Adam and the Ants were an English rock band active during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The group, which lasted from 1977 to 1982, existed in two incarnations, both fronted by Adam Ant. The first, founded in May 1977 and known simply as The Ants until November that year, achieved considerable cult popularity during the transition from the punk rock era to the post-punk and new wave era, and were noted for their high camp and overtly sexualised stage performances and songs. The final line-up of this first incarnation – Dave Barbarossa, Matthew Ashman and Leigh Gorman – 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-producer Chris Hughes, and was noted for its use of Burundi drums. It lasted from February 1980 to March 1982, and achieved major commercial success in the UK and abroad.
Prior to Adam and 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 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. The Ants eventually formed in early 1977 with a line-up of Lester Square (guitar), Andy Warren (bass guitar) and Paul Flannagan (drums). Lester Square left to finish his course at an art school (and later formed 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, Flannagan was replaced with Dave Barbarossa (also known as Dave Barbe) 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. Shortly after this, the group adopted the longer Adam and the Ants bandname.
The band made their radio debut on the John Peel show with a session recorded on 23 January 1978; this included 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, Adam and 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 the group’s vinyl debut.
Although popular, the outfit were, according to critic Simon Price, “dismissed by the punk cognoscenti as something of a joke band”. 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, Adam and 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. They also recorded both sides of a planned second single, “Zerox“/”Kick” at RAK Studios, plus a total of 19 demo recordings (including another version of “Zerox”) all of which were recorded at Decca’s own studio in West Hampstead. All of these, as well as other early recordings and demos, eventually surfaced as bootleg recordings. They also recorded two further John Peel Sessions in July 1978 and March 1979; 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 rerecorded and released their second single “Zerox” (with a changed B-side, “Whip In My Valise”) before recording their debut album Dirk Wears White Sox, after which Warren also left to join Lester 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.
Dirk Wears White Sox
Late 1979 saw the release of Dirk Wears White Sox (1979, Do It Records). The title referenced Dirk Bogarde. The album was somewhat dark, with post-punk riffs and some vestiges of glam rock, as well as attempts to fuse this sound with funk and soul. Lyrically it addressed subjects such as fetishism, historical figures like Adolf Hitler, John F. Kennedy and Cleopatra as well as art history, particularly the Futurism movement. It gained a cult following rather than commercial success, leading a frustrated Adam to hire Malcolm McLaren, former manager of the Sex Pistols, in the hope of gaining more widespread recognition.
On 26 January 1980, McLaren convinced the rest of the band – then comprising guitarist Matthew Ashman, bassist Leigh Gorman (who had replaced Warren in November 1979) and drummer Dave Barbe – to leave Adam and the Ants and form Bow Wow Wow, fronted by Annabella Lwin.
Kings of the Wild Frontier
Between February and April 1980, a new version of Adam and the Ants was formed with Marco Pirroni (an ex-member of Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Models, Rema Rema and Cowboys International) (guitar), Kevin Mooney (bass guitar), and two drummers, Terry Lee Miall and Chris Hughes (ex-The Blitz Brothers, future Tears for Fears producer), who took the pseudonym of “Merrick”. Pirroni would become an influential member of the group, co-writing all of their new songs with Adam Ant.
While in the process of assembling the band, Ant and Pirroni re-recorded the Dirk Wears White Sox track “Cartrouble Pt.2” as a contract-fulfilling single for Do It, together with future Culture Club drummer Jon Moss and with Hughes producing. The label released the single under the shorter title “Cartrouble” in March 1980 (with Moss credited as “Terry 1+2”), and it reached No. 1 on the UK Independent Singles Chart. The following month, the by-then recruited full band recorded the single “Kings of the Wild Frontier” for prospective record companies.
Without label support, the band carried out a major UK “Ants Invasion” tour, at the end of which, they signed a major label deal with CBS Records and began recording Kings of the Wild Frontier, having first rush-released the title track as a single. That album was a hit in the United Kingdom and put the band at the forefront of the New Romantic movement. The album reached No. 1 on the UK album charts on 24 January 1981.
There were three hit singles from this LP, including “Dog Eat Dog” (reaching No. 4 on the UK singles charts in October 1980), “Antmusic” (No. 2 in January 1981) and “Kings of the Wild Frontier” (No. 2 in March 1981, previously No. 48 in August 1980). In addition, “Antmusic” made it to No. 1 in Australia for five weeks. In the UK, both “Antmusic” and “Kings of the Wild Frontier” were kept from the top spot by songs by the then recently murdered John Lennon.
Decca and Do It Records both repromoted all of the band’s previous output to cash in on the success of the album and its satellite singles. “Young Parisians” reached No. 9 in December 1980 (giving the old Ants band a posthumous UK Top 10 hit single) while Dirk Wears White Sox made it to No. 16 in the album charts in February 1981. “Zerox” and “Cartrouble” also charted that month, making it to No. 33 and No. 45, respectively, in the UK Singles Chart.
In November 1981, Adam & the Ants released Prince Charming. The band had two United Kingdom No. 1 singles: “Stand and Deliver” was a No. 1 single in the UK for 5 weeks in May 1981, followed by “Prince Charming“, which topped the UK charts for 4 weeks in September 1981. “Ant Rap” reached No. 3 in January 1982.
There would be a further round of cash-in reissues of early material in early 1982. The two Jubilee soundtrack songs were reissued in February as a 7-inch single with “Deutscher Girls” as the A-side, reaching No. 13 on the UK singles chart (giving the original Ants band a second posthumous Top 15 hit), while Antmusic EP, a 12″ EP of three unused tracks from the Dirk sessions plus a remix of “Cartrouble (Parts 1 & 2)”), was released by Do It in March, reaching No. 46.
