adam and the ants

Showing 18 posts tagged adam and the ants

Do people talk about Jordan much these days? Once—for a year or three—she mattered quite a lot. Pamela Rooke of Seaford, East Sussex, shop assistant and courageous clotheshorse to the Westwood/McLaren project, travelling by train up to London from the English south coast in angular facepaint, slashed latex and safety pins (or whatever the current Sex/Seditionaries look happened to be), and thus had daily to face down the everyday lecherous hostility of fellow commuters confronted with this vision.
Vision that’s a cliche today, which nobody before a certain point knew how to process (and this was the point). She starred alongside JRotten at the first ever Pistols performance, at the 1976 Valentine’s Ball in Andrew Logan's loft-studio — and was photographed as Rotten undressed her, which was of course the media-grabby point that launched all. Within the year, she was the figurehead of a trio of newbies in Derek Jarman's film Jubilee, debuting as a film-performer alongside unsettling ball of jittery psychic energy Toyah… and a quiet, young-looking, very sweet, very VERY cute Adam Ant. Other music scenesters feature — including poor old Gene October of Chelsea, a very put-upon pre-sex-change Wayne County, and the Slits smashing up a car — but Jordan, Toyah and Adam, as Amyl Nitrate, Mad and the Kid, respectively, are the select representatives of this new craze sweeping the nation's youth blah blah.
Not to mention that she sang on-stage with Adam, in Adam and the Ants — and managed them too, for much of 1977. Because the full story of Adam Ant is never — of course — the story of just one person: no story ever is. And I hope what I’ll be sketching here, or attempting to, is the sheer tumult of contradictory material that pours through the startling and hugely engaging figure he would cut, for a year or three, at the beginning of the 80s. Stars are made of the crowds that surge through them: I won’t begin to be able to discuss every single significant Antperson — because of course how he created his audience and how they reshaped him are both also part of the story. It’s a tale with an enormously potent and arresting imperial phase — not that long, and over in some ways some time before anyone realised it was over — bracketed at its latter end by a very long and often dispiriting tail-off, in which the echt Antspirit can nonetheless still be glimpsed, only momentarily and occasionally. And it’s preceded by a very compacted, accelerated, clotted story, tricky with hindsight to unravel, partly because so very embedded in another narrative, very over-told, much mistold: this new craze sweeping the nation’s youth blah blah.
Punk’s tragedy (I’m channeling Jon Savage here, I think) was that it got so vast so fast, that its power (which no one anticipated) simply overwhelmed its subtleties; for those who started it became quickly crisis management and bitter recrimination, even as a (simplified) look and a (super-simplified) sound swept all rock, all pop. This, however, is the story of Stuart Goddard, former art student (Hornsey of course), who once upon a time walked the King’s Road in a torn leather jacket, so that passersby could read the word FUCK razored onto the skin of his back — that word helpfully razored by his friend and co-conspirator Jordan…
(Many thanks to Hendrik for scheduling this, and thanks to everyone who’s said they’re looking forward. Writers aren’t usually aware of the queue outside the theatre — it’s quite daunting! I feel like some kind of tiny pop star!) High-res

Do people talk about Jordan much these days? Once—for a year or three—she mattered quite a lot. Pamela Rooke of Seaford, East Sussex, shop assistant and courageous clotheshorse to the Westwood/McLaren project, travelling by train up to London from the English south coast in angular facepaint, slashed latex and safety pins (or whatever the current Sex/Seditionaries look happened to be), and thus had daily to face down the everyday lecherous hostility of fellow commuters confronted with this vision.

Vision that’s a cliche today, which nobody before a certain point knew how to process (and this was the point). She starred alongside JRotten at the first ever Pistols performance, at the 1976 Valentine’s Ball in Andrew Logan's loft-studio — and was photographed as Rotten undressed her, which was of course the media-grabby point that launched all. Within the year, she was the figurehead of a trio of newbies in Derek Jarman's film Jubilee, debuting as a film-performer alongside unsettling ball of jittery psychic energy Toyah… and a quiet, young-looking, very sweet, very VERY cute Adam Ant. Other music scenesters feature — including poor old Gene October of Chelsea, a very put-upon pre-sex-change Wayne County, and the Slits smashing up a car — but Jordan, Toyah and Adam, as Amyl Nitrate, Mad and the Kid, respectively, are the select representatives of this new craze sweeping the nation's youth blah blah.

Not to mention that she sang on-stage with Adam, in Adam and the Ants — and managed them too, for much of 1977. Because the full story of Adam Ant is never — of course — the story of just one person: no story ever is. And I hope what I’ll be sketching here, or attempting to, is the sheer tumult of contradictory material that pours through the startling and hugely engaging figure he would cut, for a year or three, at the beginning of the 80s. Stars are made of the crowds that surge through them: I won’t begin to be able to discuss every single significant Antperson — because of course how he created his audience and how they reshaped him are both also part of the story. It’s a tale with an enormously potent and arresting imperial phase — not that long, and over in some ways some time before anyone realised it was over — bracketed at its latter end by a very long and often dispiriting tail-off, in which the echt Antspirit can nonetheless still be glimpsed, only momentarily and occasionally. And it’s preceded by a very compacted, accelerated, clotted story, tricky with hindsight to unravel, partly because so very embedded in another narrative, very over-told, much mistold: this new craze sweeping the nation’s youth blah blah.

