Ant is back with new music, mission
BY DJ NOCTURNA / Special to the Star-Advertiser
He was cordial, thanking me for calling. It was a rainy evening as usual in London, and an early, quiet morning in Honolulu; I’m not usually up early, but to talk to Adam Ant, an ’80s musical idol and youthful heartthrob, was the opportunity of a lifetime.
» Where: The Republik, 1349 Kapiolani Blvd.
Early on, the conversation turned to Hawaii, and the performer said he looks forward to returning to the islands. Don’t be surprised to see him on the beach; he said he’d love to take the morning of the show to walk and look around. He certainly has an eye for style and beauty.
Ant, born Stuart Leslie Goddard, was frontman of the new wave/ post-punk band called Adam and the Ants, a U.K. leader in the New Romantic movement and part of a cultural phenomenon in the late ’70s and early ’80s. The New Romantics changed musical history and influenced fashion worldwide by blending punk, Romantic-era arts and philosophy, rock ‘n’ roll and pop; as well as leather and lace, rebellious and sentimental attitudes, guitars and synthesizers.
As a solo artist, Ant also won over the U.S. with ’80s hits, including “Goody Two Shoes,” and was voted “Sexiest Man in America” by viewers of MTV.
Nearly 18 years after his last album release, Ant’s back on tour with a new record and a new band, The Good, the Mad and the Lovely Posse. No longer tied to a major label, he runs his own, Blueblack Hussar Records. He performs live at The Republik Saturday night.
His new album, “Adam Ant is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter,” is an autobiographical journey, Ant explained. Released as a double album on CD and collectible vinyl early this year, U.K. newspaper The Telegraph describes it as “a throwback to his art school punk days.”
While some reviewers have been taken aback by the album’s “lo-fi” production and wide melange of ideas, reviewers such as The Hollywood Reporter praise him as “dashing,” “colorful and swaggering” in concert.
“Blueblack Hussar” is a character right out of Ant’s classic album “Kings of the Wild Frontier” (1980), returning after so many years.
Ant imagined what the 21-year-old young buck would look like 35 years later and what kind of character he would be if he was in Napoleon’s army in Moscow and survived it.
The album cover, an alluring image of a “Girl in a Cocked Hat,” is an oil painting by British artist Mary Jane Ansell. Ant said he saw it in a window display during Ansell’s art show and bought two pieces — “Girl in a Cocked Hat I & II.” They grace the front and back covers of the album.
In Ant’s mythology, the girl in the paintings is the “Gunner’s Daughter.”
Marrying the gunner’s daughter is a naval euphemism for corporal punishment, often by sailors being tied to a ship’s cannon and flogged. Ant said that could also be a metaphor for being involved with a major record company for too long.
ANT WAS A PIONEER in fashion and music during his heady days in Adam and the Ants, garbed in swashbuckling, 16th-century attire and flamboyant attitude and blending punk and romantic, skewed pop with Burundi beats or African-derived drum sounds, with yelping, half-swallowed vocals and a handsome voice.
“Kings of the Wild Frontier” and “Prince Charming” (1982) produced 16 hits and sold more than 15 million records.
One of his new tracks, “Who’s a Goofy Bunny Then,” has been re-released with a lullaby element at the end, dedicated to the late Malcolm McLaren. McLaren, best known as the Sex Pistols manager, was also a provocateur and musical producer who was influential on ’70s and ’80s culture music, acting as a mentor for Ant, and Bow Wow Wow and the New York Dolls. McLaren died in 2010, just as Ant’s new album was being recorded.
“Malcolm was a very important character in the history of music,” Ant said. “He was a very cultural guy, a great historian in music that many people were not privy to know … from Charlie Parker to Chopin.”
McLaren and his partner at the time, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, greatly influenced Ant’s dandy highwayman persona with their “pirate collection” of wool, satin, furnishing fabrics and gold braided jackets with metal buttons, evoking a golden age of buccaneers. Flamboyant fashion became a hallmark of Adam and the Ants.
In fact, Ant’s style grabbed the attention of the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, who called Ant one morning to ask where Ant found the hussar jacket worn in 1981 for publicity photographs and in a promotional video for the hit single “Prince Charming.”
Ant said he thought it was his drummer playing a joke — and he actually hung up on Jackson a few times before receiving a call from producer Quincy Jones, who convinced Ant that Jackson would indeed like to talk to him.
Ant told me the hussar jacket is now on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
“Prince Charming,” the third and final album released by Adam and the Ants, was the ninth-best-selling album in the U.K. in 1981, featuring hits “Stand and Deliver,” “Prince Charming” and “Ant Rap.”
We talked about a hidden track on this album, “Lost Hawaiians.”
“I’m a great fan of the ukulele and have been for many years,” he said. “I wanted to have a ukulele bass as an outro to the song.”
After that run of fantastically popular albums, Ant went on to a solo career, culminating with an eighth album, “Wonderful,” in 1995.
IF ANT IS NOT writing music and playing it, he is getting involved. He recently reached out to raise awareness about mental illness for the Black Dog Campaign, launched by the U.K. mental health charity SANE.
Mental illness is a personal subject for Ant, 58, who has been open about the bipolar disorder he has battled since his youth.
Ant sometimes describes his illness as a “black dog.” The black dog has been used as a metaphor for depression and dark thoughts for centuries; England’s Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill famously used the term to describe his darker moods during World War II. Now, SANE’s black dog sculptures have become a symbol for the organization’s campaign in London and other cities.
Ant is among several celebrities backing the project. He helped designed one of the dog’s black coats, and a sculpture, Elvis, is named after one of his own pets.
Mental illness is often difficult to communicate because it is misunderstood, Ant said, adding he hopes the sculptures and their tactile quality will help open up communication.
“I think any awareness is important,” he said. “It is not something to be ashamed of.
“I think a lot of people forget this. It is an illness, not a disease. It is curable, and I think one day, the more we research the interior of the brain, we will look back on this time and move on. Hopefully we will know how to deal with it.”
DJ Nocturna hosts “Feast of Friends,” a dark, ’80s-inspired radio show, 6-9 p.m. Saturdays on University of Hawaii at Manoa’s radio station KTUH 90.3 FM. She’s a co-producer of the “Miss Vamp Hawaii” reality show, 10:30 p.m. Saturdays on KFVE, and the Miss Vamp Hawaii Beauty Pageant, Oct. 10 at Hawaii Theatre. Find out more at djnocturnaandlana.com.