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And Remember This: One February Tuesday. Or It Was 40 Years Ago Today Adam & The Ants Changed My Life

In the first part of this story of how music wasn’t my first love, I revisited my Life in a Buckinghamshire town before Adam Ant entered my life. Welcome back.

Not only was Adam Ant the first pop star of the 1980s, he was the creative force behind one of the country’s most captivating bands: Adam & the Ants made some of the most startlingly original and unique music of the era. With subtle nods to glam rock’s illustrious past, Spaghetti Western film scores and bubblegum pop, the Ants were also able to integrate a swashbuckling array of sounds and styles of other cultures, including pounding African drums and Native American war chants.

For many Eighties adolescents, when Adam And The Ants made their dashing Top Of The Pops debut on Thursday 16th of October 1980, performing the thundering double-drum savagery of Dog Eat Dog, it was the Eureka episode in their musical awakening. A generation – my generation – of pop kids, impressionable, receptive and hungry for their own Starman moment, was instantly smitten. For us it’s every bit as epochal as David Bowie’s trailblazing performance on the same show eight years earlier, and possibly only rivalled by the whole Boy George “Is it a boy or a girl” debate with Culture Club’s first TOTP outing two years later.

Dog Eat Dog set the tone for not only the band’s impending Kings Of The Wild Frontier album, but for the Ants invasion about to happen. The song’s title and lyrics, which Adam later confessed, “A newspaper had given me the idea for, when I read the line as reportedly having been used by Mrs Thatcher,” cleverly combined Burundi Beat drum patterns, Ennio Morricone spaghetti western guitars and a deliciously over-the-top flair and swagger. Adam & the Ants offered a truly new sound for a new decade that was instantly recognizable and unforgettable. So it’s more than a little bit embarrassing to admit I have absolutely zero recollection of the landmark Top Of The Pops performance. I’m still unsure why but, despite reaching a creditable No.4 in the charts, Dog Eat Dog hadn’t even registered in my slowly expanding brain. Go figure.

However the band’s next single was impossible to ignore. Being a Seventies-tinged glam-pop romper stomper that Gary Glitter would have hocked his last bottle of Rohypnol to record, Antmusic was more immediately accessible than Dog Eat Dog, and is something of a dual purpose platter, acting as Adam & the Ants’ signature song and mission statement: “Unplug the jukebox and do us all a favour, that music’s lost it’s taste so try another flavour. Antmusic!”, Ant commands, and given the dynamic and catchy tune, how could one resist?

Growing up, Adam Ant was a fan of glam rock acts like Roxy Music, T.Rex, Alice Cooper and, er, Gary Glitter. Oops!

Sure, there are elements from pop music’s past, but they are all combined into one fabulously tasty new flavour. You can even dance to this one, not something you could say about many Ant tracks. Cleverly, Antmusic even gave its name (“to prevent classification and bracketing from other people,” said Adam) to the entire catalogue of material, a subculture even, that this most intriguing of acts was outputting. Now that’s what I call branding.

I became aware of Adam And The Ants during that December as Antmusic crawled its way up the Top 40 and in January 1981 peaked at No.2. It was only held off the top spot by the inevitable re-release of Imagine by someone called John Lennon. I liked the sound of Antmusic, but I wasn’t quite enamoured… yet. But then at the time I also liked an appalling song called I Am The Beat by a pub rock combo called The Look, the irony being they didn’t have one. Clearly my collision with good taste was still a little way off. As if by magic, you can hear the opening strains of the track at the tail end of this clip, which was Adam And The Ants’ second performance on Top Of The Pops…

Staying on TV with the Beeb, the confusingly named British Rock & Pop Awards 1980 took place at London’s Lyceum Theatre on Tuesday 24th February 1981. Sponsored by the Daily Mirror newspaper and televised live during BBC1’s early evening Nationwide slot, this annual soirée was the rather well-behaved and somewhat primitive precursor of what became the Brit Awards.

What do I remember of this particular backslapping extravaganza? Well, David Bowie won the Best Male Singer gong, as presented to him by his former fling, Lulu. I know he did because I’ve read about it. Despite vaguely knowing him as that creepy clown guy from the Ashes To Ashes video, that evening, which would turn out to be his only public appearance in his homeland all year, Bowie didn’t really make an impression on me at all. I know, right.

Fifteen years later I’d be editing and publishing a Bowie magazine entitled Crankin’ Out and be part of the champagne-swilling celebrations at Earls Court Arena watching The Dame receive the Outstanding Contribution To Music award whilst duetting with a couple of Pet Shop Boys in high heels (David that is, not Neil and Chris).

