Christmas is Coming… Adam & The Ants: “Kings of the Wild Frontier” super deluxe edition

2It was released back in May, but if any recent(-ish) box set deserves a place beneath the tree, it’s the one that will make you dress up as a Native American Pirate Dandy and race around the living room singing random couplets of glorious gobbledegook.

“Fah diddley quah quah” may, after all, mean shockingly little to anyone who wasn’t there at the time.  But if you were, and you have a single soupçon of soul in your body, then you need to rechannel your inner ant, and what better way to do it than with….

…a high-gloss gold colored LP sized box, inside of which you will find… twelve inches of vinyl (gold again), two CDs and a DVD, and a veritable ticker tape parade of printed ephemera.  A book, a booklet, an Antwarrior membership card, prints, posters, photos, press ads, Antclub memorabilia and the story written by the Ant man himself.  A story which skips over the early years and the later ones too, and focuses in exclusively upon that twelve month period during which Adam and his insects could do nothing wrong.

Although it took him a while to get there.

It was an unexpected encounter with the nascent Sex Pistols which transformed Stuart Goddard, art student, into Adam Ant, pop star – that, followed by four years spent slogging round the U.K. club circuit, while hordes of disbelievers hooted at all he held holy.

In November, 1975, Goddard was a member of club circuit hopefuls Bazooka Joe & His Rhythm Hot Shots when the Pistols gatecrashed one of their concerts, played until the plug was pulled, then shrank back into the night, leaving everyone scratching their heads… everyone, that is, except Goddard.  Within six months of the meeting, Goddard – with newly recruited guitarist Lester Square – was forming a new band, the B-Sides, intent on pursuing his own vision of the vistas revealed by the Sex Pistols.

Lured in by a classified ad inviting young musicians and Ramones fans to “Beat On The Bass With The B-Sides,” Andy Warren and the first of several temporary drummers joined in July, 1976.  With Paul Flanagan also on board, the band did get round to some recording, laying down a version of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walking,” but still the B-Sides were rarely stable enough to leave the rehearsal room, and not yet visionary enough to want to.

All that altered in April, 1977, when the B-Sides were reborn as Adam & The Ants.  Goddard became Adam Ant, the remainder simply adopted Ant as their nom-de-punk, and on April 23, the new band debuted at the Roxy, supporting Siouxsie And The Banshees.  Square quit two weeks later to form Monochrome Set, and by May, Ant had put together a new group, with Warren, Mark Ryan (aka Mark Gaumont – guitar) and Dave Barbe (aka Dave Barbarossa – drums).

A handful more gigs through May set the flavor for much of the remainder of the Ants’ career, a rollercoaster ride between exhilarating lows – they were thrown offstage just one song (“Beat My Guest”) into their second ever show; and unimagined highs – two shows opening for X-Ray Spex at the prestigious Man In The Moon pub in Chelsea were sufficient to earn them their own headlining gig; and back to soul destroying lows – two minutes into the show, the only people left in the room were the friends the band had put on the guest list.  And not all of them, either.

One of the friends who did stick around was Pamela “Jordan” Rooke, an assistant at Malcolm McLaren’s Sex shop, and the closest thing to a human mannequin the proprietors could have dreamed of.  Dyed styled hair piled atop deeply stylized make-up, fishnet legs and rubber torso, Jordan wore what she sold, sold what she wore, and hit the clubs in the same clothes she’d wear while commuting.  A living outrage, she was already twice as eye-catching as half the bands she went to see, and probably twice as famous.  She would become the Ants’ manager that same evening.

The Ants’ workload increased.  More support gigs were interrupted by a role in Derek Jarman’s punk inspired movie, Jubilee, but it took an appearance on John Peel’s BBC radio show in the new year to finally alert the industry to the band’s untapped potential.  The Ants signed to Decca in the spring of 1978, one day after Jordan resigned as manager and the band’s most recent recruit, guitarist Johnny Bivouac, quit.  After one gig with no guitar, Matthew Ashman was recruited in time to play the Debutantes’ Party at the Hard Rock Cafe on June 6. 1978.

The Ants recorded an entire albums’ worth of material for Decca, including the likes of “Red Scab” and “Cleopatra” (both of which would become internationally renowned in later, rerecorded, form), “Boil In The Bag Man,” “Song For Ruth Ellis” and a host of other darkly sexual epics, Decca unleashed the utterly unrepresentative “Young Parisians” as the band’s first single, then dropped the band early in 1979.

It would be another nine months before the Ants truly recovered from the shock, after they with the Do It indy, and released a new collection of songs, the album Dirk Wears White Sox.  Much of the Decca material had been dropped from the set, to be superseded by a new repertoire – leading off with the “Zerox” single, and when two major UK tours through the year saw the band’s star climb higher, Ant knew that one more push could see them break through.

