He’ll again present his classic ‘Friend or Foe’ album in its entirety on a spring 2020 run.
Adam Ant’s life has been as colorful as his stage attire. As a kid, his mother was a housekeeper for Paul McCartney, and Ant had the honor of walking McCartney’s sheepdog and getting a peek at the Beatle’s private music room. As celebrity, he hung out for a day with Michael Jackson at Jackson’s parents’ house. Other brushes with icons include being briefly managed by the legendary Malcom McLaren, and a chance meeting with Liza Minnelli. (More on that later.)
However, despite what the Internet claims, he never performed his hits alongside fellow English star David Bowie.
YouTube has audio of Ant and the Thin White Duke “performing” “Stand and Deliver” and “Prince Charming” that are touted as rarities, but they’re bogus. “The only time I performed with David Bowie was I think I was standing next to him at the end of Live Aid,” muses Ant, referring to when the English contingent of the landmark 1985 concert closed the show with anthem “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Ant confirms, “I didn’t ever make a video with him].”
While the cameras didn’t catch Ant right next to Bowie, he’s nonetheless onstage with the crowd of giants (including McCartney), wearing a leather jacket and a broad grin. That natural exuberance and his physical magnetism helped him forge his initial success as frontman for post-punk act Adam & The Ants. After becoming a major solo pop star in the ’80s, Ant reached the top 40 again in 1995 with the love song “Wonderful.”
While his recorded output has been spotty — his sixth studio album was 2013’s Adam Ant Is the BlueBlack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter; an album that was announced in 2014 remains in progress — he has toured regularly since 2011. “You’ve always got to go to the USA and put the work in,” he asserts about visiting the States. “You] go right ’round the country, and you realize just how massive it is and how different every state is.”
Ant, who turned 65 on Nov. 3, wrapped his last tour here in October, where he played 1982’s Friend or Foe in its entirety for the first time. (He’s doing a U.K. tour leg that ends Dec. 12, and then he’ll come back in 2020 for another 16 dates, starting April 24 at Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez, Calif.) The album was a professional and artistic turning point for Ant: It was where he went solo after breaking ground with The Ants on their 1979 debut, Dirk Wears White Socks; 1980’s Kings of the Wild Frontier; and 1981’s Prince Charming.
While his trademark swagger remained, Ant’s music now featured more of a glam rock/new wave style. One of the most prominent changes was the addition of an exuberant brass section that was as front and center as the guitars.
“I remember thinking it was quite unusual to have brass on a rock’n’roll single, so putting brass in was quite a risk at the time,” he recalls. “But I just literally wanted to pick that new] band from scratch and went, ‘OK, I’ve got this image I still want to do, not only do the lyrics but also do my favorite tracks from The Ants.’”
It paid off. He scored a U.K. No. 1 and a Billboard Hot 100 top 20 hit with “Goody Two Shoes,” a swinging jitterbug whose popularity was boosted by play on a nascent MTV that introduced Ant’s playful charisma and aristocratic pirate fashion to America. (The channel’s viewers dubbed him Sexiest Man Alive.) While the song could be mistaken for condemning clean living, it actually stemmed from his frustration with the press’ insistent questioning about his private life, for they were convinced it had to be as outrageous as his face-painted stage persona. But Ant has stated that he has been a teetotaler his entire career.
He notes, “‘Goody Two Shoes’ was a bit more of a manifesto, responding back to the press a lot of the questions that I’d been receiving and, in a way, a very personal response to a lot of it.” Another reflective song, despite its jangly rhythm, was the lament “Made of Money,” which referenced Ant’s first marriage. But Friend or Foe wasn’t only inspired by conflict: “Crackpot History and the Right to Lie” can thank the iconic Minnelli for its existence. Ant met her while touring Australia in 1981.
“She’s an absolutely wonderful person, one of the most incredible performers I’ve ever seen,” he says. “I kind of thought, ‘Well, I’m definitely going to write a song around her,’ and it ended up being quite an abstract song, quite a Cajun-based song.” Hence the lyrics, “I wish that everyone could see a show by Liza Minnelli/Such a marvelous lady with talent by the ton.”
Although the brass is one reason Friend or Foe is so vivacious, Ant is touring the album without it, devising rock-based, invigorating arrangements that more than compensate for its absence. Working out that aspect was “the main challenge” when it came to presenting the record live.
“That was something that I just think a lot about before coming on the road with it,” says Ant, explaining that it would have been a bit difficult to have the brass involved for only about half of the show. “You’ve got to take a bit of a risk and it’s a bit of a challenge, but it seems to be working quite well. People seem to be responding, and I’m looking forward to doing more.”
For Ant, offering a full rendition of Friend or Foe is like “doing a play.” Having done such productions onstage before for Kings of the Wild Frontier and Dirk Wears White Socks, he tries to deliver the material “literally by the numbers, so you’re presenting the songs in order and you’re presenting pretty much the same arrangements. You know the audience knows the songs pretty well, so it’s like someone going to see a play that they know quite well and you’re trying to produce it live for them.”
Audiences don’t just enjoy hearing the music — they also get into the sprit by mimicking Ant’s flamboyant ’80s wardrobe: tall boots, billowy poet blouses, tricorn hats and military-braided coats. “I think they like a particular album and they like the costume on the album, so they come along with that. That’s a bit more of a sort of a celebration of particular periods of the work, I suppose,” says Ant. “This is a night out for the fans] to dress up and get excited and celebrate as well as the artist. It’s actually nice that people feel comfortable enough to do that still.”
He feels fortunate to have such audiences attending to the shows and being so responsive to them: “I don’t take that lightly, and I don’t take it for granted. I just thank everybody that has been coming and making them so successful.” That crowd includes millennials, which also pleases him. “It’s interesting to see quite a young audience as well, so it seems to have passed down a bit. It’s good to see another generation that’s coming.”