I had a call from a friend the day I spoke with Napalm Death vocalist Mark ‘Barney’ Greenway who filled me in on his day. He then asked me what I’d done that day.
“I had a chat about the weather with Barney Greenway from Napalm Death…” was my reply. Followed after a good ten seconds of silence by me saying ‘Hello? You there?”
Are you taking the piss?
Nope. It’s not everyday you get to talk about a subject as common as the weather with a bona fide metal legend.
At least that’s how we started our conversation, all about the current crazy heat in the UK/Europe vs the winter chill here in Sydney. Which immediately showed me just what a charming, grounded normal bloke Barney is.
I then asked Mr. Greenway about his Birmingham roots. And like Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler, another Birmingham metal king, does he also follow Aston Villa? “Yeah that’s my team as well – see not only do we both come from Birmingham – me and Geezer and also Tony Iommi, Bill Ward and Ozzy – but we come from the same part of Birmingham, the north side. And they’re actually specifically from Aston-my family’s from Aston area but I was born just slightly – two or three miles – up the road from there”.
So you’ve been out on tour-are you between dates and having a break at the moment? “Yeah we have been but we’re actually going out this Saturday again-we were back out last weekend and had two or three weeks off before that but yeah we’re out pretty consistently now leading up into the Australian tour”.
Napalm Death are pretty much regular visitors down here-I’ve lost track of how many times you’ve toured Australia, five times? “I think it’s like roughly four or five…’97…I think we came or ‘98 and then maybe 2000…so it’s probably five…actually could even be six times…”
How does Napalm Death go about constructing a set list these days considering the breadth of material you now have behind you? “I just think…what I try and do is get something from every era of Napalm Death…I mean I personally don’t necessarily like to look at it in eras…but I do appreciate that people that listen to the band do and everybody likes different parts of it. So yeah we just try and mix it up…(to put it) just really simply. It’s actually not that difficult to do – you just get tracks that I guess you… not necessarily you need to play but you just feel should be there. And then you just get some other tracks that maybe you haven’t played for a while and put those in and mix it up, y’know? We’ve got two set lists going at the moment which are probably the same two we’re gonna play when we come down to Australia and we’ve had those for a while but we’ve been playing some places that we haven’t played in a while so I think that’s OK you know, ‘coz it’s people hearing them that we haven’t seen in a while. But in an ideal world you’d be mixing it up all the time just to keep it stimulating not only for the people that come and see you but also for you yourself.”
So you might alternate set lists with different cities? “Yeah. We’ve got what we call an ‘A’ and a ‘B’ and so we do an ‘A’ the one night and ‘B’ the next you know, and so on”.
How do you find touring in these times? New challenges? “Just the cost of things. You know, expenses like logistics, if you want to put it that way. It’s gone through the roof, so it’s a real squeeze on everything right now, in terms of what we do as a band. But you know, it’s like what do you do? It’s either you do it or you don’t so you have to find other areas where you have to kind of squeeze things a little bit. It can be a difficult balancing act sometimes but like I say you either do it or you don’t y’know… And there’s gonna come a time with Napalm Death where we’re not gonna wanna do it anymore…just…because…(he trails off)… but in the meantime we kinda wanna do it so we’ll find a way to get it done. Whatever we need to do”.
I guess the days of carting big backlines of Marshall stacks etc are done then…it’s all mini fly rigs now right?
“Oh mate we’ve never done that anyway, I mean Napalm Death is very self contained. If you watched us load a van in Europe…you could take a small Sprinter (Mercedes van) and that back cargo compartment would only be about a quarter full. That’s Napalm Death. If we’ve gotta carry a backline we just carry a small drum kit, guitar cab, bass cab, guitar amp, bass amp, one instrument each from the guitar side of things…and that’s it. That’s literally it!”
(Laughing) Well you can’t strip too far back from there I guess… (Laughing) “Well no…not unless someone in the band is ending up standing around with no instrument! I mean, no, we take a sound guy out but that’s really it. We’ll take a tour manager on longer trips but generally I do it”.
Ah OK. “Yeah. It’s the bane of my fucking life! (Laughing) But no. I don’t mind doing it-you know. If I say so myself, I’m fairly OK with that kind of stuff so I’ll do that. But yeah, generally only a sound guy. At a push, on like really long trips, somewhere like the US where it’s a bit different touring we’ll have a tour manager and a sound manager and perhaps a stage guy to assist and that’s it.