In a recent email conversation with this author, the Ants’ guitarist Marco Pirroni recalled the Rock & Pop Awards 1980: “We were going down some stairs in full regalia, and who should come round the corner coming up the stairs? David Bowie. Adam was first and Bowie stuck his hand out and said ‘Hello, Mr Adam!’ Adam was speechless.”

I did, however, love the carrot-topped theatricality of Hazel O’Connor. Hazel appeared to gatecrash the stage as a dowdy char-lady in a flasher mac and wig, then proceeded to rip both off to reveal she was actually a scheduled performer and (gasp) there to plug her new single, D-Days (Decadent Days!) whilst singing and dancing like a demented baboon. She was FUN! She was also the first female singer I took an interest in, for all of 15 minutes because that Antmusic was about to do myself a huge, irreparable favour.

Incidentally, those Camden nutty boys Madness were also on the bill, as were Hot Chocolate. But the moment Adam & The Ants appeared performing, nay, being Kings Of The Wild Frontier changed my life forever. After a stilted introduction by the too-uncool-for-school Dave Lee Travis and Sue Lawley, the cameras cut to an impossibly glamorous Adam Ant hanging from a rope ladder: “A new royal family a wild nobility, WE ARE THE FAMILY!”, the leader cried.

It felt like a clarion call. I know it sounds like an inevitable cliché, but it really did feel like the “we” included me. The song was dramatic, edgy, powerful, and absolutely like nothing else that had passed through these young ears. I didn’t know how lost I was until I found Adam, and now, to paraphrase some music for a future age, I wanted to throw everything I’d ever known overboard and join his insect nation immediately.

The iconic white panstick – an Apache war stripe – across the face, the unusually pigtailed and braided hair, that beautiful hussar military jacket, and the way he proudly strutted across the stage affecting war cries and tribal chants was electrifying and incredibly manly. Adam was like no other pop star before or since.

From Scary Monster to King of the Wild Frontier: the Bowie and Ant of 1980 on display

He might have been wearing a mountain of make-up but Adam was no effete New Romantic beanpole. This was a man with (gasp) muscles, a physical attribute almost unheard of in Britain at the time. Truth be told, I was too young to attach this newfound attraction – fixation even – to Adam as anything sexual, but with the benefit of hindsight it’s patently obvious Adam Ant was the first man I fell in love with. Whatever love means, if I can coin a phrase from a certain heir to the throne who’d famously uttered those very words just a few hours before.

Mark Adams, my erstwhile colleague from the Crankin’ Out days of the 1990s, once told me that he thought the greatest rock star image of all time belonged not to David Bowie as you might expect (Mark now types up “news” stories for but that man from Memphis, Elvis Presley, clad in black leather during his ’68 Comeback Special. Elvis looked handsome in that NBC shindig, despite the dyed hair, but I’ve yet to come across another rocker who looked better in a pair of leather trousers than the chief Ant. No, not Billy Idol or even Jim Morrison or Iggy Pop, sorry fellas. The great thing about Adam’s aesthetic was that he was flamboyant without being fey. Nostalgia for one’s youth may be an overriding factor, but I’m not sure I can think of a more original, dazzling, more downright sexy male pop star than Adam Ant during the Kings era of 1980-1981.

1980 all clear

Setting a new chart record that was unsurpassed in the pre-download era, Kings Of The Wild Frontier was one of five – five! – Ant 45s nestling inside the Top 45 that February month, along with Antmusic and the first three Ant singles, which had been helpfully reissued by former record labels trying to cash in on the advancing Antmania about to overcome the country.

At one point in February 1981, records were shattered when one in eight singles bought in Britain was by Adam And The Ants. Even more of a shocker, it turned out that in the ‘70s Adam Ant was a punk rocker (wonder if he knew Sheena?) who’d entered the world as plain old Stuart Goddard (gasp), and not only that, he was 26 years old (double gasp), a relatively advanced age for a new sensation.

Having said that, Adam is still four months younger than Neil Tennant, who didn’t make a dent on the charts as one half of the Pet Shop Boys until the ripe old age of 31. Debbie Harry was even older, not achieving significant success with Blondie until she was 33.

Stuart Leslie Goddard was born in London’s Marylebone on November 3rd, 1954. He’d attended Hornsey College of Art, where it’s fair to assume he picked up his impressionist and avant-garde leanings. Goddard had been the bassist in a pub rock outfit called Bazooka Joe, who happened to the headline act when the Sex Pistols played their first gig at St Martin’s College in 1975. In a spontaneous and inspired gesture, after seeing the Pistols he immediately quit the band, because “They had an energy and an excitement that you couldn’t ignore, and they were dressed very well. They made me want to start a group.” Unbeknownst to everyone including himself, the future Adam Ant had become the first person to be influenced by the Sex Pistols.

