Hero Worship: Adam Ant
Long-standing new music champion <b>Vic Galloway</b> worships at the altar of Adam Ant
Critics, tastemakers and elitists may simply turn their noses up at my figure of worship in this piece, casting him off as nothing but a novelty, pop act from the New Romantic 1980s. Naturally, I beg to differ.
Adam Ant (born Stuart Goddard) may well be the reason I’m involved in this whole music malarkey, 30 years after listening to his music for the first time in 1981. Much like other young boys discovering their own minds, tastes and views on the world, I was smitten immediately. He was the first pop-star that made me imagine the endless possibilities of music, art, performance, fashion and sex.
Here was a man dressed as a pirate in Native American Indian make-up, fronting a band with 2 Burundi drummers and heavily distorted guitars, yodelling ‘A new royal family, a wild nobility – we are the family’ – what’s not to like? This was, and still is, some of the most exciting pop music ever made.
Compare that to the dreary landfill mediocrity of Take That, the faceless R’n’B of Ne-Yo or the banal euro-disco of Lady Gaga. They either have catchy tunes and look terrible, or look great and sound terrible. They all lack any sense of real insurrection, humour or wit in their lyrics and outlook. None of them come close to Mr Ant.
A spark lit the touch-paper and so began my journey into the obscure worlds of punk, post-punk, indie, glam, reggae, hip-hop, electronica and everything in between. A journey that continues today of course…
His massive pop stardom is well documented, and even the uninitiated will no doubt be familiar with Ant Music, Stand & Deliver, Prince Charming and the other massive hits. But the REAL story begins years before.
Having witnessed the Sex Pistols play live at St. Martin’s Art College in London in 1975 supporting his own band of the time Bazooka Joe, Goddard had an epiphany and transformed himself into Adam Ant. He threw himself into the heart of the London punk scene, taking to the stage dressed in Japanese kabuki make-up, leather, PVC and a kilt (nodding to his Scottish ancestry). He was initially managed by Jordan – the Vivienne Westwood model and iconoclast – and became a cult figure in those caustic times.
His lyrics were confrontational, explicit and often seditious, but all delivered with a knowing wink and a tongue in cheek. Search out Catholic Day – a distasteful take on the slaying of JFK; Whip in my Valise – an ode to bondage and sexual punishment; Animals & Men which name-checks the Italian Futurists of the early 20th Century; or Plastic Surgery about, well, you guessed it.
These early singles and the Dirk Wears White Sox LP are unique examples of real art-rock and sound surprisingly fresh and obtuse to this day – every bit as odd and angular as XTC or Devo .
As he built underground momentum and hinted at breakthrough success; infamous prankster, pseudo-svengali and friend Malcolm Mclaren stole his ‘Ants’ from him and put together Bow Wow Wow. Incensed, Adam combined forces with Marco Pirroni and formed a dynamic songwriting duo, intent on taking the pop charts by storm in the most glamorous and outrageous ways possible.
They succeeded, making three of the greatest pop albums ever in Kings of the Wild Frontier,Prince Charming and Friend or Foe. These pompous, excessive and lovingly crafted collections won outright the hearts and minds of kids across the UK, giving teenagers a pure-pop-sugar-hit whilst also introducing them to the earlier, darker works.
Have I mentioned that Adam Ant was also voted the ‘World’s Sexiest Man’ by MTV viewers in the USA? Well yes, he was highly sexually charged and extremely attractive… to both sexes. All in all, he was the ultimate pop-star and is still adored wherever he appears, despite mental-health troubles and tabloid scaremongering.
Nowadays, like many others, Adam Ant is on the comeback trail. However, rather than piggy-backing on some hackneyed, 80s nightmare nostalgia-trip, he has recruited a young band who he’s named The Good, The Mad and the Lovely Posse. They play all those inspired punk anthems, b-sides and subversive hits, while Adam looks fit and healthy once again. Apparently the incredulously titled new album Adam Ant Is The Blueblack Hussar in Marrying The Gunner's Daughter is ready to go too.
I saw him live recently and was astonished at how good he sounded. My own girlfriend was quaking at the knees, repeatedly proclaiming him as an older, sexier Johnny Depp… dressed as a pirate naturally! The gig was outstanding.
So put away your Joy Division box-sets, your Bob Dylan bootlegs, and your Velvet Underground out-takes for now, because I’m controversially worshipping at this altar. As the man himself sang… ‘Ridicule is nothing to be scared of’!
Vic Galloway – BBC Broadcaster, Journalist, Musician and Music Fan.
BBC Radio Scotland – Mondays 8.05pm - 10pm (repeated Fridays 10.05pm – 12am)