Barney Greenway – A Napalm Death Christmas

Ian Maleney talks riots, religion, ultra-violence and Christmas with Napalm Death frontman Barney Greenway.

Ian Maleney talks riots, religion, ultra-violence and Christmas with Napalm Death frontman Barney Greenway.


Napalm Death. There’s not much left to say about a band that have spent three decades proving that you can be every bit as original, aggressive and subversive as you want and fuck the rest of it. No compromise, no bullshit, no giving in. For thirty years. Sure, it’s a different line-up now than when they started but the message and the ethos are the same. They continue to play ridiculously hardcore shows all over the world to people who need to feel something punishing, physical and revelatory. They continue to release albums that challenge every aspect of “normal” song-writing, driving themselves and their listeners to new forms of sound along the way.

With as fearsome a reputation as theirs, the first question posed to vocalist Mark “Barney” Greenway probably shouldn’t have been Christmas-related but that’s just how it worked out. As you might expect, Greenway has no truck with the holiday season. “I’m always trying to escape Christmas,” he says. “I go away every year to non-Christian countries. I’ve been to Japan a couple of times, I’m going to Russia this year. I’m not religious at all and all these TV adverts and this and that, all of it is total crap. I’m able to get away from it because of my circumstances and I’m not going to go completely mad about it but it’s still nice to get away from it.”

Napalm Death still tour relentlessly, putting bands literally half their age to shame with the energy they bring across the globe. So where does the vocalist of one of the busiest touring bands in the world go when he needs to get away? “Yeah, I do a lot of travelling but it’s different in that you’re not always free to do as you would wish to do,” says Greenway. “I like to get away myself and get my own perspectives. I go exploring. If I’m in Japan, I’ll get a rail pass and travel around Japan. You can get this really neat rail pass that’s only available for non-Japanese residents. It’s much the same as the Eurorail and it’s really good value because Japanese trains are really fucking expensive.”

The whole of the Far-East is an area of great interest to Greenway and through the band he’s seen quite a bit of it. Some parts are definitely weirder than others. “We did China too,” he says, sounding reticent. “That was interesting. Still quite authoritarian. You can see it around the streets. We did some show there a few year ago. It was interesting and quite different. It’s quite strange because it was great to play there because of the kids and that but you don’t know how authoritarian it can be so it throws you a curve ball.”

After so long on the road, there are few places left on the map that they haven’t covered and the band usually jump at a chance to fill the gaps. “We got an offer for Kazakhstan but unfortunately we couldn’t do it,” he says. “It clashed with something else. We were dying to do it but it didn’t work out. It gives an extra dimension because it would be quite easy to do the same circuits, the same countries so why not try and make things unique for yourself? Why not go places no other band has gone? That’s what keeps it exciting because if it was just the same clubs, Holland, Germany, the States, as good as they are, it gets old after a while. You’re still going to do the best you can but a change of scenery, a very unique scenery, gives it an extra dimension.”

The inevitable question of differing audience reactions across the world arises but Greenway maintains it’s no different in Istanbul than Islington. “Kids are kids,” he says. “They go to gigs and they enjoy it in their own ways. It’s really no different. That kind of unites people around the world, at least in our microcosm.”

After so long with their nose to the grind, it would be understandable to see a band slack off or grow weary. Not Napalm. The same desire to be free that pushed them up and out of Thatcher-era Birmingham keeps them going now. Greenway becomes invigorated when talking about the need for people to be free, mentally, physically and socially. “The one thing that I find incredible is that people are prepared to give up their basic human freedoms,” he says. “Its always been something that really knocks me back, they’ll sacrifice part of their freedom. People’s freedom should be the first concern of anything, of any situation. Everyone has the right to live without being harassed, being intimidated, having their life threatened. That should be universal but unfortunately that’s not happening.”

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