Jubilee featured Adam Ant as The Kid. Jordan (above) managed the early Adam & The Ants and was occasional guest vocalist. She went on to marry the Ants’ Kings era bassist, Kevin Mooney

Tentatively called The B-Sides, it wasn’t until early 1977 that Adam settled on the insect moniker, first as The Ants and then Adam And The Ants. Their first appearance on vinyl was a two-tracked contribution – the coruscating if controversial coupling of Deutscher Girls with Plastic Surgery – to the 1978 soundtrack of Derek Jarman’s ‘punk’ film Jubilee, of which Adam, Toyah and the band’s manager and style manipulator Jordan also starred in.

Jubilee is the first time the Ants were captured on film. The conceit of the movie is that Queen Elizabeth — not the one whose jubilee it was in 1977, the earlier one, 400-ish years previously — has tasked her court magician John Dee with scrying the future of her realm, and the film is what they and we see: various terrible things, plus Adam and the Ants performing the song Plastic Surgery.

They’re performing for real — in a sense this is the only unscripted element in the film, albeit inset in a scripted scene complete with people playing their audience (including the sinister tycoon who will sign them), plus director and crew filming them, all of whom the camera captures in its 360° pan — and Jarman, a semi-sympathetic observer who was Chelsea-based and knew the Kings Road scene well, was not greatly invested in the idea of punk as some kind of needed radical turn.

Not hostile, not partisan: I don’t think he was sceptical that punk had honestly set itself against everything around it, but he was definitely sceptical that it could sustain itself unspoiled.

Adam was right there on Kings Road from the very start, but somehow the Ants were very soon deemed to be trapped; to be getting punk wrong. Over the next couple of years the Ants would gain a not-large, very loyal following, but no break-out momentum. As post-punk began to emerge — via their colleagues the Banshees, PiL and Joy Division — it was often whispered that the Ants were doing this wrong too.  Jordan, Jubilee’s poster girl, had first witnessed the Ants at their residency at the dingy Man In The Moon pub in London’s Kings Cross supporting X Ray Spex. Adam was dressed in a leather rapist mask and, playing his part to the hilt, had physically attacked the audience:

“Adam used to send me love letters in the early days. I’ve still got them somewhere. He invited me down to a gig. Everything went wrong, but in Adam I saw something very special. Anyway I got involved in the band – I nurtured and pushed them. I was a manager and yet more than a manager. I finished with Adam for a while when he insisted on signing to Decca.” – Jordan Mooney

Furthermore, the eclectic, eccentric trio of seven-inchers that followed Jubilee – Young Parisians/Lady (the band’s only Decca release), Zerox/Whip In My Valise and Cartrouble/Kick! – had been recorded with a revolving door of line-ups which saw the band styled as Adam & The Antz. It would be an understatement to say these six sides of the nascent Ant sounded nothing like Kings Of The Wild Frontier, or indeed each other.

Deliberately and defiantly atypical of anything by a supposed punk/post-punk act, Young Parisians, the Ants’ debut single, was a charming acoustic jazz ballad and, let’s be honest, with that faux French accent sounding more than a little like Kenny Everett’s comedy character, Marcel Marceau, deliciously camp cabaret.

Despite being the only Ants 45 to miss a Top 40 placing in the band’s lifetime, the new wave weirdness of 1979’s Zerox has always been a fan favourite. In March 2011, exactly 20 years and two weeks after my Eureka moment, I found myself quizzing Adam in his Kensington kitchen. It was our second formal interview, though our first face-to-face sit down. Discursive if somewhat dyspeptic, the singer told me the inspiration for Zerox had come from a chameleonic source closer to my home than his:

“I’d read an interview with David Bowie where he described himself as a human Xerox machine. So I thought ‘I’ll have that!’ The song’s all about being a plagiarist anyway, which Bowie was. I think David Bowie’s a fucking thief, a vampire and a charlatan. He used Iggy, he used Brian Eno, he used everybody.” 

Zerox’s sample lyric: “I’m never bored, I’ll steal your chords.” Ouch. Moving the vehicle swiftly on, the vanquished with vanilla vignette of Cartrouble, originally released in March 1980 and my personal favourite of this tasty triumvirate, served as a useful bridge between the old Ant sound and the new.

Crucially, Cartrouble was the first Ant disc to feature the heavyweight talents of thrusty new guitarist and collaborator, Marco Pirroni – Adam’s very own Mick Ronson with writing credits – who would prove crucial to the sound and direction of Antmusic for the next two decades.

