Cat man do
From post-punk seditionary to Bad Seed to film soundtracker, Barry Adamson has never stood still. Now he’s on his first ever tour. Neil Cooper gets the lowdown
Barry Adamson is making his pitch. The way the composer, crooner, ex-Magazine and Bad Seeds bassist and now big(ish) band leader tells it regarding his forthcoming eighth album, Back to the Cat, though, sounds like making movies. But then, the absorbed iconography of a million first-generation pulp fiction flicks has always filtered into Adamson’s back-catalogue. Titles like Moss Side Story and Taming of the Shrewd cast arch little clues of the noir-flavoured narratives within. On the eve of Adamson’s first ever tour, the action goes like this:
‘There’s panorama,’ he says, ‘and big ideas, but it’s taking a small point of view. There’s the cat as an outsider, living off scraps and his wits.’
Back to the Cat is a restless, freshened-up burst of vintage after-hours apparel. From warped Rat Pack swing and filthy-sounding bump’n’grind, gears shift for wicka-wacka car chase instrumentals, Vegas-era Elvis anthems, slow soul heartbreakers and even the odd Beckism, all in livid, living colour.
‘There’s more light and shade,’ Adamson says of his latest opus, premiered at 2007’s London Jazz Festival. ‘I feel like I’ve been learning my craft, and can now let things go a bit more. Doing it onstage was a challenge. That,’ he admits, ‘was the acid test.’
Crawling out of the shadows has been a long time coming. As a working class black kid growing up in 1960s Moss Side, the Manchester ‘hood riven by riots, drugs and guns, raw material was already piling up on Adamson’s doorstep. Beyond the streets, the world looked a whole lot more glamorous in widescreen.
‘I don’t know how much such metaphors are biography,’ he confesses, ‘but I could look out of my window in Moss Side, and see the cat scurrying around in the dark. Then you’d watch a Bond film and end up creating your own Billy Liar fantasy. It was about making sense of the world for me, and when I looked at my surroundings, I realised I could walk off one set and go onto another one. With all that greyness, the smell of washing lines, the loudness and the grimness, I knew I wouldn’t be there long.’
Adamson studied graphic design before joining Magazine, Howard Devoto’s post-Buzzcocks shotgun marriage of self-deifying literacy and punk-prog-glam. Tellingly, an early B-side covered John Barry’s theme to Goldfinger. Adamson added his trademark gulping bass to Steve Strange’s even glossier Visage, then joined Nick Cave’s first incarnation of the Bad Seeds.
A version of Elmer Bernstein’s theme to The Man with the Golden Arm, a film which put Sinatra on smack, ushered in a series of imaginary soundtracks. Adamson eventually scored for real via Alison Anders’ Gas, Food, Lodging, David Lynch’s Lost Highway and contributions to the likes of The Beach. Now, beyond Back to the Cat, this singular auteur looks set to break cover with a movie of his own.
‘The script’s all there,’ Adamson says of his forthcoming short. ‘Now we just need to make it happen. I always think I’ll go back to Manchester one day and make a killer movie, but it’s changed so much there now I’ll have to rebuild the set from scratch.’
Barry Adamson plays Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, Tue 1 Apr; Oran Mor, Glasgow, Wed 2 Apr.