November 1980 Adam and the Ants ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’
Tour programme – interview and reviews – Animals and Men – Human League
The Cure – The Passions – The Scars – Another Pretty Face
Adam and the Ants: Kings of the Wild Frontier
‘Vague is growing a deserved reputation as one of the best about; in fact could prove the eventual successor to Ripped & Torn… It’s got that hard punk attitude, lots of colour… and plenty of spirit. Suffered even more than Panache from being an Antperson to the extent that it sold 4,000 copies of an Ants special on their last tour, and then spent the whole of the next issue slagging them off. Good value as much as anything though. It’s frequently scruffy, badly printed and incomplete, but must be the most regular fast-growing fanzine about.’ Tony Fletcher Jamming
November 9-December 15 1980 Welcome to Vague 7, which is really Vague 5 made into an Antzine (with the z the wrong way round on the cover) for the November tour after the great demand for the original. Terrible capitalists aren’t we? I bet Mark P is turning in his grave… Issue 7 was the Adam and the Ants ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ tour programme, consisting of the Adam interview from issue 5, Animals and Men from Vague 4, some other Ants related stuff, the Cure, the Passions and Human League again, and a different colour cover. Here also is stuff from the Ants retrospective in Vague 12, reviews and reports from Channel 4 fanzine and the earlier Vagues, and the Frontier tour report from Vague 8; rehashed from the cobbled together version I tried to get published as an Ants book in the early 80s. The nearest I got to a deal was one publisher who said he might be interested if I re-wrote it as a girl.
Never Trust a Man with Egg on his Face
Pete Scott, in Vague 12 on the original Ants experience: When I first saw Adam and the Ants I felt as if I’d walked straight into one of those weird paintings where watch faces hang limply over tree limbs. The Ants were like nothing I’d ever experienced before – 4 figments of make-believe carefully superimposed on a real setting. Both musically and visually, they were quite unique. Their songs were not just your ordinary, run of the mill rock’n’roll clap-trap – by turns they were gross, violent and beautiful. Maybe best of all, they were also very funny. If you’re a regular Vague reader, then you don’t need me to tell you how good the Ants were back then. Nevertheless they had their faults. In the last issue of Vague, Tom pointed out that ‘their ideology was always a bit dodgy,’ and in retrospect I’m inclined to agree. As you may have already guessed by now, this is yet another bitter, disillusioned article on Adam’s rise to fame and fortune, written by yet another bitter, disillusioned former fan.
I don’t want to waste a lot of time and energy explaining why Adam’s vintage (pre-‘Dirk Wears White Sox’) material was superior to his current output. But with ‘Deutscher Girls’ currently riding high in the charts, and Do It’s new ‘Antmusic’ EP looking all set to follow it, this seems like a good time to look back over Adam’s career and discuss certain aspects of it. This article may well represent my last word on the subject of Adam and the Ants, so pay attention. In the early days, the Ants’ career was marked by instability; line-up changes were frequent. Things were made worse by the fact that Adam had a tendency to base his songs around controversial subject matter. The Ants’ repertoire included titles like ‘Bathroom Function’, ‘Beat My Guest’, ‘Il Duce’ and ‘Whip in my Valise’. As a result, the press soon came to hate the band, and Adam was subject to some pretty nasty critical abuse.
Adam defended his use of taboo subject matter by likening himself to Mel Brooks, the director responsible for such films as The Producers (with its controversial ‘Springtime for Hitler’ sequence) and Blazing Saddles. At the time, the comparison with Brooks seemed reasonable and I went along with it, remarking that Brooks’ work, like Adam’s, has undoubtedly offended a lot of people. Nowadays, when I look back over the lyrics to songs like ‘Juanito the Bandito’, ‘Cleopatra’ and ‘Day I Met God’, I find it hard to understand what I ever saw in them. They seem cheap and nasty somehow, almost like the kind of thing a naughty schoolboy might write to amuse his friends during a rainy dinner hour. Then there was Adam’s admiring references to Nazi concentration camp officer Ilse Koch, his Cambridge rapist mask and his constant use of sexist imagery in the Ants graphics.
I don’t want to convey the impression that I now hate all the old stuff. Despite a few reservations, I still love most of it. I love songs like ‘Nietzsche Baby’, ‘Ligotage’, ‘Hampstead’ (the original Oi song), ‘Redscab’ and ‘Boil in the Bag Man’. I love them, and I wish Adam would honour all the promises he’s made to release them. ‘Deutscher Girls’/‘Plastic Surgery’ lacks impact – the production on both tracks is terrible. So all we’re left with is ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ and ‘Antmusic’. ‘Dirk’ is an intriguing album – punk rock’s book of grotesques. It explores the dark side of modern pop music with humour and perception. A few of the tracks, ‘Digital Tenderness’ and ‘The Idea’, fall pretty flat, and even the good ones are spoilt by an inexcusably weak production job. But on the whole, ‘Dirk’ remains an offbeat, imaginative LP with much to recommend it. The version of ‘Cartrouble’ on the ‘Antmusic’ EP is superior to the one on ‘Dirk’ – louder, heavier and more exciting. The version of ‘Physical’ is less sluggish and ponderous. It’s also a good illustration of what the phrase ‘Antmusic for Sex-people’ used to mean. ‘Kick’ is a real blast from the past – a scathing outburst of undiluted noise. ‘The Pure Sound’. Screaming guitars, pounding drums – the works.’ Do-It’s ‘Zerox’ was the first great Antsingle and ‘Antmusic’ looks like being the last.
Adam and the Ants speed pop history – The New New Super Heavy Punk Funk: 1975 Adam Ant started out as Stuart Goddard in Bazooka Joe, who were supported by the Sex Pistols at St Martin’s College of Art. 1976 Adam formed the B-Sides with the bassist Andy Warren, Lester Square and Bid who went on to the Monochrome Set, and Max who ended up in Psychic TV. 1977 ‘The first time I saw Adam Ant he had just had ‘Fuck’ carved into his back by Jordan with a razor blade and World’s End was stained with his blood…’ Adam and the Ants formed at the Roxy during a Siouxsie and the Banshees gig. Their debut at the ICA was cut short after ‘Beat My Guest’, which Adam performed in a ‘Cambridge rapist’ leather mask. Then they played with X-Ray Spex at the Man in the Moon pub on King’s Road, the original Sex shop Jordan became their manager and Dave Barbe succeeded Paul Flanagan as the drummer. They also appeared in Derek Jarman’s Jubilee film and at the opening night of the Vortex punk club. The guitarists were Lester Square, then Mark Ryan ‘The Kid’, Johnny Bivouac, and (from ’78 to ’80) Matthew Ashman.
March 4 1978 Adam and the Ants at Bristol Barton Hill Youth Club. March 10 Corsham Art College: We missed the first really hip and heavy Ants west country gigs with Jordan. The former, in the legend at least, sounded heavier than the bikers riot in Salisbury when I first saw them. At this stage Jordan fronted the Ants for the song ‘Lou’ about Lou Reed. We first heard of them after the gig at Corsham near Bath, where our mates, Martin, Paul, Mike and Tim Aylet (of Channel 4 fanzine) first saw them, and they became top of our must-see bands list. This was at the time of their Marquee residency, the first John Peel session and the recording of ‘Deutscher Girls’ for the Jubilee soundtrack. The Ants were generally derided by the music press, most notably Nick Kent of the NME, for being art-Nazis – much the same as Wyndham Lewis’s Vorticist art movement was in the early 20th century. They were first championed by Tony D’s Ripped & Torn fanzine, which featured a collage entitled ‘Oh! How I love the press by Adam (nasty Nazi puerile toilet-boy) Ant’, consisting of swastikas and Hitler’s head on S&M bodies.
Sanctuary in Salisbury
September 22 1978 Adam and the Ants, the Glaxo Babies and the Screens at Salisbury Tech College – where I had just started a building studies course – on the Friday of the first week of term. The first time I saw Adam and the Ants was a riot – literally, the first Salisbury anti-punk bikers’ riot. I recalled the gig in the Ants retrospective in Vague 12: Christine was off being a young Parisian, much to her annoyance (she was even more obsessed with them than me), so I was driving and like a good citizen I only had one drink then went into the hall to see the support bands, the Screens and Glaxo Babies. Salisbury had never seen anything like it. I was used to having exams in the hall, but there we were waiting to see Adam and the Ants; students dressed up punky for the night, everybody from Southampton and Bournemouth, a large contingent from London – some of whom boasted of seeing the Ants 40 times already; most of the London lot looked really young and they had their own style, consisting of cardigans, Ants or Seditionaries T-shirts, studded belts, bondage trousers and kung fu slippers – and there were rather a lot of bikers.
At the time nobody knew what was going on, even when it was actually going on, but I later pieced together roughly what happened. Some bikers went into the Star, which was full of punks including the London contingent, generally taking the piss, and one of them came off worse in an incident involving Duncan, the drummer of Martian Dance (and later Chiefs of Relief). However, there was a United Bikers rally on and after a few phone calls bikers started infiltrating the gig at the college. When there were sufficient numbers amassed, they began picking punks at random and dragging them out to the foyer for a kicking. Martin Butler (who helped organise the gig) heard about the trouble in the students’ union office and went down to try and calm things down. He was saved from a kicking by the Ants roadie Robbo from Liverpool who dragged him into the hall. Then a biker girl was (at least said to have been) stabbed in the toilets and all hell broke loose.
In the hall things were still relatively calm, although there was a generally uneasy atmosphere and the word soon got round. The weekend swinger student punks (Salisbury was the only place the Ants ever played their ‘Weekend Swingers’ track) started frantically flattening their hair and wiping off their make-up. I missed out on most of this because, for once, I was more interested in what was happening on stage. The converted were apprehensively paying homage, everybody else had either gone home or were outside being beaten up, apart from me and mate Howler. The Ants provided a suitably stunning tight and intense soundtrack, starting with ‘Plastic Surgery’, everyone who stayed was bonded together as they did a defiantly long set featuring: ‘Bathroom Function’, ‘Il Duce’, ‘You’re So Physical’, ‘Weekend Swingers’, ‘Song for Ruth Ellis’, ‘Cleopatra’, ‘B-side Baby’, ‘Friends’, ‘Never Trust a Man (with Egg on his Face)’, ‘Catholic Day’, ‘Deutscher Girls’, ‘Lady’, ‘Puerto Rican’, ‘Fall In’ and ‘It Doesn’t Matter’.
