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Adam Ant and Madness: The time Smash Hits’ Neil Tennant was Driving In My Car with the Nutty Boys

And remember this…

When MTV premiered in 1981, two British acts renowned for their memorable mini movies were early stars – former punks turned pirates Adam And The Ants and ska pop japesters Madness, whose opening command, “Don’t watch that, watch this!”, of their 1979 single One Step Beyond was even featured in promos for the new network.

Few acts of the era were more perfect for the music video revolution than the self-proclaimed Nutty Boys, who, like the Dandy Highwayman and his cohorts, saw every video shoot as an opportunity for a fancy-dress adventure. At their convenience, the go-to costumiers were the famed Bermans & Nathans, who, by the eighties, were also based in the sextet’s stamping ground of Camden Town and famously supplied Adam Ant with the iconic braided hussar jacket that had been worn by David Hemmings in The Charge Of The Light Brigade. 

The parallels with the insect warrior and fellow North Londoner are curious. The former Stuart Goddard hailed from Marylebone via St John’s Wood and ended up in Primrose Hill, the cover location and titular fourth track of the Nuttys’ fourth album, 1982‘s The Rise & Fall.

Though you couldn’t imagine a band less likely to don the pan stick (“passing round the ready blush”? Not us, guv!), both Madness and Adam Ant were highly visual, exceptionally theatrical yet supremely masculine. Not only that but they delivered their songs in that same half-sung half-spoken Mockney beloved of everyone from the Kinks and the Small Faces to Bowie and Blur, so much so that it’s not difficult to imagine Suggs and co coming up with the more parochial Ant tunes like Friends or Stand & Deliver while devising their next equally outlandish video concept. 

There’s one further connection in that Adam’s first foray into the world of music was as bassist for long-haired pub rockers Bazooka Joe, with future Vibrators and Stranglers guitarist John Ellis, and, ever since GoldenEye, James Bond titles sequence supremo Daniel Kleinman. The 13th track on the Nutty’s debut album One Step Beyond… is a cover of the band’s Rockin’ in A♭, which dates from the time the then Stuart Goddard was in the line-up though it was written by keyboardist Bill “Willie Wurlitzer” Smith.

Another ordinary Joe bloke was one Dan Barson, singing senior sibling of Monsieur Barso, founding pianist of Madness, of which their own lead singer Suggs, who prides himself on being a bit of a social historian, takes particular delight in reminding people, telling the Guardian in 2016: 

“They were the band the Sex Pistols supported in the first-ever gig they did at Central St Martin’s. Adam Ant was the bass player, and Mike Barson’s elder brother was the singer. Legend has it that’s why we all got short hair at that time, when it wasn’t fashionable.”

Like Ray Davies before them, Madness chronicled London via a series of colourful character vignettes, but their version was less lyrical; more singalong, more laddy. It was music at its most infectious, and even though I was ultimately attracted to something more other-worldly and painted, in 1980 I could have gone either way. 

Though I ended up not buying their records (too much linked to identikit identity for me), I can link many of the early Madness records to episodes from school years like it was yesterday, like pogoing to Baggy Trousers at the Springfield school disco with Andy Goldberg like we were the demented kids in the video; and safely ensconced in my bedroom with a brand new portable tape recorder, taping The Return Of The Los Palmas 7 off the Radio 1’s top 40 countdown, along with a whole host of taped oddities from the Pointer Sisters’ Slow Hand and ABBA’s Super Trouper to more embarrassing parochial fare like Chas & Dave’s Sideboard Song and I Am The Beat by a pub rock combo called The Look, the irony being they didn’t have one.

Then, once upgraded to “big school”, I remember having a casual conversion with new classmate Graeme Reynolds who was most definitely a Madness fan, and was raving about their new album 7, released the month after we found ourselves at Sir Frank Markham secondary. I’d started on my Ant music collecting quest by this point but, in order to affect some kind of simultaneous kinship and contrariness, I told him I preferred Madness’ “early stuff”, and that even I’d bought their previous albums but wasn’t sure whether I would add 7 to the pile.

“Oh, which one of their albums do you like the best?”, Reynolds enquired.

“6” said I, lying though my newly erupted teeth.

I can still picture the puzzled look on his face. He said nothing but I knew instantly I’d been rumbled. Silly me assumed the 7 meant the seventh Madness album and that it merely followed in a long line of numerical titles. It never occurred to me it was referencing the fact that they were a seven-piece band. Oooops!

Towards the end of that first secondary school year, my parents allowed me to join around 15 or so other pupils on what would become my first holiday away from family and my first trip outside Britain. Indeed, one could even call it a debut, as the destination was a beautiful coastal town in the Normandy region of France called Étretat.

On Tuesday 25 May we were manacled together in the dining room of our guest house when someone said they’d heard on the radio Madness had shot to No.1 on the UK charts. Being a tribal 12 year-old this was more than a blow. Indeed, the Ant man and the Camden collective were in direct competition with each other, both having crashed straight into the top ten as the highest new entries, at five and eight respectively, the week we left Engerland. 

If you were a betting type, the smart money would have been on the dandy Prince Charming, seeing as the Ants had scored a pair of chart-toppers with two of the four biggest selling singles of 1981, whereas no Madness single even registered in the top 50 of the year.