In those heady days of February 1981, that swashbuckling appearance on prime time telly was the culmination of Adam’s relentless four-year slog to get recognition. Whilst the older singles started making their descent away from the upper echelons of the chart, the band’s second LP, also titled Kings Of The Wild Frontier, was about to start an astonishing unbroken ten-week stay in pole position.

Not only that, but the first Adam & The Antz album, the lo-fi punk-noir Dirk Wears White Sox, was set to join it in the Top 20. Released by the fledgling Do It Records in October 1979, it had topped the independent charts but did little on the national listings at the time.

The tracks on Dirk capture early Adam in all his twisted, gothic glory, approaching a minimalist version of post-punk from multiple angles and creating a provocative, often disturbing album with overly arty tales of alienation, brutality and the size of God’s knob. Abrasive to some, engaging to others, Dirk Wears White Sox is a wonderfully creative and impressive artefact that offers a fascinating look at the Ants’ formative years, capturing a raw energy that would be sacrificed for polish on subsequent releases. As with the majority of Adam’s subsequent output, Dirk was a highly unique work that absolutely sounded like no-one else.

Referencing the gay British actor Dirk Bogarde, who may or may not have had a penchant for wearing white socks, the album’s title track was left off the finished product, and, as was the case with the earlier Deutscher Girls, seems inspired by Bogarde’s 1974 movie Il Portiere Di Notte (The Night Porter). It’s still my favourite album title bar none. Ladies and gentlemen, Adam Ant had arrived.

The Kings Of The Wild Frontier album, with its neo-historical, pro-American Indian subtext (“They are the human beings, we are the savages.”), had been released on November 3rd 1980 – Adam’s 26th birthday – but with a price hovering anywhere from £3.49 to 3.99 my paltry pocket money dictated that I was in no position to buy it or any other long-player.

With a degree of desperation I would regularly scour anywhere in CMK that sold records – Virgin, Woolworths, WHSmith, Boots, even the market stalls –  on the off chance that, by some kind of miracle, it had been massively discounted. Not a chance.

But, alas, the opportunity to finally spend my cash on some Antmusic was just weeks away. When it was announced that The Ants would be releasing a brand new single entitled Stand & Deliver that April I figured it would be the ideal way to start collecting – start with something fresh and new and work my way back. The Kings album had only been in the shops for five months but already Adam, no doubt pressured by his record label, CBS, to capitalise on his newfound pop domination, was moving on.

Last year I wrote an article about the day I willingly handed over 99 English pence – three week’s pocket money, lest we forget – so that I could buy the seventh Adam & The Ants single on the day it came out. Released on April 27, 1981, Stand & Deliver is the record that kickstarted a lifelong love of owning music. This was real music, not silly songs about shopping centres. Though the irony of purchasing this disc in the very place that was the subject of the previous item wasn’t lost on me.

I was two months away from my twelfth birthday and now all of a sudden Adam Ant seemed to make pop music matter. I still have an unbelievably vivid memory of standing at the rear counter of Virgin Megastore in Central Milton Keynes and asking for the single, only to be presented with two options: “There’s a limited edition poster sleeve as well,” said the sales assistant. I carefully studied both and, I have to admit, was slightly disappointed the poster version didn’t have the same front image as the regular edition.

It felt somehow slightly less ‘official’, especially as I’d already seen the main image (below, right) in advertisements. But when I unfolded the poster I was transfixed. Grabbing my attention within seconds were a fascinating assortment of stills from Stand & Deliver’s forthcoming video; they were beautiful, intriguing and impossibly exciting. The poster won.

I was now the immensely proud owner of a slab of black vinyl and I really couldn’t have wished for a better start to this record buying business. I needed to know everything about Antmusic, and fast.

Stand & Deliver was a historical and often hysterical romp through pre-Victorian England, adding a flash of contemporary culture (“The devil take your stereo and your record collection”) and turning it into a succession of slogans us pre-pubescents could understand in the playground: “I spend my cash on looking flash”; “The way you look you’ll qualify for next year’s old age pension”; “It’s kind of tough to tell a scruff the big mistake he’s making”; and finally the slightly moronic chant, “Da diddly qua qua”. Adam is singing about the joy of dressing up, of let’s pretend – grabbing a look or sound and living it large.

Sonically, the double drum tribalism from the Ants’ breakthrough singles stayed but the everything else had evolved, starting with the costuming. Warrior chic gave way to 18th century swag: dashing highwaymen, Georgian blades and romantic Robin Hood heroics. That fed back into the wall of sound – the unyielding Burundi patterns had been superseded by the heart-racing rhythms in Stand And Deliver are full of fancy flourishes and gallops. And it’s fast: at a rough estimate the track’s careering along at around 140 bpm and often feels like a steeplechase, punctuated by those stick-clashing breaks and dizzying war whoops.

