“Punk is being that one per cent who won’t do what the other 99 per cent want. New Romantic doesn’t mean anything but Punk… Punk is that one per cent who will wear what they want, say what they want, play what they want. It’s about being subversive.” Is Adam Ant, multi million selling recording artist and one-time ’sexiest man in America’, surprised at his iconic status and commercial success?
“I never expected it, exactly, but I guess there’s a yearning for the subversive in a lot of us.”
It’s hardly a very ‘punk’ for the announcement of Ant’s upcoming ‘Greatest Hits’ tour: I find myself on a rainy Tuesday lunchtime at ‘Under The Bridge’, the Chelsea FC-owned venue under Stamford Bridge stadium, surrounded by middle-aged journalists and being served shrimp and caviar bruschetta.
After an afternoon of waiting – “he likes to talk” is all that can be offered by way of explanation – I am finally ushered backstage to meet Adam Ant, who, close up, is still remarkably chiselled for his 56 years and an awful lot friendlier than I had dared imagine; though perhaps the fact that I don’t thrust a dictaphone in his face and immediately ask if he is still mad has something to do with it.
We talk about his forthcoming tour. He’s back because he “missed performing, it’s what I do. And the money (laughs).” The choice of the new record’s somewhat extensive title – ‘The Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter’ – was not only a case of “seeing if it would fit down a record sleeve”, as Ant jokes, but also helps to signal the “Terminator style” return of “that innocent 21 year-old”, the Ant of the early days, who has come out the other side of a beating, of ‘marrying the Gunner’s daughter’. When I ask about what constituted this “beating”, the answer is blunt: “I was with a major record label. We had a contract to put out ten albums in as many years. That’s a fucking lot.”
Despite this evident strain, his memories of that time are not all spoilt by bitterness: “Although financially,it was sodomy, creatively I had control”. Ant explains to me how as an artist (he studied Graphic Design at Hornsey College of Art) he was given the freedom to develop every aspect of the band’s output.
“I had done a film course, and my knowledge of storyboards and directing meant that I could be part of that incredible (MTV music video) revolution. Everything I do, and have done, is very filmic…You’ve got the Blueblack Hussar as a quasi-Terminator figure…right back to the first album (‘Dirk Wears White Sox’), inspired by Dirk Bogarde”.
As we’re discussing visuals, a word on Ant’s iconic look is only natural : “Yes, ‘the stripe’ (from the ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ album sleeve image) was part of that too. I have such a short attention span, as does the public I’m performing for, and so I’ve always felt the urge to keep moving, to keep changing. And this reflects in my music – people expected the traditional three-chord punk from the first album, but this record is all about the future.”
From the future to the present: is there anyone recording now who manages to incorporate such a strongly visual aspect into their musical output as Ant?
“Brian Eno has always had the perfect balance. In my eyes he’s had the perfect career – his music really is art and he’s never been pigeonholed. And I think Lady Gaga. She’s set herself the task of appearing in a different outfit every time, always producing a new look – and it’s difficult. More power to her.”
And how is Ant feeling about his “next onslaught”, his first record and full tour in fifteen years?
“I have it in my mind that now I have to work to win over every audience I play for. Why should someone of your age have any idea or care about who I am? I have to work hard to convince you.”