Punk’s tragedy (I’m channeling Jon Savage here, I think) was that it got so vast so fast, that its power (which no one anticipated) simply overwhelmed its subtleties; for those who started it became quickly crisis management and bitter recrimination, even as a (simplified) look and a (super-simplified) sound swept all rock, all pop. This, however, is the story of Stuart Goddard, former art student (Hornsey of course), who once upon a time walked the King’s Road in a torn leather jacket, so that passersby could read the word FUCK razored onto the skin of his back — that word helpfully razored by his friend and co-conspirator Jordan…

(Many thanks to Hendrik for scheduling this, and thanks to everyone who’s said they’re looking forward. Writers aren’t usually aware of the queue outside the theatre — it’s quite daunting! I feel like some kind of tiny pop star!)

Adam Ant - Plastic Surgery (from “Jubilee” by Derek Jarman, 1977)

The 70s: a time of social convulsion within a dense and tangled profusion of distinct and often potent cultural energies; yet a time that affected, endlessly and melodramatically, to declare society and all culture empty and dead. A time when — as various figures of very contrasting politics began to step forward to clear the ground and cull the profusion and create space for themselves — much of what was actually going to be lost and mocked and destroyed, was (in all its clunky dowdiness) very much worth not losing… 

So perhaps the first thing that strikes you about Jubilee’s portrait of its own times, is at once a documentary falsehood (this was not an unpeopled moment, yet for reasons budgetary and aesthetic, Jarman’s dystopian bombsite 70s London is very close to unoccupied) and a poetic weapon. Nearly everything that happens in the story — from its casual sideswipe aggression to snatched and sometimes lyrical moments of grace — happens unobserved by passersby: perhaps (as the Pistols promised) these have already been destroyed. On a formal level, the emptiness makes radical transformation, radical collapse and radical evil all that much more imaginable, of course — no trudge through the friction of uncomprehending crowds to stop any act, however utopian, however ghastly.

The framing conceit is just that, and considered as purely as a logical narrative is more glib than it’s insightful: Queen Elizabeth the First asks her magician, John Dee, to show her the future of her realm, 400 years on, What she sees is an abandoned, junk-strewn, ugly city, a murderous gang of girl-revolutionaries, and a demonic and lizardy tycoon buying up everything (from punk rock to Buck House) and turning it into the makings of zero-grade television.

The revolutionaries spout plenty of ultra-radical political rhetoric, but end up (without turning a hair or recalibrating a phrase) in the tycoon’s entourage, their destruction his destruction. But it’s a juxtaposition, not an argument: not montage but collage, the “most heterogenous ideas… yok’d by violence together” — a very Elizabethan mode of thinking, as Jarman doubtless well knew. This is how the film works: as an impasto of clashing symbol and mood and technique and sensibility: the perverse and deliberately bewildering fusion of past and present, art and politics, documentary and fiction, actors and non-actors, rubbish and beauty — with abrupt transitions that leave you disoriented and sometimes frustrated, semi-aware perhaps of contradictory attractions.

You might be drawn to the uncredited clip of Siouxsie and the Banshees performing “Love in a Void” (on a black-and-white telly some of the characters are watching), or to Elizabeth walking through her lovely gardens alongside Dee and the sprite Ariel — but to be drawn to both is to be pulled two ways, a conflicted fascination worth digging into.

In this clip, the Ants are youthfully focused on the music, while “Kid” himself — a highly kinetic Adam in bondage strides — is clawing himself out from within the mimicked imago of Johnny Rotten, who he very much still resembles vocally. Self-consciously and floppily anti-graceful, the performance is intensely agitated, without being terribly effective — I feel you worry about Adam more than you do about the issue of plastic surgery — and the shift straight into plot-required acting, as Adam catches his breath from singing and hurtling and tumbling, throws the staginess into sharp relief, undermining the under-directed performance of the actor playing Sphinx (professional actor Karl Johnson), who’s yaddayadda-ing the perils of the music industry.

The belief-suspending glitch is the key — there’s a 180° pan here that reveals not only the in-film audience (cackling lizard-tycoon plus industry entourage) but also director Jarman and his assistant. And then in the next scene, on top of a towerblock, as Sphinx trudges through a second pedestrian speech, this time decrying administered life away from flowers or sensual nature, Adam can’t help giggling (corpsing, as professionals call it). Actually, this particular giggle may be scripted, I can’t decide — but there are many others that aren’t. helplessly breaking the fourth wall as Sphinx and his brother (and lover) cuddle Kid and tell him a version of the parable of the devil offering Jesus all the lands of the earth (I couldn’t find this as a youtube excerpt, but see below). 

This inability to stay in character is a likeable, life-long trait that will become a key part of the Adam video act — his way of commenting, with a glance at camera and a slight quick smile, at the fabulous absurdity of everything we’re going to be caught up in. It doesn’t deflate it, exactly — it humanises it; brings into focus what’s at stake for the performers and why they’ve put themselves here in front of us (of all the male figures in the film, Kid is the most obviously formlessly gentle, Adam playing a genuine non-stage self when he’s not actually singing and mimicking and self-forming). Influence being a confused and silly word — a claim made for logical causal narrative which invariably obfuscates exactly what it thinks it’s explaining — I’m not even going to begin to guess what Adam learnt while working in this film. But now and then I’ll be citing lines or scenes — I’ll put them in italics — to force an impertinent juxtaposition, and maybe a pertinent question. 

(Currently you can watch the whole of Derek Jarman’s Jubilee here, with bonus Spanish sub-titles. It’s 1 hr 40 mins long, and youtube quality, an oblique snapshot of a moment, intolerable and adorable by turns — as no doubt intended.

