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 betterrewrite that, lest it gets mistaken for an (albeit dated) kiss-and-tellstory, and Adam adds me to the long list of conquests that form the backboneof 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 ofheightened anxiety about teenage sexuality, even more hair-raising) at howinfused with sexuality Adam and the Ants were, and how this “filth” wasshoved down our young throats at such an early age. My god, I mean, did yousee him swagger across the Saturday Superstore studio behind Mike Read in1981? 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 andbeen inspired by him, it is a bit distressing to think that his, almostliterally, cocksure behaviour which made him a role model to many was just acover for his mental illness. I feel sorry for Adam, but in some ways, evensorrier 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 devouredas a kid, and even the comic-book serialisation in the long-forgotten TOPSmagazine. Stuart Leslie Goddard, born a Scorpio on 3 November 1954, went toMarylebone Grammar school (first point of connection with my own schooling),then went on to art college where he studied graphic design. He joined atraditional rock n’ roll band called Bazooka Joe, who were oncesupported at a gig by the Sex Pistols, legend having it that this iswhat blew Adam away and led him to be a punk. After that, my recollection ofthe story becomes a little blurred, not least by the new informationpresented in his autobiography.
You see, in all the children’s magazines I read, Stuart Goddard woke upone day and decided he was going to be Adam Ant – and that was it. Noreason, just one of those things people do when they want to be famous popstars. Now, I learn that I was being protected. Goddard took sleepingtablets in a suicide attempt and woke up in hospital. There he had hisepiphany – he needed a new identity to destroy his old one. “Stuart was arather frightened, insecure graphic design student without any realdirection,” Adam said recently. “After my suicide attempt, I felt there wasnothing left to lose. It was definitely time to become Adam Ant,” and he hasnever looked back.
Changing one’s name and assuming a new persona is a long and nobletradition in showbusiness, where the act was more important than the actor,and it was a vital ingredient of punk. The Damned‘s drummer ChristopherMiller 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 aclever pun or a revolting description. To him it wasn’t an act – it was tobe 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 inspirationto rival the Beatles, which, in his own words, “were hard working, tough andcommunal”. Carol Goddard, his wife, soon came to call herself Eve in orderto remind him that they were married.
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 paleimitations of the original pioneers), but it is even clearer that while hewas “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 Parisianjazz record”.
Given that, at the same session, he recorded a version ofCatch a Falling Star, and in the 1978 song Friends henamechecks Shirley Bassey and Arthur Askey, there seems very little otherthan his appearance in Derek Jarman’s “punk” film Jubilee to link him thatstrongly with the nihilism of the time. Sure, he was managed by MalcolmMcClaren for a bit, he was mates with Sid Vicious and he wore bondage gearwith rather too much enthusiasm, but was he ever really a punk?
Adam’s ambition and his desire to be conventionally successful made himmuch less of a punk than his contemporaries. Punk introduced a long-runningstreet battle between light entertainment aimed at “the masses”, whosefigureheads were Bruce Forsyth, Jimmy Tarbuck and Tom O’Connor, and thenascent alternative comedy circuit. Hard to believe that French andSaunders, Ben Elton and Paul Merton were once considered outside of themainstream, but their kicking against the old order was a hallmark of thetime. Adam, however, was firmly in the “old showbusiness” camp – happy todeclare his affection for Tommy Steele, Liza Minnelli and Frank Ifield. Punkwas notorious for its Year Zero approach, even if Johnny Rotten couldn’thelp listening to Abba in secret. Adam was not ashamed, indeed made it abadge of honour, to celebrate the heroes and heroines of massentertainment.
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”) andwas constantly looking for ways to make his “Antmusic” into a mainstreamforce. Indeed, he was very clear that “Antmusic”, while it was formed in thepunk years, had to be a unique, and much broader, genre. He was determinedto turn any setback into an advantage for him, a sure sign of someone who isdriven to succeed. Though Malcolm McClaren tore Adam and the Ants apart whenhe effectively sacked Adam from his own band (in order to take the remnantsand form Bow Wow Wow), Adam was knocked back, if not down, and remaineddetermined to stay on a course to success.
McClaren often gets a bad press in regard to Adam and the Ants – notquite the “man who said no to the Beatles”, but certainly someone who almostdestroyed 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 hehad 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 BurundiBlack.
