Monday, 21 November 2011


You can blame Adam Ant for Monkey Picks. He started me off. The first album I ever bought was Kings of The Wild Frontier, from Woolworth’s in Uxbridge, February 1981. I was twelve years old and hadn’t paid much attention to music until seeing him and his Ants on Top of The Tops, twirling around bare chested, drop kicking, and yodelling a cockney apache war cry. Soon after, coming back from a school trip to the Royal Tournament, I managed to instigate the back half of the coach into collectively drumming out the title track on their thighs.

From then, music and collecting records became an obsession and I got hold of his earlier album Dirk Wears White Sox and a couple of pre-Kings singles: “Young Parisians” and “Xerox”. It would suit my purpose here to say I preferred those punkier records but I’m not sure I did. I found them strange and disturbing but when the DJ at the school disco asked for requests it was their B-sides “Lady” (about a naked woman, “I had a good look at her crack”) and “Whip In My Valise” (“Who taught you to torture?”) that I asked for. “I don’t play B-sides” said the snooty DJ. “But they’re better”, I stated in the most petulant what-sort-of-idiot-are-you voice I could muster.

By October I’d bought my first Jam record and for a short time Adam stared out of one eye (he had a patch on the other) from one bedroom wall to The Jam on the other. But then Adam came down for another Jam poster-magazine purchase and was diddley qa qa-ed to the dustbin of childhood fads; untouched for thirty years until I gave Kings a spin six months ago, and Dirk last week. I didn’t appreciate how good an album Dirk Wears White Sox is as a kid. Now it sounds darker and more sordid than I remember it. It was one hell of a leap from playing those songs to a bunch of sexcases in gimp masks one year to having coach loads of kids beating out your rhythms and writing to Jim’ll Fix It the next.

In recent years the only occasions his name has come up has been after his long-standing mental health problems have surfaced. A friend used to love telling me the one about his mate, the market stall, the gun, and a pub full of people singing “ridicule is nothing to be scared of” to tip an already antagonised Ant over the edge. But he is making something of a comeback, certainly as far as performing goes.

Without fanfare, his new band, The Good The Mad and The Lovely, hit the opening sustained chords of “Plastic Surgery”. Adam wanders on. It can only be him even though his head and face are hidden beneath a large admiral’s hat, some bandanas, what looks like false hair, a moustache, blue and brown war paint, and a big pair of black rimmed spectacles. The choice of song, dating back to 1977 and Jubilee, turns out to be a good indication of what follows. He may have rummaged in his dressing up box for a familiar yet now-too-small hussar jacket but it’s his pre-TOTP era he plunders the most, much to the delight of an audience of old and new punks, goths, people in rubber, flamboyant weirdos and fetish freaks. Oh, and at least three mods. It takes a few songs for his voice to warm up and understandably he's lost a little grace with his heavier movements. He carries the unmistakable vibe of someone whose switch is on the blink; it’s uncomfortable yet compelling. There’s a palpable sense that anything could happen; that he could snap at any time. I’m not convinced that should be served as entertainment but it added an extra layer of edginess and as time went on we both began to relax.

I’ve mixed feelings about the band (guitar, bass, two drummers) as they replaced the taut energy of the early songs (“Cartrouble”, “Cleopatra”, “Zerox”, “Physical”, “Kick”, “Never Trust A Man With Egg On His Face” etc) with a slight heavy-metal sludge, yet it helped beef up the songs I didn’t recognise but having since listened to the originals versions I must say they improved them. The disappointing lack of glamour in his choice of dull session men was abated by the introduction of a two young ladies for “Deutscher Girls”. They came and went through the evening, each time reappearing with fewer clothes until down to their smalls. And guess what? He even sang “Lady” (best song of the night) and “Whip In My Valise”. Wonder what that school disco DJ is doing now, huh?

Of course he does the hits too, but we can excuse him for that. I still think “Kings of The Wild Frontier” is an amazing, unique sounding record and “Puss In Boots” nothing short of utter bollocks but it was a very well chosen set that stretched to an hour and three quarters with rarely a wasted moment.

A new album is allegedly forthcoming early next year. It is entitled - wait for it - Adam Ant Is The Blueblack Hussar In Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter. It’ll be the first new Adam Ant record I’ll have bought for thirty years.


  1. Fascinating to read about, he's just one of those compelling characters. The early song titles evoked memories - having a few years on you I had the good fortune to see the Ants live at my little local venue as a 14 yr old in March 1979 , only knowing the material from previous John Peel sessions (Cleopatra, Physical, Lady, etc. I think) as 'Dirk...' was yet to be released. I know it was a good night, but had no idea that just a few years down the line his face would be adorning pencil cases and the like in WH Smiths etc. As you so rightly say it was one hell of a leap. Sounds like yet another leap to this, too. I hope he's ok.

  2. Wow, that must've been some gig to see at that age. Yes, gotta wish him all the best of luck.

  3. Aargh my maths ain't wot it used to be - I was fifteen, not fourteen... but still a baby punk really! Saw a lot of bands in those days and very glad I did. You never know what's going to become of them!

  4. Saw them in August 1981 at a pier on the Hudson River in NYC, they sailed up the river on a pirate ship, docked, climbed onstage and played a great set, it was my second gig I'd ever attended, though they opened with a cover of "School's Out", odd as my first day of 10th grade was the next day!!

  5. BVtw read an interview with him a few months back in this U.S. magazine (the name escapes me at the moment) devoted to old punk/ska new wave. It was sad really as he was all over the place. The subjects and topics just came and went like the tide and it sort of pissed me off that they'd published such a depressing insight.

  6. It it sad. I'll add that Mrs Monkey thought I was unduly harsh and she didn't feel uncomfortable in the way I did. Certainly after all he's been through he appeared to be doing all right. Possibly I was reading too much into his back-story. I'd go and see him again.