You just couldn’t leave till the end and it was just as well we didn’t, as anyone who left early was being picked off one by one outside. I still only just got out in one piece as a bouncer stopped me walking right into the middle of a gang of chain wielding hairies. During a lull in the fighting, Howler and me eventually sneaked out and made it to my Mini unscathed. I was one of the few lucky ones, everyone I’ve met who was at the gig got beaten up to varying degrees, apart from the Scouse rockabilly Ants roadie Boxhead, who talked his way out of it – saying he was a rocker and having a quiff to prove it, Terry Watley who recalled fighting back with a money bag, and Rob Chapman, the singer of Glaxo Babies (who went on to ‘Christine Keeler’ and ‘Who Killed Bruce Lee?’ fame), now of Mojo magazine; he recently told me he doesn’t remember the biker aggro as they left early.
Tim Aylet, who organised the gig, and went on to manage the Glaxo Babies, wrote in his pre-Vague Channel 4 fanzine ‘Sanctuary at Salisbury’ review: While Mr Thorpe walks freely with a murder charge above his head, people die from smallpox and salmon-poisoning, we at Salisbury are here to see Adam and the Ants. The Ants have a long sound-check and the doors open at 8. The disco plays traditional punk rock and most people go to the bar. Both support bands are behind time and have to play short sets as there is no time for a sound-check. At 9, enter the Screens of whom I only see 10 minutes, but will hopefully never see again. They are a 5-piece band and play a mixture of rhythm’n’blues and powerpop. Next enter Glaxo Babies, a 4-piece band from Bristol. They have a weird atmosphere. They are in a class of their own and play fast rock with stops and starts and very individual vocals. The drummer is brilliant but I think they lack any visual appeal except the bassist who looks great. Unfortunately they only have time to play for half an hour so leave out half of their songs.
Later on came Adam and the Ants, 2 guitars, drums and Adam. They start with ‘Plastic Surgery’ and are met with a mixed reaction. They all look great and immediately create an atmosphere. The Salisbury people are obviously not used to good music and some leave after feeling alien to something disturbingly real. Adam Ant looked like a human gargoyle and sings with a clear-cut very sexual voice. Most of the songs are based around the bass lines and are Stooges/Velvet Underground influenced. I feel that there is a barrier between the group and the audience which is the fault of both parties, although is probably intentional by the Ants.
About halfway through the Ants, the Salisbury bikers and smoothies turn up and cowardly drag individual people outside to beat them up. If that was all that happened it would have been just a pathetic punch-up, but when people get stabbed it becomes serious. And when Adam Ant used the situation to prove how disturbed people were wherever the Ants play (even though the situation would have occurred had any group been playing), I was sickened. But misfortune apart, I thought it was one of the best gigs I have been to this year. Adam Ant told me that they have a year contract with Decca and will be releasing their first single in November, ‘Young Parisians’ and ‘Lady’. The album should be out in January. If you are into rock I strongly advise you to see them.
Ants gigs continued in a similar vein on the ‘Parisians’, ‘Zerox’ and ‘Ants Invasion’ tours until pop Antmania set in on the 1980 ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ tour; with Vague 7 as the programme. After Salisbury, the Ants toured West Germany and Italy, playing the legendary SO36 Club in Berlin and a Milan fashion show. October 1978 Adam and the Ants’ ‘Young Parisians’ single was released by Decca. To shake off their hardcore punk noise reputation their vinyl debut was more Manhattan Transfer than Velvet Underground. November We made an attempt to see the Ants at the Marquee, I remember Martin and me trying to hitch to London but giving up, and Adam famously led Ants fans from a cancelled gig at the Rainbow to the Music Machine.
November 1978 The Ant Manifesto by Adam Ant: We are 4 in number; we call our music Antmusic; we perform and work for a future age, we are optimists and in being so we reject the ‘blank generation’ ideal; we acknowledge the fanzine as the only legitimate form of journalism, and consider the ‘established’ press to be little more than talent less clones, guilty of extreme cerebral laziness; we believe that a writer has the right to draw upon any source material, however offensive or distasteful it might seem, in pursuance of his work; we are in tune with nothing; we have no interest in politics; we identify with no movement or sect other than our own; there are no boxes for us or our music, we are interested in Sexmusic, entertainment, action and excitement, and anything young and new; we abhor the hippy concept and all the things that surround the rock’n’roll scene; we admire the true individual; and above all the destruction of the social and sexual taboo; finito muchachos.’
Likes: The Slits, Tamla Motown, discs, Dirk Bogarde, curry, Steve Walsh, Rudolph Schwarzkogler, Otis Redding, The Velvet Undergound, The Monkees, Stanley Spencer, Dave Berry, Jane Suck, Roxy Music, tea, letters from Antpeople, The Doors, David John Gibb, early Futurist ideas, Roald Dahl, Kraftwerk, Jordan, Ripped & Torn, good graphic design, doing the Ant (the new dance craze), bad reviews (funny and useful), James Brown, unpredictability, Fellini, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Lenny Bruce. Dislikes: Nostalgia-lifestyles, drugs, outdoor festivals, false modernity, the National Front, sloppy journalism (the NME), chocolate, hangers-on, dole queue martyrdom, sexual repression, male chauvinism, bad record covers, bootlegs, spitting.
Young Parisians in Wales
January/February 1979 The ‘Parisians’ tour: January 21 The Ants and the Lurkers at the Electric Ballroom. January 31 The Ants at Newport Stowaways – Young Parisians in Wales: In the ‘winter of discontent’, at the time of the fall of the Shah of Iran and Cambodia to the Vietnamese – In Wales at Newport Stowaways club on the ‘Parisians’ tour we got mixed up in some Cardiff v Newport aggro, after Tim Aylet bravely but unwisely went to the assistance of a kid getting a kicking on the floor, and chucked out by the bouncers before the Ants came on: We’re standing on the dance floor patiently waiting for the Ants to come on, when we notice that the kids dancing keep rushing up to the front and attacking these other kids. Like true heroes (ie. fucking idiots), we stick up for them and consequently get mixed up some local Cardiff-Newport feud.
I remember Tim getting a kicking on the floor. I grab his assailant and explain to him that Tim is alright. He seems to understand so I let him go, whereupon he headbutts me and his mates push me out of the way. Simultaneously, Martin is getting similar treatment while Taz is trying to get Chris out from underneath a table, and Akbar and Rodent are hiding somewhere else. I explain what’s happening to a bouncer, who says, “I’ll teach you to start to trouble,” and lays into me as well. Then he throws me out, along with what I presume to be the Cardiff lot who started the trouble. I recall hiding under some steps round the back when Martin opens the fire exit and calls me over. I’m just about through the door when the bouncer reappears and throws both of us down the steps. At one point we think we hear a shot being fired. Then the police arrive. Martin and I explain about the bouncers beating everybody up. They say they’ll do something about it, then come back after a while and beat us up as well.
After that we give up on trying to get in and make our way round to the front of the club. Down a bit from the Stowaways there’s this group of kids. As we walk past them one of them hits me in the eye. I turn round and say, “I’m not from fucking Cardiff or Newport, I’m not even fucking Welsh” (though I have some Welsh ancestry). Some of them apologise but one still wants to give me a kicking. I imagine they’ve made very good skinheads by now. Meanwhile the bouncers are still going berserk and won’t even let Julie, the Ants manager, in. All I can remember of the gig is hearing ‘The March of the Ants’ when the police arrived and ‘Family of Noise’ when I was hit the second time. In the end Martin and I got talking to our former assailants who told us they’d only come for a scrap and didn’t like the Ants. Then, to make the evening complete, Akbar got arrested for swearing, or more like they don’t get many Pakistanis in Wales and the local coppers wanted to have a go at Paki-bashing. It was my birthday as well.
April 22 The Ants, the Ruts and Essential Logic at the Lyceum. July 6 Adam and the Ants’ second single ‘Zerox’ was released. The Ants’ tribute to David Bowie came in a Futurist photo sleeve. July13-August 5 The ‘Zerox’ tour: July 18 Back at Newport Stowaways club on the ‘Zerox’ tour later in the year, we were befriended by the coincidentally named Pete Vague (Corr) of the Kilburn lot and duly met the Ants roadies Robbo and Boxhead from Liverpool, Longfellow, Duncan of Martian Dance (and later Chiefs of Relief), Steve from Chester, Johna from Bradford, Mark from Newcastle, Ferguson, etc. Our Kilburn correspondent Pete Vague was a hugely influential Vague figure and generally a huge figure, his punk nickname predated the fanzine and his real surname was Corr but he didn’t look anything like the Corrs group (except maybe all of them merged together?).
The first gig anywhere near us was at, you guessed it, Newport Stowaways… In the Mini I told Chris, that if anything should happen to me, get me back across the Severn Bridge before I die. On arrival it’s very quiet, too quiet, we’re not sure if the gig’s still on. I’m quite prepared to go straight back home but this Ants fan Tarrack tells us it’s still on as far as he knows. The doors eventually open but we’re the first in and we discover the support band Protex had pulled out of the tour, so there would be no support at all and another long wait. We sit in the least conspicuous place and just grin and bear it… Then suddenly this fucking enormous great bloke with about 10 others, all dressed in black leather and studded belts, come in and head for our table. The big bloke sits down at our table and says, “Hello, haven’t I seen you at Ants gigs before?” I say, “Yeah, I expect so. You were at Salisbury weren’t you?” “Yeah! Salisbury. The bikers!” “Yeah, that’s where we come from.”
It soon transpires that the big bloke knows Russ, Christine’s boyfriend, a London punk who had ended up in Bournemouth/Ringwood. The big bloke was none other than Big Pete Vague. The others were Duncan, Howard, Mark from Newcastle, Ferguson… These soldier Ants were going round the bar getting to know everybody there. Later we discovered that you don’t do this just to be friendly but sometimes it’s the only way to find somewhere to stay the night. However, the mostly London lot create a slightly better atmosphere than last time… It’s lucky that we met somebody to talk to because it seemed like hours before the new Gary Glitter and ‘Missa Luba’ intro was played. The ‘Missa Luba’ track ‘Sanctus’ Ants intro is from the Lindsay Anderson film If… (see Vague 16). On the Zerox tour the Ants dropped most of their old stuff and played material that would become the ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ album.
July 31 Exeter Routes: Stewart Home recalled in his introduction to Vague 25: The first time I met Tom Vague was outside Exeter Routes Club. We’d both turned up to see Adam and the Ants on their 1979 Zerox tour. TV seemed like a cool dude – he had a car, a bird and a gang of cronies to back him up if there was a fight. Back then Vague was just a west country thing… I remember Stewart Home rubbing up Pete Vague and co the wrong way by going on about coming from London and not getting on the guest list… We wisely decide against going to the gig at Swansea Circles and pick the tour up again at Exeter, the next night. Christine and me pull up outside Routes where we find Pete and a few others. I ask Pete how the gig went at Swansea and he says there was a bit of trouble… After a short while Boxhead appears with half his face hanging off, followed by Mark with a broken arm and various other casualty victims. Apparently the Circles bouncers had just started attacking everybody.
