Adam And The Ants: The Greatest Gig I Ever Saw

It's The Ants Invasion Tour of May 1980 and two brothers hatch a plot to escape the clutches of their overbearing father to see one of England's most iconic pop acts playing at their peak. Surely nothing could go wrong...
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It's The Ants Invasion Tour of May 1980 and two brothers hatch a plot to escape the clutches of their overbearing father to see one of England's most iconic pop acts playing at their peak. Surely nothing could go wrong...

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I’d seen Adam and the Ants before, the previous September at the Electric Ballroom in Camden. My older brother and his mate Olly had taken me, edging me past the doorman into the packed, smoky venue where the band’s seminal line-up were undertaking their penultimate show; Adam Ant, the late Matthew Ashman, Dave Barbe and Andy Warren - it was the 28th September 1979 - and for a twelve year old boy it was a thrilling experience.

I wandered around wide eyed and fascinated by the bizarre mix of people, a kind of punky-soul-a-billy mix. Standard peroxide spiky heads with the band’s name on the back of their leather jackets. A lot of younger kids, perhaps a bit older than me, wearing intriguing Ants or Seditionaries t-shirts, kung fu slippers, moccasin-style shoes or creepers. Older guys and girls sporting a look that was quasi new romantic I guess, a taster of what was to come as punk rock curdled into the sham (69) of its former self and a slicker club culture was born. It was pre-Goth and post-punk. The UK Subs and The Exploited would soon be on Top of the Pops, a glue sniffing parody of what the Ants represented, while Adam himself would appear on the same show, resplendent in gold and black Hussar jacket, one of English pop music’s most iconic looks.

Two gigs on from my Electric Ballroom experience - both at the same venue - the band had disbanded. Andy Warren left for the Monochrome Set to be replaced by Leigh Gorman, initially for a New Years Eve gig and then, frustrated by slogging around the punk circuit with an act that deserved better, Adam paid Malcolm McLaren £1k for advice that would pave the way for pop success at the expense of his band who, together with teenage jailbait Annabella Lwin, formed Bow Wow Wow.

Meanwhile I had a taste for more live Ants action. A mate and I usedto go to Soho to a shop called Fans that always had bootleg tape sellers outside. This was the way we consumed our live music at this time; £2.50 a pop and in light of the digital age of a distinctly low quality! But they still possess a raw appeal. Adam and the Ants at the Marquee (January 1978), Ealing Technical College - a personal favourite - (July 1978) and Chelmsford’s Chancellor Hall (January 1979), when the band used music by Jewish-German composer Hans Eisler as intro music and opened with a slow, spine tingling number by the name of Nietzche Baby.

They probably got a Seditionaries clothes allowance and were waved off by trendier parents with a cheery “Have a good time, don‘t forget your spliff dahling!”

The Ants Invasion Tour of May 1980 was the next chance to see a new look Adam and the Ants, complete with guitarist Marco Pirroni and two drummers pummelling home the new Burrundi sound sold to Adam by the late McLaren. To be honest, they needed two to replace self taught virtuoso Dave Barbe, whose unique style rhythmically enhanced Bow Wow Wow’s sound. But Adam was to beat McLaren at his own game. He was a clever musician, a skilled artist - he provided the still much revered
early Ants artwork - and possessed a hunger that was quickly sated by a dramatic ascent to stardom. The fact that Malcolm McLaren nicked his band from under his nose might have provided some motivation too although Adam has since shown little bitterness towards him and attended his funeral.

Despite the fact that my Dad had allowed Andrew - my older sibling - to take me to the Camden gig, we fancied an adventure for this tour. My brother had followed the band around the country before and we talked of running away to Bournemouth to see them three days after my thirteenth birthday. Romantic stuff, complete with a milk train journey home. And so the plan was hatched.  Free for a half term break, we snuck off under the guise of a day up town and caught the train to the south coast where the band were due to play the Bournemouth Stateside Centre, supported by Martian Dance.

It was a hot, early summer’s day and we made our way to the venue, shuffling about watching the London Ants crew arrive, better dressed, well connected and probably on an adventure that didn’t involve parental deceit! They probably got a Seditionaries clothes allowance and were waved off by trendier parents with a cheery “Have a good time, don‘t forget your spliff dahling!”.

We bought lunch and retired to a park that looked directly over the venue. By around five o’clock after we had a kip in the sun, I woke up and glanced down to the car park outside the venue to be greeted by a familiar sight. Looks like Dad’s car?? RLH 499R?? Fucking Hell it is his car!! And he’s even bought the Jack Russell!!

Our small black and white dog was visible impatiently darting about in the back of the Chrysler Alpine while my Dad - a big fan of Charles Bronson’s Deathwish series - paced purposely up and down outside the venue in sunglasses, fulfilling his avenging cop fantasies as he forensically searched out his errant offspring. We had no chance.

And so the plan was hatched.  Free for a half term break, we snuck off under the guise of a day up town and caught the train to the south coast where the band were due to play the Bournemouth Stateside Centre, supported by Martian Dance.

Olly thought this was hilarious of course. He was older than me but younger than Andrew and had more liberal parents. He had a drum kit in his bedroom and had worked in the Beaufort Market off the King’s Road. Dad hated anything approaching counter culture, and once actually forbid Andrew from bringing a pair of suede winkle pickers into the house - for a while he hid them in the coal cupboard and changed on the way out!! But we had been deceptive, an unforgivable crime in my Dad’s eyes.

And so it was that a comical game of cat and mouse began. After a while we snaked our way down to the venue and hid behind some garages. Once the Stateside Centre opened, Dad was still doing the undercover cop bit, walking up and down outside the venue so Olly - who wouldn’t have been instantly recognisable to him - was despatched to the box office to pay our way in. Once big Mike had his back turned we would make our move, which we did. We were in.

My younger brother had given the game away, caving in to my Dad’s incessant questions about our whereabouts by pointing at the tour poster on the wall and revealing all. He was also in the party that had made the trip from south London.

I was happily watching Martian Dance - a band I was too see many more times after some nuclear grounding - when my brother tapped me on the shoulder. “Dad’s here.” He had blagged his way in saying his son needed medication when in reality the only thing he planned to administer was a clip round the ear. We exited and made for an Italian restaurant where my Mum and younger brother were sat - at least they made a day of it - and were then subjected to the father of all bollockings before a long, surreal drive home, complete with junior sibling pulling at my hair from the back seat, gleefully indifferent to the fact that he bent under pressure and ruined our fun.

I wasn’t allowed out for a month but was eventually able to attend many more gigs, many with my bootleg purchasing pal. I even managed to scrape together enough paper round money for a Vive Le Rock t-shirt from Seditionaries. I also bought some kung fu slippers and I remain a punky-soul-a-billy at heart.

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