Ticket details for upcoming tour can be found at Adam Ant’s website.
Adam Ant is back on tour this spring for a run of dates that culminate in a key gig at the Hammersmith Apollo on April 19th where he will play the whole of his classic debut album, Dirk Wears White Sox. John Robb caught up with Adam as he prepared himself to revisit that album and also to move into the future with a a new record.
Adam Ant is back on tour this spring for a run of dates that culminate in a key gig at the Hammersmith Apollo on April 19th where he will play the whole of his classic debut album, Dirk Wears White Sox. John Robb caught up with Adam as he prepared himself to revisit that album and also to move into the future with a new record.
Few records have been as astounding and yet critically ignored as Dirk Wears White Sox. An innovative and darkly unsettling work, this is art school rock at it’s very best, and a record that is like the greatest pop record ever made on a parallel universe. Strange songs, off-kilter rhythms, great vocals and a dark atmosphere combine to make Dirk a firm fans favourite.
The spring tour is a welcome return to an underground punk classic and a record that was slated by the sniffy music press at the time, but that was the template for so much post punk and Goth music and a hugely influential art rock record that really stands the test of time. With half of the tracks never played live before this will be a stunning gig.
Dirk’s off-kilter songs hinted at a freaky world of SM sex and a darker undertow that was both compelling and intriguing and yet still sounded punk rock even with its jazzier touches. Adam was fantastically convinced that the album would be a number one but was so far ahead of the times that he was locked into temporary cult status. Decades later records like this are critically acclaimed big sellers, but back then the music press had an agenda and Adam was snubbed.
History has proved that Adam is the winner though and the album sounds as fresh and thrilling now as when it was first released.
I meet Adam in the Groucho club, in London. He’s looking in rude health and is as charming as ever. Dressed in fifties retro rocker gear, he cuts a dash and is overflowing with conversation and opinion.
We retreat to the back corner of the club where it’s quieter, and Adam tells us about the new album he is working on, and great stories from his long career. However he starts by explaining the tour which will see him playing selections from Dirk and tracks from his current album, Blueback Hussar, which we here at Louder Than War love (in our top 20 albums of the year last year).
‘This will be the most theatrical show I’ve done since Prince Charming. The first half of the evening will be when I play the whole of Dirk- not the one released by Sony, but the one that came out on Do It Records. Everything will be very theatrical- the lighting will be really important, and I will show the very first videos I made for the songs on a backdrop as part of the show. That was when it was just on the cusp of videos being invented, and I did two videos in my mate’s backyard and they will be incorporated into the show. That will be the videos for Cartable, Xerox and Table Talk- so it’s quite special, and I’m trying to make it all as authentic as possible. I will be wearing a different look as well, something closer to what I was wearing at that period.’
The return of the white faced Kabuki Ant?
‘It will be an interpretation of what I was wearing during the Dirk period. The second half of the set will be the newer stuff, but I might even give that a slight tweak, as well. I’m trying to do something that has never been seen before and will never be seen again. The other shows round the UK before London are kind of teasers for the London show and will be stripped down versions but with plenty of surprises.
I’m sorry that I had to cancel some of the gigs because I had some problems with access to a producer in LA that I may be working with on the new album, and we managed to get some time with him right slap bang in the middle of the tour. So I had to knock seven of the shows on the head so I could start the sessions for the new album. The producer contacted me and schedules were very tight. I’ve written lots of new stuff, and I’m going out there to do the work and get the new album started.’
Who is the producer?
‘I can’t say yet…’
Why are you getting a producer this time?
‘I think other people get the best out of me. On Dirk, I had to do it because no one else wanted to at the time. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I had the sound in my head. I have to get the music out of my head when I’m working on demos and ideas and onto tape. I tend to use the cost effective way to get the ideas out of my head in my mates demo studios, like with the last album I worked with Boz (Boorer) in his home studio . There was no time limit, and I would just go in there and spend a lot of time listening to the ideas and then go back in and put it down again. The technology now makes it so easy. I do like going to the studio, the ritual of it all is really special. On Dirk, I do think that I achieved something. It was recorded in an old school studio, in Primrose Hill. We recorded the backing tracks live and I put the vocals over it after. We didn’t demo most of it at all. We just went straight in and did it.’
Has revisiting the album has been an interesting experience?
’It has been the biggest challenge of my career so far. Five of the songs we have never played live before and I had to get my head round it and the interpretation of the songs to make it satisfying for the audience at the upcoming gig who know and like this album. I genuinely wanted to do Dirk because it was the album that got the shit kicked out of it by journalists at the time like Paul Morley.
I still remember the headline when it was reviewed. It was my first headline and he didn’t even take the trouble to review the album on its own. It was shared with Throbbing Gristle and it said ‘the burks that lurk in the corner of your psyche’- that fucking hammered me, and it really did effect me.