Ian from Do It wrote a letter to Sounds complaining about this incident. The reply from Swansea Circles was that Boxhead had cut his own face to cause trouble. And then presumably Mark had broken his own arm? Pete gets us on the Ants guest list for the first time, then with financial resources running low we set about trying to get pissed. This is when I witness the best bit of begging I’ve ever seen from Boxhead, who waits outside telling everyone he’s come all the way from Liverpool for the gig and then got mugged. He made a fortune – probably more due to the look of him than the feasibility of his story? There’s hardly anyone there and the support band is just some local punky outfit but it’s a good gig nonetheless. I remember the look of surprise on the locals’ faces when we started dancing to ‘Hello, Hello, I’m Back Again’, and they were even more surprised when we started slamdancing to the Ants…
The best explanations of the Ants phenomena were by Pete Scott. In his review of the ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ album in Vague 8 he wrote: At one time being a fan of the Ants was like belonging to a very exclusive club or street gang. Adam was fond of describing his following as ‘clandestine’, a very appropriate word. Tony D, writing in Kill Your Pet Puppy, defined it as an ‘all powerful force’. It was a highly individual combination of energy, inspiration and commitment. In fact, it was unique. Consequently, the Ants were always separate and distinct from the common herd. They didn’t play pop, rock or punk music, they played Antmusic… August 1 The Ants at Plymouth Woods. August 5 The Ants, the Monochrome Set and Angelic Upstarts at the Lyceum. After which ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ was recorded.
September 29 Adam and the Ants, Classix Nouveaux, A Certain Ration and the Distractions at the Electric Ballroom reviewed by Tom in Vague 1: I know this gig is not exactly a local one but after the biker trouble at Salisbury I doubt if the Ants will every play around here again. I was a bit of a hero before this gig – I drove into London. In the end the biggest drag was queuing up outside the Electric Ballroom. It’s always the same there and at a lot of other venues – waiting around outside gigs is the cause of a lot of trouble. Anyway, once inside it got a lot better. There were some kids up from Southampton and I met a lot of the Ants crowd that I recognised from the Zerox tour. On the whole it was a good crowd – not too many boneheads, the only snag was the beer: 60p a pint!
To tell you the truth I didn’t take a lot of notice of the first 3 bands – I was too busy ligging with such notables as Seditionaries shop assistants, Ants roadies and a bunch of Taffies who beat us up at the Newport gig. The Distractions were a non-event. A Certain Ratio were alright but a bit too cosmic. Classix Nouveaux, so I heard, are made up of the remnants of X-Ray Spex. Their bald-headed lead singer had a good stage presence and they were not too reminiscent of their predecessors. I’m sorry about the sketchy review of the support bands but the main object of the expedition was to see the Ants. So here goes; this will be the first good review of them you will have read (as in favourable rather than well-written). Actually the Ants were not their usual selves – a rift was appearing between Andy and Matthew, the guitarists, and Adam. Since then we have heard from Pete that the aforementioned (Andy Warren) has quit the band, but Adam has supposedly got something really good sussed out.
However, I really enjoyed the gig although it wasn’t a patch on the last one at the Lyceum. After the Gary Glitter and ‘Missa Luba’ African tribal music had built up the atmosphere Adam and the band appeared on the stage. They played old favourites such as ‘You’re So Physical’, ‘Cleopatra’, ‘Catholic Day’, ‘Animals and Men’ and ‘Day I Met God’, 3 or 4 new numbers and a lot of material such as ‘Cartrouble’ that will be on the new LP ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’. Adam always seems to do a different set, the other numbers included ‘Nine Plan Failed’, ‘The Idea’, ‘Never Trust A Man’ and of course ‘Zerox’. For their encores they did ‘Lady’ and more new stuff (or old stuff I didn’t recognise?). If you’re reading this and you think Adam and the Ants are a load of sado-masochistic bondage posers, forget it… the Ants are shit hot live… Vive les Ants, the big white punk hope. Tom, faithful soldier Ant.
November 1979 Adam and the Ants ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ album was released. After going to London to buy copies (at Rough Trade?) with Christine, we reviewed it in Vague 2: Well, this is it, at last the Ants have gone on to vinyl in album form and quite frankly it’s not too much of a disappointment, in fact it’s quite good. This album has been in the pipeline for over a year now and to live up to expectations it had to be pretty sensational. Like the singles it fails to capture the essence of an Ants gig. The main thing that is missing is the strong bass line. This enables the vocals to come across clearer which is good in a way. However, I can’t help thinking that anybody who hears this album and hasn’t seen the Ants is just going to dismiss it as arty crap. There is a good selection of tracks here but I don’t think the album is very well produced at all. It certainly doesn’t do the Ants justice. They are essentially a live band though.
‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ begins with ‘Cartrouble (Parts 1 and 2’)… followed by a slower more melodic number ‘Digital Tenderness’… The next number is a stage favourite ‘Nine Plan Failed’… followed by a not very good version of ‘Day I Met God’. The only good thing I can say about it is you can hear the lyrics. But side 1 reaches a climax with the cataclysmic ‘Table Talk’ (about Hitler)… The second side starts with a couple of old favourites. Firstly ‘Cleopatra’, which after its exhilarating intro virtually reverts into punk thrash… ‘Catholic Day’ follows with old newsreel dialogue of JFK interspersed with a very laid back studiofied version of the song. This is one of the Ants’ best live numbers but the most exciting part of the album version is the bullet shot effect… ‘Never Trust A Man (with Egg on his Face)’ is a scanty futuristic jaunt… like all Antmusic it is ambiguous though and there is a more sinister side…
Then it goes into the Futurist rant thrash of ‘Animals and Men’, which races through to the Ant classic, in my opinion, ‘The Family of Noise’… On this track there’s excellent use of feedback and halfway through when Adam reverts to the Beatles’ ‘She Loves You’ is very effective… ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ finishes with ‘The Idea’ which Adam is particularly proud of… It is a laid back track but it comes across well… ‘I could be religious if you didn’t have to kneel down, I could be religious if a god would say hello, I could be religious if an angel touched my shoulder, I could be religious if they set the hymns to disco, like this…’ This album could be so good… I don’t think the Ants will sell out… It’s just not possible that they will go the same way as the Pistols, Clash, Sham, etc, but they could sell out in a different way and turn into an art form… How about that for pop perception?
‘No method in our madness, just pride about our manner, Antpeople are the warriors, Antmusic is the banner.’ ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’
December 31 1979/January 1 1980 Adam and the Ants, the Black Arabs and Malcolm McLaren at the Electric Ballroom. We were there at the beginning of the 80s… March Vague 3 stop press: Ants split official – new Ants coming your way – On the latest Ants split, this time it’s pretty sensational, as your up to the minute on the spot Vague reporters noticed at the Electric Ballroom on new year’s eve, a certain Mr McLaren was in attendance. We thought he was there for the Black Arabs (the black disco group who did Pistols covers in The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle). He was in fact managing the Ants and directly after that gig there was a clash of personalities between him and Adam. Malcolm promptly sacked Adam and the rest of the Ants went with the ex Pistols supremo. This sounds unbelievable but is true nonetheless. At present Malcolm is thinking of doing vocals like he did one time with the Pistols. But Adam, who keeps the ‘and the Ants’ bit, has a new band with 2 drummers – could it be Gary Glitter all over again? – and is bringing out ‘Cartrouble’ in 2 weeks.
Malcolm McLaren relaunched Dave Barbe, Matthew Ashman and Leigh Gorman (Andy Warren’s replacement) with Annabella Lwin as Bow-wow-wow. Adam teamed up with the guitarist Marco Pirroni formerly of Rema Rema, the Models, Siouxsie and the Banshees at the 100 Club with Sid Vicious, the Infants and Beastly Cads. March The new Adam and the Ants’ re-working of ‘Cartrouble’/‘Kick’ was released and then the Ants left the Do It label. April 27 Adam Ant: ‘Dear Tom and Vague fanzine, have just read your rather distressing letter of February 18 1980. I must apologise for the lack of response from the Bivouac, but I have had to move it and get a new secretary to take care of it all and no letters have been given to me for about 4 months. I would be grateful if you would send any questions you want to ask to the new Bivouac secretary at: Wanda, Cathedral House, 1 Cathedral Street, London SE1. My regrets once more, muchos regardos, Adam Ant. Antmusic for Sexpeople.’
May ‘Adam and the Ants: Dear Tom at Vague, thanx a lot for a most exciting and well put together fanzine (Vague 4). Hope to meet up and interview the new Ants on the forthcoming tour. Enclose dates for you. Please excuse lack of time. Am very busy, muchos regardos, Adam Ant.’ May/June The Ants Invasion tour 1980: May 22 The ‘Invasion’ tour began at the Electric Ballroom and The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle: Forsaking my college exams, I hitched to London; to take some Vagues round to Rough Trade, go to see The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle on Oxford Street, and get to Camden Town tube station with a few hours to kill before the gig starts. I make a few hopeless attempts to get in to do an interview/avoid paying… get something to eat, then join the queue being viciously surveyed by gangs of prowling skinheads (which is a bit of an exaggeration but not much). Things start to look up when I meet Abro from Manchester and we eventually get into the Ballroom. Once inside I head for the bar… Everybody’s there, except Withie who’s supposed to be giving me a lift back…
First band on is Johnny Bivouac’s Lastarza… they’re fresh and entertaining but apart from that all you can say is they’re like the Ants. Then Duncan’s band Martian Dance have their moment in the limelight… All the band are old Ants fans and this obviously influences them a lot. But if you’ve got to compare them with anybody they’re more like the Psychedelic Furs. Lead singer Jerry overcomes his nerves but not his Andy Warren haircut as their act progresses and the place fills with expectant Antpeople… Returning from a jaunt to the bar, a tape of ‘Press Darlings’ can be heard coming from the Ballroom. We squeeze our way in, Pete disappears into the crowd, me and Kilburn Chris stay near the back… They start with ‘Physical’ and it’s nothing like new year’s eve, it’s new, more exciting… This gig is of course the debut of the new Ants… The sound of the 2 drummers is fantastic… Marco Pirroni is shit hot – if a bit large… The next number is the first from the Ant/Pirroni writing partnership, ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’. Its thudding tribal beat sends the crowd into real action, although it’s the first time it’s ever been played live…
May 23 The High Wycombe Ants anti-skinhead riot – the Do Long bridge of the Antapocalypse Now: At High Wycombe Town Hall on the ‘Ants Invasion’ tour, the London Ants lot gave the local skins a kicking/chairing and we narrowly caught the last train before a skinhead reprisal attack: After the Electric Ballroom, Pete put up Abro and me at his Kilburn towerblock and we got a lift to the next gig at High Wycombe off the Ants lighting engineer Malcolm Mellows… A lot of the talk on the way is about rumours that the Wycombe skins are going to try to have the London Ants lot. By the time we get there I’m a little apprehensive. We wander around High Wycombe and it seems cool enough. At about 6 we go into this Rastas’ pub. Everybody else thought it was great but I thought it was really heavy. By then I was a nervous wreck, convinced that I wasn’t going to get out of this one in one piece, and I was nearly right.