Adam and the Ants — 2nd Peel Session, 10 july 1978

So what exactly was I suggesting earlier today: no Jordan (—> no SEX —> no Pistols —> no Jubilee —> no Ants) —> no (UK) punk? Or else maybe, less aggressively counterfactually, I’m dubbing her the Bez of punk, maybe? As the amiably blitzed Madchester dancer to the success and cohesion of the Happy Mondays — despite famously contributing nothing concrete to the music (maaaan) — so Jordan to the “spawning” of the revolt that followed…. but this isn’t quite right. Because Bez always had to be there, for the Mondays to be the Mondays — and Jordan’s banishment was the condition of Britpunk’s emergent and widening possibility… She needed to be there — and then she needed to be gone.

It’s bigger than just her. What gave early punk its force was its willingness to present itself as live parcels of startling, cattleprod contradiction — Jordan on the commuter train from Seaford the perfect redux of this, all sexy and fetishistic on the way to work, to say fuck right off to anyone leering. Make the contradiction the hook; put the problem out there in the open, and ride on the energy of everyone who straightaway gets what you did (they’re riding the energy with you, forming it with you). The mainstreaming (except mainstreaming isn’t quite the right word) involved a great deal of factional warfare, unpersoning and exile, based on real or imputed “crimes against the movement”. Rock-press resentment against the fancypants Jarman/Jubilee/Chelsea-Bohemia tie-up was considerable, suspicion of manager-manipulater McLaren (which he gleefully fomented) was endemic, and well, yes, there was that niggling shallow decadent Night Porter thing, hmmmm…

We came, said Marco Pirroni a few years back, from this “background of hate and swastikas and snideyness and hating each other” — and he’s trying to balance fondness and nostalgia and sentimentality and precision here: “It was very snotty, very snidey, and you’d build up this defence. I grew up with a bunch of people that were thrown together and found each other and caused something to happen — even though we may have not liked each other at the time — now I have a quaint affection for them all.”

I’ve argued before now that Sid and Siouxsie’s swastika-cosplay was (if you knew how to read it) a sign they were declaring they WEREN’T nazis — as per the classic McLaren/Westwood trollery, which set iron crosses alongside union jacks alongside badges with Marx on them, as a challenge to those who came on it: Come on, you’re smart, you work it out. Toxic, unstable stuff — and the people he sent off onto the streets wearing these triggery mash-ups were themselves young, and sometimes much more vulnerable than they seemed (vulnerability sort of went with the “getting it”, punk as the dogwhistle for the doomed, as a friend of mine once sadly put it), and ambivalent or worse about “working it out”. Can you take this way of moving through the world, and make it a nourishably sustainable basis for life, or work, or play? Or is it just culture-destructive self-immolation?

Formed in 1976 as a one-off improv assault on all art at the Hundred Club Festival — with Marco helping out on guitar, and Sid probably less helpful on drums — Siouxsie and the Banshees, once thrilled feedback had decided them they wanted be a lasting thing, spent late 1977 and 1978 touring, Adam and the Ants their favoured tour companions. The Banshees wanted a record deal that gave them appropriate artistic control. This period — which included beloved below-the-radar Peel Sessions from both bands — saw a lot of fan-agitation to get them signed, and fevered speculation why they weren’t yet. It also saw — not at all unrelatedly — a counter-pressure, attacking them as irresponsible dabblers in swastika chic, if not active Nazi-symps. The Banshees — a better, more focused group quicker, perhaps because (and I say this with much fondness!) so very militantly humourless back then — broke through this pushback, re-purposed themselves as [insert personal caress or slap here], and were off and away (very nearly taking Marco up with them at one point). (Of course he wasn’t an Ant yet…)

But the early Ants — though they had gathered a similar following — had not found their escape-velocity, or indeed the direction to point themselves. The three Antpeelsessions do have potentially terrific stuff in them, or two of them do, but the band’s identity is unfocused as its line-up was mutable, and the various ideas, stances, moods and impersonations clump into confusion and cancel one another out. The first (23 jan 1978) is actively clueless and obnoxious, best avoided except by scholars and unhappy completists: one song is shock-the-squares oaf-punk “but I’m playing a character” racism, two are identikit idiot-belligerent hostility, and “Deutscher Girls”, well, “Deutscher Girls” has a little more going for it, lofi Roxy Music-ish cartoon tango, a lyric that says, “Why did you have to be so Nazi?” (sadface ur are evil cz ur HOTTT), and Adam’s little falsetto curlicue on the word “nazi”, simultaneously coy and arch and a hint of what his voice can already do, and will do more of. Come on, you’re smart, you work it out: DG is the only song on this session where the band could say this and not be (justifiably) punched, (justifiably) hard. And some in this milieu very much wanted to be punched — and some wanted worse — but I don’t actually think Adam did. Again, he was clawing his way out of a role he’d inadvisedly dived into.

The third, 26 march 1979, is material I’ll discuss in the next post, along with their first LP. The second (see featured clip!) gives a sense of the impasse, ideas getting in each other’s way. “You’re So Physical”, a cheerless Gang of 4-ish topic — less Olivia Newton John than sex as fact and trap and chore — over a Stooges-Banshee grind, is followed by a fairly similar grind, except even slower and more Bansheesy, with the demystification this time rammed into reverse. In Cleopatra”, sex is the legendary attribute of the Egyptian Queen who took “a hundred Roman centurions for after-dinner mints,” a “wide-mouthed  girl”: the tone slips from sneering and tabloidy, admiring-demeaning, to a weird distracted slither, as if an inkling has struck Adam of the classic Antsubject somewhere buried in this silly stuff, before it slides away out of reach again. You hear a singer perhaps newly aware of strengths, possibilities, craft and texture, all but imprisoned in ideas and sounds that still block him.