The NME was powerful then, but the album did 20 000 in the first week and was the first independent album chart number one. I was down in Spitalfield’s market the other day and it freaked me out when there was this stall that sold old NME’s and Sounds. There was a Sounds with me on the cover, and I bought that and in the NME there was a Paul Morley interview and the headline was about Brando, de Niro and me. It was comparing me to all those people and I thought it was strange that within the course of less than two years Morely had gone 180 degrees because we had made it. I see him sometimes on the TV, and all I can think is that he has a great face for radio…but putting all that aside (laughs).’
Why did press have it in for you?
‘They didn’t like the SM stuff, and they didn’t like my humour and they didn’t like my graphics. Nick Kent was the worst, saying if Adam can get away with SM crap then he can get away with anything, but these writers had never heard of Alan Jones or Andy Warhol or the pop art movement because they were so far up Joy Division’s arse. They couldn’t even understand what I was doing. It was not even in their zone. ‘
In a way, the press hate cemented your reputation. The punks saw the Ants as the last great outsider band of the movement.
‘Every night now I sing Press Darlings and every night Garry Bushell- that famous stylish person get a slagging, and so does Nick Kent, as well. Whatever he writes for the rest of his life there is someone somewhere out there calling him a cunt to thousands and thousands of people with that song. Young, old and future generations will hear that song, and that will last a lot longer than a column. I believe in getting even. I’m a Romeo, and I don’t believe in letting people shit on me. If you hit me I will hit you back a lot fucking harder, and that still goes on today. I’m still having a pop.’
You get better press now though…
‘The thing was that it really matters in the beginning, and you really need it when you start. It’s all very well being the anti-hero on the outside but because of the press I couldn’t get signed to Sony for three fucking years. Everyone else was getting signed- even the Banshees got signed. We were the last band to get signed, and that was only because of the publishing guy who got me the deal and not Howard Thompson at Sony, who claims the credit. When Howard Thompson heard the first mix of Dog Eat Dog, he said put more bass on it, so we went back and did nothing and came back, he didn’t notice even notice!’
When you listen back to Dirk now what does it sound like to you?
‘It just about sits in the post punk era. The songs are very simple. Joy Division and that kind of stuff was simple- Family Of Noise was very simple, Animals and Men was simple but, fuck me, the vocals were difficult, it was a labour of love that I wanted to do it all again, and it’s being filmed at the gig as well.’
It really stands up as some sort of art record.
‘I thought it was going to be going to be a number one. I was thoroughly disappointed when it didn’t make it. Cartrouble part one is a real challenge to people I suppose, but I always liked the beginning of it. What made us stand apart was the vocals. I was listening to the Beach Boys and the Byrds and the Beatles- I fucking love them. If you listen to the voices on Dirk, there are complex three part harmonies. I’ve never done harmonies that complicated since then.
With Xerox Machine Chris Hughes tried a remix later on, but he give up. He said it’s impossible and that when you record you get the moment, and it’s hard to go back there. It’s hard work producing. The only difference doing it myself is the delegation, but you can enjoy it more if you are not producing it.
You can relax, and people get a better performance out of you with the right producer, and this is where Chris Hughes came in later on. He was in the band. He couldn’t go anywhere! and we trusted him. If he fucked it up he was there. He was a producer before he was an Ant, and he took Cartrouble to another level. He added such a comfort zone for me as a singer and writer. All I had to do was listen to arrangements and sing. Having a guy behind me who was very assiduous like Chris was really helpful. He would take his time which I don’t because I’m like Elvis. I would do it in one go. I very rarely do more than one or two takes on a track. On the last album, most of the lead vocals are one voice. The harmonies are layered with a computer; it’s much easier to click and copy 6 vocals like that. Harmonies come spontaneously and usually are not that easily predictable. My guitarist friend of mine, Dave Pash, who did the Bloomsbury show with me a few years ago, said that whatever you are doing there you technically can’t do it but it works.’
The decades have seen little change in the way that Adam writes his music.
“It still starts with me singing an idea into a Dictaphone- the same Olympus dictaphone that I have been using for years. I have to get that idea down in the middle of the night or walking down the street. The only reason I got a mobile phone is so I can record ideas on it.
A demo is great. It’s like an artist doing a sketch, and once the paint is down when you have finally recorded it, it’s done, finished. Metaphorically you have got to know what colours are right and build it up. It’s where you take it that counts. Once the demo is done, it’s just a question of finishing the idea off.’
Is that why Blueback Hussar was mostly released as demos?