Once in the gig things start to look up again. The bar’s crawling with soldier Ants from all over the country and there’s hardly a skin in sight. Martian Dance, who are apparently doing the whole tour, do another great supporting set. They are really growing on me. There’s a bit of a ruck upstairs in the bar but Pete sorts it out… The hall is about half full, there’s a funny atmosphere but no outstanding trouble spots. ‘Kings’ really gets everybody going (well, almost everybody). Then it’s virtually the same set; ‘Press Darlings’, ‘Ants Invasion’, ‘Cartrouble’… The Antpeople go mad and a few times I thought a scrap had started. Then there’s a bit of a scuffle and a few sieg heils from the right side of the hall. Adam says, “We’re not interested in the past, only the future and Antpeople!” Then Kevin Mooney joins in and stirs up chants of “Ants! Ants! Ants!” There’s some more verbal exchanges and then the Ants try to ‘calm things down’ by doing ‘Beat My Guest’.
To give the skins their due, there was only about 20 of them but they still had a go. Suddenly there was a hail of chairs from their side of the hall. In response the whole floor clears and a few hundred Ants fans proceed to kick shit out of the offending boneheads. Some of them managed to escape into the foyer, but when the bouncers saw there was trouble they locked the front doors… At one time I thought it was dropping to their level, but we all went to see the Ants, the skinheads as usual tried to spoil it, but this time they were out of their league…Meanwhile, the Ants rise to the occasion, applauding their fans and playing an extra long set. A lot of people leave early to avoid a skinhead backlash but I stay to the end so as not to miss ‘Plastic Surgery’ – putting myself in danger of needing some. Then Emu and me make our way to the station. Pete, Abro and Malcolm were going on to Manchester.
Paranoia really starts to set in as I thought the obvious thing for the skins to do would be to get all their mates and wait for us at the station. But we get there without incident and it’s deserted. A guard tells us to go on through because our last train is about to go and we have to run across the lines to get to it. The train’s packed with Ants fans but suddenly the engine stops. Everyone is looking out the windows back at the platform where some skinheads have appeared (or someone said they thought they saw some?). “Move this fucking train!” Someone pleads. And as if by magic the engine starts up and we’re wafted away from the Wycombe skins. The atmosphere on the train was as exhilarating as at the gig, like a battle had been won, rather similar to how I used to feel coming back from football (but of course I’m above all that now). It was a free trip as well, as we all rushed the gates at Marylebone…
May 27 1980 Highlights of the Vague Adam and the Ants interview by Tom and Chris at the Bournemouth Roundhouse Hotel on the ‘Invasion’ tour, published in Vague 5, 7 (in its entirety) and 25. The new Ants, Marco Pirroni, the bassist Kevin Mooney, and the drummers Chris Hughes (aka Terry and Merrick) and Terry Lee Maill (from the Models), were also present most of the time.
Adam: “This tour is unique in that the theme is clandestine. There is no record company backing what so ever. We’re not signed to a record company. There has been no notification to anybody other than street posters and 350 handbills I sent out personally to members of the fan club, and a handbill we had pressed up for the Electric Ballroom… The thing is that every gig we’ve done has been a success, from the point of view that the spirit of the gig has been identical. One of a real good time and kids looking bright faced and excited. They’re not looking that way because they’ve been told by the rock press that it’s hip to be there, they’ve come there because they’ve taken the trouble to find out in some way or another. It’s a great feeling because 200 of them is worth 1,000 of other audiences. This tour is done by local promoters, we didn’t want to play toilets. We’ve been playing toilets for 3 years, toilets stink, they’re shitholes. We won’t change in toilets anymore because, for 2 reasons; one, I don’t like living like a sub-human; two, it’s a shitty awful show, you can’t put on an exciting show, no light show in clubs, and also the bulk of the thugs in this country tend to get their kicks in clubs and it’s heavy and I don’t like it.”
Chris Hughes on the 2 drummers set-up: “It came about when Adam was getting his new group together and in the transition period Adam was involved in recording the rework of ‘Cartrouble’. We went down to a studio in Wales and we talked about Adam’s ideas, having a tribal influence in music. He’s heavily into Burundi and I had some Burundi tapes. We discussed the approach the drums should have and did ‘Cartrouble’, which is a question of arriving at the right formula on the drums.” Tom: “Nothing to do with Gary Glitter?” Chris Hughes: “No, if you listen to Mike Leander’s production it doesn’t actually sound like two kits that much. But drums-wise, Adam and Marco came over and we did some demos. Then it was a question of finding two drummers, Marco knew Terry because he’d been in groups with him and we all got together in London. It was just one kit originally, I wasn’t going to play, I was just producing.”
Adam: “It’s been the hardest period in my career, overnight they split and consequently I couldn’t get out there and play to the kids. The Electric Ballroom was a triumph for us. I was faced with a large amount of bills to pay off, then I just went round to Marco’s house because I’ve always liked his sound. And I said I want to collaborate with you; not just having you playing guitar but I want to write with you. I thought the time had come to collaborate with another sound and another mind. We got together and started to write stuff. Any old numbers that are in the set are purely because Marco said they’re alright, we can do something with them. They are radically different. We were looking for a new approach to it, with two drummers it has to be different, I mean ‘Beat My Guest’, now it kills, ‘Fat Fun’ is lethal. And songs like ‘Press Darlings’, it’s very ironic but record companies are very interested in it as a single. They find it commercial, purely because these guys are playing. It’s never been played before, it’s the difference between the men and the boys… it’s a totally different world, I don’t want to get into a bitching match about the old band, I wish them all the best. That’s history to me, but the two records we’ve made since prove it. I wish to Christ I’d had these guys on the album because it would have been one fuck of an album.” Chris Johnson says he was disappointed by ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ after the Ants live.
Adam: “I see it as the best album ever made… That happened quite a lot, but I had wanted that. I decided that when I got down to produce the album. I mean the sound you were hearing live might not necessarily have been the sound I wanted you to hear. With no major record company backing you have to struggle. I would have liked the songs to have been a lot more clear in every respect, and consequently when I got into the studio I discovered that songs we had been whacking out merrily for 2 years, we didn’t even know how to fucking play, we knew how to play them but they were wrong, they were beats out. And psychologically I’d gone through a very heavy period, 3 years is a long time. I can’t really listen to the album, it’s painful to listen to for me… I think it will develop with time, people will look back on it as something they want, it’s catalogue, it’s something you make. I hadn’t hit upon the Ants sound but now we’re either there or fucking close to hitting the sound. I want to make records that people go Ants, can’t be anybody else… I don’t think a group like Kiss or Alice Cooper are capable of reproducing their live sound on record. The Sex Pistols are the best example of that, Marco and I are early Sex Pistols fans, I didn’t have to hear a Sex Pistols record, just seeing them once changed my life…”
Adam on the ‘ANTS’ re-working of the Village People disco hit ‘YMCA’: “That’s just fun. It’s for an encore, to make people happy and jump about and fuck each other. The new songs that Marco and I have been knocking out, the first one is ‘Kings’ which is a fucking good start… The past is finished. I have to get away from it or I might as well get out of the business right now. We do the old songs but we do them better now. I’m concerned more with the future, rather than the ska revival, which is fine in that it makes a lot of people happy, but it’s still going backwards. I think ‘Kings’ is the best lyric I’ve ever written in my life. It’s looking at the situation now. I don’t want to make any comment politically. I feel, in my guts, very deep down, very wild. I don’t want to be told not to be wild, not to do things. And to be told that my records are uncommercial because they’re not the sausage machine a la UK Subs. They do what they do well, it’s just I don’t think they’re progressing. I think it’s very easy and I want to get as far away from that as I fucking can and as far away from rock’n’roll as I can… What I said at the Electric Ballroom was that I didn’t want any passers-by coming in causing trouble. I didn’t want people coming to Ants concerts when they are not really into the Ants. I don’t want to be just another one of the groups that are just liked.
“I want them to love us or hate us. I want it clandestine. An Ant kid once wrote to me and said, to him, an Ants concert wasn’t a concert, it was an event, it was a meeting of the clans. Kids from different areas that were into one idea and know there is a group on who are going to give 100%. They’re going to achieve purely by their own efforts a great night and not allow anyone to fuck it up for them. So, consequently when I said that at the Ballroom it had been eating away at my guts. I’ve been constantly compared to these groups like the Upstarts. Promoters say, oh the Ants, they’re just like these groups. And I ain’t mate. I ain’t no fucking Toyah. Nothing to do with us. The Ants are the Ants and everybody else is everybody else.” Tom: “Who have you got any respect for?” Adam: “Hardly anyone now. They’ve all got too fucking esoteric, just crawled up their own arseholes. Punks have become hippies in the last 9 months.” Tom: “What about Lydon and PIL?” Adam: “John Rotten’s a poet. It depends whether you like poetry or not. He made a very good first single and I haven’t liked anything since.” Marco: “Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols lost it for me after they did Bill Grundy. They done it all before that.”
Tom: “What about new bands?” Adam: “That statement, hardly any, gladly doesn’t go right across the board. There are some really good young bands starting up, Martian Dance who we’ve got on with us, Animals and Men, a band called Orange Cardigans who sent me a tape. These bands are coming up with some good ideas and they’ve also got their act together very well. They don’t sell themselves short. Their graphics are good, presentation is good, they take a lot of care. There’s another band I really like, who I’m getting to support us in Scotland, called the Flowers. I’m more interested in them because they’re a lot more open than groups like Bauhaus and the Psychedelic Furs, who I think are like 5th rate Banshees-cum-Velvet Underground impersonators doing some sort of Bowie impersonation, and Toyah too. Just Bowie impersonators, both male and female, it’s very sad for music.” Marco: “Bowie did it all much better anyway.”