The other striking thing about it is how Stand & Deliver feels like a complex marriage of two worlds colliding: light and shade. The lightness is in Adam’s lyrics, but if you were to strip the song of its half sung-half spoken vocals and that pantomime horse, there lies a patchwork of multi-layered textures driven by Marco Pirroni’s astonishing, coruscating guitar work. Quite possibly the axeman’s most eventful three minutes on record.

Certainly Stand And Deliver is built as an event, from the horns that announce it to the emotional cry of “No!” from an unnamed female in the fade-out. These whistles, whoops and hollers added much needed colour and complexity to Ant tracks – Adam was more of a collagist than a melodist – and reinforced the impression that being an Ant was a pretty wonderful job, a life of brigandage and fellowship.

And then there was that video. With Stand & Deliver Adam had started storyboarding his promotional films and boy, does it show. Later he would play the pantomime card a little too often, but on Stand And Deliver he pitches the costume drama just right – a blazing riot of colour and a tiny hint of danger. Seeing this marvellous mini epic I knew the record was more of an all-encompassing event than anything I’d heard before. Again, the Ant takes the juxtaposition of the old adage “something old, something new” to another level: medieval banquets are kitted out with Sony Walkmans and Space Invaders, while the controversial and often censored gallows scene had Burundi beat boys dressed as saluting marines.

Who’s that playing Space Invaders behind the dandy highwayman? No idea, but that’s an old friend of mine, Blitz Kid and artist Mark Wardel at bottom left

There’s a scene at the beginning of the video that saw Adam, looking impossibly gorgeous, leaping from a tree to do his Dick Turpin act and loot a stagecoach containing Charles David Whiteing, Adam’s costumier major domo from Bermans & Nathans, and his on-off girlfiend, the actress Amanda Donohoe. “Ooh, I like her dress,” exclaimed my mum. The highwayman proceeds to smash their vinyl records with his pistol, almost as a metaphor for what was to happen back in the real world.

Adam must have had a good idea that his first brand new song of ’81 would top the charts. Though even he couldn’t have foreseen just how quickly that would occur. On Tuesday May 5th I’d gleefully consumed the contents of my lunchbox and was sitting in the school’s TV room when Craig Margrove breezed in. ”Steve, Stand & Deliver’s gone straight in at No.1!” “Are you joking?” I replied. “No, I just heard it on the radio.” He’d heard the chart preview Radio 1 would air every Tuesday lunchtime. I was incredulous. The Jam, Paul Weller’s first beat combo, had been the only act to manage such a feat in the previous eight years, so you could have knocked me down with a feather. Or Silk or leather or a… Oh, hang on, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The news felt like validation. I’d made the best choice possible. And guess what, lots of other people up and down the country agreed with me. I felt utterly vindicated that even my classmate Sean Smith ripping the piss out of me at the next Springfield School disco couldn’t rain on my poptastic parade. To mark this momentous occasion, I donned a second-hand black cape and, for the face, tried to replicate Adam’s white stripe with a small pot of acrylic paint I’d bought from the art shop next door to Melson Wingate opticians. It started to crack within the hour.

After what seemed like an eternity of enduring the DJ’s diet of OMD, Toyah and the Stray Cats, the Ants suddenly wafted over the sound system. My classmates goaded me on to Do My Thing, but I hadn’t even planned any moves. I was just happy dressing up, celebrating my idol.

Wonder which one I am

Eventually I did my own funny little dance which consisted of me pogoing self-consciously on the spot. The only bit of me that moved were my legs. I looked ridiculous, and when half the crowd stopped circling me and defected to watch older pupil Michelle Soden doing a much more impressive and very theatrical tribal Ant dance I soon followed them. “Oh, so that’s how you do it”, I thought to myself. Truth be told, Steve’s not the greatest dancer. Nothing has changed.

The B-side of Stand & Deliver was a fierce and piercing rocker called Beat My Guest. That’s a pretty unnerving title for an 11 year old to get their head around, even before they’ve taken the record out of the sleeve. It transpired that the majority of the Ant flip sides were re-recorded demos from Adam’s punk days, and this was actually one of his earliest compositions: a visceral, yodelling squall of high-octane heaviness dating right back to the very first Ants gig at the ICA in 1977.

Marco’s guitar work on Beat My Guest was positively brutal, the vocals defiant and massively in your face. The shrill, piercing notes Adam hits at song’s end are incendiary, and the song manages to combine the raw punk-based side of the Ant sound with the warrior rhythms, and the two styles work together perfectly. Ant’s lyrics tell the disturbing story of a masochistic narrator desperate for his lover to tie him up and “use a truncheon or a household brick” to “make me bleed.” Wow, it was inconceivable you were going to get Bucks Fizz tackling such provocative subjects. I was transfixed. Looking back at the single now, has there ever been such a dynamic pop pairing?