‘Well, some of them were demos. They just were not going to be any better than those versions- again it was about the moment but then I have always worked like that. Young Parisians was a demo when we released it. A few tracks I have done and released have basically been demos before. When we have gone into record properly, they have not got the original magic, so I release the demos. The vocal and feel are sometimes better on the original, so you go back to the demo and layer up on it and that can sound far better.
On the last album, there are four sides of music. It was always planned as double vinyl album pressed up in beautiful quality. Side one gave me a chance to put the best stuff on- like starting the show. Side two is perky; side three is dark and down whilst side 4 is the end of the show, bosh! take a bow!
It was very costly with 17 tracks because you have to pay everybody, but it’s a thing of beauty and having my own label I know how much it cost exactly and how many it sold. There is no middle man.
The album is still out there and has a life of its own. It’s still chugging along- like when I did a TV show in the States it sold 500 albums off the back off that. I did a BBC interview last week with Michael Sheen and sold a couple hundred albums off the back off that. The only problem now is getting the vinyl into all the shops because they try not to sell vinyl, but I think my album has helped to change this way of thinking.
Vinyl maybe a niche market but if the money is there they are interested in vinyl. Vinyl is a labour of love. Very few artists can sell it, but we weathered the storm and I genuinely believe the album will go on. The market will never be what it was, but I think it will grow and be healthy.
There are no apologises with the album. It may not be the best record I ever made, but it stands up. What I discovered during that period when I was out of music that it the time reinvigorates you and you come back and enjoy what you missed, and you learn to say no.
Before I would be persuaded and would regret the stuff that I would be told to do. Now if it fucks up then it’s my fault. Now I say ‘no’ if I want to. In the past, with major record labels, they said here’s what you have to do, and if you don’t do it you are pushed aside. They got 10 bands every month, and if you say no you then get ignored. You had to compete in the chart system, and I’m very competitive. I like to be number one. So it was bit of a challenge, and I had to decide not to let the ego dictate things.’
Were you disappointed with the chart performance of Blueback Hussar-, which did well for a comeback album but was not a number one.
‘Its chart position was good considering that there was no HMV when it came out. It’s was also a challenge this time because the chart is full of X Factor and R n B. So the challenge to me was not the chart position, but that people could get the vinyl because it’s pristine, and the packaging was really good, and it’s an artifact.’
Do you think that Blue Back Hussar is the Dirk of these times and the next one will be your commercial Kings style follow up?
‘The next one? it’s early days yet, I’m just about to start work on it’
Recent touring has been important to Adam.
‘You learn a lot of lessons on a big tour of America. We did 44 shows on that tour and out of that you learn things. You learn how how to do it better. The things that didn’t work we won’t be doing again- like we went in the summer which is not a good time to go even if the shows still did well. Number 2 is the routing- like having to leave America to go to Canada and then go back in which is always a challenge because you want to minimalise the risk of one member of your band having a bad rap not being able to get back in. Also, small things like doing a two hour set so people can’t get home because the transport has ended. We learned that the radio is formatted to fuck, and there is no fucking radio play. In many ways, it was all a learning curve.’
The 44 date tour was a real eye opener on many levels.
‘In Detroit we only played the gig because Jack White had paid for the venue to stay open for bands to play in. It was a massive art deco place, and Jack had paid their tax so bands could perform. The fact that a musician had gone in there and saved the music for everyone in Detroit is really cool.
Detroit is on it hunkers, and it’s sad to see such a great city like that in that condition. I was there in 1980, and it was buzzing then. It was really influential in America for bands. But it’s really fucked now- a city of 8 million people down to 400 000 people. It’s like walking down Oxford St and every shop, including Selfridges, boarded up but still in perfect condition inside. They were like Art Deco palaces full of stuff but left empty and boarded. There was one little street near the hotel where all the hipsters hang out that was still thriving with a House Of Blues down there and cafes and record shops.
The young kids had gone in there against all odds and made it work. Some bloke had got shot across the road from the hotel the night before; it was that kind of area, but this little hipster survived this kind of stuff with all the kids going down there, hanging out and making it work.
Maybe it’s the start of saving Detroit like what they did with Glasgow. When I went in to Glasgow 1978, it was terrifying! You could get killed just walking about but look at it now. It’s got great places like the Charles Rennie Macintosh museum and art galleries.
They made it the artistic capital of Britain and got rid of the slums and rehoused people and put a massive park for kids in the middle and start renovating the city. It used to be a violent, nasty place but then they started slowly investing money and got rid of all the slums which were falling the fuck down and investing in the artistic side. Now Glasgow is one of the most beautiful cities in the UK. The Charles Rennie Macintosh museum is fucking great, and it makes me feel proud because I’m part Scottish- my great grandfather was Scottish and that makes me feel good.’