I unwisely say: “The album got some good reviews.” Adam: “The album was fucking slagged off, what are you talking about?” Tom: “What about Record Mirror?” Adam: “Pete Scott likes the fucking group. He hated us then he had the guts to come and see us live again on the ‘Zerox’ tour and wrote me a letter saying he’d made a big mistake, and that takes a lot of guts. Songs like ‘Press Darlings’ aren’t about Pete Scott and people like you. I’m glad to see you’ve got it together this much, I’d buy that (Vague 4), that’s worth the money.” (20p) Then Chris Johnson incites Adam into another great blast at the music press with: “How did this mutual hatred between you and the press come about?” Adam: “It isn’t a mutual hatred. Look, if I came up to you in the street and said, ‘You’re a fascist,’ but I said it 250,000 times, I tell you man, I’m going to knock Nick Kent out one day. And there’s no way he’s gonna get out of it, unless he publicly apologises. He upset my mother, my family, and me, and I don’t like that. I also think they’re lazy, bad at their jobs; that is the most unforgivable thing, they’re just bad at their jobs, they’re useless. It’s old hat. I’m going to bring out a record and if it goes into the charts it’s going to be 250,000 people who know exactly what I think of those arseholes for the rest of time. Their comments about me lasted one week. Mine about them will last till the day they fucking die…”
Chris Hughes: “I think there’s a lot of point in doing a fanzine, provided you convey accurate information, if you can get a fairly accurate impression of what we’re about and secondly you’ve got to show NME and all the arsehole papers how to write. As soon as it goes to print there’s a different value to those words and you’ve got a lot of impressionable kids reading it. You’ve got to make sure you’re being more accurate and precise than the stuff you don’t appreciate from Fleet Street.” Adam: “I don’t think this is very different from In The City, I know the guys that do it, they research hard, they spend a lot of money on this sort of format. This paper will eventually get through to the general public, they’ll say what the fuck’s this about and look at it. It’s like when you make a record, who do you make it for? Your fans or everybody? I make it for everybody. The reason why everybody knocks In The City, especially Tony D of Ripped & Torn and Kill Your Pet Puppy fame, he used to have a sense of humour, now it’s worse than the worst political hippy magazine. Keep politics out of art. Ask us a good question.”
Tom: “How do you feel about all these kids coming up the road covered in Ants badges, have they got an identity of their own?” Adam: “I don’t know, maybe more the merrier. When I see them the bulk of the girls look like Jordan and whatever else they are they are not Jordan. It’s not imitation. My favourite clothes are the clothes the Sex Pistols wore, and Marco’s too. I’d cross the sea on a Shetland pony to get an original Sex T-shirt, that doesn’t make me a Sex Pistols clone. I might go and see a movie and see something I like and I’ll incorporate that into the Ants. I haven’t got divine inspiration. Those kids come to a gig and they see one thing or maybe two or maybe the whole fucking lot and they follow it through, they’re not clones.”
Chris Hughes: “One of the original mottos of punk was no heroes, I personally never aligned myself to that, I’ve always had heroes and always will have. When your hero does something that you don’t agree with and realising that, that is part of growing up. You don’t get 40 year old people idolising pop stars because they’ve experienced a lot more. Older people may well have heroes but they’re more capable of assessing when their hero does something they don’t like. You’re a lot most impressionable when you’re young. An Ant fan might at 13 take everything Adam says as gospel but at 20 he won’t take everything as correct.” Adam: “I don’t believe in preaching, I think it’s boring. I’ve tried never to preach. Every interview I’ve ever done has been answers to questions, which is purely my opinion, my opinion may be a whole load of bullshit, probably is, but at the time I’m asked a question, I think about it and I tell you what I feel. Like I’ve always said, if I give you pleasure, great, if I don’t, fine. I’m going to enjoy myself tonight and nothing’s going to stop me…”
Bournemouth was a great gig – there was a somewhat friendlier atmosphere than at High Wycombe and the best crowd in the Village Bowl for ages, with a lot of old faces tempted out by the Ants. But the gig was marred by the death of the local punk Janet Heyworth, known as ‘Gannet’, apparently from an asthma attack brought on by sniffing Zoff cleaning fluid. We tried to put the Ants on in Bournemouth again on the next tour but Adam decided against it out of respect to her family… As we drive back to Simon’s, I remember seeing Steve from Chester making his way down to the pier, where apparently him and the Harrow lot spent the night in some chalets… May 28 Bristol Tiffanys: Withie and Puddle pick up Jane and me in Mere and we set off for Bristol with some apprehension… However the evening passes off without incident apart from someone having a go at Ralph from Animals and Men…
May 31 Middlesbrough Rock Garden: On our furthest expedition north yet, Marco Pirroni saved our bacon when he stopped the bouncers throwing us to the anti-Cockney (anyone south of Boro) mob outside: After an arduous drive Withie and I arrive in Middlesbrough with a couple of local lads that we picked up at the last services – which proved to be a good move… We all meet up in the pub next to the Rock Garden, all 3 carloads of us; including Bradford Chris who used to live in Bournemouth and Johna, Pete, Boxhead and Abro. The atmosphere’s not very good. Once in the Rock Garden our small contingent huddled protectively around the bar. Martian Dance are virtually canned off… Then the Ants get similar treatment but the crowd doesn’t get the same response. After being gobbed at, Kevin Mooney goes mental, swinging his bass around Sid Vicious style. “Don’t mess with Kevin, he means business,” Adam warns. But the stick continues and it shows on the Ants’ usually faultless performance. Adam leaves the stage calling the Middlesbrough punters a bunch of punky Crass fans, to put it politely.
It’s alright for him though, he’s got security guards and bouncers to see him out safely, we’ve only got the swiftness of our legs, and the natives are definitely not friendly. To show how much they appreciate our presence, they sing “We hate the Cockneys.” And in Middlesbrough we’re all Cockneys, although we live 100 miles from London and most of us come from Bradford, Manchester and Liverpool. Johna from Bradford gets a battering and then he’s chucked out by the bouncers. The rest of us hang around by the stage waiting for everyone to go. We were alright up till then thanks to one of the local lads we picked up at the services, but once he’s gone we’re in the shit. A bouncer grabs me and I have visions of being stuck outside on my own, trying to put on a Geordie/northeast accent, but luckily everyone else comes out as well. Marco nearly comes along too until he manages to convince the bouncer that he’s in the band. We somehow avoid a kicking outside and decide to leave for Scotland that night…
June 1 Edinburgh Valentino’s – on the 200th anniversary of the Gordon riots, led by the Malcolm McLaren of the day, Lord George Gordon: After Middlesbrough, we were welcomed like long-lost fellow clansmen in Edinburgh, with some of us actually wearing kilts (over trousers as pioneered by Adam). ‘Geno’ by Dexy’s Midnight Runners was number 1: We arrive in Edinburgh in the early hours – it’s a lovely morning and the car really stinks, so Pete and me get our doss bags and crash out in the park in front of the castle. After a few hours, we leave Boxhead and Abro to their slumbers in the car and go walkabout. Scotland is surprisingly hospitable, mind you there are more tourists about than actual Scotsmen. Nobody will go up to the castle with me so we go in Burke and Hare’s local to have a jar. At chucking out time the roadcrew arrive and we earn our places on the guest list humping gear into Valentino’s. After which there’s time to catch up on some sleep.
We’re not disturbed until about 6 when the bands arrive. Most of the Ants acknowledge us but Chris Hughes is the only one not frightened of another interview. We chat for a while until it’s time for the sound-check. To finish Adam dedicates a song to Middlesbrough and they do ‘Anarchy in the UK’. Valentino’s is a very small but smart disco with the lit-up floor and everything, unlike the night before it doesn’t fill to bursting and the locals are friendly. The only similar thing is the bouncers but aren’t they the same everywhere? The Flowers shakily hit the stage but when they settle down I can see what Adam was on about. I thought they were a local band but the audience response is not too good. The same goes for poor old Martian Dance, but they continue to play their best gig so far, probably because Jerry didn’t have to dodge glasses for a change.
Boxhead and Abro finish their enthusiastic work on the badge stall and we all assemble in front of the stage. ‘Physical’ and ‘Kings’ gets us going and it’s not long before the bouncers are in action as well. They begin to throw out any hapless individuals who are enjoying themselves too much. This eventually spoils the gig for us, especially when we discover that the kid who was going to put us up had been hospitalised by one of the gorillas in dinner suits. But we still manage to find somewhere to stay. Boxhead and Abro get somewhere in town while Pete, Withie and I spend the night in a haunted old school house converted into flats out on the moors somewhere. After sleeping in a park it’s great, the only snag is when I drop our last fag in my coffee. I remember some of the Edinburgh “wee lads” excitably telling us about a police (pronounced “polis”) incident and not being sure if they meant policemen or postmen.
June 2 Dundee Caird Hall: The Dundee gig was switched from the Maryatt Hall to the Caird Hall at the last minute. It’s bigger than the Lyceum and has to be partitioned off halfway down. When we arrive luckily all the gear has been set up so there’s no humping to do… The wonderful Corky the tour manager eventually puts our names down. Outside the turnout is mediocre in every respect… Once inside we discover there isn’t any bar, not even a soft drinks one, Martian Dance couldn’t play and then the Flowers pulled out because they had to pay for the PA. There’s not even a disco, we had to get tapes out of the car, and there can’t be more than 200 punters there. The Ants come on early, presumably to get it over with. After dancing to Gary Glitter the Scots crowd goes stagnant, leaving us 5 as the only ones dancing apart from Adam. It’s looking pretty bad until 3 skinheads we had met earlier start to have a mock fight with us, and in the end it develops into a great gig, even Kev Mooney is smiling…
June 3-8 Sheffield – Blackburn – Huddersfield – Leicester – Empire Ballroom with Dave Berry: Afterwards we fight our way through the masses of punters to take the piss out of the Ants signing autographs in the van, while Boxhead nicks their food. We leave Dundee in a happy mood but by the time we reach Manchester everybody’s wrecked. At Abro’s we discover that the proposed gig that night at the Osborne Club had been cancelled, and Withie and I decide to head home. We planned to rejoin the tour at Huddersfield Cleopatra’s on the Friday, Jane got the days off work and we went over to Warminster but Withie (the only one with a car at this point) pulled out at the last minute. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as apparently everyone who went got the shit kicked out of them… July 16 The Ants signed to CBS. July 26 Adam and the Ants’ ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ and Bow-wow-wow’s ‘C-30, C-60, C-90, Go’ singles were released and Vague 5 was printed. August The ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ LP was recorded. October 11 The Ants’ ‘Dog Eat Dog’ single was released.
