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Adam & The Ants

Adam and the Ants were a British rock band active during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The original group, which lasted from 1977 to 1982, became notable as a cult band during the transition from the late-1970s punk rock era to the post-punk and New Wave era and were noted for their high camp and overtly sexualised stage performances and use of Burundi drums. By the end of 1979, the line-up of musicians Dave Barbarossa, Matthew Ashman and Leigh Gorman – all of whom left the band in January 1980 at the suggestion of then-de facto manager Malcolm McLaren, to form the instrumentalist personnel of the controversial Bow Wow Wow.

The second incarnation of Adam and the Ants featured guitarist Marco Pirroni and drummer/record producer Chris Hughes and lasted from about February 1980 to March 1982 and achieved major commercial success in the UK as early leaders of the burgeoning UK New Romantic movement. Both versions of the band were led by singer and chief songwriter Adam Ant.

Formation

Prior to the Ants, Adam Ant (born Stuart Leslie Goddard) played bass in pub rock group Bazooka Joe, now primarily known as the band that headlined when the Sex Pistols played their first concert on 6 November 1975 at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. After witnessing this, Adam quit the band with the intention of forming his own, inspired by the Sex Pistols.

Tentatively called The B-Sides, they practised regularly over the following months, but, lacking a drummer, never managed to play a gig. Meanwhile, Adam Ant had befriended some influential figures in the burgeoning London punk scene, most notably Jordan, who worked in Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s SEX boutique shop. The Ants eventually formed in early 1977 consisting of Lester Square (guitar), Andy Warren (bass guitar) and Paul Flannagan (drums). Lester Square left to finish his course at an art school and to later form The Monochrome Set just days after the Ants played their first gig on 5 May 1977, at a bedroom in Muswell Hill. Mark Ryan replaced him on guitar and played the first formal gigs (starting with a performance at the ICA in London on 10 May 1977). In early June, Flanagan was replaced with Dave Barbarossa and the resulting line-up recorded “Plastic Surgery” (along with seven other unreleased demos later dubbed the “Jubilee Demos” by bootleggers) and featured in the film Jubilee as the band of Adam’s character Kid, until Ryan was replaced by Johnny Bivouac in October 1977.

Early recordings

The band made their radio debut on the John Peel show with a session recorded on 23 January 1978, including the song “Lou” featuring the group’s manager Jordan guesting on lead vocals (as she would regularly do on live performance of the song from mid-1977 until May 1978 when she split from the band). The following day, the Ants re-recorded “Deutscher Girls” (and overdubbed a guitar solo onto the above mentioned version of “Plastic Surgery”) for the Jubilee soundtrack album, which would be released in April – the two tracks on the album being group’s vinyl debut.

Touring extensively around the UK, often with Siouxsie and the Banshees, they proved to be unpopular with much of the British music press who disliked their fetishistic lyrics and imagery. In response, the group formed a strong – at times ideological – rapport with amateur punk fanzines such as Ripped And Torn which gave them more favourable coverage. The band built up a strong cult following (the early “Antpeople”) but struggled to find overground success or even a record deal (apart from the two Jubilee soundtrack songs) until 1978 when they were signed to Decca.

By this time, the Ants had been through several line-up changes before eventually settling on the stable line-up of Adam Ant (vocals and guitar), Matthew Ashman (guitar), Andy Warren (bass guitar) and Dave Barbe (drums). It would be this line-up that recorded and released their first single “Young Parisians” to confused reviews and little success, along with a total of 21 demo recordings, all bar one of which was recorded at Decca’s own studio in West Hampstead. Many of these and other early recordings and demos would eventually surface on bootleg records. They also recorded a further two John Peel Sessions in July 1978 and March 1979 and all three sessions were released in 2001 on The Complete Radio 1 Sessions.

Apparently unable to satisfactorily market the band, Decca let them go in early 1979, and the group, still with the same line-up but employing a lighter sound than previously (except for live shows), signed with independent label Do It Records and recorded their second single “Zerox” and debut album Dirk Wears White Sox, before Warren also left to join Square in The Monochrome Set. Ashman also temporarily left the band at this point, and Ant and Barbe recorded a set of nine demos at Solid Gold Sound Studios in London for a putative Ant solo project, using a heavily soul/funk/disco influenced sound. Do It rejected the new songs and Ashman returned to the band shortly thereafter.

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