Back in the very early 80s, the 10 year old me owned 4 proper albums.* One each by The Police, Madness and Shakin’ Stevens and “Kings of the Wild Frontier” by Adam and the Ants. My mate Fingers only had 1 album, the Adam and the Ants one and we will both go to our graves convinced that it is one of the greatest albums ever made.
It is a truly unique album that combines African chanting and drumming, Duane Eddy / Dick Dale twanging surf guitars, sea shanties, Native American vocalisations, Gary Glitter glam rock, funk basslines and spaghetti western tunes. Nothing before or since sounds quite like it. All of it sung by a man with film star looks dressed like some sort of pirate Native American brigadeer. This became the top selling album of 1981. Is there any other massively commercially successful LP which is as hugely experimental and such a one-off? More about this in John Robb’s brilliant essay.
So when we heard that Adam was touring again and playing the whole album in order then Fingers and me were adamant(!) that we had to go. Never mind that we live nearly 200 miles apart these days. Never mind that both of us already had a commitment to take part in a fell race to win a trout on the same day as the gig. It was a case of “don’t be square, be there!”
We had to rush there from the fell race so we didn’t have time to get facepainted up. It was great to see so many other people in the crowd who had made an effort though. Tricorn hats off to Adam’s fans. There are not that many bands who inspire such devotion that people want to dress up like them. I remember seeing a lot of Prince clones at Wembley Arena years back and you see saddoes with polo shirts and expensive-looking but still naff haircuts at Weller gigs. Here there were a range of fashions from different periods in Ant-hropological history. We spotted bondage trousers, lots of braided hair, quite a few dandy highwaymen and some fantastic Regency style dresses. Fingers and me agreed that his teenage daughters would definitely take the piss out of these outfits, but we thought everyone looked fucking brilliant. Ridicule is nothing to be scared of, my friends.
As the first notes of album opener “Dog Eat Dog” sounded, a huge curtain fell to the floor revealing Adam and his 5 piece band with YES! two drummers and the response from the sell-out crowd was wild. You could tell straight away that there was a special atmosphere and this was going to be a great gig.
From our seats up on the top balcony, we couldn’t really hear Adam’s voice very well on that opening song but that technical hitch had sorted itself out for the next song, the anthemic call to arms “Antmusic” And wow, what amazing condition Adam’s voice is in. If you know the album then you’ll be aware of all the Native American style yelping and yodelling as well as some very high notes. As they say on shit talent shows, he nailed it.
I used to have a VHS tape of the live “Prince Charming Revue” and watching him tonight reminded me of all Adam’s idiosyncratic dance moves. I’ve just discovered that it’s on Youtube so click to see the bending down one, the pantomime slap-of-my-thigh, the using the mike as a table tennis bat one and the spinning round one. It’s fair to say that he hasn’t really learnt any new moves over the last 35 years but who cares when the few moves you have got are as cool as Adam’s.
Every track from the album was just amazing. If I had to pick one song it would be the title track but really the whole thing was just brilliantly done.
After that, the rest of the evening was a bit of a mixed bag. I’m not as familiar with all the solo stuff as many of the crowd were and some of the solo singles that I really adore weren’t played (Apollo 9, Puss in Boots, Friend or Foe).
But we did get rousing versions of the hit singles “Goody Two Shoes” and “Stand and Deliver” (and its brilliant b-side “Beat My Guest”)
“Goody Two Shoes” was partly inspired by Kevin Rowland and having just received the new Dexys CD in the post that same day, it occurred to me how lucky we are to have Adam and Kevin, both of whom have had a lot of ups and downs over the years, still out there performing today. Long may they both run.
He also played some of the best Ants songs from the first album, particular highlights being “Zerox” “Cartrouble” and the amazing “Never Trust a Man with Egg on His Face”
The main set closed with an emotional “Prince Charming” much of which was played by Adam on guitar without the band as he led the crowd in a mass singalong.
The mantra of “ridicule is nothing to be scared of” is something I really took to heart as a 10 year old schoolboy and easy target and is a valuable creed to live by now as it was then. You can hear why he attracts such devoted tribal fans because Adam’s lyrics are full of exhortations to individuality, calls to ignore the superego, to accept the inevitable and let your more rebellious non-conformist character take over.
“You may not like the things we do, only idiots ignore the truth”
“Now’s the time I must digress from going through the motions, take my head out of its sling, free the warrior”
“I feel beneath the white there is a red skin suffering from centuries of taming”
“Get off your knees and hear the insect prayer”
“A new Royal family, a wild nobility, we are the family”
“So which side of the fence are you on?”
After “Prince Charming” the band were called back for the encore which included a great cover of Marc Bolan’s “Get It On.”
So now I can add “Kings of the Wild Frontier” to my list of…….
…albums I love that I have seen performed in full:
- Adam and the Ants “Kings of the Wild Frontier” (Liverpool 2016)
- Manic Street Preachers “The Holy Bible” (Manchester 2014)
- Bruce Springsteen “Born to Run” (Coventry 2013)
- Dexys “One Day I’m Going To Soar” (Liverpool 2013)
- The Wedding Present “Bizarro” (Holmfirth 2010) “Seamonsters” (Manchester, 2011) and “The Hit Parade” (Liverpool 2013)
- David Bowie “The Man Who Sold The World” (Liverpool 2015)
- The Clash “London Calling” performed by Chuck Prophet and The Spanish Bombs (Nottingham 2011)
- Bob Dylan “Live 1966” (Manchester 2016)
Thank you very much to Andrew Winder for the photos. (Follow him on The Twitter @)
* If you want the whole truth, I also had a Mr Men album, a couple by the Wombles and a Smurfs one but they don’t really count (even though “Smurfing Beer” is a stone cold classic!)