November 9-December 8 1980 For Adam and the Ants’ pop breakthrough ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ tour I revamped the Vague 5 ‘Ants Invasion’ tour special as the ‘Frontier’ tour programme Vague 7. What could be seen as early Thatcher youth enterprise turned sour was then recounted in gory detail in Vague 8. In a speed pop history summary it consisted of lugging Vagues about the country, sampling the local bitters, slamdancing exploits and sleeping on floors, in cars, coaches, multi-storey carparks, etc…
Once We Were Vagrants – Frontier tour pop vagrancy report: November 9 Liverpool Royal Court Theatre. 10 Edinburgh Tiffany’s. 11 Glasgow Tiffany’s. 12 Durham University. 14 Hull Queens Gardens. 15 West Runton Pavilion. 16 Sheffield Top Rank. 17 Blackburn St George’s Hall. 19 Grimsby Central Hall. 20 Leeds Poly. Lugged 2,000 Vagues up to Liverpool and Scotland, mostly by coach, before negotiating with the Ants manager Falcon Stuart to get them in the merchandising flightcase. Lost my bag at Durham and got nicked for hitching on a motorway between Lincoln and Hull. The college gig in Hull was stopped after the Bradford lot started a fire in a classroom, and we spent the night in a car in Grimsby. After the Manchester Poly gig was pulled, we stayed at the Hulme flat of the Vague American Indian correspondent Dave Hicks and got gassed in his exhaust-pipe-less van. Dave ended up in Peter Hook’s New Order off-shoot band Revenge and was also associated with the Stockholm Monsters Factory group. There were record sales of Vague in Blackburn, largely due to the persuasive charm of Boxhead, the legendary Scouse rockabilly Ants roadie; the first outbreak of ‘Antmania’ at the Manchester HMV store; and various road crew wrangles which brought our lighting whiz-kid mate Malcolm Mellows on to the tour.
November 22 Aylesbury Friars. 23 Lyceum. 24 Doncaster Odeon. 25 Oxford New Theatre. 26 Exeter St George’s Hall. 27 St Austell Cornish Riviera Lido. 28 Southampton Gaumont. 29 Lewisham Odeon. Back in London, I interviewed Martian Dance at Queen Elizabeth College on Campden Hill. Adam’s girlfriend Mandy, the actress Amanda Donohue, appeared on the tour at Aylesbury Friars and we somehow walked through a skinhead riot outside unscathed. At the Lyceum the original SEX shop Jordan was the ‘Antmusic Revue’ DJ. A skinhead with a hatchet appeared in the Oxford New Theatre bar. In Exeter we stayed in the squat of ‘Antperson of the night’ Cherokee Mark. There was another brush with the law hitching to Cornwall with Pete Vague; by which time we were getting disillusioned with Adam and sick of hearing him say: “This one’s for you Sheffield (Doncaster, etc)”, “You showed ‘em Exeter (St Austell, etc)”, and “Are you feeling sexy Birmingham? (etc)” I hitched back from Cornwall through the night to sign on, as Nige from Liverpool got nicked in St Austell; bunked the train back to Bournemouth after the Southampton gig; and hitched back to London with some hippies, to hang around at Better Badges on Portobello with Sarah and Scrubber before the Lewisham gig.
November 30 Cardiff Top Rank. December 1 Brighton Top Rank. 2 Coventry Tiffany’s. 3 Stoke Victoria Hall. 4 Derby Kings Hall. 5 Taunton Odeon. 6 ‘Antmusic’ was released. 7 Bristol Locarno. 8 Birmingham Odeon. 11 Newcastle Royalty. 12 Ipswich Gaumont. 13 Chelmsford Odeon. 14 Canterbury Odeon. 15 Manchester Apollo. After narrowly avoided a kicking in Cardiff due to the intervention of our Welsh mates Frenchie and Stumpy, further aggro in Brighton didn’t come to much. About a dozen of us tried to sleep in the kitchen of the tour support band God’s Toys in Coventry. There were sieg heiling skinheads in Derby, Mick from Liverpool was beaten up and the Vagues sold out. Spent the night in a derelict house by the coach station after the Bristol gig. Heard the news that John Lennon had been killed at Victoria coach station, on my way back west to pick up more Vague 7s and finish issue 8, as the Ants appeared on Top of the Pops. In the days after the Lennon assassination we were back in Liverpool; Stumpy and me signed on saying we were there looking for work. Then we stayed with the Geordie Mohican contingent including the famous Rezillos/Revillos roadie Mitch who had a double Mohican. We bunked the train from Ipswich to Chelmsford and tried to sleep in a multi-storey carpark. Ended up ejected from Manchester Apollo for slamdancing and congratulated by the short-lived Ants bassist Kev Mooney.
October 4 Moved to Walpole Road, Bournemouth. Revillos at Southampton University. Signed on in Bournemouth. London Rough Trade with Vague 6. Punishment of Luxury and Program at Salisbury cancelled. October 11 ‘Dog Eat Dog’ by Adam and the Ants was released. October 16 Signed on and interviewed Bauhaus at the Stateside. October 22 UK Subs interview for Point of View fanzine last punk gig at Stateside/Village fanzine stall. November 2-6 Vague 7 was printed and stapled. Negotiated with the Ants manager Falcon Stuart to sell it on the next Ants tour as the programme. November 7 London Better Badges to get inserts. November 9 The Ants Frontier tour began in Liverpool.
(Vague Publishing, 1980)
The Xtraverts formed in 1976 at the outbreak of the punk movement. Creating music in a garage belonging to the guitarist Mark Reilly (Matt Bianco).
Playing classic venues such as the Roxy, Clarendon, the Greyhound and all over Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire they created a massive following from all over the country with gigs selling out nationwide. The Xtraverts appealed to the skinhead and punks alike and garnered a reputation for clashing with the local hooligans, while often a deterrent, it was also a draw to those fans wanting to revel in the atmosphere and feel part of the Xtraverts Crew.
The Xtraverts played with many the bands of the time, such as 999, The Vibrators, The Damned, Visage, The Satellites, UK Subs, Johnny Kidd and the Pirates and many more. They also were part of the emerging punk scene playing alongside bands The Lurkers, The Slits, The Banshees, in 77-79, were regulars in the crowd and sometimes onstage at the Roxy
They released three singles in their early career, Blank Generation, Police State and Speed, which are now highly collectable records (especially the limited edition “puke” pressing of Police State). Their first album “So Much Hate” was released on Detour Records in 1978, and is still available in digital format today.
Their unique sound also appealed to a more mainstream audience, with appearances on John Peel’s radio show, a TV feature with Danny Baker and a show called Twentieth Century Box with Janet Street Porter looking at the impact of independent bands and labels on the popular music scene.
Over the years, many of the band members ended up in prison, however through quick changes and substitutions, the band carried on regardless. The death knoll for the band finally tolled however when singer Nigel Martin was imprisoned in 1980, the band finally naturally grew to a close. Without its front man and driving force, the musical direction faltered and the band members went their separate ways.
Over their relatively short career, the band had underground success with the single “Police State” and were Number 1 in both the Sounds and NME independent charts. While the band was enjoying its indie success former member Mark Reilly was topping the National mainstream charts with “Get out of your Lazy Bed” with his new band Matt Bianco. The Xtraverts past and present were enjoying a heyday that dominated across the music scene.
The band often made the alternative and oi! charts in sounds magazine in the early 80′s, and picked up a huge following, but circumstances and perhaps major labels not picking them up, like contemporaries, the Clash and Sex Pistols, the world never got to see the band.
30 years later,and after the death of bass player Mark Chapman, the Xtraverts, After meeting up with an old mate Symond Lawes, Manager of X-ray Spex and Concrete Jungle promotions, have decided to release some of their material, at the moment busily digging through the loft and remastering, what will always be pure Punk Rock. There may possibly be a one off gig, sometime in 2014…… Watch this space
“The Xtraverts were such a major influence on my life. Of all the Punk shows i have attended over the last 10 years, i have always thought, i would just so love to see the Xtraverts up on that stage. Lets hope that dream comes true, and the world get to hear such classic tracks”
The Xtraverts are back, punk never dies!
Mark P. StreetWize magazine 2013
all enquiries email@example.com
Wikipedia version of Oi!
Oi! is a subgenre of punk rock that originated in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s. The music and its associated subculture had the goal of bringing together punks, skinheads and other working-class youths (sometimes called herberts).
The Oi! movement was partly a response to the perception that many participants in the early punk rock scene were, in the words of The Business guitarist Steve Kent, “trendy university people using long words, trying to be artistic…and losing touch”. André Schlesinger, singer of The Press, said, “Oi shares many similarities with folk music, besides its often simple musical structure; quaint in some respects and crude in others, not to mention brutally honest, it usually tells a story based in truth.”
Oi! became a recognized genre in the latter part of the 1970s, emerging after the perceived commercialization ofpunk rock, and before the soon-to-dominate hardcore punk sound. It fused the sounds of early punk bands such as the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, The Clash, and The Jam with influences from 1960s British rock bands such asThe Rolling Stones, the Small Faces, and The Who, football chants, pub rock bands such as Dr. Feelgood, Eddie and the Hot Rods, and The 101ers, and glam rock bands such as Slade and Sweet. First generation Oi! bands such as Sham 69 and Cock Sparrer were around for years before the word Oi! was used retrospectively to describe their style of music.
In 1980, writing in Sounds magazine, rock journalist Garry Bushell labelled the movement Oi!, taking the name from the garbled “Oi!” that Stinky Turner of Cockney Rejects used to introduce the band’s songs. The word is an old Cockney expression, meaning hey or hello. In addition to Cockney Rejects, other bands to be explicitly labeled Oi! in the early days of the genre included Angelic Upstarts, The 4-Skins, The Business, Blitz, The Blood, and Combat 84.
The prevalent ideology of the original Oi! movement was a rough brand of working-class rebellion. Lyrical topics included unemployment, workers’ rights, harassment by police and other authorities, and oppression by the government. Oi! songs also covered less-political topics such as street violence, football, sex, and alcohol. Although Oi! has come to be considered mainly a skinhead-oriented genre, the first Oi! bands were composed mostly of punk rockers and people who fit neither the skinhead nor punk label.
After the Oi! movement lost momentum in the United Kingdom, Oi! scenes formed in continental Europe, North America, and Asia. Soon, especially in the United States, the Oi! phenomenon mirrored the hardcore punk scene of the early 1980s, with Oi!-influenced bands such as Agnostic Front, Iron Cross, Anti Heros. Later American punk bands such as Rancid and Dropkick Murphys have credited Oi! as a source of inspiration. In the mid-1990s, there was a revival of interest in Oi! music in the UK, leading to older Oi! bands receiving more recognition. In the 2000s, many of the original UK Oi! bands reunited to perform and/or record. The song T.N.T. by hard rock bandAC/DC features the interjection at the start and in various parts throughout the song.
