As drummer with Adam And The Ants, Bow Wow Wow, and Republica, Dave Barbarossa toured the world. Work, whether in the studio as a session musician, or on the road with a number of different artists, has flowed in ever since, and he continues to earn his living as a professional musician.In the midst of all this activity, Dave still found time to write his first novel, ‘Mud Sharks’. It tells the story of a young man growing up amidst the casual racism of the 1970s, where the violence he encounters in the outside world is mirrored by the abusive relationship with his father. His escape, and his redemption, comes with the advent of punk rock, with music, and with playing the drums.
By JJ Marsh and Karen Pegg
The first books I can remember reading were the Paddington Bear books, Stig of the Dump, PG Wodehouse. I’m a bit blokey, I like lists, so I read all the Jeeves books, the Lord of the Rings series. As I grew up I read anything and everything. Late teens, early twenties, I read JG Ballard and sci-fi writers, Le Carré, espionage, second world war stuff and anything anyone threw at me. So long as I had a book, I was happy.
Did you always want to write?
It wasn’t in my mind to. I took a break from touring and playing the drums. I stayed home and looked after my daughters while the missus went out to work. One day I sat at the computer and wrote a description of my friend. I loved doing it. I flew. It wasn’t very good but after that I wrote every day. You have to be disciplined, I think. It has to be a job of work, you’ve got to have a routine, give it three or four hours and put other things out of the way. I like it really quiet, just me and the cat.
Who or what had the greatest impact on your creative life?
Adam Ant and Malcolm McLaren. Adam was very disciplined, very traditional. He believed in perfecting your art, rehearsing hard and at the end of the night, nailing the show. Malcolm was all about muck it up, destroy it, throw it out the window and start something new. So I had these two great men either side of me, who both believed in me and gave me the confidence to go on.
Does the music affect your writing?
Only in the respect that it comes from the inside, that I want people to listen to what I’ve got to say. I was inspired to do things passionately and professionally on the drums. I take the same attitude to my writing.
Do you read your work aloud?
I was told to and that is how I edit. Mud Sharks wasn’t edited professionally. Then again, my first album with Adam Ant is a bit shambolic on the drums and people say it’s brilliant. With my new book, I’ve done six or seven edits and will not let it out of the room until I’m sure I won’t be laughed out of the office.
Is there a particular word or phrase that you most overuse?
Don’t be a c... that one. No, it’s got to be ‘unique’, it’s got to be yours. Malcolm McLaren used to say to us in Bow Wow Wow when we were creating this new sound in the 80s, “Never compete” and what he means is you don’t want to be like anyone else, you’ve got your own voice, own style, own soul. The minute you try being someone else, you’ll fail.
There’s a dark comic side to your work.
That’s because I’m hideously self-conscious and cannot take myself seriously.
What makes you laugh?
Misery. We live and we die and make a fool of ourselves in between.
Do you have a guilty reading pleasure?
No, not really. I like quality in all things. I can’t abide mediocrity, I’m a bit of a bore.
Which book do you wish you’d written?
Catcher in the Rye. But it’s like choosing your favourite song, there’s hundreds.
Which book has impressed you most this year?
The Magus by John Fowles. Loved that.
Would you share what you’re working on at the moment?
I’ve finished my second book, called Community of Strangers. It’s very ambitious. Two parallel strands. One is a young policeman and his wife struggling to make it. She’s becomes a lawyer, he gets promoted, they buy a house in the country, a classic English success story. The other thread is a beautiful, narcissistic psychopath and his girlfriend, a mumbo-jumbo Ibiza crystal healer. It’s about their parallel lives. They meet in the end in an absurd location and everything is revealed. It’s about hypocrisy.
Is this completely fictional?
This is the question. I don’t know the difference between memoir and fiction. The writer is every character that he writes, isn’t he or she?
I have trouble concentrating in lots of areas, but drumming absorbed me, made me focus. I loved it and I fell in with the right people, over and over again. It gave me a skill and a sense of self-worth.
You say you didn’t really go to school but you learnt to read.
I learnt how to read, but I didn’t know how to write.
Yet you have an amazing vocabulary.
That’s from reading, absorbing all those books. Reading is the key.
What made you write your first book?
I got tired of touring and the rock’n’roll lifestyle. Leaving my little daughter, my missus pregnant with the second one, gigging for two years and I’d had enough. So I said to my wife, you do your degree, I’ll look after the kids and do the ironing. It was brilliant. Washing-up, kids to school then I could sit down to write. I loved it. Still do.
How long did it take you?
This might be a bit glib, but 50 years. I was told to ‘write what you know’. So I wrote about my life as a ‘pop star’ drummer and it was dry, repetitious and boring. The story I do know is about my abusive childhood, bullying at school, the fact I escaped and got in with these amazing people and made something of myself. I wrote that as a novel over three or four years.
Is it painful to write?
If you want to write a book, you got to spill your guts, in my opinion. You have to be brave, go into your angst because you know what? The devil has all the best tunes.
Karen Pegg runs A Chapter Away, writing retreats and courses in South West France.