‘Eventually that could happen to Detroit and Pittsburgh. They have a mayor now who is a bit like John Wayne and who is not fucking having it and not taking any more bullshit. Detroit will survive because it has to, because it can never go away just like Glasgow in Britain. Detroit should be declared the music city of the USA; it’s got the chops.’
Adam believes that as the generations move change will come…
‘What I’m finding now is that the people like yourself, who came from punk, are now the editors of the most powerful magazines and websites and things are changing. I did the Jimmy Fallon show recently which I didn’t merit from my chart position, but Jimmy Fallon liked me.
It’s a generation thing; the punk generation are taking over and once a punk always a punk. It’s always in in your heart. I will never forget that. In 1975, we were in the right place at the right time, and it’s in your DNA. When I first went to America years ago it was very conservative, but that has changed and that’s part of this process.’
Maybe they initially found you too British when you went out there?
‘I think they thought I was completely off my trolley!
I was on the Tom Snyder show at the time, and his people said he will kill you in the interview. I had the gear on, all the native American stuff and I was sitting there I was very serious about it, and he accepted that.
I already had the native American Indians on my back about the look but when I met them I said I’m a Romany and that’s a tribal culture and I’m very serious about this and I’ve studied it and we have also had lots of our people knocked off as well.
The genocide in America of the native Americans affected me, and the songs that touched on that like Kings Of The Wild Frontier, Human Beings, and even Catholic Days singing about Kennedy had been banned. Now I know I was right singing about that stuff.
Anyway at the time this good looking six foot plus Indian comes in to see me and says that they were suspicious that some white boy was singing about them, so I went there and spoke to the people at their centre. They showed me their system and their history and I basically said to to them come to the show and if you don’t like what I’m doing or if you think that I’m taking the piss I will fucking take the stripe off and not wear it again.
Fortunately they liked the gig but I had to go to them to speak to them. It’s their country and you have to go to them. I was very passionate about it, and I still am. I don’t do politics, but this is beyond politics. It’s about justice, but nobody is innocent. I mean look at our empire. I’m a musician not a politician, but there was stuff that I was singing about like I was suffering years of taming and the kids like me were inspired about this wildness, and they got it and when they came down to they gig they got it.
During the TV interview, Tom Snyder was actually very generous to me. The interview was very good. He asked can you explain why you are dressed like that. I said I’m very serious about it. I look back at it now, and I look so sad because I’m so serious, but this guy was the number one TV journalist in the USA. It was like talking to a politician and I had to deal with it. I came out of it ok and both that and speaking to the native Americans was a real test for me.’
It was not long after later that you were also embraced by Motown.
‘A couple of years later I did this big Motown TV special and I’m on stage with Michael Jackson on just before me doing the moonwalk for the first time and Diana Ross comes on when I’m singing my song- that was quite something.
My knee was knackered, so I was really hobbling, but it got me through to a whole new audience.
A week later we were travelling down south. We stopped at this restaurant, and there were these lovely black ladies in the restaurant and they said you’re that Adam Ant guy, and I went over, and they had seen the special and I knew then that I had reached a whole new America.
I did get a very strong black following, and I went on to work with Bernard Edwards but the record didn’t come out but it will do one day. This was all great for me because I loved that kind of music when I grew up on a council estate. There was an adventure playground near where my mum lived and when I was doing my homework I could hear Band Of Gold getting played a thousand times because it was the skinhead/suedehead music of the time, and they were hanging out in the park.’
The Motown event must have been surreal- was there no pressure going on stage after Michael Jackson doing the moonwalk?
‘They were all really cool with me. When I come off stage there was a knock on the door and Marvin Gaye is stood there- six foot, handsome and he said I just want to thank you for coming on the show- you don’t get many of them in your life do you?
Five minutes later someone came in and said Michael Jackson wants to see you. So I went upstairs, and I met Michael and I get invited to the Jacksons house later on and they are all in the kitchen and Michael comes down in a bow tie and in the sta press and he was so fucking handsome and so pretty and he said my father would not come down to see me.
Latoyah was there, and I have never, fucking never, seen a more beautiful woman in my life. I spent the day with Michael watching White Light White Heat- the James Cagney film with him- that’s where I got that line in Vive Le Rock from- ‘look ma I’m at the top of the world’ – it’s in the film.
Michael then said ‘do you want to look at my Llama?’ and we were creeping round and he’s going ‘shhh’ and I’m thinking ‘what the fuck am I doing!’.
Michael was very polite and very humble. He was like a pop sponge asking ‘where do you get your trousers from?’, ‘where did you get that jacket from’. We were in the house at the bridge of sighs pond, and we walked to the bridge in the middle.
Michael couldn’t do eye contact, but he asked me lots of questions. He was very shy. I asked him how did you become the greatest and biggest selling artist in the world.
