◼ THE ELEPHANT IN THE NEW ROMANTIC ROOM in January 1981 was Adam Ant. The previous autumn Spandau Ballet and Visage had ignited the ambitions of other clubland bands (Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Soft Cell) who were to splash romance across the charts by the spring. Yet on this January day 30 years ago Adam and the Ants had, incredibly, two singles and two albums in the UK pop charts: on Jan 17, Antmusic hit the No 2 spot while Young Parisians was at No 23. In the album charts Kings of the Wild Frontier was at No 3 (rising to top the chart next week), while Dirk Wears White Sox entered at No 67 (a re-release from the first Ants lineup of 1979). This isn’t all. In the charts for week beginning Jan 24, TWO MORE SINGLES arrived to exploit demand, Zerox and Cartrouble at Nos 68 and 69 (reissues from the Dirk album).
The Ants had six records charting in the same month!!! January very much belonged to Adam.
Now, Shapersofthe80s has always drawn a clear distinction between Adam Ant and the New Romantics. As does Marco Pirroni, the Ants guitarist and co-writer of many of their hits. “Adam is glam-punk,” he told me emphatically at the bar of the Wag when Ant’s first solo single Puss ’n Boots was storming the chart in Oct 1983. “Americans don’t understand he was never a New Romantic.” In fact right now on his perambulation through our capital city billed as “The Good, The Mad And The Lovely World Tour Of London 2010/11”, Adam declares himself from the stage to be “the last punk rocker”.
What we have here is a re-run of the old dispute over differences between Bowie versus Slade, glam versus glitter. While true glam tends to fuel as much a fashion revolution as a musical one, Adam does tend to sit atop rock’s glittery party-music tree.
In spite of Adam’s flash and camp and dressing up in daffy costumes and wearing tribal facepaint that every kiddie from six upwards wanted to copy, his roots were firmly in rock, whatever Wikipedia seems to think (wrong again). If anybody was advertising rock as pantomime in the aftermath of punk, it was Adam, who raided the wardrobes of the past for his colourful swashbuckling outfits.
In his first life in Adam and the Ants 1977-79, he was styled as hardcore punk, hooded in a rapist mask, by Jordan (née Pamela Rooke) who virtually singlehandedly invented the uniform for punk with her many shockers such as rubber stockings. She was an inspiration as well as a natural sales assistant and model for Vivienne and Malcolm’s boutique, Sex, and for a year or so actually managed Adam’s band until she grew disllusioned with punk.
Malcolm McLaren himself was adrift after the Sex Pistols imploded, and Adam tells the tale: “He said, Everybody’s wearing black, boy. Colour, heroicism, that was what it was about. Look at Geronimo, boy. Look at pirates, boy. Go. He said, Give me a grand [£1,000], don’t tell no-one, and I’ll manage ya. And he gave me an education.”
Things backfired when McLaren stole the Ants to create Bow Wow Wow. So Adam regrouped with the trusty Marco Pirroni and a new lineup, and on the back of an “Antz Invasion” tour of the UK, May-June 1980, they signed to CBS and released the single Kings of the Wild Frontier which charted humbly in August.
Yet despite its heavy Burundi-style tribal drumming, Kings [above] was not a dancefloor record, that’s the point. War-dance, maybe. Watch the hopelessly uncoordinated video where the band lurches shambolically around a studio, and just gawp at the way Adam goes hoppity-skippiting in circles for heavensake!!! Like the proverbial embarrassing dad getting on down at your party.
The video to Antmusic was just as eye-watering. There was his group, playing live in a “disco”. (London’s first uplit starburst glass dancefloor betrays the location as Yours or Mine in Kensington, where back in the early 70s it was the coolest glam haunt on Sundays, frequented by Ossie Clarke, the Bowies and the Jaggers. But by 1980 disco was not cool, at all.) The rent-a-crowd extras in this video must have been the least stylish Londoners within earshot of the Blitz club. Gawp again at how these kids can’t dance either! Not one person in this video would knock Ann Widdecombe off Strictly Come Dancing.
➢ View ♫ original video for Antmusic
Contrast these two with the carefully art-directed videos of Visage and Spandau Ballet in 1980 and Adam’s efforts score 5 points for energy, 5 points for fun, by all means. But for creative content, Nul points, and for style, Nul points! Where’s the artsy pretension, where’s the wordly irony? Where is style? These videos reveal exactly how Adam’s crew didn’t have a handle on the New Romantics ethos at all, which was about the ineffable pursuit of glamour. And their bass-heavy music was totally danceable — by diehard clubbers.
Of course Adam wasn’t a New Romantic. Nor did he tick the register by dropping into any of their clubs. Romantics were clubbers, the Ants were rockers. Yes of course Kings of the Wild Frontier went on to become one of the great slapstick albums of its time. No dispute. And with characters like Prince Charming and Puss ’n Boots, Adam treated us to year-round pantomime. If he left the rest of us all humming a bunch of glorious rumpty-tump tunes, actually living the buccaneering life affected Marco the guitarist more deeply. Last year he told Uncut magazine rather mystically: “I’m still untouched by the ordinary world, thanks to Kings of the Wild Frontier.”
ONE REALLY INTERESTING FOOTNOTE TO HISTORY
◼ IT WAS a post- punk Jordan who returned to style Adam’s second life with the new-wave Ants in upbeat 80s mode, but as the most iconic punkette of all, her roots lay in anarchy. Look at the pair of them in this picture from the premiere of the 1977 film Jubilee with Jordan showing her actual knickers — facepaint and no hint of coordination spell pantomime, in capital letters. Commedia dell’arte this is not.
The one stroke of genius about his revamp was Adam’s own — it was his choice to adopt the gilded hussar’s jacket that branded his reincarnation for Kings of the Wild Frontier. It saw him right through his first year, on stage and in videos, until he turned into a highwayman. This dashing 19th-century cavalry uniform had a heritage all its own. Adam says he found it at the London costumier Berman’s & Nathan’s who had acquired it in 1968 from Tony Richardson’s scathing anti-Establishment movie, The Charge of the Light Brigade – though if Berman’s had one such officer’s jacket in stock it probably had dozens. Despite this jacket bearing no resemblance to the style worn by the real-life 15th Hussars, one adorned the romantic young film star David Hemmings, playing the ill-fated Captain Louis Nolan who carried the order to charge before one of the most careless tragedies in British military history. The poet laureate Tennyson’s phrase “someone had blunder’d” was prompted directly by the eloquent eye-witness report by William Russell of The Times. It makes a thrilling read still. And Adam’s gilded hussar jacket undoubtedly had a romance all its own.
◼ TONIGHT ADAM’S NEW SHOW WAS BEING FILMED at Madame Jojo’s Club in Soho, with tickets priced at £75. His outings before Christmas have impressed some critics, by various accounts being underpinned by wayward sexuality and bad taste, but none the less galvanising for that. His message has long been raunchy and savage and tonight one fan declared on Facebook that “Madame Jojo’s was on fire!!” A two-night stand has yet to happen at the 100 Club on January 26-27.