Adam Ant can afford to smile again. He jokes that he feels back from the dead.
The pop star who was one of the world’s biggest in the 1980s is touring with his first album in 17 years.
It’s a fine return for the one-time dandy highwayman and Prince Charming, who now comes on like a veteran pirate-turned-cavalryman. The CD’s title is “Adam Ant Is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter” -- a reference to renegade sailors who were chained to cannons and then flayed. The metaphor is extended to musicians being tied to ruthless record companies. Were they really that bad, I ask?
“Some of the contracts that everybody signed of my generation were pretty catastrophic,” says Ant. “The title’s not just about that though, it’s also life in general.”
The singer once voted the Most Sexy Man Alive by MTV viewers is now 58 and sports a goatee with dashing mustache. He’s sitting in his London mews house-cum-office with his Bordeaux Mastiff Billy at his feet. The giant dog ignores the television lights and gently snores throughout our interview.
The young Stuart Goddard renamed Adam in 1976, after the first man. I first saw the Ants play in 1980 as they ditched their art-school punk for “Kings of the Wild Frontier” pop.
While they were on the cusp of fame, it didn’t look inevitable. Adam says he was surprised as anybody at the success, fueled by his videos -- “People got to see me in the U.S. before I played there. It made the job a lot easier.”
Ant knew that he’d made it when he met Queen Elizabeth II backstage at a royal variety show. He was wearing a suit and none of his usual makeup and she still recognized him. “I left like Sir Walter Raleigh -- I am a great fan of the queen.”
About the same time he had phone calls from Michael Jackson. It was 3 a.m. and Adam hung up twice, thinking it was a hoax, until producer Quincy Jones came on the line saying Jackson was seeking advice on where to get his stage wear.
“Michael was a great listener, absorbing different styles of music and clothes,” Adam says. Shortly after, Ant started dating actress Jamie Lee Curtis. A topless picture she gave him is on his wall along with the gold discs -- he’s sold 40 million records and had more than 20 hits between 1980 and 1985 including “Prince Charming” and “Goody Two Shoes.”
Adam is much trimmer than in his troubled wildness years as the hits dried up. Its low point was his court appearance after threatening people with a gun. He was sent to a psychiatric institution. He supports organizations such as Sane and Black Dog, which help people like him suffering from bipolar disorder.
The new song “Vince Taylor” is a homage to another troubled rocker who inspired David Bowie, another comeback star.
The single “Cool Zombie” is a reference to the two-year period when Ant lived in Dayton, Tennessee. He was driving to Las Vegas, by chance saw an A-framed house for sale and bought it on the spot.
“It was quite the most beautiful scenery that I had ever seen,” he recalls. “It was just this incredible view.”
His greatest achievement, he says, is bringing up his daughter Lily. He was a house dad for five years and she’s now 15, plays saxophone and has been to his gigs.
“She observes it casually, she’s not a kind of, ‘Oh dad, that’s great’ and ‘Oo, that’s brilliant,’” he says. She encourages him to listen to newer music and he singles out the Ganglians, Jake Bugg and Kasabian. “To be honest, there isn't a great deal I would rush out and buy,” he says.
Ant is proud of the new album, which he emphasizes was conceived as a double vinyl release with four sides of music. After so long away, he was jammed with ideas and it varies from raw rockabilly to tracks that recall his early punk.
It’s “pretty autobiographical,” he says. “I thought it would be interesting to create a scenario for it. I imagined what my character in 1980 with the brocade and paint would have looked like 30 years later, perhaps if he had been a Napoleonic hussar and walked to Moscow and back.”
On the comment he has been away a long time, he says “a lifetime almost.” On making records again, “it’s like riding a bike once you are back in the saddle -- the actual making of the music is the same but the industry has completely changed.”
He is enjoying the freedom away from the pressures of a major label and has started his own company, only to release the record just as the U.K.’s biggest record retailer HMV Group Plc went into administration.
“It’s a long term project,” he sighs. “I enjoy reading contracts now, which is a bit late in the day.”
He’s aware of the irony of old lyrics such as “ridicule is nothing to be scared of” and “when you get a number one, the only way is down.” He’s candid and likeable. The interview over, he lets Billy out for a walk.
Ant’s album is priced $10 on Blueblack Hussar Records. His April tour of the U.K. and Ireland includes London’s Roundhouse backed by the Good, the Mad and the Lovely Posse on May 11 and then he plans a U.S. tour. Download prices vary across services.
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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