Adam Ant's glam heyday was a full quarter of a century ago. With his autobiography Stand and Deliver and a new Best Of compilation of his music both setting the scene for a reappraisal, can it be that pop history has been unkind to a boy once known as Stuart? One longtime fan dares to delve deep...
My love affair with Adam Ant started in 1980. Actually, I had better
rewrite that, lest it gets mistaken for an (albeit dated) kiss-and-tell
story, and Adam adds me to the long list of conquests that form the backbone
of his autobiography.
My passion for Antmusic (for Sexpeople, don't forget)
started when I was just 10. It is odd to think back (and, in this time of
heightened anxiety about teenage sexuality, even more hair-raising) at how
infused with sexuality Adam and the Ants were, and how this "filth" was
shoved down our young throats at such an early age. My god, I mean, did you
see him swagger across the Saturday Superstore studio behind Mike Read in
1981? The man was a sex god.
Sadly, it seems it was all to cover up his undiagnosed bipolar disorder,
which is itself quite a depressing thought. Having looked up to Adam and
been inspired by him, it is a bit distressing to think that his, almost
literally, cocksure behaviour which made him a role model to many was just a
cover for his mental illness. I feel sorry for Adam, but in some ways, even
sorrier for his legacy as a hip-swinging advert for lust, self-belief,
musical adventurism, ambition and "showbiz".
I know the story like the back of my hand from the biographies I devoured
as a kid, and even the comic-book serialisation in the long-forgotten TOPS
magazine. Stuart Leslie Goddard, born a Scorpio on 3 November 1954, went to
Marylebone Grammar school (first point of connection with my own schooling),
then went on to art college where he studied graphic design. He joined a
traditional rock n' roll band called Bazooka Joe, who were once
supported at a gig by the Sex Pistols, legend having it that this is
what blew Adam away and led him to be a punk. After that, my recollection of
the story becomes a little blurred, not least by the new information
presented in his autobiography.
Carol Goddard, his wife, soon came to call herself Eve in order
to remind him that they were married.
You see, in all the children's magazines I read, Stuart Goddard woke up
one day and decided he was going to be Adam Ant - and that was it. No
reason, just one of those things people do when they want to be famous pop
stars. Now, I learn that I was being protected. Goddard took sleeping
tablets in a suicide attempt and woke up in hospital. There he had his
epiphany - he needed a new identity to destroy his old one. "Stuart was a
rather frightened, insecure graphic design student without any real
direction," Adam said recently. "After my suicide attempt, I felt there was
nothing left to lose. It was definitely time to become Adam Ant," and he has
never looked back.
Changing one's name and assuming a new persona is a long and noble
tradition in showbusiness, where the act was more important than the actor,
and it was a vital ingredient of punk. The Damned's drummer Christopher
Miller became known as Rat Scabies; Marianne Elliot became Poly Styrene,
lead singer of X-Ray Spex; Susan Ballion became Siouxie Sioux, and so on.
Adam, however, managed to put a lot more thought into his stage name than a
clever pun or a revolting description. To him it wasn't an act - it was to
be his whole personality.
He liked the idea of being Adam, the Biblical first man, and the 'Ant'
bit came when he decided that his band should be Ants, an insect inspiration
to rival the Beatles, which, in his own words, "were hard working, tough and
communal". Carol Goddard, his wife, soon came to call herself Eve in order
to remind him that they were married.
He was determined
to turn any setback into an advantage for him, a sure sign of someone who is
driven to succeed.
Adam was never going to be a conventional punk (which sounds oxymoronic,
but by the second wave of punk bands in 1978-9 there were plenty of pale
imitations of the original pioneers), but it is even clearer that while he
was "in" the "movement", he was not really "of" it. Young Parisians,
the first Adam and the Ants single, does not sound like a punk record.
Instead, it sounds, as Adam has described it, more like "a 1920's Parisian
Given that, at the same session, he recorded a version of
Catch a Falling Star, and in the 1978 song Friends he
namechecks Shirley Bassey and Arthur Askey, there seems very little other
than his appearance in Derek Jarman's "punk" film Jubilee to link him that
strongly with the nihilism of the time. Sure, he was managed by Malcolm
McClaren for a bit, he was mates with Sid Vicious and he wore bondage gear
with rather too much enthusiasm, but was he ever really a punk?
Adam's ambition and his desire to be conventionally successful made him
much less of a punk than his contemporaries. Punk introduced a long-running
street battle between light entertainment aimed at "the masses", whose
figureheads were Bruce Forsyth, Jimmy Tarbuck and Tom O'Connor, and the
nascent alternative comedy circuit. Hard to believe that French and
Saunders, Ben Elton and Paul Merton were once considered outside of the
mainstream, but their kicking against the old order was a hallmark of the
time. Adam, however, was firmly in the "old showbusiness" camp - happy to
declare his affection for Tommy Steele, Liza Minnelli and Frank Ifield. Punk
was notorious for its Year Zero approach, even if Johnny Rotten couldn't
help listening to Abba in secret. Adam was not ashamed, indeed made it a
badge of honour, to celebrate the heroes and heroines of mass
Malcolm McClaren tore Adam and the Ants apart when
he effectively sacked Adam from his own band.
Connected to this was the fact that Adam would not settle for small-time,
cult status (he describes being a "cult" as a polite word for "loser") and
was constantly looking for ways to make his "Antmusic" into a mainstream
force. Indeed, he was very clear that "Antmusic", while it was formed in the
punk years, had to be a unique, and much broader, genre. He was determined
to turn any setback into an advantage for him, a sure sign of someone who is
driven to succeed. Though Malcolm McClaren tore Adam and the Ants apart when
he effectively sacked Adam from his own band (in order to take the remnants
and form Bow Wow Wow), Adam was knocked back, if not down, and remained
determined to stay on a course to success.