Association with far extremist politics
Some fans of Oi! were involved in white nationalist organisations such as the National Front (NF) and the British Movement (BM), leading some critics to identify the Oi! scene in general as racist. However, none of the bands associated with the original Oi! scene promoted racism in their lyrics. Some Oi! bands, such as the Angelic Upstarts,The Burial, and The Oppressed were associated with left wing politicsand anti-racism. The white power skinhead movement had developed its own music genre called Rock Against Communism, which had musical similarities to Oi!, but was not connected to the Oi! scene. Timothy S. Brown identifies a deeper connection: Oi!, he writes “played an important symbolic role in the politicization of the skinhead subculture. By providing, for the first time, a musical focus for skinhead identity that was ‘white’—that is, that had nothing to do with the West Indian immigrant presence and little obvious connection with black musical roots—Oi! provided a musical focus for new visions of skinhead identity [and] a point of entry for a new brand of right-wing rock music.”
Rightly or wrongly,The mainstream media especially associated Oi! with far right politics following a concert by The Business, The 4-Skins, and The Last Resort on 4 July 1981 at the Hambrough Tavern in Southall. Local Asian youths threw Molotov cocktails and other objects, mistakenly believing that the concert was a neo-Nazi event, partly because some audience members had written National Front slogans around the area. Although some of the skinheads were NF or BM supporters, among the 500 or so concert-goers were also left-wing skinheads, black skinheads, punk rockers, rockabillies, and non-affiliated youths. Five hours of rioting left 120 people injured—including 60 police officers—and the tavern burnt down. In the aftermath, many Oi! bands condemned racism and fascism.
These denials, however, were met with cynicism from some quarters because of the Strength Thru Oi!compilation album, released in May 1981. Not only was its title a play on a Nazi slogan—”Strength Through Joy“—but the cover featured Nicky Crane, a skinhead BM activist who was serving a four-year sentence for racist violence. Critic Garry Bushell, who was responsible for compiling the album, insists its title was a pun on The Skids‘ album Strength Through Joy, and that he had been unaware of the Nazi connotations. He also denied knowing the identity of the skinhead on the album’s cover until it was exposed by the Daily Mail two months later. Bushell, a socialist at the time, noted the irony of being branded a far right activist by a newspaper that “had once supported Oswald Mosley‘s Blackshirts, Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia, and appeasement with Hitler right up to the outbreak of World War Two.”
Another subsequent source for the popular association between Oi! and a racist or far-right creed was the bandSkrewdriver. Lead singer Ian Stuart Donaldson was recruited by the National Front—which had failed to enlist any actual Oi! bands—and reconstituted Skrewdriver as a white power skinhead act. While the band shared visual and musical attributes with Oi!, Bushell asserts, “It was totally distinct from us. We had no overlap other than a mutual dislike for each other.” Donaldson and Crane would later go on to found a magazine, Blood and Honour, and a street-orientated ‘skinhead’ club of the same name that arranged concerts for Skrewdriver and other racist bands such as No Remorse. Demonstrating the ongoing conflation of Oi! with the white power skinhead movement by some observers, the Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations refers to these groups as “‘white noise’ and ‘oi’ racist bands”.
The feckin Ejits were formed in 1982, amidst the full on punk skinhead scene in Aylesbury. England. The main venue in town being Friars had a regular stream of the top punk and 2tone bands coming through, so it only felt natural a local band should get involved.
Largly due to the fact he couldn’t live in his home town of Bedford, because the local crew had a few run ins with the local authority. ( A riot)
Released from jail the police oppression being to much, Aidan sniffing a bit of skirt found himself involved in the local Aylesbury scene.
The explosion of Oi in 1981, saw punk move into a more aggressive street sound than the earlier Punk, so over a few beers, a few mates decided to form their own band, well it sounded like more fun than doing your dole cheque every week on someone elses gig. Des Bhatt- bass, Neil Ledbury- Guitar, Alex Morison – Guitar, Dave wood on drums and Aidan Sterling Lead shouter agreed that the time was right to show the punk scene how to do it
The musical influence based purely on the stuff they liked to hear themselves, meaning 100mph punk, but with catchy sing along choruses, a sprinkling of psychobilly and a pinch of Irish folk.
“Lets just play what we like hearing, if people don’t like it, well tough luck, we won’t last long” Says Aidan
The Ejits didn’t intend to change the world. They weren’t looking for a revolution or to be featured in the latest Kings Road fashion magazine. If a few mates turned up had the Craic and the band got a few free beers in the process. Good enough result.
Aylesbury, not exactly brimming with high quality venues, one of the lads girlfriends worked in a coffee shop. Convincing the owner this band might be able to shift a few coffee’s, the owner agreed to some light entertainment.
With a quid for the soundman entry fee, the doors opened to over 100 of the local punks and skinheads, Cider under the jacket, vodka down the girls knickers, the party began. The total of 6 songs were ready, but the crowd were going mental after the 20 min set was done, so the lads just cracked into rehearsal tunes, like Rupert the bear and knees up mother brown, then repeated the whole set again.
The lads threw all they had into having a blast and enjoying themselves, and it rubbed off on every one, the beer flying, mental disorder at the front, and good natured aggression and grins.
Word spread like wild fire, and within a few gigs people started showing up from all the surrounding areas, High Wycombe, Oxford, Reading, Bedford and London.
They built up a large and loyal following of punks skinheads and flat tops with a bit of every other sort of youth too and the Ejit crew went everywhere the band did, taking their brand of knees up mayhem where ever they went.
The diversity of bands they shared the stage with shows the wide appeal of the Ejits. The Pogues, king Kurt, the Vibrators, Dr Feelgood. Peter and the test Tube babies, Uk Subs Exploited, meteors The Business and many more. Crossing barriers into Oi, Punk, Psychobilly and Pub Rock. The Ejits weren’t out of place, mainly because of the infectious party atmosphere they always created. The Craic was had by all
They only released two tracks on an album. The Picket song and Ejit party, both on this is oi album (Link records)
Mainly due to the fact that all the money they ever earned went on a few rounds with the very people who’d bought the tickets, there was never any money to go into studios and record. The band just blasted it out live, the crowd went mental, and everyone woke the next day in some squat surrounded by empty bottles, a few birds if they were lucky and all the local punks and skinheads
Times moved on, and Like most bands there came a time when enough was enough and in 1987 the Ejits last stand was performed, A farewell gig and a thank you to everyone who had bought the t shirts ,boarded the coaches, fought ,fucked, got pissed with the lads, jumped on stage jumped on the band and had the savage Craic.
Over 450 turned up and the night was deadly, a film crew were paid to capture it all for posterity, but of course, in true Ejit style they filmed the disco the support band, the bouncers and bar staff but forgot to turn the camera on for the Feckin Ejits themselves.
All that was captured is a few encores with the roadies singing and Dave the drummer with Alex on stage. The rest of the band were in the audience grinning and dancing like loonies with the crowd, going out the way they came in with a noisy 100mph knees up…..1234 Ejits are go!!!
After the sad passing of Alex this year The Ejits have decided to take to the stage at The Great Skinhead Reunion in Brighton, to pay tribute to him and to have a good jolly up with loads of old friends.
|RON WATTS PUNK PROMOTER|
|Friday 17th November 2006, 30 years since Punk detonated, and I had the pleasure of sharing a few drinks with Ron Watts in my home. Ron promoted many of the early bands, and organised the now legendary Punk Festival at the 100 Club on the 20th and 21st September, 1976. Ron’s just published a great book which documents those heady and (for those lucky enough to have been there) exciting times. I switched on the tape recorder, put some wine on the table and off we went, talking about our mutually favourite subject. Music! I hope people will find this interview as interesting as I did, he’s a top bloke with some great memories.
Rob Maddison, Tamworth, 19th November 2006. 100 Watts, a life in Music. Written by Ron Watts and forward by Glen Matlock. ISBN 0-9543884-4-5. Available from Heroes Publishing, the Internet (it’s on Amazon) or even a bookshop!
Senseless, loud, fast and heavy punk rock band from Stoke On Trent, England featuring the line up of Moz guitar/vocals, Justin bass/backing vocals and Dave on drums. formed in 2000 original line up of moz gaz fieldsy leon realeased one for the road cd on cityrat records soon after leon left leaving moz fieldsy gaz 2010 sean replaced feildsy on bass before leaving along with gaz in 2012 after a successful show at rebellion festival to persue other projects leading o justin coming in on bass and dave on drums
Can the UK’s ‘toilet circuit’ of small music venues survive?
From Punk Rock,Ian Dury, The Police, U2, Madness, Coldplay to PJ Harvey, Amy Winehouse, and countless other big British rock acts started out playing tiny pubs and clubs around the UK. But with many of these venues closing, who will keep the rock’n'roll dream alive?
Will another coffee shop bring in £ billions, tourists, radio play and record sales worldwide, that so many British bands have done for the UK. Small pub curcuit is the first step to a carreer, and artform, that british people hold so dearly to their hearts. The Government war on pubs and alcahol consumption will have its casualties, and British music is suffering severely. Every person that comes to the UK to see a band will bring on average around £500 to the British economy. The translates to £millions every year. Bands didnt start their career, at Wembley arena. Are we going to hand over the entire music industry to 5 minute kareoke singers and make Simon Cowell a bit richer
The Bull and Gate in Kentish Town in north London is, in music-business vernacular, a “toilet venue”, where the stage can just about accommodate a four-piece band, and the dressing room contains a solitary grubby mirror. But the term does this place a real disservice, both in terms of the ornate Victorian splendour of the main bar, and in the roll call of names who have played in the 150-capacity back room – among them, Madness, The Clash Coldplay, Pulp, PJ Harvey, Muse, Blur and the Manic Street Preachers.
After three decades of hosting gigs here, the landlord and landlady are selling up and retiring. The Bull and Gate has been bought by the brewery and pub company Young’s, who are apparently set on turning it into a gastropub (“We don’t feel that having a live music offering at the pub alongside our plans to serve food is viable,” went one company statement). The venue’s current music promoters, a four-person outfit called Club Fandango, will stage their last show on 4 May, which will be preceded by a special run of gigs, likely to feature notable alumni of the Bull and Gate, to be titled Play Your Respects. And that will be that: yet another small music venue shutting its doors, adding to a list of closures that extends across the country, and threatens one of British popular culture’s most inspired inventions: the so-called “toilet circuit”, on which no end of hugely successful musicians have taken their first decisive steps.
In London, as with most matters reducible to hard cash, things are not as bad as elsewhere: here, the story is partly about decline, but also a migration of venues to the east of the city, as ongoing gentrification pushes live music out of its old north London stamping grounds. But beyond the M25, things look grim. The national Barfly chain, which had venues in Brighton, Birmingham, Cambridge and Cardiff, closed most of them between 2008 and 2010. Such famous places as Leeds’s Duchess of York, Newport’s TJs and Leicester’s Princess Charlotte have either been converted to new uses or left to fall into disrepair.