The last record wasn’t too long ago and very cool-but are you thinking about a follow up yet? “Well we’ve had a few conversations about doing that and as far as I know Shane (Emburey, bass)’s writing material right now. And once he gives that to me then I’ll start on the lyrical side of things. And that’s all I can really say right now, y’now, there’s not much else to tell. But we do aim to start getting something together at some point this year. I will say that. But I haven’t got any more specifics than that”.
Regarding your lyrics, while in the past you’ve never had a shortage of stuff to write about in the world politically and otherwise I’d say that you’ve probably got a lot of fodder to work with now the way things are in 2023? (Shaking his head) “Mate there always has been. You know 2023 is no exception-there always has been. There are constant human challenges for your average human being out there-some quite markedly very serious so…yeah there’s always stuff to write about you know… we are human beings hopefully in solidarity with our fellow human beings and other sentient beings as well… not just human beings, so there’s always gonna be stuff to write about…(pauses) observations, things to expose, be critical of and yeah, that’s never gonna change”.
OK. So tell me, when you were a kid, what was it, what artists, music, pricked your ears up and made you go ‘wow’? “My dad was a good conduit for music. My dad was very much into stuff like… I mean well, coming from the area we lived in, my dad had bought the very early Black Sabbath records. And my dad actually saw… my dad saw the band when they were still called Earth… you know, so obviously, that was instant, and that was definitely a good introduction to things. And he was into stuff like Focus… and Psychedelic stuff so I had a good grounding. And so that was my start up point really, so I got into heavy music as time went on. Kinda started up in rock and I guess metal, while it was the early days of metal really, and then later on, which I would arguably say really opened me up to the world and where I am now which was punk in my early teens and you know, as they say with that worn out cliché, the rest is history.
But you’re also a bit of a prog fan too though right? “Well yeah. I like it but it’s been a little overstated… I do like some of that stuff yeah, definitely”.
Like Yes for example? “Yeah! Early Yes. Well, in all periods of YES actually there’s something you can find that’s good. I actually really like the album (pauses)… the one a lot of people really hate…(sheepishly) Tales From Topographic Oceans…”
Hey I like that album although it took a long time to get into for me but I still find it their hardest to warm to. “Yeah. I mean it’s so obtuse, I don’t know… I never had a bad word to say about it. But I think you’d be in the same camp as a lot of people about it…”
True. Now for the really hard hitting stuff. I know your name is actually Mark right? “Yeah. That’s correct!
So… dumb question, but…‘Barney’? “Well, (smiling) actually it is a dumb answer as well… yeah it was literally from (sixties cartoon) The Flintstones… because Barney Rubble (Flintstones character)… Rubble, basically things literally being reduced to rubble. I was really clumsy when I was in my teens and sort of formative years because… and alcohol had a lot to do with it so… I could touch something … lightly, and it would just fall to pieces… And yeah, (laughing) alcohol was a big factor, let’s just put it like that…”
Do you still drink? “Erm… Moderately. You know, on a serious note, I’ve been through some rough times with alcohol. Not as rough as some other people but you know… not good. So I stopped for many many years ‘coz I had to, then I actually went back to it and now I’m a completely moderate drinker. I couldn’t even think to overstep the mark now with alcohol because my body would tell me no”.
Napalm Death have been called ‘The Fathers Of Grindcore’,which is great though I think that’s a bit limiting considering some of the avante guard roads you’ve gone down over the years… “Well, Grindcore is a catch all thing-it covers all that stuff I would say anyway. Here’s the thing about Grindcore: Micky (Harris), the old drummer coined that term, it didn’t come from the press as a lot of people imagine – it was Micky that came up with that. And when he came up with it, his intention was that it covered all aspects of what you could do with extreme music. As long as it was extreme, there are many different aspects to that word in music. So it covers the really slow painful stuff, it covers the really quirky, weird off kilter sort of chord stuff and of course it covers the really fast, punky, metal-y stuff, whatever you wanna call it, so it’s a catch all thing”.
Napalm Death will tour Australia and New Zealand next month – all dates can be found HERE
Thanks to Britta Hoppe for the Barney pic. Follow her on Instagram HERE