Adam Ant: ‘Forget the X-Factor, I’m bringing back pop’s sex factor’
The iconic rocker is dusting off his debut album, Dirk Wears White Sox, for a series of shows this week at Islington Assembly Hall. Here, he explains the unique ethos behind his music that spurred the 1980s’ famous ‘Antmania’.
After undergoing extensive refurbishment four years ago, the grade II listed Islington Assembly Hall is a true pearl of Upper Street. Retaining much of the art deco interior design that was present at its opening in 1930, on the day I visit it appears to be playing host to some sort of wedding reception, with the bride and groom scurrying excitedly around its terrace with their respective entourages.
Oblivious to this whole charade is a heavily built, goateed musician who can’t seem to find the toilet. Covered head to toe in leather and sporting a cowboy hat that lends the whole outfit a whiff of YMCA, late arrival Stuart Goddard – aka. Adam Ant – moodily shifts his way through the crowd and eventually disappears up a staircase, which turns out to be the wrong way in any case.
All this is quite amusing for an interviewer. I’m pushed in and out of coffee rooms and told “Adam needs some space to settle”, before his manager and assistant eventually lead us into the Hall’s beautiful music venue – the former now so flustered that his coffee’s spilling all over the hardwood floor.
“I just think it’s a lovely theatre; it’s probably the best theatre in London right now,” says Ant of the space and you can see why. Now sat up high on its ornate balcony, the 60-year-old immediately seems more at ease, even though there are three cameras pointed at us recording the conversation (one is ours, two are his).
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We’re here because for the next four days, the Primrose Hill resident will be performing his 1979 debut, the punk-inspired Dirk Wears White Sox, in its entirety.
While fans who witnessed the peak of ‘Antmania’ back in the early 1980s might favour the albums that delivered hits such as Stand And Deliver and Prince Charming, this record holds a special place in Ant’s heart.
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“I think that in the earlier part of your career, there’s a great fondness for it,” he explains. “The three years we were making that record we were in kind of a punk band, just playing clubs and really just building a following. The hits came after that, but this was a time when you didn’t really have the responsibilities of money and fame and all that stuff, so there’s a genuine affection for the songs.”
To make up the length of a standard concert, Ant will also be playing his best loved hits and will be supported by a host of new bands each night, including psychedelic four piece Telegram and indie quintet The Savage Nomads.
Having handpicked each act himself, he’s keen to sing their praises.
“They look as good as they sound; instead of the X Factor, I think it’s the Sex Factor because they’re all pretty sexy and I think there’s a certain degree of sexuality missing from rock ‘n’ roll right now. It makes me up my game a bit which is good and it’s also good for kids to see new bands that are playing every night wherever they can and putting on a show.”
The fact that he values their aesthetic should come as no surprise. Here’s a man whose cheekbones adorned thousands of bedroom posters in his younger years, who captured hearts with bombastic outfits channelling characters such as highwaymen and pirates.
Such adulation came at a price though. At the height of his success, Ant found himself overburdened and overworked, releasing four singles and an album a year, with a couple of world tours thrown in around that for good measure.
“No one can prepare you for that kind of success. One minute you’re looking for 20 pence to get on a bus and the next you’re selling a quarter of a million records, which is everybody’s dream, but when that dream comes true, there’s no preparation for that.
“Everyone’s telling you it’s going to last for five minute so you work much too hard and if you do that for ten years, it’s going to take an effect on you and I think it took an effect on me.”
The treadmill eventually led to the break up of his band, Adam and the Ants, in 1982, and since then, his struggles with bi-polar disorder have been well documented, notoriously leading to admission into psychiatric care in 2002 after breaking a Camden pub window and trying to escape its staff by brandishing a World War II starting pistol.
He’s understandably reluctant to talk about this period, but after taking a break from music, the Marylebone-born musician returned to touring in 2010 and he seems rejuvenated by it. His new single, The Rokka, is out now, while his next album, Bravest of the Brave, is scheduled for release early next year.
Asked what fans might expect, Ant says he’s always tried to avoid jumping on the latest bandwagon, which explains his unwillingness to align himself with popular movements of the ‘80s – “the New Romantics are nonsense to me, there’s nothing new about it and nothing romantic about it” – but there are several core ingredients he hopes remain prominent.
“Great rock ‘n’ roll – great pop music – always has four elements: sex, subversion, style and a sense of humour. I think Elvis had that; I think everyone that I’ve personally enjoyed has had that. And also all the people that I happened to like were very well dressed; they dressed in a way outside of what they wore when they got out of bed or went down to buy some chips.
“I think in some of the great rock ‘n’ roll, people do reinvent themselves – I did, I mean Stuart and the Ants wouldn’t sound as exciting. Going out on stage, I think it’s your duty to take people outside of themselves so when they go out, they think about it. You’re not phoning it in, you’ve made an effort and that goes for everybody on stage with me.”
There’s a lot to like about Adam Ant. I like that, unlike most modern artists, interviewing him isn’t just like going to the pub with a friend. All the fuss with his entourage, all the lofty pretentions – “I’d rather be thought of as an artisan, not an artist” – it feels over the top, but isn’t that the whole charm of classic rock ‘n’ roll?
At 60 years old, he’s still trying to put the sex factor back in pop. Let’s hope he delivers.
Adam Ant performs Dirk Wears White Sox at the Islington Assembly Hall from tonight until Sunday. Visit adam-ant.com. Watch our exclusive video interview with Adam online at islingtongazette.co.uk