Others are surviving, but struggling: the people in charge of the renowned Hull Adelphi have expressed serious doubts about its future, and venues such as the Tunbridge Wells Forum are now staffed by volunteers. Four or five years ago, the music business clung to the idea that even if sales of CDs were being squeezed, people’s appetite for ticketed live events looked to be increasing. That may hold true for bigger venues, but at the bottom of the live hierarchy, a new rule seems to hold sway: if people now expect to get their music for nothing, they increasingly think that the same ought to apply to watching new bands, no matter how promising they might be.
Twenty or so years ago, when I was a young music writer, I spent most of my evenings in these places, keeping myself going on lager and cigarettes, watching endless bands and occasionally finding music worth evangelising about. It’s a life I still miss, when I used to keep the company of some of the people whose drive and enthusiasm still keep the milieu around small venues alive today – people such as Simon Williams, the one-time staff writer at the New Musical Express who went on to found esteemed independent record label Fierce Panda, before also extending his activities into gig promotion and eventually rooting Club Fandango at the Bull and Gate.
Sitting in an alcove in the pub’s main room, Williams and his business partner Andy Macleod briefly rhapsodise about triumphant Bull and Gate moments (when Coldplay played here in April 1999, says Williams, the queue extended down Kentish Town Road, and they were “just too good”). They also talk me through the events of the last few years: their attempts to buy the Bull and Gate to use as a venue and company HQ, and a quest to secure sponsorship which included a pitch to the makers of an iconic energy drink built on the rebranding of the place as the Red Bull and Gate: “We said to them, ‘You can just paint it, like you do with Formula 1 cars – it’s the greatest tag-line of all time.’”
They have now found a new venue in Dalston, but the imminent closure of the Bull and Gate evidently still hurts. “It’ll be appalling when it actually goes,” says Williams. “I’ve been coming here since 1986, when I was doing a fanzine. That’s a long time. We’re absurdly romantic about this place, and absurdly loyal.”
“Once it becomes a gastropub, that’s final, isn’t it?” says Macleod. “That 33 years of musical heritage just disappears. It’ll all feel really sad.”
Coldplay on stage at the Bull and Gate in London in April 1999, the night they signed their record deal. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the GuardianThe squeeze affecting small venues, they tell me, is down to a tangle of factors: among them, the transformation of urban neighbourhoods such as Kentish Town, the rise of free gigs where the band get a cut of the bar takings, and a music industry that now gets involved with up-and-coming acts at an absurdly early stage. “There’s no money in new bands, we all know that,” says Williams. “But now, with the hyper-speed of things in the music industry, you get in touch with a band who might be doing their first gig, and it’ll be, ‘Talk to our manager, who’s got to talk to the lawyer and the agent.’”
Purely to be seen to be doing their job, they tell me, a band’s representatives might now demand a guaranteed fee of anything up to £75. When the costs of a night at the Bull & Gate come in at least £200 before any musicians have been paid, that threatens the whole viability of the enterprise, not least when every promoter fears the turnout music industry lore knows as “two men and a dog”.
Tonight’s bands draw a combined crowd of around 40. First on are an unremarkable-looking quartet called Civil Love, who play a surprisingly accomplished version of the melodic genre some call power-pop. Next are Evil Alien, a part-electronic band from Birmingham who have driven down to play their first London show, pulling in talent scouts from record companies and a smattering of curious booking agents. Last, bless them, are a White Stripes-esque duo called I Like the GoGo, who send me running from the room with their somewhat irreverent treatment of the Dexys Midnight Runners’ song Geno.
Back at the bar, I talk to the Bull and Gate’s landlord, 70-year-old Pat Lynskey, who speaks with the wry detachment of a man who has seen a few generations of musicians and drinkers come and go, and will soon be spending his first summer in over three decades well away from beer taps and time bells. “I think in the last five years, technology has not been good to us,” he says. “Prior to that, people had to come and see what was on, and they’d stay for the night. Now, they can check everything on their phone before they leave. And if they don’t like it, they won’t come.”
History records that the Manic Street Preachers played at the Bull and Gate on 17 October 1990, when they had just put out an almost-ignored record titled New Art Riot, and were trying desperately to get the attention of the weekly music papers, and again on 17 July of the same year, in even less auspicious circumstances.
“We were on after this really weird folk band, who were Russian or Ukrainian, I think,” says their bass player and lyric writer Nicky Wire. “We walked on stage, and the first thing I said was, ‘Fuck me – no wonder so many Russians kill themselves’, to a very bemused audience. We did about five or six songs. It was a bit of a thrill to play there, because it was always on [1980s and 90s TV staples] Rapido and Snub TV. It did feel like a really good gig to do.”
He recalls the shabbiness of the kind of places the Manics once played, but also the romance they embodied. “There was definitely a ragged glory to it. You felt you were treading the boards of heroes, because nearly everyone we loved had done the same thing.” He mentions vividly remembered gigs at the Leeds Duchess of York, the long-gone Buzz Club in Aldershot, and Southampton Joiners, where the boss of the Columbia record label paid the band a visit, and their career-securing contract was thereby confirmed.
The 200-capacity Joiners is now battling to survive, which leads me to pay a visit the night after my trip to Kentish Town. Having never been there before, I’m thrilled to find a toilet venue par excellence: a bar whose furnishings extend to two apparently paleolithic sofas, a disused subterranean dressing room – flood-damaged, it seems – covered in graffiti left by visiting musicians (“Razorlight – I want to torture you slowly and let you die in a lot of pain”), and an abiding sense of everything being held together by simple goodwill.
“The chances of us closing are massive,” says the venue’s manager, the imposing but genial Patrick Muldowney. “Every Monday morning, we see what bills we can pay – and some weeks, we don’t have enough money, simple as that.” Recent benefit concerts by the Vaccines (toilet circuit graduates who will soon play the 20,000-capacity O2 arena in London) and the singer-songwriter Frank Turner have brought in much-needed funds. But times are unendingly tough: whereas he could once depend on even local bands drawing in at least 30 paying customers, Muldowney says the figure is now closer to 10. “It’s a two-thirds drop-off,” he says, with a grimace. “So it’s massive.”
As in London, Southampton now sees regular free gigs in standard-issue bars and pubs that are financed by sales of drinks, something made easier by a recent legislative change that got rid of any need for an official music license for venues that hold up to 200 people. For the Joiners, that kind of event is pretty much impossible: it has an over-14 license for its music room (an integral part, says Muldowney, of its ethos), and a much more thrifty culture. “The difference between us and a pub is that 50% of our crowd won’t buy a drink all evening,” he says; the Joiners’ head band booker, Ricky Bates, also points out that whereas lesser venues will offer little better than a “karaoke PA”, the Joiners prides itself on an estimable sound system, but it needs a paid engineer to work it.
Tonight’s headliners are the History of Apple Pie, who play indie-rock built on a mixture of sweetness and noise, and are at the end of a 19-date tour punctuated by nights spent at Travelodges and the odd recuperative stay at parents’ houses scattered around the country. Before them, I watch a local trio called Imperatrix, who are bedevilled by colds and flu, and by the fact that their drummer learned their songs a mere 12 hours before. They deliver a performance full of very familiar ingredients: brief flashes of promise, gauche repartee and the sense that with enough visits to venues like this, they might just discover who they actually are.
On my way out, I’m given a Joiners T-shirt, covered in an A-to-Z of the bands who have played here – from the Arctic Monkeys to the Zutons. Next to the door is a list of forthcoming attractions, featuring names that instantly convey the mixture of bravado and creativity that often courses around places like this: the Dead Lay Waiting, Our Lost Infantry, Burglars of the Heart. And a potent thought once again hits home: what a profound pity it would be if the toilet circuit was allowed to rot away – leaving endless free music and ad hoc gigs, but no dependable means via which musicians can been transported away from their home turf, towards something bigger.
“It gets under your skin, doesn’t it?” says Muldowney, by way of a goodbye. “You fall in love with places like this.” Counting in a steady stream of people at the door, he looks firmly in his element, though he views the future with an uneasy mixture of hope and uncertainty. “I’m an eternal optimist,” he says. “We’ll certainly be here in a year.”
UK toilet circuit landmarks past and present
1 Leicester Charlotte (formerly Princess Charlotte; capacity: 200)
Hosted Oasis, the Libertines, Muse et al, but closed in March 2010, to be developed into student flats.
2 Newport TJs (capacity: 350)
A legendary venue where, in December 1991, Kurt Cobain is said to have proposed to Courtney Love. Closed in 2010, and has fallen into disrepair.
3 Cardiff Barfly (capacity: 200)
Part of a chain of small venues that hit the buffers between 2008 and 2010. Hosted future US stars Kings of Leon on their first UK tour.
4 Leeds Duchess of York (capacity: 200 officially, 300 on a good night)
Put on gigs in its cramped back room by such future stars as Nirvana, Coldplay and Pulp. Now a branch of menswear giant Hugo Boss.
5 Manchester Roadhouse (capacity: 200)
Still in business. The entire membership of future Mercury Prize-winners Elbow have worked here; singer Guy Garvey was once the barman.
6 Hull Adelphi (capacity: 200)
In a former housing terrace. Has struggled to survive, but will, with luck, celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2014.
7 Glasgow King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut (capacity: 300)
A survivor, and one-time platform for such future stars as Florence and the Machine and the Killers. Famously where Creation records boss Alan McGee first saw Oasis in May 1993.
8 Southampton Joiners (capacity: 150)
Now fighting the prospect of closure; current indie stars the Vaccines recently played a benefit show. Local legend claims that Jimi Hendrix played here en route to the Isle of Wight festival in 1970.
9 Oxford Jericho Tavern (capacity: 180)
A heartwarming story: after a spell as part of the student-oriented pub chain Scream, reopened as a music venue in 2005. It was once a home from home for Radiohead.
10 Tunbridge Wells Forum (capacity: 250)
The toilet venue that was once a (public) toilet. Still in business, 20 years old, and staffed by volunteers.
11 London Kentish Town Bull & Gate (capacity: 150)
One of the most renowned toilet venues, and now set for closure. Has hosted Madness, Blur, Manic Street Preachers, Muse, Coldplay and hundreds more. Set to become – why, of course – a gastropub.
- subcultz on Great Skinhead Reunion 4. Brighton june 6th-8th 2014
- subcultz on Feckin Ejits
- Jules on Feckin Ejits
- Jules on Great Skinhead Reunion 4. Brighton june 6th-8th 2014
- paul griffiths on Adam and the Ants
- United on Del O’Connor 100% Violence
- Robbie twinkle on The Romper Stomper
- Alison on Adam and the Ants
- rapelang on Ben Sherman 1963 -2012 RIP
- rudy50-50 on Soul Radics