In September, the Ants sold out two nights at London’s Electric Ballroom.  Just days later, however, Warren quit to join Lester Square in the Monochrome Set; he would be replaced by Lee Gorman, around the same time as Ant recruited former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren to help him revamp the band’s image.

Ant gave McLaren a thousand pounds, McLaren gave him the bullet.  Ant was sacked from his own band, to be replaced by two new singers, a 14 year old Burmese girl whom McLaren discovered singing in a north London launderette, Annabella Lu Win and, briefly, London scenester Boy George O’Dowd.  Renamed Bow Wow Wow, this new line-up would be launched on a wave of revolutionary superlatives in early 1980.

Immediately, Ant set about forming a new band, around the revolutionary concept of two drummers – Chris “Merrick” Hughes and Terry Lee Miall (b London 11/8/58) – and a unprecedented penchant for color and costume.  The line-up was completed with bassist Kevin Mooney and ex-Models guitarist Marco Pirroni, a founding member of both Chelsea (singer Gene October settled upon the name the week after Pirroni quit) and Siouxsie & The Banshees.

The new-look Ants first completed their obligations to Do-It, a rerecording of the album’s “Car Trouble,” then set about seeking a new manager, a new label and a new lease on life.  Ant was sick of being put on by pirates.  Now he was going to be a bigger pirate than all of them, and what was surprising was how quickly, and effectively, the whole thing happened for him.  One moment, Ant was the punk pariah, a standing joke even amongst his fans; the next, he was inciting everyone to unplug the jukebox and join his insect nation.  And they were doing it!

Ant’s manifesto was simple.

“We perform and work for a future age.  We are optimists and, being so, we reject the ‘blank generation’ ideal.

 

“We acknowledge the fanzine as the only legitimate form of journalism and consider the established press to be little more than talentless clones, guilty of extreme laziness.

 

“We believe that a writer has the right to draw upon any source material, however offensive or distasteful it might seem.

 

“We have NO interest in politics; we identify with no movement or sect other than our own. 

 

“We are interested  in sexmusic, entertainment action and excitement, and anything young and new.”

Which is where the Kings of the Wild Frontier super deluxe box set joins the story.

Harnessing the capabilities of video before most people were even dimly aware of them, Ant constructed his own stardom with surprising rapidity – and abandoned it equally swiftly.  He seemed to erupt out of nowhere to burn brilliant briefly, then erupt back into obscurity, and that was what made the whole thing so magical.

In August, 1980, the rambunctious “Kings Of The Wild Frontier” marked the Ants’ CBS debut; two Top 5 hits – “Dog Eat Dog” in November, and “Ant Music” in the new year – swiftly followed.  Kings Of The Wild Frontier topped the UK chart and broke the US Top Fifty, and outbreaks of Antmania were reported around the world.  The live show featured on the DVD herein catches the mayhem as it washed over Japan; a second live show, on CD only, finds them running riot in Chicago. Three videos and four television performances (plus a couple of stray songs from a Manchester show) complete the video part of the party, and so the show rolls on.

Not even the departure of Mooney from the original gang, and his replacement by former Vibrators/Roxy Music bassist Gary Tibbs, seemed to slow things down. But something did.

The following year’s Prince Charming album was, if anything, even bigger than its predecessor, spinning two number one singles in to the stratosphere.  Background noise from past labels saw “Young Parisians,” “Car Trouble,” “Zerox” and “Deutscher Girls” visit the chart.  Dirk Wears White Sox rose to #16 more than a year after it was released.

And then, as suddenly as the dream had come to life, it was over.  The lyrics to the next single, ”Ant Rap,” stood both as a tribute to the soldier ants, and their farewell.  Retaining Pirroni alone as his songwriting partner, Ant scattered the Ants and, though the bubble seemed a long way from bursting right away, by the time his solo debut, “Goody Two Shoes” gave Adam his American breakthrough, his greatest achievements already seemed far, far behind him.

His videos, once a stampede of excitement and energy, were now muted shadows, under-budgeted and overtaken by the burgeoning New Romantic crowd – a scene from which Adam continues to separate himself in the box set’s accompanying book.  The rhythm nation he’d so painstakingly constructed fell apart.  A couple of years after Antmania first broke out, Adam wasn’t even old hat any more, just a tatty ski mask which had seen better days.

1But those better days are here and they might even be better than you remember.  Kings of the Wild Frontier itself has held up astonishingly well, still a technicolor blur of movement, color and kaleidoscopic sound.

Lyrics leap out like political slogans; slogans become tattoos forever engrained in your brain.  In some cases, the singles aren’t even the strongest tracks, and when you move into bonus track land, there’s even greater delights to discover – most obviously, the Ant-wrapped reworking of the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.,” refocussed now as “A.N.T.S.” and even more contagious than before.