Yet in what was a shock to almost everyone but certainly to this loyal defender, Madness had leapfrogged over my now solo hero and claimed pole position for that week and the next, and with a video filmed round the corner from my grandparents’ new flat in Kilburn!* Alas, Goody Two Shoes had to contend with an atypical fortnight in silver mode before finally knocking the Nuttys off No.1 and bagging the gold medal.

1982 was also the year a certain Neil Tennant joined Smash Hits magazine, who proudly emblazoned the Nuttys several times in their heyday. The future Pet Shop Boy interviewed the band twice, and Adam just the once – though he professed to appreciating Ant wax only after he had gone, in that cruelly accurate Ver Hits parlance, “down the dumper”. 

“I have a history of liking pop stars when they go down the dumper. I didn’t like Adam Ant until he went down the dumper, then I developed a kind of pathetic devotion to him. I always love them when they go on the slippery slope.”

The above quote was taken from the very first Pet Shop Boys interview in Smash Hits, in December 1985, the month before West End Girls climbed the slippery pole to No. 1. It’s the same issue that kicks off with this telling introduction:

“Neil Tennant is speaking with the weary and deliberate tone of a man who’s just been told some terrible news: ‘I don’t think anyone has faced up to this fact yet,’ he says, ‘but Madness have gone a bit boring, haven’t they?’ He sighs gloomily; it’s as if Madness going boring was a tragedy fit for national mourning…”

Although Madness spent years bringing smiles back to the upper regions of the charts – It Must Be Love, Embarrassment, so on and so forth, it was obvious the PSB frontman wasn’t terribly enthused about the lads’ more sophisticated and “serious” tone.

Less than two years earlier, in Smash Hits issue 139 (29 March 1984 – where, for some reason, Nik Kershaw’s on the cover brandishing a sword almost as big as he is) Neil was still on the other side of the fence, as the magazine’s assistant editor quizzing Suggs and Carl for the second time. We’ll come to that in the next post, but for now, we’re down in space in 1982, the one where Nelly visits the Nuttys on the set of the video shoot for Driving In My Car, the motorik Madness single sandwiched between their “house” hits, House Of Fun and Our House. In other words, swingorilliant!

Car Trouble…

Last Monday [12 July 1982], Madness headed west to Shepherds Bush for the first of two days’ filming. It’s for the latest in a long line of legendary videos; this time, Driving In My Car. The first location was appropriately enough, a garage. 

Madness work within a framework of organised chaos – someone sorts out the different locations and props; camera crew, Madness director Dave Robinson decides what to do after they’ve arrived. They work with the confidence of people who’ve already made a whole stack of brill videos and see no reason why they should stop making them even better. 

Patience, professionalism and nutty ideas are the keynotes. Barso and Chas work out a routine involving a couple of spanners while Chrissy Boy suggests camera angles and Lee gets loopy with an oxygen nozzle. Even the costumes are individually adapted: only Madness could instantly work out seven different ways of wearing identical boiler suits. 

All the ideas are funnelled through Dave Robinson and he makes sure the cameras start to roll at the appropriate moments. ‘We’ve got seven different directors at the moment. As soon as we start moving they can be seven actors.’ 

Wherever they work, Madness attract crowds and this Monday was no exception. Autographs were constantly requested and provided with good humour, crowds of onlookers smiled. 

When they were driving in their car through the streets of London, the friendly, amazed and enthusiastic reactions of people passing on the pavement and in cars were testimony to the fact that Madness hold almost as secure a place in the nation’s hearts as Princess Di or Morecambe and Wise. ‘Sound’s running!’ ‘Lights!’ ‘Let them roll!’

Neil Tennant, Smash Hits, 1982

BONUS BEATS

*My grandparents’ previous bungalow in Cricklewood faced Westbere Road, and in particular my father’s old school – the same Hampstead secondary where Suggs told No. 1 magazine’s Max Bell in 1984 that “I met Mike Barson hanging around Hampstead School, which was mixed.“ In fact my father‘s parents lived there throughout the 1970s, so they were literally less than a minute‘s walk from the very spot where Madness effectively were formed.

Some Nutty recollections of that July day, take from sevenraggedmen.com

CHRIS: I got the traffic warden outfit made especially for Lee, but because it wasn’t one of his ‘things’ he wasn’t too keen to wear it. It had little lights that came out the side and everything; what more did he want? I also got the hats made that spelled out M-A-D-N-E-S-S.

CARL: We were really into those little details.

WOODY: The idea of the vibraphone solo being played on the skeleton was nicked from The Goodies.

MIKE: We filmed it in a garage down Goldhawk Road. I’ve got good memories about making it – it was good fun.

CHRIS: Me, Carl and Bedders had appeared in a Fun Boy Three video, so we got them a small role in ours as a way of saying thanks, and they very kindly came along.

TERRY HALL (Fun Boy Three): We were asked to make a cameo appearance, standing on the side of the road holding a sign that said, ‘Coventry.’ It was great fun – very slapstick.

LEE: Driving In My Car was a good example of where the video was better than the song. We had a couple like that by the end.

© Neil Tennant, 1982

Edited by Steve Pafford

Courtesy of rocksbackpages.com

Perfect 10: Absolute Madness is here

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