I asked him how to get to the top and, I swear it was like Jekyll and Hyde; he looked me straight in the face and said in a different voice, ‘I only work with the best’- it was those 6 words and then he was back to talking shyly about the Llama.
I’ll never forget it John; those 6 words were the key, and you know it’s something I have been trying to do ever since- work with the best.
That’s part of the genius sponge like mentality- talent borrows and genius steals. He nicked my look, and I don’t mind that. He rang me up and asked where did you get your jacket from, but I don’t mind that because I nicked it from the Hussars.
In the last century there were only a half a dozen geniuses- Stravinsky, Picasso, Dali, Einstein- we’re talking genius people who don’t think in the same way as everyone else. Totally original.
Everyone else is good, but the geniuses did it first. In terms of Michael Jackson, he was up there.
Having met him personally, I think there is no way he did that child abuse. I got a good vibe off him. He was a genuine, lovely, kind person.
He was like a child ‘cos he had no childhood. His father used to beat the fuck out of him if he couldn’t get his dance steps right. This kid was working when he should have been hanging out having an ice cream with his friends. He just wanted to be a child.
I saw another interesting side of him when I did the Motown 25, though in a cool way. He was hanging with his mates, and he had this ‘oh yeah’ attitude and when I said ‘hello’ he did a special handshake with his jacket collar turned up acting cool and street!’
The Motown 25 was a long way from Dirk; that must have seemed such a different world already, that punk world.
‘You know it was always with me. I would think about the great things on the Anarchy shirts from the Sex shop. The slogans on the shirts were great. Malcolm put these phrases on the shirts, and we would say what’s that French shit! They nicked it, but they used it brilliantly. They were the champion nickers, but they used it right.
The ideas on that shirt were great. I wrote a song about Hitler’s niece who refused his advances, and she killed herself and it set him off and my question was the death of this girl could have saved the world. The question was if she had gone out with him would he have not done it but you do a song like that and everyone claims you are a nazi- oh come on! have you never seen the film, the Producers you cunt!
I find that sort of thing offensive as a Romany. My old man saw Belsen, and I’m not having it and I had loads of shit from that fucking Nick Kent.’
When you go back to Dirk lyrically what do you think?
‘There was a lot of art school influence in there. When I went to the college of art. I studied futurism. I was going to the college and learning this amazing stuff. I was working with palazzo before he died. I was very influenced by these guys. Not everyone understood what I was doing. I remember that I had a row with Paul Weller one night outside the Marquee right in the early days of punk. I get on with him now, but I was onside the Marquee handing out these flyers all in make up and leathers and SM gear. He said what’s all this, and I said it’s my band and he said ‘oh yeah? what’s all that leather you are wearing? and I was saying to him what’s that suit you are wearing?’ There was a bit of a stand off and then we went for a drink.
Those flyers were part of the whole thing. They were the cheapest print of 500 in a xerox shop. It was very much a pamphleteering thing that I still do now even now with the same lettering. It’s very direct giving out flyers. It’s that personal thing, that something for nothing and about the art of propaganda in the best way. These days it’s difficult to get posters on the street- they charge you a fortune- anything to squeeze a shilling out of you they will do it!’
Speaking of Xerox what was the song about?
‘Xerox was about David Bowie, in a nice way. I felt that it was a dedication to him. It was about the idea that you take from the best and then make it yours which is what he made a career out of.’
Going back to Dirk reminds Adam of the great young guitar player who he worked with at the time, Matthew Ashman.
‘The gig will be dedicated to Matthew. When I listened to the album, I released how much I loved him. When we were touring at the time, it was very intense. We were in a trench together. Little Matthew was like my little brother. He was like Norman Wisdom, and he looked great. We liked to dress good.
With Matthew, it was like if they had designed the perfect good looking punk rocker in leather jacket and jeans they would come up with him. Matthew was 17 at the time. He would have these party tricks that he could never get right like he would get a fag out and say I’m gonna chuck this in the air and catch it right in my mouth, if you don’t believe me watch and he would always miss and then do it again and again and after about 40 goes and then give up.
Blueback is dedicated to little Matthew. We were in a fucking trench in that band, and you got little Matthew who was like a little brother- like a Norman Wisdom, ‘why do I have to turn up for rehearsals!?” he would say. ‘Because you are professional!” we would reply.
He was this pretty little Sid Vicious, gorgeous, beautiful, but his attitude was pure punk fucking rocker, and he’s dead and that’s not fucking right. They were all great guys- Johnny Bivuoac and Andy Warren. I love those guys. All we did was take the piss out of each other all the time but when we had a ruck like when the National Front turned up causing nasty violence no one ever beat us because we stuck together. I remember the Rock Against Racism gig when 200 British Movement turned up and ‘cos we were going nowhere we couldn’t be beaten. Dave Barbe was from Mauritious, and I’m a Romany and we stuck it out until the police arrived. In Blackpool, there was a massive fight there.’
