London Scala
21 November 2010
Words Bones, Pix from

Adam Ant was undoubtedly one of the biggest stars in the early ‘80’s. He was on the front of every magazine, adorned bed room walls and it seemed that no self-respecting Saturday morning kids show was complete without him miming Antmusic on it. Apparently between 1979 and 1983 he had 10 UK top ten hits, including three No.1’s. Unfortunately more recent times have not been so kind, with a continuing battle against depression, a suspended jail sentence for threatening pub patrons with a mock pistol and hospitalisation due to psychiatric problems. Whilst playing the occasional gig, his ill health has meant that these have been punctuated by lengthy hiatuses.

However, most people that knew him from his successful days as a Pirate/Dandy Highway are probably unaware that he had been originally a member of the London punk elite. Having seen the Sex Pistols first public appearance at St Martins College in 1975, he adopted the moniker of Adam Ant. He started several short lived groups, until 1977, when the original Adam and the Ants was formed. However their music was not the upbeat Burundi style offerings that would subsequently lead to major success, but much darker, bass-driven songs, with lyrical topics on subjects such as sex, fetishism, sex, disability, sex and pseudo-fascistic imagery. This famously led to the NME’s Nick Kent giving a scathing review to their debut album “Dirk Wears White Socks” and (incorrectly and unfairly) branding him a Nazi sympathiser. In so doing Adam was effectively ostracised from the “hip” music press for several years afterwards. However of all his albums this is the one that has stood the test of time and the promise of hearing tracks from it is partly the reason why London’s Scala theatre would be sold out on a cold Sunday night in November.

The other, much more relevant reason, is that tonight is a celebration and tribute to MATTHEW ASHMAN, guitarist in the early years of the Ants, who sadly passed away 15 years ago tonight of diabetes-related complications aged just 35. He had later gone on to be in Bow Wow Wow and the Chiefs of Relief, both of whom were reforming especially for the night, with Adam Ant to headline making a rare live appearance performing tracks on which Matthew played.

The CHIEFS OF RELIEF were the first up. They were notable for having a drummer who had certainly seen a level of success, and controversy, in his former band, being Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols. In truth I knew little of this band’s work, however tracks like Freedom to Rock and Weekend certainly got everyone into the spirit of the night. Also, an honourable mention should go to their guitarist Billy Morrison who had arranged tonight’s tribute.

OK, back to the history lesson. After the release of the first Ants album to a wave of indifference, Adam made the seemingly commercially sensible decision to hire the manager of the recently disbanded Sex Pistols, Malcolm McLaren. However Malcolm’s first decision was to fire Adam from his own band! He then courted controversy by replacing him with a 14 year old Anglo-Burmese girl called Annabella Lwin. So, along with ex-Ants Matthew Ashman, bassist Leigh Gorman and percussionist David Barbarossa, the band set out on the road to semi-commercial success as BOW WOW WOW.

The first thing that I notice when they take to the stage is that Annabella Lwin doesn’t have appeared to have aged in the intervening years. Both Gorman and Barbarossa are now folliclly challenged and somewhat wider of girth than in their heyday, but Annabella still retains that girlish charm from nearly thirty years ago, skipping tirelessly around the stage. The set list is short, although this could be more to do with the show over-running, rather than them not having rehearsed more than six songs. Surprisingly they are tight and the drumming instantly recognisable. They kept mainly to the sure fire hits of their singles, C30 C60 C90 Go!, I Want Candy and Go Wild in the Country, but threw in a couple of rarer tracks in Louis Quatorze and Aphrodisiac for the more discerning fan... And then just as they were seeming to hit their stride, they were gone. However, judging by their performance and the crowd’s reaction I would say a Bow Wow Wow reunion tour is long overdue.

And finally to Adam Ant. He took to the stage sporting a trench coat under which was clearly visible his hussars’ jacket that presumably he had kept from his glory years, whilst adorning his head was an Admirals hat. Had it not been for the glasses he now wears, I would have been hard pressed to see much difference from 30 years ago as he had kept a waif like appearance. The band seemed well rehearsed and did not have the appearance, or sound, of a bunch of musicians thrown together only for tonight. Hopefully this means that Adam is looking at his reappearance as more than a short term exercise. Morrissey’s guitarist Boz Boorer was included, but it was unclear if he is a permanent band member or only guesting tonight.

And so the years rolled back as for the first time since the late ‘70’s I heard live songs such as Cartrouble (part 2), Zerox, The Day I Met God, Cleopatra and Catholic Day, or as Adam put it “songs that Matthew had played on”. He seems to be fit both physically and mentally and it is difficult not to wonder what might have happened if his mental problems had not caused such a sporadic career. The crowd lapped it up and I noted that Manic’s uberfan Simon Price was just behind me furiously scribbling notes, presumably for a review in the Independent. As the evening progressed Adam disrobed to reveal a Matthew Ashman t-shirt and also that both his arms are now covered in tattoos. Non-album tracks such as Fall In, Deutscher Girls, Whip in my Valise, Christian Dior and Lady were also interspersed. It will be interesting to see, if he does continue to perform live, if he will change his set-list to include more commercially successful songs and I for one would be quite happy if he did not. Finally matters were brought to a halt by the venue curfew, but not before Adam could rip through a blistering rendition of final song Physical and bask in the adulation of the packed arena.

And just in case anybody had forgotten the real reason for tonight's gig, Adam came back onto the stage guiding a lady who had lost her sight to diabetes. She gave a moving speech regarding her condition and how had Matthew Ashman would have loved tonight. The audience, who had moments before been raising the roof, listened in total silence and in so doing gave a fitting tribute to tonight’s events.



Help with diabetes

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