Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Foundations Of An Insect Nation

One of the iconic figures of modern popular music to have emerged from the British music scene during the early 80s has to be Adam Ant. The embodiment of mirth, mischief, and downright unabashed decadence, he became a poster boy for the entire ‘New Romantic’ music movement, a faction that was as much about high fashion, as it was about music, and which emerged as the glamorous antithesis of the dour iconoclasm that defined punk. That’s not to discount the quality of music on offer from the ‘New Romantic’ fraternity, but its vanguard acts such as Duran Duran, Japan, Culture Club, Spandau Ballet, A Flock Of Seagulls, and Adam And The Ants, came to represent more than just the music they played. They became as notorious for indulging in a playful, yet carefully constructed lavishness of image, that in spite of its almost lurid debauchery, was irresistibly alluring in its charms. None embodied this notion more so than Adam Ant, whose immaculately conceptualised persona, stretched the ‘New Romantic’ model to its very limits, all the while doing so with a cheeky grin, and slightly manic look in the eye. But the years preceding the highpoint of Adam Ant’s notoriety, witnessed the evolution of a unique creative spirit in the post punk world of the mid to late 70s, and the emergence of a seminal new wave artist.

London born Stuart Goddard, reportedly was first inspired to pursue life as a pop star, whilst attending a concert by art-rock heavyweights Roxy Music, at the Rainbow in 1972. Then only 18, Goddard undertook a stint at the renowned Hornsey College of Art, before ditching his studies in favour of pursuing a music career. He worked with several punk style outfits, prior to meeting bassist Andy Warren in July ‘76. The pair formed a band called the B-Sides, but following their attendance of a Siouxsie & The Banshees gig at the Roxy during April ’77, Goddard was inspired to adopt a whole new look and sound for the band. He assumed the moniker Adam Ant, vocalist and focal point of the Ants, his backing band, which comprised Warren, guitarist Lester Square, and drummer Paul Flanagan (with occasional female vocalist and image consultant, Jordan, in tow). They adopted the standard guitar driven post-punk rock musical style, with customary snarling, hard edged attitude, but their live shows quickly gained Adam And The Ants a reputation, on account of the sadomasochistic theatrical elements incorporated into their stage act at venues like London’s famed Vortex club. The Ants line-up was reasonably fluid during the first year of its existence, with ex-Desolations Angels’ drummer Dave Barbe coming on board Adam’s ‘insect nation’. Guitarist Lester Square departed, replaced initially by Mark Ryan, who in turn gave way to Matthew Ashman (ex-Kameras). The leather clad Adam And The Ants’ lavish and lurid stage act, soon brought them to the attention of indie filmmaker Derek Jarman, who offered Adam a part in his infamous ‘punk’ flick ‘Jubilee’. The film was released in February ‘78, and also featured two Adam And The Ants songs on its soundtrack - ‘Plastic Surgery’ and ‘Deutcher Girls’ (released later as a single in 1982 - UK#13).

Later in ‘78 Adam And The Ants released a one off single on the Decca label, titled ‘Young Parisians’, but at this point the band were still relatively unknown beyond the borders of their still fledgling ‘insect nation’. At this stage the group’s sound was a jagged edged, at times dark, post-punk mix, as evidenced on Adam And The Ants’ debut album ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’, released originally on the Do-It label in November ‘79. It had been preceded by the single ‘Zerox’, but neither album nor single broke the band, though in the context of their later incarnation of image and sound, both stand as key representations of the Adam And The Ants’ formative years. Andy Warren left shortly after the album’s release (to join Monochrome), and his place on bass was Leigh Gorman. Adam And The Ants were then brought under the management auspices of Sex Pistols’ ‘svengali’ Malcolm McLaren.

McLaren decided on a radical overhaul of the group’s image, going for a back to the future approach, marrying elements of Native American, and swashbuckling pirate mythology, in a bizarrely cartoonish combination. McLaren also pushed the band into redefining their sound, dispensing with the more jagged elements in favour of a more radio friendly variation. Ant, Ashman, Barbe and Gorman released the single ‘Cartrouble’ in February of 1980, but just a month later McLaren convinced Ant’s backing band to leave the ant farm, and join a new project called Bow Wow Wow (see future post). Adam Ant could have been excused for making a quiet exit, stage right, but the resilient artist immediately set about forming a new line-up of the Ants within weeks of the mass defection. Ex-Models (not the Australian band) Marco Pironni (guitar, also ex-Rema Rema and Siouxsie & The Banshees) and Terry Lee Miall (drums), were joined by a second drummer Merrick (born Chris Hughes - who would co-produce much of their work, and would later work extensively with Tears For Fears - see future post), and bassist Kevin Mooney. Pironni would prove to be the key addition, as he quickly assumed a role as co-writer, with Adam Ant, of much of the group’s material.


smauge said...

Essential viewing

A. FlockOfSeagulls said...

Great stuff! Thanks for the link :)

Dirtyharry said...

Thanks for that. Adam is great.

It's nice to hear people on the internet still talking about him and all the good stuff he did :)

A. FlockOfSeagulls said...

No problem at all :)
Adam & The Ants live on!