The band always looked great- pre Kings and for the Dirk period- they looked very sharp and angular with a style that, like all great bands, perfectly matched their music.
‘It doesn’t cost you anything to dress up, get a shirt- do it up, the boots from Kings of the Wild Frontier I made myself- the make up was very inexpensive. The hair would be a thousand quid if you went into some chi chi barbers with a picture of someone’s hair and said can you do this. The thing is you could get it done for fuck all if you had developed it yourself because it’s part of your style, part of your sartorial thing- like yours is.
As a punk, I didn’t adhere to the Seditionaries way of doing things and the Boy way of doing things- they would nick Vivienne’s designs and knock them out on the side anyway. Those boots I had saved up for years, it was forty quid for those boots in 1977 which is a lot of money now, but they would be worth thousands of quid these days. Malcolm’s influence was on what I wore with a lot of the clobber in this period for me. With Dirk when I sat down with the graphics for the show basically it was not just a trip down memory lane but a good exercise in simplicity. We didn’t have the money then to do it in colour, but it looked great, and the show will be the same and be in black and white.’
A monochrome set so to speak!
‘I never wore the bondage straps in the normal way. Everything I have ever done- the graphics I have kept it all -Adam, and the Ants have become art work.
Touring may have ben rough in the seventies, but it had its highlights.
‘I remember before we played Blackpool gig someone said Adam do you want to meet a legend, and there was Alan Ball I had met Alan Ball before. I loved Alan Ball. He had been my hero when I was a kid. I also loved Nobby Styles- he was a hero to me as a kid. If he came in here now, it would excite me more than Robert de Niro or anybody.
If he sat there it would be like, wow. I loved him. He was a great footballer. I wouldn’t be able to speak to him. I would be too nervous to tell him I loved him when I was a kid. George Best? I met him when he was off the drink for a while, and I was looking at him and you could see the unhappiness coming out of him- the guy was a genius with a big G.
Bobby Charlton, George Best- I was a Chelsea fan but Manchester United at the time in the late sixties was really something. I said George I saw you play at Stamford Bridge and you were greatest footballer I have ever seen in my life, a fucking entertainer. He was tiny and up against these big guys, and he beat them. It was heartbreaking the way he was; he was so humble and then he died young. When he was commentating, he was watching these journeymen getting paid a fortune- David Beckham is a nice man and a good example for young kids, but he was not in the same league as George. With George Best, every ball would do something. He would go around the goalkeeper and stand on the goal line and pull it back because he can- that’s not just a skill. These people are stars, and I’m not a star- people think I’m a star but I don’t think so.
I’ve had these situations where you meet people and obviously because their fantasy has become a reality it can be a bit awkward, and I respect that. I do have heroes- I believe you have to have them to get through this life. When someone asks for my autograph I always sign it. That’s important.
I was made up when I met Marc Bolan when I was 18 when I was with Nick from Bevis Frond, who taught me to play guitar. His mum was a teacher at my primary school. He was 2 years older than me and a hippie but didn’t take drugs, and he introduced me to Hendrix, Argent, Queen and music like that. Before that, I was into soul and reggae. He was very instrumental in that he taught me a lot about all that kind of music.
Does working on Dirk make you think about your music in a different way?
‘Listening back to Dirk gave me an appreciation of what those guys did in the band and that night playing at the special gig for Matthew a few years ago reminded me of just how great his guitar work was in Bow Wow Wow. At the time of the mutiny when they left was annoying but it ended up being good for me and good for them, as well. It gave them a chance to play in their own band. Matthew was a great guitar player, and he needed to be heard and he also had that mohican, it was the best Mohican there was.
Dave Barbe I got no problem with. Dave and me have been in the wars together, and that will always mean something.’
I remember he once told me how you and Jordan went round to his house to recruit him into the band, and he was stunned by both your appearance which he said was the most far out he had ever seen.
‘Dave was a soul boy. He came from the soul boy period and maintained his own style. If you listen to Cleopatra- he made that track with his drumming. He was so tight. If you watch him drum he has a straight back, straight as a rod- which is the sign of a good drummer like a Phil Collins or a Stuart Copeland- very rigid and very tight and he looks great. He must have been just about the only mixed race guy in punk rock.
The rhythms are very interesting on Dirk.
The rhythm section was great in the band. Look at Andy, Andy Warren. You just can’t fake that. He would play with a metal plectrum.
He used to belt me in front of the audience when we were pushing eachother around on stage. One day he went smash! right on my jawbone which was great, great performance.’
For Dirk, Adam was very much the key creative force.