Rough cuts, b-sides and demos offer sometimes startling reappraisals of familiar tracks, the remastering is magnificent, and the live material is devastating, establishing the Ants as one of the very few bands from that particular period who could actually sound as good as they looked onstage.  Pre-fame oldies “Car Trouble,” “Zerox” and “Cleopatra” are all revisited in the live shows; b-sides “Press Darlings” and “Physical” too.  Nothing was wasted, nothing went to waste.

For however long it lasted, nine months in reality or nine lifetimes in your mind, Adam and the Ants reigned so supreme that they still hold sway over great swathes of your psyche, and this box set is the key to unlock it all again.

Yes, it would have been nice to find a make-up guide inside, so we could tart ourselves up while we leap around the house; and it’s so hard to find decent vintage clothing these days that we might never recreate the full Antoid wardrobe.  But the songs are all here, and the stories behind them, and there are just two dreams left to unfold around it.

The first is that a similarly all-encompassing box can be built around Adam’s pre-Kings era, because a lot of that music was (almost) just as good.  And the second is… well, it does sometimes feel as though the world is going to hell in a handcart these days, and it’s unlikely that even a reborn Insect Nation would fix that.

But wouldn’t it be fun to try?

 

TRACK LISTINGS

Disc One (CD)

1. Dog Eat Dog 3.09

2. Antmusic 3.36

3. Feed Me To The Lions 3.01

4. Los Rancheros 3.29

5. Ants Invasion 3.20

6. Killer In The Home 4.21

7. Kings Of The Wild Frontier 3.55

8. The Magnificent Five 3.06

9. Don’t Be Square Be There 3.31

10. Jolly Roger 2.09

11. Making History 2.57

12. The Human Beings 4.31

13. Press Darlings (B Side) 4.11

14. Physical (You’re So) (B Side) 4.26

15. Fall In (B Side) 2.08

16. Don’t Be Square (Be There) (KPM Studio Demo)* 4.23

17. The Human Beings (KPM Studio Demo)* 4.56

18. Los Rancheros (KPM Studio Demo)* 3.33

19. Making History (KPM Studio Demo)* 3.44

All tracks fully remastered by Adam Ant & Walter Coelho

*tracks 16-19 previously unreleased

Disc Two (CD)

Adam & The Ants Live in Chicago 1981*

1. The Human Beings [live] 3.35

2. Dog Eat Dog [live] 3.14

3. The Magnificent Five [live] 3.03

4. Don’t Be Square Be There [live] 3.20

5. Los Rancheros 3.33

6. Ants Invasion [live] 3.12

7. Killer In The Home [live] 4.15

8. Cleopatra [live] 2.54

9. Press Darlings [live] 3.47

10. Kick! [live] 1.55

11. Antmusic [live] 3.14

12. Beat My Guest [live] 3.04

13. Jolly Roger [live] 2.11

14. Zerox [live] 3.11

15. Car Trouble [live] 3.21

16. Kings Of The Wild Frontier [live] 4.33

17. Physical (You’re So) [live] 5.22

18. A.N.T.S. 3.30

19. Antmusic (Rough Cut)** 3.24

20. Don’t Be Square Be There (Rough Cut)** 3.52

all tracks mastered by Adam Ant & Walter Coelho

*tracks 1-17 previously unissued on CD

**tracks 19 and 20 previously unreleased

Disc Three (DVD)

The Videos

• Kings Of The Wild Frontier

• Dog Eat Dog

• Antmusic

Adam & The Ants Live

• Physical (You’re So) Live In Manchester

• Dog Eat Dog

Adam & The Ants at the BBC

• Dog Eat Dog Top Of The Pops October 16th 1980

• Ants Invasion & Killer In The Home Old Grey Whistle Test January 1981

• Antmusic Top Of The Pops December 1980

• Dog Eat Dog Top Of The Pops October 30th 1980

Adam & The Ants Live In Tokyo 1981

• The Magnificent Five

• Antmusic

• Don’t Be Square (Be There)

• Ants Invasion

• Killer In The Home

• Never Trust A Man (With Egg On His Face)

• Kick!

• Press Darlings

• Christian D’or

• Los Rancheros

• Cartrouble

• Dog Eat Dog

• Kings Of The Wild Frontier

• Physical (You’re So)

ANT INVASION: a documentary of the first Adam & The Ants US tour 1981

Gold Vinyl LP

Side A

1. Dog Eat Dog 3.09

2. Antmusic 3.36

3. Feed Me To The Lions 3.01

4. Los Rancheros 3.29

5. Ants Invasion 3.20

6. Killer In The Home 4.21

Side B

7. Kings Of The Wild Frontier 3.55

8. The Magnificent Five 3.06

9. Don’t Be Square Be There 3.31

10. Jolly Roger 2.09

11. Making History 2.57

12. The Human Beings 4.31

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