big star and then the band falls to pieces .It was a cathartic experience writing the novel. The title of the book comes from a pivotal scene in the book based on a hotel in Seattle which I’ve stayed in a few times. The character fishes for mudsharks out of the hotel window which you could do in the early 80s when I stayed at that particular hotel”.
I am interviewing Barbarossa in between him meeting a friend in Soho, before going onto a music industry event with Eva Menon from his current band “Cauldronated”. The three piece features Barbarossa on drums, Eva as singer/drummer and David Harman who does not appear ‘live’ but produces all of the backing music (the synths) and produces the band.
“Cauldronated was formed through the genius of Facebook!”, Dave declares, “I get many people contacting me which is a very gratifying thing, and I get a lot of drummers wanting to talk about drums. Eva came to see “The Horse Brothers” and we got friendly. At the same time I was doing music with David Harman who is the third part of “Cauldronated”, and we thought we needed to take it ‘live’ and we needed someone to front the band. I remembered Eva being such a striking person and character so invited her to come in to have a bit of a play and a sing and the chemistry worked from the start. We had the launch party the other night at the nearby Stables Yard in Camden for our EP called “Buy this Thing” from the set of songs we have made”.
Dave goes on to describe Cauldronated’s sound, and the stage presence of Eva; a compelling hybrid of David Bowie and Gary Numan, along with the androgyny of Grace Jones. “The music is difficult to describe because it’s such a strange blend”, Dave reveals, “We have a house-techno side which is our digital, exacting side, then there are the drums which are very free and expressive, and then you’ve got a ‘personality singer’ , who is an uncompromising, punk rock confrontational singer which I feel comfortable with given my background. The band name came about as David, Eva and myself are from such disparate backgrounds musically, and all our ideas get thrown into the pot; the cauldron and gets all mixed up, and that’s how we get our sound and conversely the name “Cauldronated”.
We are meeting in a pub in Camden, and in nearby Camden market, a statue of Amy Winehouse was erected a few days before. Barbarossa contemplates the late-singer. “Amy was a formidable singer in the classic music tradition. She is a great loss to music”, he states.Barbarossa listens to a wide range of music from ‘House’, ‘Drum & Bass’, ‘Classical’, ‘Pop’ and ‘Jazz’. So, what does the future hold for Dave Barbarossa? “I’m writing another novel and hopefully that will get published”, he explains, “Its working-title is ‘Community of Strangers’. With the band “Cauldronated”. I really want to improve the sound and to really push the band musically, and I’ve got some solo projects I’m doing as well, including working with a DJ producer called “Punk Soundcheck” and the project “Barabarossa Beat”.
Dave Barbaross’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/dave.barbarossa
Cauldronated Website: http://www.cauldronated.net/
Cauldronated on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cauldronated
Mudsharks book, available to buy online: ISBN 978-0-9567786-3-5
Top Photo © Clash Magazine