Jumping to the final song in the session, “Zerøx” is actually about this, in a way, though it’s pointed at unnamed others. Apart from where it blind-quotes Anarchy in the UK ("I’ve got the best so I’ll take the rest") with the ghost of a Rotten tip-tooth Rs-roll rip, it’s modishly cybernetic and modishly Cockney, New Wave moves both, the second better on Adam, the first more suited to the song. Here’s the ghost too of the ancient punk attack on all culture, as mockery and impersonatation and mechanical emptiness, but the only spark to it is some nice machiny-ness in the guitar.

And finally “Friends”, and (at last!) the first ever Antsong I unambiguously enjoy (though this probably isn’t my favourite version): it’s a list, and it’s an irritably funny, clever and inventive list — a deft piece of cultural reference as crazy paving, different registers of types of celebrity clashing, your connections (or your consumer knowledge) as passport into mini-celebrity (and freeloading) yourself. Again it’s not a route he’d actually go on to take, the arrangement doesn’t really suit it, and the gleam of imperial-phase Antmusic seems a very long way off. But if this post has sometimes seemed a long trudge through a nasty, backbiting, unlikeable time, all unrewarding self-blocking and poor sense of direction, it’s worth thinking what it was feeling like to the Antpeople trapped in it. If it’s this joyless to revisit, imagine living there. 

Adam and the Antz — Animals and Men (from Dirk Wears White Sox, released 30 October 1979)

“This year a line formed. At one end Penetration, and from there through Joy Division, The Mekons, The Slits, The Fall, The Passage, The Pop Group, The Prefects, to Siouxsie and the Banshees. Zig-zag off the line and find Buzzcocks, Magazine, Subway Sect, The Soft Boys, or peer past the Banshees and spot [ATV’s Mark] Perry, This Heat, Cabaret Voltaire” (Paul Morley, NME 14 sept 1978, reviewing Penetration’s LP Moving Targets)

Fess-up time: I was in no sense yet an Adam and the Ants fan. I love and internalised and was rigorously true to Morley’s line — and look who isn’t on it! As a reader, small and faraway and (I think) still virgin, a gripped and naïve and shy 18-yr-old taking sides and making bold stands (in my head, risking  almost nothing) I was thrilled by this declared vector into the amazing, questing future, a world of experiment and curiosity, of traditional (haha what meant “traditional”, four or five yrs established?!) forms bent into curious, challenging shapes, “angular” shapes the term of the day, with guitar (and other less “classic” instruments) turned to open-ended sonic exploration. What astounding unprecedented mind-grabby sounds  could we start building tomorrow’s popular music in and on and around? 

First-thrust punk had failed; needed rescue (“rescue”), by these serious-minded, grey-clad young men — and a generation of young women who refused to move or speak in the ways the orthodox 50s/60s/70s had set out for them. This was exciting! And like anything which says “Away with all rules! Forward to the astonishing utopia!” it was a forest of rules, unspoken lists of infractions and no-nos (far more no-nos than yes-yeses). It wasn’t anti-pop or ever anti-past — Morley was never this and nor was I — but it approached both suspiciously, selectively, cultishly, with a morass of petty bigotries and unjustified assumptions masking (in my case) significant class-bound ignorance and inexperience.

In fairness to me: I was young, I was studying to become a maths student, I was growing up in a very rural part of the country where access to pop culture meant Wonderful Radio One (a compromised and gluey and creepy adjunct of mediocre light entertainment, as I then thought! I wasn’t totally wrong!), while cult culture meant John Peel on radio late every week-night (on a tiny wireless played quiet under the bedclothes which you likely fell asleep to). No comics (except Beano and Dandy for littlies and my mum); no good bookshops, one run-down cinema  — and all these away off in a town that took an hour to get to. And the rock-press: so reading as a substitute for listening or watching. Of course I loved Morley’s line: it was my secret canon and agenda and self-taught curriculum.

In the NME, in late 1979, alongside Throbbing Gristle’s 20 Jazz-Funk Greats, Morley reviewed the debut Antalbum, Dirk Wears White Sox: “The Ants are at the extreme of the Banshees-Joy Division line, Gristle of the Cabaret Voltaire-Normal, but neither really ‘belong’ or burst with the same naivety and spontenaity, the compelling intimacy. Adam and the Gristle academics are very sharp, but far too tame.” And so the review continues, making its argument with a succession of clatteringly juxtaposed, deliberately clashing adjectives.

As a summary of a failure, it’s patronising but fair (“Adam is ambitiously curious… but… creates no tension, no disorder”) — and boy did the schoolteacherly tone get under Antskin. He was still enraged and outraged by it three decades later, after an explosive chart and media success that should surely have settled all such arguments, all such scores: “Paul Morley, fucking message, you cunt: remember that shared review you did of Dirk Wears White Sox with Throbbing Gristle? And we both got ‘berks that lurk in the corner of your psyche’. That cunt is now being commissioned by Sony to write my liner notes. So, you were wrong. Suck my dick… You slagged me off. You tried to prevent me from doing anything. You hate punk. So, go and suck Joy Division’s dick, and go and get your photo taken with Anton fucking Corbijn, in black and white so it won’t show the weight you’ve put on, and become a fucking publican… I actually had a song called ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ that we used to play live, but we were told we couldn’t put it on the album because it was based on The Night Porter, a Dirk Bogarde film about a sadomasochistic relationship between a concentration camp prisoner and a Nazi guard. What about Joy Division calling themselves that, and then New Order? They only got away with it ‘cos they’re fucking ugly and they look like brewers.”