‘I would write the songs and demo them on an 8 track Akai and then give the the tapes in the early days to Johnny Beckett or as we called him Johnny Bivouac who was a left handed guitar player. He was a lovely bloke. We used to call him Captain Hammer because he would get a hammer in his hand and get pretty intense! ask Dave Barbe about that. They were all mad and then you got Jordan managing and she is the woman who invented punk rock and now breeds cats. She is also the loveliest women I have ever met in my life.’
The Ants were never a band seeking trouble, but trouble was never far away in the suffocating conformity of a UK being shaken up by punk.
‘We played in Cardiff once in the late seventies and a load of Ant fans had come down. There were people like Steve McQueen, who got his nickname because he looked like the actor and Derek The Punk- these kids would follow us everywhere.
We would turn up in places like Cardiff, which was one of most violent gigs ever. The gig security was done by the local rugby team which was not a good start. I came out, and Steve McQueen has got blood coming out of his ears and I think ‘here we go…’
I remember doing a gig with the Banshees surrounded by Hells Angels and squaddies, and I went on before Siouxsie because they used to borrow our gear- that’s how we got the gigs. I come off, and there was this squaddies there who said ‘here, do you want a punch in the face?’ so I said ‘no thanks, I just got to go..’ and it kicked off. It was murder. The windows in the dressing room were kicked in, and there was violence.
That’s why I hated that thing when the oi moved in. I remember at the Roxy and Jimmy Pursey was going ‘skinheads are back’ and the next week there is three of them, then 5 of them and then 10 of them then it was 100 the 200. It killed the punk movement. I mean good luck to Jimmy and Sham- they do their thing, Ulster Boy is a good song and it’s not necessarily their fault but it brought in the wrong people.
Even in the Blueback Hussar film I cut out a scene where I threaten someone from the stage. I didn’t want that in the film because I didn’t want any violence.
I mean if someone tries it on at a gig or says anything to distract the evening or have a go at me and they are distracting me and spoiling the performance, then if I can see you then you are dead. That guy in the film that night ran out of the venue and then apologised for it later. That comes from where you come from. I’m not tough but on stage you better have a weapon if you are going to have a go. I got the mic and the guitar.
One person can spoil the entire evening. I have seen girls pushed and shoved for no reason. When I first played in LA there were all these body slammers who started up, and I said ‘stop it, what the fuck are you doing?’ I remember Derby Crash was there. He had come to see us at the Electric Ballroom a year before, and he was at this gig.
There was that geezer from Black Flag throwing eggs at us and holding up a slogan saying Black Flag kills Ants and throwing these eggs from 50 yards away- far enough away. We were playing this big star event gig, and I stopped it because there were girls getting squashed, and I don’t need that. I hadn’t come all this way after getting a number one record to see that shit. Thank fuck all that sort of stuff stopped. At my recent Electric Ballroom when it went off it was a bit it was like a flashback.
Sometimes it’s like being a comedian whose come through the clubs and paid their dues. You learn how to handle the hecklers. That reminds of the time I was going to do the Morecambe and Wise show, but I did Cannon and Ball instead because they were funnier and more popular at the time. They were crazier, and they had come through the clubs. You can learn a lot from these old school guys. Same as working with Dennis Hopper or Harry Dean Stanton you watch them work and learn.’
Years ago we saw Adam’s first acting role in Joe Ortens Entertaining Mr. Sloane in Manchester, a role he pulled off perfectly.
‘I did enjoy doing that Joe Orten play. I was not stressed, but there was a bit a pressure on me. The theatre was in the round which presented a bit of a challenge. This period to me was like before the money and the fame and the glory and the ups and downs- those early days before I made it was a golden period, but I always wanted the success. I was devastated when Xerox or Cartrouble did not get to number one even with Lady on the b side and everyone really expected Lady to be on the A side but at the time people didn’t get it.’
Lyrically the songs from Dirk are intriguing…
‘A song like Young Parisians is from when, basically, I was on the train, and there was a French bird that I liked, and I met and she liked Patti Smith, who was popular at the time. I had also seen this film about getting nipples pierced and about Andy Warhol and I was sitting on the train fantasising, and it all came from there.’
So a lot of your songs are like snapshots?
‘They still are…’
‘Cartrouble is about my dad who was a chauffeur. He got a new car to drive people around in and got up really early to go to work. He was always dressed in his cap, and he took a life of shit. People treated like him like a subhuman. Downtown Abbey? I say ‘fuck you!’ My grandmother was in service as well, and I say ‘fuck you’ to the middle classes who didn’t give a fuck about these people.
She was called Bill- my great grandmother was a cook, and they had 9 girls on the trot and when my grandmother came along they said, fuck it let’s call her Bill because we want a boy’s name, and that became her name.