It turned out that Adam Ant had a penchant for naughtiness going right back to that live debut when he’d got as far as thrashing his way through Beat My Guest in bondage gear before the Institute of Contemporary Arts unceremoniously unplugged the PA. Indeed he’d been viewed with suspicion by large sections of the music press because of their distaste for much of his fetishtic and S&M-driven imagery, almost always hand-drawn and designed by the man himself, naturally.

The best example of this workmanlike attention to detail was the handsome booklet that came with initial copies of Kings Of The Wild Frontier. The date I was finally able to call this epochal album mine was Friday 26th June 1981, my 12th birthday. Kings was sitting at No.5 in the charts, and Stand & Deliver at seven, the latter having been dethroned by Motown stalwart Smokey Robinson a fortnight earlier.

My mother had offered to meet up the ‘city’ after school to buy the record for me. We found that Boots in that shiny Milton Keynes shopping precinct were selling it for £3.79, whereas the far cooler Virgin, my preferred go-to store, had it in their racks at £3.49, but had sold out of the limited edition with the 12-page catalogue. Somehow I persuaded mum the booklet was an integral part of the package and she slightly reluctantly agreed to hand over the cash in Boots. I was ecstatic.

Mum didn’t drive, so all the way on the bus home I was breathlessly poring over the booklet, fascinated by the dozen pages stuffed with a plethora of pop paraphernalia and kinky graphics. Accompanying the beguiling monochromatic visuals was a potted history of Adam Ant and his worker Ants: Marco, (the drummers) Merrick, Terry Lee Miall and… Kevin Mooney, the young whippersnapper (or should that be bass-strap snapper) who’d made an enforced exit from the band under a drug-induced cloud prior to the recording of Stand & Deliver, to be replaced by ex-Roxy Music bassist Gary Tibbs.

You got the impression Adam exerted a maniacal gripper-like control over everything to do with his work. Adam was a trained graphic designer and much of his early Ants artwork were exceptionally evocative, even down to the ABBA-inspired backwards letter twisting of the D in AⱭAM, and later, his ex-Bazooka Joe colleague Danny Kleinman’s innovative band logo which showed the anthropomorphic profile of a chief Ant figure resplendent in an Indian head-dress combo.

Adam gets Physical on stage in 1981, with Daniel Kleinman’s band logo as the backdrop

I’d have to wait another three years – my 15th birthday – until I was furnished with my own record player, so until then I could only play vinyl on my parents’ old Ferguson set up – almost like a long drinks cabinet with the turntable concealed under a curved square of smoked brown perspex.

The music was a revelation. Of course, in retrospect there was an element of cultural appropriation, from the Burundi Beat to the ethnic makeup and feathers. But Adam was officer class. He was fascinated by and spoke – incessantly – of historical figures. Pirates, warriors, redskins (Native Americans to you and my Iowan Apache ancestors). In this contemporaneous Swedish television interview, the chief Ant was keen to point out how unorthodox the Ants’ musical influences were “mainly from tribal music, listening to a lot of tribal LPs: Burundi, Zulu, Maori, American Indian; all sorts of non-Western music.”

Native Americans commonly viewed face painting not only as an act of social distinction and cultural heritage, but as a significant aspect in cultural and spiritual ceremonies and rituals, implying victory, struggle, courage, and survival. Ceremonial paint was also used to hide ones identity, as well as to obtain power from the creature or spirit represented. 

Like Bowie before him, Adam unwittingly took on the role of educator. Clearly these weren’t subject matters you were ever going to learn about by listening to Shakin’ Stevens. The hip swivelling Shaky, lest we forget (and if only we could) would go on to become the biggest selling British singles artist of the 1980s, and the 25th of all time. I know, right. Nevertheless, 1981 belonged to Adam.

There is the mirror man

The stylistic changes took even more of a drastic turn with the next Ant single. Prince Charming. Unusually, it was released on a Friday, September 4th to be exact. Just three days earlier I had made the move up to the ‘big school’. The high school – Sir Frank Markham Secondary to use its official title – was a good 35 minutes walk from home, but not being a sporty kid that was about the only exercise I got. The first day of senior school also happened to be the first day of September, a Tuesday, thanks to the August Bank Holiday Monday falling on the previous day.

Being older, Andy Goldberg had been elevated to Woughton, as this recently built three building campus was commonly known, 12 months earlier. I met up with the remaining members of our Springfield gang – Craig Margrove, Sean Smith, Adrian Dobson and our newest recruit, Tony Mason – outside our former school and we walked through the neighbouring housing estate, Fishermead, all wondering aloud if we would remain classmates. When we got there we got the news were were dreading: the infamous five were being split up. Ouch.

