A Wild Nobility: An Adam Ant Exclusive By Simon Price

After a 15-year period away from the music business Adam Ant is back in the spotlight once again. Simon Price meets a musical maverick and iconic star of the 80s to talk inspiration, madness and coming back fighting

Something very strange has been happening across London clubland this Spring. The Antsignal has gone up over the city, and the Antpeople have crawled out from their mounds to hail the unexpected return of their insect overlord.

After a troubled and turbulent decade, one of the most iconic faces on the planet during the post-punk era is returning to active service, and in a most unpredictable and chaotic style. Over the last few weeks, Adam Ant has been turning up unannounced at assorted club nights for quick guerrilla gigs – a dandy highwayman in the underworld – and joining other artists onstage for surprise duets. He’s sung ‘Prime Mover’ with Zodiac Mindwarp, ‘Antmusic’ and ‘Leader Of The Gang’ with The Glitter Band and Angie Bowie, ‘Cars’ with Gary Numan (dressed, somewhat randomly, as V from V For Vendetta), played a hit-and-run acoustic set at the Troubadour and an electric mini-gig at the Scala backed by a tough, well-drilled band (featuring two members of glam-rockers Rachel Stamp). He’s now gearing up to return to the Scala on Friday 30th April for a ‘Pirate Metal Extravaganza’, his first fully public gig in 15 years.

He’s on fine form when I meet him in the Kensington sunshine. Grizzled of sideburn and goatee at 55, he’s still unfairly handsome with that matinee idol jawline and those icy blue eyes, a few tightly-wound plaits emerging from a Jack Sparrow bandana, itself shaded by a jaunty flat cap.

Adam’s a fashionable half-hour late to meet me and his stunning new girlfriend Hayley, one of the drummers in his backing band (as well as a member of burlesque dance troupe Satanic Sluts, of Georgina ‘Sachsgate’ Baillie infamy), but he comes bearing gifts: bags of liquorice allsorts, prawn crackers and assorted other snacks to keep us entertained.

He’s disarmingly candid and self-deprecating as we stroll towards his new home, and I remind him that we’ve met once before, way back in 1995, when I interviewed him for Melody Maker. "For the Wonderful album? Well, that went tits up…"

As we enter the elegant redbrick block of flats in which he’s just taken up residence – "It’s very Dirk Bogarde, very The Servant" – he tells me he’s had to report to the local police station to inform them he’s moved, a hangover from numerous run-ins he’s had with the law, most notoriously the incident in 2002 when, after his appearance had been mocked by drinkers in a Camden pub, he returned and smashed the window with a car alternator, and began waving an imitation firearm. Ridiculing the Ant clearly is something to be scared of.

Adam’s flat itself is a cinematically cool mess. He hasn’t had time to decorate and clean up, and all surfaces are piled high in a clutter of cultural artefacts: retro comic books cut up into pieces, books of burlesque photography and trash art, and so on. One corner is plastered with photos of Adam himself at various stages of his pop career, "so I don’t forget who I am". Other walls are adorned with posters of Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now!, and Slash who, as a teenager, used to babysit Adam’s then-girlfriend’s kid during his spell living in Los Angeles. One mirrored wardrobe door has been turned into a shrine to Malcolm McLaren, whose funeral he will attend a few days later. A jacket designed by Ben Westwood, son of Vivienne, hangs on a hook. On an artist’s easel in the window is an unfinished portrait of the Queen. There’s an Ivor Novello award in a glass cabinet, won in 1982 for ‘Stand And Deliver’. Steve Earle’s on the stereo, and there are ciders in the fridge to welcome guests (he does drink, does smoke). As chaotic jumbles go, it’s a beautiful one.

As I sit on a hastily-cleared space on the bed, Adam stands, paces and declaims like a cracked actor, using a super-thin cigarette to prod the air when making a point. He may have spent the last few years in and out of various mental health facilities, but the Adam Ant of 2010 bears little relation to the monosyllabic, zombie-like apparition from ITV2’s The Madness Of Prince Charming documentary. He’s funny, passionate and erudite, fizzing with ideas, theories and anecdotes, constantly shooting off at tangents. Trying to keep control of the conversation is like herding wasps. I don’t always agree with him – his love of the Royal Family and Lily Allen – but the last time I encountered an interviewee with so thrillingly unpredictable a mind it was Courtney Love before she went off the rails. Occasionally, his face will freeze into deadly seriousness and he’ll glare with solemn menace over the top of his steel-rimmed specs, then grin "Scared you, didn’t I?"

