There is a case to be made that Adam Ant was the last great British pop star. There was a bunch in the 1980s of course Boy George, Simon Le Bon, Annie Lennox, Morrissey. And a couple in the 90’s (I’m looking at you Robbie Williams), but Adam Ant was a pretty bloody fantastic pop star. He looked great, he had a series of fantastic ‘looks’ and made sensational hit records. He photographed well and was a perfect bedroom pin up for a generation of teenagers looking for glitz and glamour, that was not as po-faced and serious and some of the other New Romantic pop stars. Dressed like a pirate, or a ‘dandy highway man’ he was easy to mock, but we loved him. And as he himself assured us in Prince Charming, ‘ridicule is nothing to be scared of’.
The near capacity audience at Melbourne’s Palais Theatre has taken this credo to heart and there are many rows of swash bucklers, some sporting braided jackets, some with bandanas and others wearing Adam’s white stripe across their noses, (which he no longer uses and could be considered insensitive cultural appropriation in these more enlightened times). But it’s an Ant crowd and they do like a dress up.
The new version of The Ants, crank into Dog Eat Dog and are sounding mighty. From the wings appears the man himself, dressed in a leather variant of his famous pirate outfit and wearing a Napoleonic hat. He has bandanas tied on his belt and he is soon twirling around on one foot and it’s like the last 36 years never happened. His voice is great and he is giving it maximum Ant. Second song in is Antmusic and the entire place loses it’s collect minds. Rat-tat, rat-tat-ta-tat, rat-tat, rat-tat-ta-tat, that rims hot rhythm at the start, the glitter beat drums, zanging guitar, the chanting backing vocals the catchy chorus and the concise guitar solo make this one of the most iconic pop records of the era.
The lyrics are a rallying cry for young people to “unplug the jukebox and do us all a favour, that music’s lost it’s taste so try another a flavour, Antmusic.”. It’s a classic pop device like The Who’s The Kids are Alright, Gary Glitter’s Leader of the Gang, My Chemical Romance’s Black Parade, it’s an invitation for people to join something that offers them more than they currently have. Remember this came out in 1980, with the UK emerging from the grey Thatcher era recession, the anger of punk and the beginnings of the New Wave. Adam Ant had been around for a while as essentially a punk act with pop sensibilities and had released his first album Dirk Wears White Sox in 1979. It’s a pretty good record with singles like Xerox and Car Trouble showing the potential of where he might be heading. It hadn’t done well and he famously turned to Sex Pistols guru Malcolm McLaren for career advice. McLaren demanded a suitcase full of cash and gave Adam some records of Burundi drummers and some books about pirates. He suggested that he write a song about Antmusic. He then promptly proceeded to steal Adams entire band as the basis for Bow Wow Wow. But out of all that, he found a new song writing partner Marco Pirroni (formerly of UK punk outfit Models) and combined those Burundi drum, glam rock, spaghetti westerns and pirates into what would become a phenomenon all over the world. Kings of The Wild Frontier was released in 1980, before the first Duran Duran or Spandau Ballet records and the cartoony glamour of the outfits and poppiness of the tunes, meant everybody could join the Ants Invasion.
Next up is Feed Me to The Lions, and I realise I am the only one here tonight that did not get the memo that he was doing all of the classic album Kings of The Wild Frontier from start to finish, in order. It quite clearly states this on the poster, but as I’d travelled from Adelaide, I hadn’t actually seen a poster. This is a very exciting realisation. Kings of the Wild Frontier is one of the most perfect albums of the 80’s. Like the first Smiths album, or Human League’s Dare, there is never a misstep, even the tracks that might be considered ‘filler’ are fantastic. Kings was on high rotation for a very long time in my house, so I know every track inside out and each new song they launch into sends a thrill through the collective spines in the audience. The Morricone guitar of Los Rancheros, Ants Invasion, Killer In The Home, are all here delivered with the swagger and bravado that made it such an attractive release so long ago. I’m thrilled to be singing along with Jolly Roger and Human Beings. During this part of the show Adam doesn’t say anything at all between the songs. At the completion of The Human Beings he says “Hello Melbourne, that was all of Kings of the Wild Frontier, from start to finish in the original order, with no introductions. Here is something else you might fancy..”
And he is quite correct Beat My Guest was the b-side of Stand and Deliver and in 1981, when you had to go to the store and buy the round plastic disc with the magical noises on it, you often would become very attached to the song on the other side of the hit single. And while the set tonight mainly sticks to the hit songs, there are a handful of those delicious b-sides included for the die hards. But more of that later. The rest of the main set is 100% classic Ant singles. The under rated Viva La Rock, Friend or Foe, the excellent Desperate Not Serious all come in rapid succession and lead us to a big sing-a-long version of Prince Charming. Cartrouble is a highlight for me personally, but may have lost a few people who didn’t go back to the Dirk era. Strip came out in 1983, as did Puss’n’Boots, which turns up shortly after.
Some of the wind had gone out of the sails (and sales) for Adam by that time in his career. He was trying acting in the USA and Ant fans in the UK had many other sparkly pop star options. I still love those records and was happy to hear both. Sandwiched between them was possibly my absolute favourite Adam Ant song. Apollo 9 was released in 1984 and is one of my most loved records of the 1980’s. Again it wasn’t a massive chart success, but it bloody well should have been. Tonight at the Palais I sing my bollocks off to Apollo 9, shouting the countdown at the top of my lungs. Brilliant.
Zerox, his second ever single from 1979 is another treat for the lifers and leads us very nicely to the set closer Stand and Deliver. It was the first single from the follow up album to Kings, and Prince Charming continued the glam-tastic framework set by it’s predecessor. Stand & Deliver was a tale of well dressed highwaymen, (‘Your money or your life’ he sings in the chorus) but also covers the important subject of presenting yourself well, “It’s kind of tough, to tell a scruff, the big mistake he’s making”. It is also the song which contains that whole ‘Far-diddly-Qua-Qua’ business. All of these singles had great video’s, full of Adam in his latest character creation, wooing some young lady, and cameos by British celebrities like Diana Dors and Lionel Jefferies. They are still great fun to watch, but for such an A-Grade pop star, Adam was a pretty B- lip syncher. Just be prepared if you watch any of these links.
After a short break the band (two drummers just like in the old days) return and they launch into Goody Two Shoes and it’s bloody awesome! (You don’t drink, don’t smoke, WHAT DO YOU DO?) and everybody is getting their second wind. There were only a couple of significant singles missing tonight. Firstly Ant Rap (Marco Merrick Terry Lee, Gary Tibbs and yours truly), which is not particularly missed truth be told. No of those guys are still in the band and it wasn’t his finest work. But I was surprised that his brilliant come back single Wonderful from 1995, didn’t get an airing.
The rest of the encore is really for the faithful. Lady/Fall In combines the b-sides of his first single Young Parisians and Ant Music, Red Scab was the flip of Goody Two Shoes and they finish up with Physical (You’re So…) the b-side of Dog Eat Dog.
This is Adam Ants second visit to Australia in recent years and I can only hope he continues to bring his excellent Antmusic for Sex People down under on a regular basis, perhaps an Adelaide show next time please?
Review by Ian Bell
Dog Eat Dog
Feed Me to The Lions
Killer In The Home
Kings of the Wild Frontier
The Magnificent Five
Don’t Be Square Be There
The Human Beings
Beat My Guest
Viva Le Rock
Friend or Foe
Desperate Not Serious
Cartrouble (part 2)
Stand & Deliver
Goody Two Shoes
Lady / Fall In
Physical (You’re So)