I probably did hear him — I listened to Peel every night, but fell asleep a lot and don’t recall — but I certainly never saw him at this stage (he was too stubbornly pervy for pop TV in those days). So I’ve no idea if he was performing with any of the insouciant glance-at-the-camera cheek and softness so evident in Jubilee, so central to his coming stardom. Listen to Dirk now and you really can’t hear it — Morley was a top-down dick about it, but he’s right. Certainly smarter and more self-taught learned than the material in the first two Peel sessions (the third session is primarily Dirk material), this is a crabbed, coagulated, scratchy, tinny LP, chafing at the limits of the then-dominant post-punk-ish herky-jerky (<— as we used to say!) approach. Clattered-up Banshees-guitar drones, sometimes with middle-eights that pop up to give us slim low-chant or nonsense-word-as-punctuation-decoration, pre-echoes of a lusher, funnier Antsound to come, except they’re always immediately swamped in the brittle, yelpy return of the gloomy-glam moany monotone that band and especially singer so needed to be shaken away from. You want them to seize these breaks and expand right into them — they’re not intermissions, they’re the thing itself! But they never almost do! It’s exhausting!

To be fair to them: “Animals and Men” gets the balance right — actual-real Italian Futurism turned into a absurdist goulash of famous art-names and slogans and silly riffs and squeaks and found-sound Italian commentary about god knows what. But elsewhere the jokes (there are plenty, probably more than I’ve ever caught) are muffled and drowned out. It’s clever and inventive and kind-of-interesting, but it wants to be acknowledged more than it wants to be liked, and this too is soon a bit of a bore: expanded cultural reference and mode of address were so very much part of the shared adventure of that time, music as a portal to new names and ideas and books and films and images and stances, plus of course more music, and yes, others were admired and loved and mobbed for this. Adam was certainly aiming for complex, playful, difficult responses to the material — the problem really isn’t earnestness or pretension so much as pervasive defensiveness.

He was (is) angry about being kept out — and now it had happened twice (punk, post-punk) and would happen again, fame and chart success notwithstanding — but face it, it would be the making of him.

(And we’re nearly there! No more vast essays! Maybe! I can’t promise, I am who I am!)

Adam Ant: Huzza for the Hussars!
“The sword fell from his hand, but his right arm was still erect, and his body remained rigid in the saddle. His horse wheeled and began to gallop back through the advancing Brigade, and then from the body there burst a strange and appalling cry, a shriek so unearthly as to freeze the blood of all who heard him” —The Reason Why: Behind the scenes at the Charge of the Light Brigade, Cecil Woodham-Smith, 1953, pub.Penguin Books 1958, p.240
Captain Lew Nolan was the best horseman in the entire British Crimean army, dashing and sexy and spirited and impatient, superb in the saddle. Lords Airey and Raglan and Lucan, perched high above the battle, the hills and valleys spread before them like a flattened map, sent him with a message to Cardigan’s lancers, the Light Brigade, to harass and attack some Russian guns, just then being packed up and removed to a safer distance. Nolan spurred his horse at speed down an alarmingly steep slope, arriving at Cardigan’s side to discover that at ground-level the guns were invisible. Cardigan &#8212; a deeply arrogant, unpleasant and stupid man, with the lowest possible opinion of his superiors &#8212; asked for clarification. “There!” Nolan is said to replied, impatiently and insolently, pointing his sabre in a fatally imprecise direction: “There are your guns!”
And so began the dreadful charge, first slow, but accelerating with extraordinary, many said uncanny discipline, into the mouths of the line of cannon, Cardigan ahead of his troops. Until, against all etiquette and decorum, Nolan suddenly darted ahead of him, perhaps (no one can know) realising a ghastly mistake was being made. A shell exploded near him and a fragment tore into his chest, exposing his heart. His horse veered wildly back long the valley, the body, stiffly upright, not toppling from it till all Nolan’s fellows were past. He was the first to die in that action, but only too many would join him. 
McLaren, yes of course, we’ll be getting to that anecdote momentarily, but before we do there’s a case to be made, isn’t there, that Adam, of all pop-stars in this moment, actually best embodied and used and put out into the world Vivienne Westwood’s attitudes and knowledge and sensibilities? I mean, yes, M&amp;W were joined at the hip for a long time, and perhaps you couldn’t slip a sheet of paper between their philosophies, but Westwood is after all a fashion designer to this day, and her vivid sense, of the feel and look of clothes as a pre-rational vector and component, in love and hate and art and politics, runs right through this story. Maybe Adam learned from Jordan, maybe he learned from the Kings Road scene as a whole, it doesn’t much matter. The sexiness of historic cuts and conservative-traditional styles, how to use the subtle shock of the old, how to weave and swerve it, how to muddle and madden and thrill with elements right there in plain sight, and yet often (to this day) beneath political-critical radar…
The jacket, the usual story goes, belonged the actor David Hemmings, in his role as Nolan in Tony Richardson’s 1968 film The Charge of the Light Brigade. Richardson was a kitchen-sinker expanding his palette; the film (if I remember correctly, I haven’t seen it since about 1972) isn’t that great. Adam saw the piece in on sale in costumier Bermans &amp; Nathans, and instantly loved it, and wore it and wore it and wore it. Hemmings &#8212; along with Malcolm Macdowell &#8212; was an actor very much cast as the brilliant young Jaggerish thing in the generational-warfare movies of that date, superbly cheeky, perilously stylish, a strutting manipulative young peacock-sociopath mocking the crumbling idiots and dusty conventions all around: and Hemmings and Jagger and Macdowell and Nolan are all in there on-stage within Adam, alongside Iggy and Rotten, and the guns at the end of the valley. 
(The internet advises me that &#8212; with much scorn and blurry pictures &#8212; that, despite the imprimatur of the V&amp;A itself, the jacket Adam wore is NOT the one in the picture up top. Others can adjudicate here.)