In March 1982, feeling certain band members “lacked enthusiasm”, Adam Ant disbanded the group. Newspaper articles at the time offered various explanations for the motivations behind the split. Initially Adam was quoted as saying that the split was amicable, but later he was to say that “the interest just wasn’t there any more. It might have been Adam and the Ants on the billboards but not on stage”. In addition, it is said that Pirroni quit as he was tired of touring. Adam Ant launched a solo career a few months after the split (though he retained Marco Pirroni as co-writer), enjoying immediate success with a third UK No. 1 hit single “Goody Two Shoes“. Some copies of the single are credited to Adam and the Ants, but only Ant and Pirroni from the band feature, plus also Merrick on the UK single mix (the US release used the album recording, featuring Bogdan Wiczling from Ant’s new live backing band). Merrick subsequently rejoined Dalek I Love You; later in 1982, he began a successful career as a producer with Tears For Fears.
Post break-up activity
Antbox, a retrospective box set spanning Ant’s career from the late 1970s through the 1990s, was released in 2000. The box set included 66 tracks on three CDs, and quickly sold the initial 10,000 units. In 2003, the Antbox set was re-released in a different form (with the same tracks) and sold once again with success.
2004 saw the digitally remastered re-release of the albums Dirk Wears White Sox, Kings of the Wild Frontier, and Prince Charming, with bonus material in the form of previously unreleased demo songs. These were overseen by Marco Pirroni, and Kings of the Wild Frontier and Prince Charming were remastered by Chris Hughes.
On 10 September 2008, the Daily Mail gave away a CD copy of Prince Charming with the newspaper.
To date, Ant has released six solo albums. His partnership with Pirroni would continue until the two fell out in March 2010. During the 2000s, Pirroni was a member of The Wolfmen with Ant’s 1982-1985 bassist Chris Constantinou; together they released two albums.
Hughes has also released two solo albums. He and Tibbs formed the short-lived duo Merrick and Tibbs, which released one single in the early 1980s. Mooney later formed Wide Boy Awake with Jordan, and Max with Ashman.
Barbe, Ashman and Gorman’s post Ants band Bow Wow Wow eventually scored two UK Top 10 hits. The trio later formed Chiefs of Relief and released an album on Sire Records by which point only Ashman remained. The Monochrome Set, featuring Warren and Square, have released fourteen albums to date. Bivouac achieved TV comedy success as Strings in a BBC police sitcom, Operation Good Guys.
Adam and the Ants have inspired several artists that have emerged since the band’s short career, including Nine Inch Nails. In early 1995, Adam Ant and Marco Pirroni joined Nine Inch Nails on stage to perform “Physical (You’re So)”, “Red Scab” and “Beat My Guest”, three songs from Adam and the Ants’ early catalogue. Nine Inch Nails also covered “Physical (You’re So)” on their 1992 EP Broken.
On 8 May 2006, Hyper released their debut album featuring a cover of “Antmusic”, with Leeroy Thornhill of the Prodigy on lead vocals. In April 2009, No Doubt performed a cover of “Stand and Deliver” on an episode of the American TV show Gossip Girl, and performed it at the Bamboozle music festival, New Jersey, in May 2009, although they had no plans to release the song as a single.
In 2011, CBBC Horrible Histories wrote a song called “Dick Turpin” that was a pastiche on Adam and the Ants “Stand and Deliver”. This has made the song popular within the younger generations.
An affectionate short film, featuring Nick Moran as Adam and Mackenzie Crook as Gary Tibbs, called Ant Muzak, featuring Adam and the Ants visiting a supermarket late at night at the same time as Sigue Sigue Sputnik, was made in 2002. Gary Tibbs appeared in the film as Dirk, the supermarket manager, and wore white socks. The film is available on DVD with two similar parodies.
The band seized the opportunities provided by music videos on the new MTV channel to develop a theatrical, charismatic on-screen persona. With romantic costumes and heavy make-up, the band was often seen as an early example of the New Romantic movement (though Adam Ant himself has always denied any connection with that movement). Lavish videos were produced for “Stand and Deliver”, “Prince Charming”, and “Ant Rap”. All Adam and the Ants music videos were produced and storyboarded by Adam Ant. These videos helped to establish the band in the United States when MTV began airing them.
- Young Parisians Tour, Great Britain, January-February 1979, 15 dates including London Electric Ballroom support slot for The Lurkers
- Zerox Tour, Great Britain, July-August 1979, 17 dates plus private preview show
- Ants Invasion Tour, Great Britain May-June 1980, 15 dates plus private preview show
- Kings of the Wild Frontier Tour, Great Britain, November-December 1980, 32 dates
- Stand And Deliver Tour, worldwide, March-October 1981, 54 dates (not including April 1981 London charity show)
- Individual legs:
- Stand And Deliver UK Tour, Great Britain, March 1981, six dates
- US Ants Invasion Tour, United States and Canada, April 1981, 13 dates
- Stand And Deliver European Tour, assorted Western European nations, May-June 1981, 19 dates
- Kings Of The Wild Frontier World Tour, United States, Japan and Australia, September-October 1981, 16 dates
- Individual legs:
- The Prince Charming Revue, Great Britain, December 1981-January 1982, 25 dates at ten venues
In addition, seven dates in April 1978, four in London and one each in Nottingham, Liverpool and Sheffield were advertised on a handbill as being the “Dirk Wears White Socks Tour“