McClaren often gets a bad press in regard to Adam and the Ants - not
quite the "man who said no to the Beatles", but certainly someone who almost
destroyed Antmusic before it started. However, as Adam readily acknowledges,
his input into the sound that became Antmusic cannot be overestimated.
McClaren, in trying to help Adam discover his sound, gave him a mix tape he
had made to help inspire him. It included Gary Glitter's Hello!
I'm Back Again, Got To Pick a Pocket from the Oliver!
soundtrack, and most importantly of all, Burundi Black by Burundi
Ant then got in touch with Marco Pirroni, once of Siouxie and the
Banshees, on the strength of him being the best guitarist he'd ever seen
and on the offchance that he might fancy writing some songs. To Adam's
surprise and delight, the picky and somewhat aloof Pirroni apparently said
"yes" straight away. McClaren had previously told Adam that his first
album, Dirk Wears White Sox, had "too many ideas" and he needed to
simplify. Adam's view of the songwriting relationship with Pirroni is that
he would always be seeking to get to the heart of what Adam wanted to say in
a song by asking him "how do you want it to sound?" However the partnership
worked, it really worked, and once they'd agreed on the fundamentals - two
drummers a la the Glitter Band for power, a guitar sound based on spaghetti
western riffs, and lots of whooping - they finally found the vibe they were
looking for and Antmusic became a reality.
Listening back to the first collaboration between the new Ants, the album
Kings of the Wild Frontier, it is a surprise to this day how utterly
unique it sounds. Even its weaker brother, Prince Charming, is an
utter marvel of invention, full of tribal drumming and multi-layered
chanting that makes it sound like a Native American gathering orchestrated
by Ennio Morricone. Most importantly of all, though, Adam married this sound
to a visualisation that made the look of the music as important as its
As the pressure of stardom took its toll, Adam's muse began to
Looking back at the publicity photos, it is almost unbelievable that
the rest of the band went along with something that, in this grey age, would
be felt as making them look "a bit poofy". It is only something that punk,
with its style-is-content attitude, made easy. In the visually conservative
era we live in now, where style is by and large rejected over "The Music" -
an attitude typified by Oasis's low-brow rejection of "dressing up" - one
can only marvel that there was ever a meeting when grown men were told they
were going to be dressed like Jack Sparrow and agreed wholeheartedly - even
before they knew that Antmusic was going to take off in the way that it
However, as the pressure of stardom took its toll, Adam's muse began to
leave him. The signs were there on Friend or Foe (whose cover,
remember, is a screen grab from his performance on the light entertainment
Cannon and Ball Show), which delved deep into his personal troubles. The
lyrics of Made of Money ("you think I am made of money. my accountant
thinks that's funny") are particularly striking in this regard - how often
does the word accountant get used in a pop song? Goody Two Shoes,
both lyrically and visually, tried to deal with the press's obsession with
his teetotalism, and Here Comes the Grump ("when you get a number one
the only way is down") his wrestling with the pressures of fame.
Of course, all this had been invited and courted by Adam, who made good
use of the growing tabloid interest in the gossip surrounding the world of
pop. Getting on kids' TV shows was a part of an exposure strategy that now
forms the backbone of most pop music PR activity, but was a relatively new
concept for a "grown-up" band at the time, let alone a punk one. The phrase
"biting the hand" comes to mind, but it is ever thus with those who want the
upside of free publicity without the intrusion into their personal lives.
On Friend or Foe, Adam shed the make-up and the eighteenth-century
togs in true Mike Yarwood "...and this is me" style. When he put the puffy
clothes back on for Strip, recasting himself again as an eighteenth-century
libertine, and the astronaut suit for Apollo Nine (on the "back to
basics" album Vive Le Rock) it was obvious that his sun had set. Adam
scowls at the fact that he was not invited to sing on the Band Aid record in
late 1984, which featured the new royalty of British pop music - George
Michael, Boy George, Simon Le Bon - but was happy with a
bottom-of-the-bill slot at Live Aid, all of which indicated how far the rot
(He) was happy with a
bottom-of-the-bill slot at Live Aid... which indicated how far the rot
Yet Adam could not, and still cannot, let go of the fact that he
was once a star and it does seem that his manic depression has been
exacerbated by this mismatch between what once was and what now is. His
autobiography records his chart placings and his obsession with being number
one so vividly that it is clear that this decline still smarts. When he
mentions that a Duran Duran comeback concert in 1993 had meagre
ticket sales until they announced that Adam was on the bill, whether this is
self-deceiving or not, it shows how much he yearns to believe that he has
the Midas touch.
Refusing to go away and wanting to continue being a successful musician
is a double-edged sword. The experience of the Rolling Stones, a band that
appears to be irrelevant to anyone other than a tight-knit, but massive,
core of dedicated fans, is instructive. Adam, as he knows, is still
supported by legions of thirty- and forty-something men for whom his rags to
riches story, his pluck and his bravery, and, above all, his unique (and
arguably unparalleled) sound inspired them to start bands and not be scared
To hear Adam talk now, it is sad to hear of his trials as a
B-movie star and his breakdowns, but heartening to see him coming back and
talking passionately about music again. It will never be the same as it was
25 years ago, but if he can get even sour old Paul Morley, whose
archer-than-thou attitude was overwhelmed by the majesty of the Prince
Charming tour in 1982, to write the sleeve notes to his latest Best
Of, then maybe it really is time for Adam to put the show back into
showbusiness, with the Ants leading the invasion.