Adam Ant: Huzza for the Hussars!

“The sword fell from his hand, but his right arm was still erect, and his body remained rigid in the saddle. His horse wheeled and began to gallop back through the advancing Brigade, and then from the body there burst a strange and appalling cry, a shriek so unearthly as to freeze the blood of all who heard him” —The Reason Why: Behind the scenes at the Charge of the Light Brigade, Cecil Woodham-Smith, 1953, pub.Penguin Books 1958, p.240

Captain Lew Nolan was the best horseman in the entire British Crimean army, dashing and sexy and spirited and impatient, superb in the saddle. Lords Airey and Raglan and Lucan, perched high above the battle, the hills and valleys spread before them like a flattened map, sent him with a message to Cardigan’s lancers, the Light Brigade, to harass and attack some Russian guns, just then being packed up and removed to a safer distance. Nolan spurred his horse at speed down an alarmingly steep slope, arriving at Cardigan’s side to discover that at ground-level the guns were invisible. Cardigan — a deeply arrogant, unpleasant and stupid man, with the lowest possible opinion of his superiors — asked for clarification. “There!” Nolan is said to replied, impatiently and insolently, pointing his sabre in a fatally imprecise direction: “There are your guns!”

And so began the dreadful charge, first slow, but accelerating with extraordinary, many said uncanny discipline, into the mouths of the line of cannon, Cardigan ahead of his troops. Until, against all etiquette and decorum, Nolan suddenly darted ahead of him, perhaps (no one can know) realising a ghastly mistake was being made. A shell exploded near him and a fragment tore into his chest, exposing his heart. His horse veered wildly back long the valley, the body, stiffly upright, not toppling from it till all Nolan’s fellows were past. He was the first to die in that action, but only too many would join him. 

McLaren, yes of course, we’ll be getting to that anecdote momentarily, but before we do there’s a case to be made, isn’t there, that Adam, of all pop-stars in this moment, actually best embodied and used and put out into the world Vivienne Westwood’s attitudes and knowledge and sensibilities? I mean, yes, M&W were joined at the hip for a long time, and perhaps you couldn’t slip a sheet of paper between their philosophies, but Westwood is after all a fashion designer to this day, and her vivid sense, of the feel and look of clothes as a pre-rational vector and component, in love and hate and art and politics, runs right through this story. Maybe Adam learned from Jordan, maybe he learned from the Kings Road scene as a whole, it doesn’t much matter. The sexiness of historic cuts and conservative-traditional styles, how to use the subtle shock of the old, how to weave and swerve it, how to muddle and madden and thrill with elements right there in plain sight, and yet often (to this day) beneath political-critical radar…

The jacket, the usual story goes, belonged the actor David Hemmings, in his role as Nolan in Tony Richardson’s 1968 film The Charge of the Light Brigade. Richardson was a kitchen-sinker expanding his palette; the film (if I remember correctly, I haven’t seen it since about 1972) isn’t that great. Adam saw the piece in on sale in costumier Bermans & Nathans, and instantly loved it, and wore it and wore it and wore it. Hemmings — along with Malcolm Macdowell — was an actor very much cast as the brilliant young Jaggerish thing in the generational-warfare movies of that date, superbly cheeky, perilously stylish, a strutting manipulative young peacock-sociopath mocking the crumbling idiots and dusty conventions all around: and Hemmings and Jagger and Macdowell and Nolan are all in there on-stage within Adam, alongside Iggy and Rotten, and the guns at the end of the valley.

(The internet advises me that — with much scorn and blurry pictures — that, despite the imprimatur of the V&A itself, the jacket Adam wore is NOT the one in the picture up top. Others can adjudicate here.)

Adam and the Ants — Dog Eat Dog, August 1980

"For I am that pure and clarified spirit by which thou may’st turn all metals into one gold, Majesty, pluck up thy heart and be merry — for I will reveal to thee the shadow of this time" (The sprite Ariel in Derek Jarman’s Jubilee)

A radio, twirling between stations, bursts of the Pistols, the Specials and Purple: “For god’s sake burn it down!” (Kevin Rowland, Searching for the Young Soul Rebels)

“He rises!” (Ahab in Moby-Dick)

Had I space enough and time, I’d set up the entire story of early 80s UK pop as a cross-ply by-play between its non-identical polar twins, Rowland and Ant. Because once you notice it, you can’t unnoticed how strangely alike are the one’s yodel and the other’s yelp, this tremolo and that warble — plus costume changes! melodrama! slogans! ambitious cultural expansion! McLaren/Rhodes fan-fic!

Kings of the Wild Frontier was actually the first Antsingle of this new era, coinciding in July with the release of Dexy’s Rebels LP (which famously begins as described above). But the latter went wide and the former stalled (for now) at #48, and we’ve got lots (loads!) more to say about KotWF, so it gets bumped for now. And “Dog Eat Dog” went to #4, in November — and by now subcultures and tribalism weren’t just a description of the jostling of bands and sounds and fans and fandoms-as-philosophy and what-have-you in the publicly contested space, but the topics of the songs competing for chart attention. Dexy’s were hunting for the “real” — meaning of course a heightened and intensified emotional imaginary — and Adam had suddenly realised that he could INVENT it, not whole-cloth but as a unique quilt of many cloths and colours and bits and bobs and BANG!