What a dump

It didn’t take long to realise it was probably for the best. There were new friends to make, and more pressing matters on my mind. Like how to buy Prince Charming and still have some leftover pocket money. Unlike Springfield, Woughton had a canteen, and my daily dinner money was 50p. Half a pound, in other words.

I soon found out that the popular cheap meal with the other kids was chips and beans, which cost 23 of your English pence. The rest usually went on fizzy drinks at lunchtime and maybe a can of something on the way home. I soon developed a cunning plan that whenever I wanted to buy something I’d skip the chips and the drinks so that my lunch would consist of a plate of baked beans. I told you I was a weird kid. Certainly plenty of my new school mates thought so.


But at just 8p for a plate of these bright red fibre pellets I was pocketing 42p pence a day, and sitting as close to the classroom windows as possible. Not only could I afford to buy Prince Charming, but that eclectic back catalogue of Antmusic started looking as if it was within this 12 year-old’s sights.

I hurriedly made my way to the shopping centre. This time around the lavishness was limited to a special edition gatefold sleeve, except the only store to have it in stock was WHSmith. The artwork was intriguing because it featured a still from the Stand & Deliver video. The word on the street was that Adam had a new image but wasn’t quite ready to unveil it yet.

The other intriguing thing was hidden away on the small print of the disc itself, though naturally, it wasn’t about to escape my forensic examination: ‘Introducing the New Dance Craze “THE PRINCE CHARMING”’. I wasn’t old enough to understand irony but I do remember thinking, “How can it be a dance craze if it’s new? But this was Adam Ant at the supremely confident peak of his powers. If he reckons it’s going to be a dance craze then it probably will be. Talk about self-possessed.

Has there ever been a more bizarre, surreal opening to a song than Prince Charming? I remember Tony Blackburn premiering the song one Saturday morning and then as soon as it was over, he played the intro again, guffawing loudly over the top of it. Mum said “It sounds like he’s throwing up!” Certainly my pin-up seemed determined to outdo himself in the wacky tacky stakes. Musically, PC was a source of controversy after Rolf Harris asserted that the composition had ripped off his 1965 song War Canoe. The Australian has since claimed that he’s received a sizeable out-of-court settlement and royalties thanks to a musicologist asserting that the numbers are musically identical. However, the song’s producer Chris Hughes remembers the response when Harris first called the Ant to complain:

“Adam had found an old Maori recording of a War Canoe-type song, so he told Rolf, ‘Well, mate, fair enough about Prince Charming sounding like War Canoe, but let’s have a little look at where you got that from.’ As I understand it, there was a bit of a giggle on the phone and nothing else was said. That was the nature of it. I don’t think it was about maliciously ripping people off.”

Prince Charming, with the benefit of hindsight, is where the panto dame well and truly took over. It’s Adam’s marmite song, but even though it was evident the last remaining edges had been well and truly ironed out of the Ants’ oeuvre I’ve always admired how sheer bloody audacious, and how immaculately produced a track it is, with some beautiful seductive harmonies underneath that spine-chilling executioner’s march and silly but sensuous pop veneer.

And of course, it does contain one of the great one-liners in pop, the very telling “Ridicule is nothing to be scared of.” It pretty much sums up Adam Ant’s entire career. Did I like Adam’s new image that was unveiled in his latest costume drama? Not especially. I would have liked a little more evolutions of the white stripe look first, before such a drastic change. But more importantly, it just didn’t look enough like Adam Ant to me.

The single didn’t quite repeat the runaway success of Stand & Deliver but it wasn’t far off. Prince Charming entered at No.2, behind Soft Cell’s unfailing Tainted Love and went on to unseat the million-selling electro cover of the Northern Soul classic the following week, remaining on pole position for four weeks. Could Adam have peaked already?

I was flicking through Smash Hits magazine a few weeks later when I chanced upon CBS’s full page advert for the forthcoming Prince Charming album. I couldn’t quite believe the image they’d used, and hoped the album cover would be something different. OK, better. Much better. The picture was hideous, camp, artificial. Adam no longer looked like a pop star who wore make up and fancy clothes, it now looked like the cosmetics and the outfits were wearing him…but, yes, it was the cover.

Not nice

The record within that artless sleeve gets a bad rap, but in Prince Charming there is actually half a decent album there. The vivacious opening twosome, Scorpios and Picasso Visita El Planeta De Los Simios (Picasso Visits The Planet Of The Apes) are the great Ants singles that never were. When I first bought the album I was convinced one of them had to be the third single. Instead, they went with Ant Rap? Like, really?

