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Music Interview: Adam Ant

Adam Ant

Adam Ant

  • by Duncan Seaman
 

ADAM Ant has been many things in his time. King of the wild frontier, dandy highwayman, Prince Charming, Goody Two Shoes. In his prime in the 1980s he was Britain’s biggest pop star and was voted the sexiest man in America by viewers of MTV.

But fame can also take its strain. When an attempt to forge an acting career in Hollywood foundered, he suffered a series of breakdowns and, at his lowest ebb, he was sectioned and spent six months in psychiatric care. Today he seems in fine fettle. Now 56 years old, he’s just days away from a long promised comeback tour and the signs are encouraging. Several of the 14 dates so far announced have sold out and appearances are mooted at several summer festivals. Things have being going so well he’s felt no need to play on the fact that it’s 30 years ago – this month – since his first No.1 single, Stand and Deliver. “I did not really think of that,” he says in an accent that strongly betrays his Marylebone roots. “The time is right, really. “Fortunately I’m in good health. I can’t wait to revisit my songs. I’ve got a great band – three girls and three lads. Initially we’ll be performing my repertoire and my new album.”

Character

He even has a new character, the Blueblack Hussar, who seems to favour NHS specs, a Shakespearean goatee and bicorn hat in tribute to Admiral Nelson.

It’s the kind of historical pillaging of which his former mentor Malcolm McLaren would surely approve. Adam says he was “devastated” by McLaren’s death last year from cancer. “There’s a track on the album about him, it’s called Who’s a Goofy Bunny?” (a question the impresario would often ask Adam). He now realises “what a favour [McLaren] did telling him the truth” about his early musical direction; when his one-time manager made off with his backing band, the Ants, to form Bow Wow Wow, Adam ditched punk, hooked up with guitarist Marco Pirroni and began dressing up in military costumes and Native American warpaint. “He was very brutal but very fair,” Adam says of McLaren. His death, at 64, was “not only a great loss to the music business but to the world in general”.

After his parting of the ways with the original Ants, Adam went on to far greater success with a more flamboyant image and sound. Between 1980 and 1982 they scored seven top 10 hits, including two No.1s, Stand and Deliver and Prince Charming. They also pioneered the use of lavish promotional videos, starring the likes of Diana Dors, Lulu and Adam’s then girlfriend, the actress Amanda Donohoe.

When drugs became an issue with the Ants, he cut loose. He wanted to be like his hero, Muhammad Ali, clean and driven. “I’ve never done [recreational] drugs,” he says now. “I don’t like them. They are all around you in the music business. That’s the reason why I broke up Adam and the Ants. I can’t have that thing around me.”

Initially he enjoyed solo success – and another No.1, with Goody Two Shoes – but a punishing workload wore him down. “I had four days off in four years,” he says. “It takes its toll. You go nuts.” After an ill-fated appearance at Live Aid in 1985 (where his set was cut from four songs to one), and the failure of his album Vive Le Rock, he left pop for Hollywood. There he dated the actresses Jamie Leigh Curtis and Heather Graham, but decent acting roles proved few and far between and he suffered a series of mental breakdowns (he was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder).

There were attempted musical comebacks in the 1990s and in 1998 Adam fathered a daughter, Lily, with his second wife, Lorraine Gibson, PR to the clothes designer Vivienne Westwood. But the marriage was short-lived and little was heard of Adam again until 2002 when he was arrested for throwing a car alternator through the window of The Prince of Wales pub in Camden and threatening patrons with an imitation pistol. In the full glare of tabloid publicity, he was tried at the Old Bailey and eventually admitted affray, for which he was given a suspended sentence. But in 2003, after attacking a neighbour’s patio door with a shovel, he was sectioned into psychiatric care.

Stalkers

Today Adam claims mitigating factors for the pub incident, alleging that the jealous husband of a market stallholder, who he had asked to make clothes for him, had made threats towards his daughter Lily. “I’d had two stalkers before, I knew how bad those people can be.” He’s honest enough to appreciate that “If you’ve done something wrong you have to answer for it” but argues he’s done his time and it’s behind him now.

After his experiences, though, he would like to see a proper debate in this country about the treatment of people with mental illness. “You have a situation here where there’s a lot of work to do,” he says. “The authorities that wrote the cheques sent people out overnight [into care in the community] and have got a lot of explaining to do. Certainly with troops coming back from the war [in Iraq and Afghanistan] with post-traumatic stress, that’s something I would like to address.” He would like a televised forum with David Dimbleby to discuss prejudice against mental health. “It’s the last taboo. They have got to deal with it. It’s education and no-one’s to blame, but the situations I experienced need changing. It’s archaic.”

The issue of medication also needs looking at, he says. The powerful drugs he was once on – which are normally prescribed for epilepsy – dulled his mind so much that “I never picked a guitar up for seven years”. “I would advise anybody taking antidepressants to read the microscopic print,” he says.

Now, in better health, he can get back to work again. He talks proudly of the “consistency” of his records: “I’ve always managed, by any means necessary, to produce the songs that I wanted to hear”.

“I love it when kids of 16 years old say, ‘I love you – my dad had it round the house’,” he says. He got into Gene Vincent the same way. He remembers how gratifying it was to hear a window cleaner outside his house in 1981 singing Stand and Deliver. “He changed the lyrics; I didn’t mind – it means you’ve reached people.” He was delighted when they used Goody Two Shoes in the film Shrek 2 and when Robbie Williams covered Antmusic. “That paid the rent for a few months.”

He’s looking forward to touring again: “It’s where I’m most relaxed on stage.” When we talk about Georgina Baillie, the most famous of his band members, he sounds very protective. Ms Baillie was the victim of ‘Sachsgate’, the telephone scandal involving Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross. “Georgie is one of the most creative, driven women I’ve met. She really suffered at the hands of those two people.” Both Adam and Georgina have written songs about the affair, Gun in my Pocket and Brother Medusa. “Songs last forever, that’s going to haunt him [Brand] until the day he dies – if Hollywood doesn’t get to him first.”

There’s a new album to look forward to next year too, co-written with Boz Boorer, from Morrissey’s band, and Ross McCormack of 3 Colours Red. It’s called Adam Ant is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter, and will be released on vinyl, CD and cassette. “No downloads –old-fashioned, old school.”

Adam is also designing a meanswear collection with his friend, Rob Lucas. The logo is apt: “An 18th century brain in a 21st century head”. It’s borrowed from a line in his song Room at the Top. “I’m glad you brought up that song,” he says. “A lot of people tend to delete that stuff [from the 90s]. But I think I’ve written a few good songs in my time.”

l Adam and The Good, The Mad and the Lovely Posse play at Sheffield O2 Academy on May 24 (Tel: 0844 477 2000), Holmfirth Picturedrome on June 3 (0871 230 1101) and York Duchess on June 4 (0844 477 1000).

 

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