Except he didn’t realise this, he was advised: deeply fed up of being stuck where he was, in a space where cult clearly meant loser, he hired McLaren as his adviser, £1000 buys you four weeks of wisdom, and, well, as all the world knows, McLaren took the cash and also took the Ants (Matthew Ashman, Dave Barbe aka Barbarossa, Leigh Gorman) and turned them into Bow Wow Wow: dog eat dog eat dog. Which is often presented as a humiliating catastrophe for Adam, though I can’t see how it was — he had to hunt around and finally hooked up with Marco, and the fizz and glee with which AB&G took to the BWW sound suggests they were happy to set free too. (Besides, Gorman had only just joined — he isn’t actually on DWWS…)

One thousand pounds extremely well spent — and it’s not as if the fact that the video here is pretty basic held it back. His first top ten hit: why was THIS the breakthrough? He looks pretty great, of course — you don’t see the others much, though nice to note that bassman has bondage strides, tradition there, marvelous — but you don’t see him that clearly, and all he’s doing is prancing and writhing. Hussar’s jacket unfastened over silk shirt, leather trousers, war-paint and feathers, a belt-full of little metal favours, military dog-tag, cane, can’t see his shoes but a twist of black ribbon hanging from his hair — or is it a curl of hair, like a flattened pigtail? You have to freeze-frame and peer through the dry ice to get the details and make the connections — this isn’t the grabber, not yet, not here. And it’s filmed as if live, quite sloppily, in real time in a real space — except a generic modern-scaffoldy studio, not a REAL real space. Somewhere you’d see pop played on TV, without audience, no surprises here either.

The sense of the song? Quite hard to follow, line to line: who’s “we”, who’s “you”, who’s the warrior, who’s innocent, who’s he proud of? The matchbox-mottoes don’t work together, the section that justifies the title — “dog eat dog eat dog eat dog eat dog eat dog leapfrog the dog and brush me, daddio!” — is close to nonce-word nonsense, and he doesn’t quite make the “dog leapfrog the dog” transition work, it’s mumbled. It’s about BEING YOURSELF HURRAH, but visually and lyrically it’s a bit occluded.

Well obviously it’s the sound: which is grand and striking, and subtly deceptive. Whoops and cries, two drums side by side: Burundi beat as double-vision! Against which — since this all can be achieved live, and very much announces liveness — there’s the doubleness of Marco’s guitar, big and twangy and distinct from both sides of the stereo space, the feel of veiled plurality to this sound… and the many Adams you can hear. Harmonising with himself at various points of the stereo compass, his own audience in the call and response, doubled up in the deep unison chants. His moves on-screen “cause” the percussive noises — drum-beat when he jumps or slaps a thigh, guitar chime when he jerks his arms bent at the elbow. BEING YOURSELF MYSELF OURSELVES ANTPEOPLE IN MIRROR MULTIPLICITY HURRAH. Hard to follow, or to unravel, but certainly something like this: sound layers as pre-rational vectors and components in the way we respond, undermining and pleasurably complicating what we’re watching.

The space enough and time would require me to dissect everything Kevin did in this detail, also, in respect of who the “I” and “you” and “we” might be…

(I said at the start I wouldn’t be able to discuss all possible Antpeople, and I’ve been VERY unjustly light on the many generations of actual Ants who aren’t Adam: this is partly because THERE’S SO DAMN MANY OF THEM of course. One excellent place to chase them up — and Marco’s backstory too — is Rock Family Trees, by Pete Frame, a fascinating, funny, painstaking guide to the connection of everything to everything else.)

(Also: I’m traveling tomorrow, so posting will probably be light — I’m also not sure how good my internet coverage will be till I get there, but FINGERS CROSSED!

Adam and the Ants – ‘Antmusic’, UK#2 jan 1981 

IT IS A GIANT PLUG BECAUSE THEY ARE ACTUAL ANTS THE SIZE OF ANTS DO YOU SEE?

1: Don’t forget the quotemarks in the title!

2: the light reflecting off the puddles as Adam skips along the alleyway, camera pointed at his feet (“legs come looking for you!”)

3: Third single, second cut on the LP (Pete Wylie’s music-wide fatwa against the dreary words “track” and “album” wouldn’t go out for a few months yet, but rigour is rigour is rigour): LP has same name as eighth cut = first&fourth single

4: “uh uh uh uh uh uh uh uh uh uh uh uh uh uh uh uh uh uh uh uh” (Laurie Anderson at the back taking notes)

5: the outcome of the scary insurgent outsider-subcult Antgang invading the disco (and unplugging the jukebox) is a bit meagre: yes people present gradually pluck up courage and join the anterlopers on the dancefloor — victory! — but to watch, it’s really just a milling crowd of folks mildly jigging about (apart from the lighting in the alley, the only expense in this video is the giant plug) (hence why we see i so often, no doubt) 

6: Marco can’t act for toffee, not even for fingerwagging or just looking moody

7: Amyl Nitrate: “When desire becomes reality, you don’t need fantasy any more, or art.” It’s so sad/when you’re young/to be told/you’re having fun

8: Other new elements: knitting-needle clickety-click percussion in the into, whistling in the outro, the first ever Antrap somewhere in between

9: the backdrop photo of a random fjord behind marco as he fingerwags and solos; the gormlessly terrified bloke in the crowd that the camera then cuts to; the closing shots of the plug as it rises on its liberated hind legs to follow Adam out of the disco

No.1, btw, was John Lennon’s Imagine, this being the Christmas he was shot. SO TRY ANOTHER FLAVOUR oops. 