Rap was a new force in pop music in 1981, and I’m sure Blondie hitting the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in the US at the beginning of the year with Rapture pricked up his ears. Technically, Rapture was first rap or hip-hop song to top the charts anywhere in the world. Looking back, Rapture is a great song despite the rap, because, let’s be honest, what Debbie Harry is rapping is complete and utter gibberish. Still, once Rapture hit, other white rap takes on the emerging genre started featuring in the charts – howdy Wikka Wrap and Wordy Rappinghood – and were, by and large, bandwagoning novelty singles.

Ant Rap was no different, layering Bronx beats, a histrionic vocal and, well, not much more really. The somewhat manic lyrics see Adam delivering his own style of staccato self-affirmation, declaring that his mighty songwriting transcends the mockery of anarchists and haters. Ultimately, the anthem is meant to be a battle cry, as the Ants chant about their collective power, matched with a remarkably OTT video shot at Hever Castle, once home to King Henry VIII. A bit of a movie mash-up on steroids, Adam gurns and gyrates in a suit of armour as he rescues a medieval damsel in distress, played by Lulu. Ironically, Ant Rap stalled at No.3 in the Christmas and New Year chart of 1981/1982 and the band split up months later.

Despite containing two No.1 singles, the Prince Charming album never rose above its No.2 entry position. Ironic considering how rap with a silent ‘c’ many consider the LP to be, but then when the record that stopped it in its 11 tracks went on to become the biggest selling LP of all time (Queen‘s Greatest Hits) it could hardly be deemed a failure. In retrospect it’s easy to see why detractors saw the Adam Ant of 1981 as a sell out. A year earlier, Antmusic heralded the start of every Ant single being more poppier and more commercial than the last. Adam had a knack for earworm refrains, and the interesting thing about that 12-month run of singles from Antmusic in December 1980 to Ant Rap in December 1981 is how each of them are remembered for a bunch of incredibly memorable slogans:

“Unplug the jukebox and do us all a favour.”

“Stand and deliver, your money or your life!”

“Even though you fool your soul your conscience will be mine”

“Da diddly qua qua.”

“Stop being dandy showing me you’re handsome.”

“Ridicule is nothing to be scared of.”

“Marco, Merrick, Terry Lee, Gary Tibbs and yours truly.”

“In the naughty north and the sexy south, we’re all singing I have the mouth.”

The Ants toured their Prince Charming Revue throughout December and into January 1982. I wish I could have been a little more persistent in trying to persuade my parents I had to be there. I was on the bus going home from CMK with mum one afternoon when I spied an advert behind the driver’s booth offering a coach package deal from Milton Keynes to see the band at Birmingham Apollo in the middle of January. I politely asked if I could go but was brushed off with some excuse. Mum never really rated Adam, she thought he was “silly”, so I expect that was the real reason for the point blank refusal. I wasn’t too distraught, telling myself that I’d make sure I would ask again the next time the Ants were playing.

So what happened next? Of course, the Ants never did tour again. After a show at the distinctly unglamorous Deeside Leisure Centre in North Wales on January 22, Adam called time on his fellow worker ants. Or, to paraphrase a charlatan, when the kids had thrilled the man, he had to break up the band. Solo stardom beckoned, but truth be told, that star was already starting to wane. At that 2011 interview perched on a stool in the middle of Adam’s kitchen, I asked him exactly why the Ants split. Marco had always maintained it was a financial decision.

“Because three of them were on drugs, that’s why. They had to go.”

I shot back, “But you used Marco and Chris Hughes (Merrick) on your first solo single, Goody Two Shoes, so that only leaves two.”

“Maybe it wasn’t three then.”

Full circle: though the official separation announcement was a few weeks away, the final Adam & The Ants single was 1977’s Jubilee offering, Deutscher Girls, with some newly recorded Adam vocals to “de-Nazi” the track. It reached No.13 in the charts in March 1982, and this was the band’s final ‘appearance’ on Top Of The Pops. Thanks to Andi Vaughan at Slapdash Eden for the upload

Whatever the truth of the demise of the band that owned the charts in 1981, for a good 18 months Adam Ant was not only the first bona fide pop sensation of the 1980s, he was probably the most exciting thing to happen to British pop in years. I loved him. I think part of me always will.

Steve Pafford, Springfield Lodge, Sydney

*On some early versions of Zerox Ant can be heard singing “David Bowie’s a Xerox machine” on the coda. In one such version, a demo recorded August 1978 at Decca’s Broadhurst Gardens studio, this line is sung in a similar high pitched tone to that employed on Bowie’s early single The Laughing Gnome.

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