Six Legs Good: Adam & The Ants, Antbox

Sony’s Darren Henderson sent me a very early advance promo of the Antbox collection while I was at Mojo magazine. It was a thing of beauty for this somewhat lapsed Antfan from way back. There were many tracks on here I hadn’t heard since the early 1980s, and some not at all. However, reading the draft of the booklet I was somewhat alarmed at the amount of errors in the discography and liner notes (sorry Mick Wall!) so I dashed off an email to Darren, whose offices were all of a two minute walk from EMAP (the publishers of Q and Mojo, where I would flit between the two as a Special Projects newbie) and, sounding somewhat exasperated he asked me if I could be a last minute consultant, fact-checker and sub-editor on the entire box set.

I duly agreed, though it was so last minute that my intervention resulted in the release of Antbox being rushed back by a week, to the first week of December. Darren looked pleased with the results, though still slightly pained. “This is the last possible week we can release something for the Christmas market. We may have even lost some ‘gift’ sales already.” Fair play to Darren, who went on to become one of the British music industry’s most senior executives, for allowing my impromptu interposition to triumph over a ‘publish and be damned’ attitude that other major labels would have opted for. As a thank you, Darren persuaded a reluctant Mr Ant to be interviewed by EMAP not once but twice, firstly with Phil Sutcliffe for Q, then with me for Mojo.

The chief Ant barely did interviews anymore, so this was a real coup.  “He can be very difficult,” Hendo confided, no one outside of the immediate Antcircle aware of his mental health problems until the following year (in fantastically attention-grabbing fashion, naturally). Sadly, for one reason or another very little of the 80 minute telephone exchange has been made public. With the advent (antvent?) of this new blog, that is about to change.

 

Dandy highwayman’s fine old booty. By Steve Pafford

First published in Mojo, January 2001

Long promised 3-CD set of Antmusic: 20 chart singles from five record labels, key album and BBC session tracks, plus 24 unreleased demos and outtakes, including vintage acetate of Young Parisians – Gallic charm intact.

“Ridicule is nothing to be scared of,” sang that most handsome of ‘80s New Romantic heroes, Prince Charming. But it would be missing the point if all Adam Ant was remembered for was one line – be it that particular declaration, or the large white one he wore across his nose.

This long overdue Ant-thology serves as a useful reminder that the first pop icon of that decade already had his foppish hand in a number of cult classics by the time of the epoch-defining Kings Of The Wild Frontier. In addition to to 1977’s über-fabulous Deutscher Girls (included here), Adam had laid down over 50 tracks by 1979’s glam-punk noir album Dirk Wears White Sox. A select handful have been included here, mostly Decca demos later to go ‘missing’ when the label went into freefall. Perhaps it was a young Master Albarn who stumbled upon them, as the stuttering chords, descending basslines and ‘mockney’ vocalese of the delicious sleazy Rubber People and Bathroom Function (the first tune to proclaim the joys of sex with soap-on-a-rope?) have pre-Britpop Blur stamped all over them. Whilst the lo-fi Lady could easily pass itself off as a ’97-era Blur leftover – Song 1, perhaps? Antspotters will also relish an intriguing extra Stand And Deliver, all background beatbox and Duane Eddyesque one-string guitar, but minus the galloping Burundi beat-derived double drums that grabbed all the attention first time around.

The quality control switch wasn’t always on after 1982’s horn-fueled Goody Two Shoes: Puss ’N’ Boots was one pop pants too far, the sub-industrial USSA crudely cribs Bowie’s Fame, while Manners And Physique is an aphoristic Do The Hucklebuck for porn stars. Antbox does, however, end on a high: the lilting, acoustic beauty of 1995’s Wonderful has to be one of the finest Ant recordings. Its certainly a very personal, individual statement. And individualism is nothing to be scared of.

 

ADAM ANT TALKS TO STEVE PAFFORD

 

Is there anything missing from Antbox?

Legalities prevented me from including anything from Persuasion, an album I recoded for MCA in 1991. It’s still tied up and I don’t think it’s ever gonna come out. Early things like Puerto Rican weren’t really good enough to go on, as well as demos like Beat My Guest that sound very different to the versions we recorded as B-sides. I think it was better to go for the Decca songs that hadn’t been out in any form. They really kick ass, listening to them now. Had they been released at the time it may have been a different story.

Which songs still stand up?

Cleopatra and Physical always go down really well live. Dog Eat Dog is an unusual, powerful song to sing, with those low harmonies – that was quite a job to record! Because of the video I have to put Stand And Deliver in there: there’s a simultaneous Antvideo compilation, with a DVD following next year. I’ve also kept diaries of everything that happened, from ’77 through until now, and I’m thinking about getting those published.

Ever been tempted to regroup the Ants?

If a band’s got Marco and I in it, then the spirit of the Ants is there; we’re the nucleus. But if it were to happen I think it would be the Kings line-up: Terry Lee Miall’s been working in America, and Kevin Mooney lives over there on the East Coast. Chris Hughes is a full time producer now, but if time allowed I would imagine he would do something. We’re still good mates, so you never know.

And thanks to the wonders of digitech, here’s the first few minutes of that Adam Ant audio interview, unedited and previously unpublished. You can subscribe to updates to stevepafford.com so you don’t miss the next instalment coming soon.

© Steve Pafford 2000, 2017

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