Ant then got in touch with Marco Pirroni, once of Siouxie and theBanshees, on the strength of him being the best guitarist he’d ever seenand on the offchance that he might fancy writing some songs. To Adam’ssurprise and delight, the picky and somewhat aloof Pirroni apparently said”yes” straight away. McClaren had previously told Adam that his firstalbum, Dirk Wears White Sox, had “too many ideas” and he needed tosimplify. Adam’s view of the songwriting relationship with Pirroni is thathe would always be seeking to get to the heart of what Adam wanted to say ina song by asking him “how do you want it to sound?” However the partnershipworked, it really worked, and once they’d agreed on the fundamentals – twodrummers a la the Glitter Band for power, a guitar sound based on spaghettiwestern riffs, and lots of whooping – they finally found the vibe they werelooking for and Antmusic became a reality.
Listening back to the first collaboration between the new Ants, the albumKings of the Wild Frontier, it is a surprise to this day how utterlyunique it sounds. Even its weaker brother, Prince Charming, is anutter marvel of invention, full of tribal drumming and multi-layeredchanting that makes it sound like a Native American gathering orchestratedby Ennio Morricone. Most importantly of all, though, Adam married this soundto a visualisation that made the look of the music as important as itssound.
Looking back at the publicity photos, it is almost unbelievable thatthe rest of the band went along with something that, in this grey age, wouldbe 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 conservativeera 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” – onecan only marvel that there was ever a meeting when grown men were told theywere going to be dressed like Jack Sparrow and agreed wholeheartedly – evenbefore they knew that Antmusic was going to take off in the way that itdid.
However, as the pressure of stardom took its toll, Adam’s muse began toleave him. The signs were there on Friend or Foe (whose cover,remember, is a screen grab from his performance on the light entertainmentCannon and Ball Show), which delved deep into his personal troubles. Thelyrics of Made of Money (“you think I am made of money. my accountantthinks that’s funny”) are particularly striking in this regard – how oftendoes the word accountant get used in a pop song? Goody Two Shoes,both lyrically and visually, tried to deal with the press’s obsession withhis teetotalism, and Here Comes the Grump (“when you get a number onethe only way is down”) his wrestling with the pressures of fame.
Of course, all this had been invited and courted by Adam, who made gooduse of the growing tabloid interest in the gossip surrounding the world ofpop. Getting on kids’ TV shows was a part of an exposure strategy that nowforms the backbone of most pop music PR activity, but was a relatively newconcept 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 theupside of free publicity without the intrusion into their personal lives.
On Friend or Foe, Adam shed the make-up and the eighteenth-centurytogs in true Mike Yarwood “…and this is me” style. When he put the puffyclothes back on for Strip, recasting himself again as an eighteenth-centurylibertine, and the astronaut suit for Apollo Nine (on the “back tobasics” album Vive Le Rock) it was obvious that his sun had set. Adamscowls at the fact that he was not invited to sing on the Band Aid record inlate 1984, which featured the new royalty of British pop music – GeorgeMichael, Boy George, Simon Le Bon – but was happy with abottom-of-the-bill slot at Live Aid, all of which indicated how far the rothad gone.
Yet Adam could not, and still cannot, let go of the fact that hewas once a star and it does seem that his manic depression has beenexacerbated by this mismatch between what once was and what now is. Hisautobiography records his chart placings and his obsession with being numberone so vividly that it is clear that this decline still smarts. When hementions that a Duran Duran comeback concert in 1993 had meagreticket sales until they announced that Adam was on the bill, whether this isself-deceiving or not, it shows how much he yearns to believe that he hasthe Midas touch.
Refusing to go away and wanting to continue being a successful musicianis a double-edged sword. The experience of the Rolling Stones, a band thatappears to be irrelevant to anyone other than a tight-knit, but massive,core of dedicated fans, is instructive. Adam, as he knows, is stillsupported by legions of thirty- and forty-something men for whom his rags toriches story, his pluck and his bravery, and, above all, his unique (andarguably unparalleled) sound inspired them to start bands and not be scaredof “ridicule”.
To hear Adam talk now, it is sad to hear of his trials as aB-movie star and his breakdowns, but heartening to see him coming back andtalking passionately about music again. It will never be the same as it was25 years ago, but if he can get even sour old Paul Morley, whosearcher-than-thou attitude was overwhelmed by the majesty of the PrinceCharming tour in 1982, to write the sleeve notes to his latest BestOf, then maybe it really is time for Adam to put the show back intoshowbusiness, with the Ants leading the invasion.