(Long drive, short post I’m afraid — more tomorrow, when I’ve worked out the ultramontane modalities of internet streaming in darkest rural Shropshire)

Adam and the Ants – Kings of the Wild Frontier, LP May 1980, (re)released January 1981: both reach #1

Several acts had slogans before the Pistols — Feed Your Head, Kick Out the Jams, Free Your Ass and Your Mind Will Follow, Imagine — but aside maybe from P-Funk how many actual manifestos were there? After the Pistols, everyone needed one: your key condition of niche competetitiveness was that you were putting the world to rights, and not just the music world, with the how as the product differentiation. Was McLaren’s advice just this, or did it go beyond it: declare Antmusic (“‘Antmusic’”) to be a thing at all levels? What did MM say? Lighten up? Dress up? Appeal to little kids more? Use a more striated, complex, ambiguous recorded-sound space? Ignore the rock-press, they’re idiots anyway, go straight to the tabloids (they’re idiots too but the effects are much bigger and more fun)? VIDEOS ARE THE FUTURE!!!¡¡¡¿¿¿????

Time was the whole of the counterculture was what would be putting the world to rights, or at least something like this was the default assumption in rock. But there was never a time the cc wasn’t divided against itself — micro-sectarianism within radical politics is also largely a function of product differentiation, after all, exacerbated by ambition and guru-ego (what the world needs is more me!) — and after the Pistols, this dividedness was in the UK considered a culture-wide value and seen as an opportunity. And ten thousand peoploids split into tiny coded sub-cultures and meant their style

(Sidenote: I haven’t read the relevant Dick Hebdige or Peter York for roughly three decades, I wonder which time has treated more brutally? Both were straightaway rather too much used as manuals, by post-punk mini-slebs and the journalists who sorted and celebrated and damned them. Which probably simultaneously simplified matters — everyone was playing by the same rulebook — and complicated things: some people were subtly gaming the rules.)

Adam’s exclusion — he’s occasionaly gathered up under the New Romantic rubric, but he was never actually a Blitz Kid, and i-D magazine’s A Decade of i-Deas, the Encyclopaedia of the ’80s omits him completely — is quite strange. As Dave Rimmer points out right at the start of Like Punk Never Happened: Culture Club and the New Pop, “Adam, in his own sweet way, was the very first” of the new popsters. He set the context for them, and road-tested some of the moves. i-D’s beat (at least in its early and most interesting days) was street fashion, so perhaps the Antlook was a bit too top-down for them, and also tainted with McLaren-Westwoodism. Which by then seemed more of the past than the future, Bow Wow Wow notwithstanding — and even if you leave punk out of the anti-M&W response (so late 70s dwahling!), Westwood was fascinated with the opulence of costume from the 17th and 18th centuries, as having an expensive-looking sexy majesty every teenager was entitled to, however urchin-poor.

“No escape from society/Natural is not in it/Your relations are of power/We all have good intentions” sang the Gang of 4: which is the perfect opening credit-song to Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (“Except for being super-languid rather than brazenly hyper, it comes at you from the off like an Adam Ant video directed by von Stroheim —think of all the money spent on the silk underwear you never see!!” opined some dumm hack). And it’s perfect because it’s strong enough (over proto-Antbeat sortakinda) to allow that entire film — about the homelife of our own doomed French Queen and her amiable dimwit hubby — to unfold in apposition to it. (Musicially strong enough I mainly mean, ie before G04 went sludgy: the words, their most celebrated shtick, highlighter fragments from yr college lecture notes, were a momentarily refreshing variant on standard pop-lyric technique, but not one that ever quite worked even on its own terms.) (Fact is they never really had a singer, they had a hectorer — and this was a refreshing variant too, for a while. But the guitar was GOOD on the very early records.)

So ANYWAY instead of the film feeling it must keep dodging back to everyone shut out of Versailles society, and carefully position the majority underdogs, poor AND middlecass in this historical case, as our sympathetic identification, and the coming overturning as our complacently shared desired closure, it instead seduces us into feeling its conclusion as a rupture and a puritan sex-hostile destruction of lovely objects and clothes and the (quite boring) times that filled them — quite boring except for the fab parties and the noble-savage dress-up, all scored to early 80s New Pop!!

“Sublime as in whirlpools and vortices of tiny-detail design work piled up massive, as sensual and intoxicating and forbidding as the FEASTS OF RICH FOOD that also structure the film”: beauty as the beginning of the Terror we are barely able to endure/endorse… Anyway this is what Kings of the Wild Frontier the alb is abt also, except instead of destructive poors vs noble amazing tragic princesses it has destructive cowboys vs noble amazing tragic Native Americans, and you can’t tell which is which because we are all Davey Crockett now, AND plus Geronimo too, I know, right?

Make the contradiction the hook: bring the conflicts and style-war/sex-war switchabouts and tumbleovers right into the embodied striated unified performance and stance and message, and ride on the energy of everyone who straightaway gets what you did aka “DIRK WEARS WHITE SOX” as they’re finally allowed to sing, on the not entirely unGang-of-4-ish, really quite Bow-Wow-Wowish Don’t Be Square (Be There), 9th cut on the LP: “Antmusic for sexpeople/Sexmusic for antpeople/Antmusic for sexpeople nah-OOow”

John Dee: “An angel is the Sun’s true shadow” OH NO IT’S NOT…