Her stories were great, and they told me everything about being a parlourmaid making up the beds. She told me that Auntie Mary was in one room, and she could hear my gran screaming and there was this fucking upper class tosser trying to do her, and it ended up with them both getting the sack. I just don’t buy it. The middle class is very charming people, but some are idiots but watching these TV series… don’t give me the poor middle class thing. I got my foot in the gutter and my head in the stars. I never liked this dole queue martyrdom of punk. I couldn’t get that.’
Adam is very much a believer in getting a good education.
‘I wouldn’t have had my chance without an education and at that time I had to get a grant to go art school, I was lucky. My daughter is now 15, and I have to pay a lot of money for her education!
So many rock bands come out of art schools. They were the only place to get subsidised to be in a band. They were a cultural jolt and a big part of our history. It’s an untapped subject really. Ray Davies went to my college, Paul Simonon, who is a great painter went to art college, Pete Townshend, John Lennon, Stuart Sutcliffe, Glen Matlock – they all come out of art school.
Look at the personal of the Clash and the Pistols- it’s all in the background. Malcolm would say to me, ‘John Rotten is a poet, but you won’t learn anything off David Bowie, boy. They were always full of these sayings..the best one was when Vivienne was talking about the nazi thing which I got a lot of misdirected stick for and Vivienne had the shirts with the swastikas on them in the shop and this interviewer asked her about it, and she killed the guy stone dead when she said ‘we are not afraid of nazis in this shop…’
What can you say to that? the swastika is a symbol- what do you do? don’t mention swastikas ‘cos it makes you a nazi?’
Adam ran into the same problem when his Deutsches Girls was misunderstood by a lazy music press.
‘That song came from the Mel Brookes film The Producers. I think you should be able to make any art form without any personality involved in it. What you write about doesn’t make you that person. Beyond that, I was interested in taboo subjects. When I was at art school, I studied people like Hans Belmer. I studied erotic art with Peter Webb’s controversial book. I was studying pornography and art- what’s the difference? one is done for pornography, and one is done for art- what’s the fucking difference? He went around all the private collections around the world to see the works by the great masters that are never seen because they are judged to be too erotic. This was 1974 and some of it is up now. He wrote a book about then it called Erotic Art that I thought was marvellous, and that was a big influence on me. Hans Bellmer, Allan Jones, female artists affected me as well.
And you brought all this into the music…
‘I suppose the music was a soundtrack to what I had learned before I met Malcolm. He was great. He listened to Dirk all the way through, and he would stop and say ‘what’s that song about boy? and I would have to tell him and he would say, ‘right next one!’
The Day I Met God with the bit about the size of his knob was a bit too much, and I paid the price for that by being banned in Smiths.
Malcolm looked at the cover of the record and said ‘what’s this cover?’ and I said ‘it’s a woman walking…’ and he said ‘no, no, no! you got good looks and muscles put that on the cover. He said what do you want to be? a cult? that’s all right but if you want to go to the top you are going the wrong way about it- put your face on the cover and in colour.
No one had taken any notice of me until then, and Malcolm was really interested in what I was doing.
He talked to me about scanning the syllables in the songs like when Elvis sings, ‘since my baby left me’, he said listen, it’s 6 then 7 syllables- listen to these singers and the way they sing and he also pointed out the structure- verse chorus solo chorus verse- he said listen to Blue Moon by Elvis and sing it and that’s what fed into Dog Eat Dog and the new songs. It simplified what we did and made it into songs. I remember recently, Mark Ronson saying he finds that song extraordinary and that he plays it before every session to get into the mood.
Brian Eno was a big influence on me as well, listen to Here Come The Warm Jets. Peter Schmidt illustrations looks great I love Brian Ferry and what I say about him in the Blueback Hussar film film is not true…
The closest I got to meeting Eno was when I chatted with him on the Jubilee film.
I got so much stick for being in that film! I got slated by the music press, who considered us as some sort of jerkoff band and part of Derek Jarman’s imagination.
The Banshees bailed out of the film. Siouxsie saw that bad press coming and they are on it just on a TV screen. Jayne County is in the film and is brilliant in it. The Slits are in it and they are brilliant- smashing up that car and they really smash it up.
Jubilee was the only film made about punk in the punk year. Malcolm said, ‘I’m not sure about Derek Jarman, he’s a bit arty but he’s the only person with the guts to make a film and the energy to make the fucking film boy’.
Derek didn’t make any money; he was a very artistic person, and Jubilee gets better with age. It’s a classic, and it was made in 1977 and the east end really did look like that then.’
In 2014, Adam is the last true survivor of these mavericks, the only living messenger from Malcom, Derek Jarman, the art school mavericks- he channeled this all into a remarkable album called Dirk Wears White Sox and into he recent material and this spring sees a rare moment when an artist dares to lift the lid of this Pandoras Box of ideas that remain beyond the fringe.