This isn’t the only time Ant the performer has scuttled from under a rock since Wonderful, his last involvement with the mainstream music industry. There’s some pretty painful footage on Youtube of Adam yelping the Spice Girls’ ‘Wannabe’ backed by Queen Adreena. Then there was the charity re-recording of ‘Stand And Deliver’ as ‘Save The Gorilla’, instigated with noblest intentions by sometime collaborator (and Morrissey sidekick) Boz Boorer, but which went unreleased for copyright reasons, and if truth be told, that’s probably for the best.

Compared to those two instances, this comeback feels far more promising. There’s a new album in progress, provisionally entitled Adam Ant Is The Blueblack Hussar In Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter, to be released on his own label, also called Blueblack Hussar. There’s a single, ‘Gun In Your Pocket’, a pounding Stooges/Velvets number which gleefully attacks Jonathan Ross, Russell Brand, the Gallagher brothers and the music business in general, and a lullaby-like B-side called "Goofy Bunny", a tribute to McLaren.

The first thing I want to know is what’s driving you to do this now?

AA: "A combination of two things. Money… that’s a fucking big one, I haven’t made a record for 15 years. I’ve got overheads. And, it’s what I do. I write songs, I sing, I do records, I dress up, I just do it. I mean, I’ve done some acting, and acting’s great, but an actor will jump through hoops. I fucking won’t. Look, I’m a punk rocker. I always was, I’m not a New Romantic. But I was a punk rocker who wanted to get more than one fuckin’ album. The Pistols were great, but they only did one fuckin’ album. Not enough! Sorry!"

There seems quite a D.I.Y. punk spirit to the guerrilla gigging thing you’re doing

AA: "What I’m changing is that I’ve gotta be able to get up and sing anything, anywhere, any time. Cos I don’t take anything for granted. It’s 10% inspiration 90% perspiration with me. I’ve spent a long time in mental homes getting pummelled full of drugs. When you’re sectioned under the Mental Health Act, you don’t have any control. You lose your passport, your right to vote, and they put drugs in you. And they blood-test you to make sure you take them. There’s no throwing up, you’ve gotta do it. So anyway, I wanna get back into everything. It’s like learning to ride a bike again. It’s like a fighter who was a champion. It’s like when Muhammad Ali got back in the fuckin’ ring against these monsters: let’s have a go!"

It’s cool that you have nothing you’re trying to sell with these comeback gigs, no greatest hits or reissues or book or DVD.

AA: "I don’t blame people if they’re doing that. I think people like Tony Denton (the man behind the Here & Now package tours) are saving people’s bacon, because bands who have one hit can go back on tour and remind people how great the 80s was. But the 80s came out of the 70s. Kevin Rowland was in a punk band. I was in a punk band. Duran were kinda punky. Echo And The Bunnymen came out of that too. So something happened that impressed people enough to imitate it forever, and the Sex Pistols were the catalyst. But the good thing about catalysts is that you can go a different way. There’s Picasso, and then there’s Braque. Picasso was shit-scared of Braque. I wrote a song about Picasso being a thieving bastard. He’d walk around someone else’s studio at night, then go home and perfect it. And I like that playful respect: ‘I’m gonna fuckin’ do it better.’ But the Pistols was all Malcolm, really…"

People will be wondering which Adam they’re getting in 2010. The punk Adam, the pop star Adam with the white stripe across his nose, the solo artist, or something else entirely…

AA: "I’ve decided this time I’m gonna be a fucking Action Man doll! (He holds up an actual Action Man.) It’s an idiot one, but if he didn’t have any clothes on, even though he’s got no dick… Basically, physically last time people saw me I looked like fuckin’ Orson Welles, going to the Old Bailey with a beard. My idea was if I dress up like Ernest Hemingway, they won’t recognise me. That was the pressure I was under affecting my mind. Then again I am bipolar. What does that mean? It means I’m up and down like a bride’s nightie. The reason I’m up and down is that to be an artist you have to have the dark side. After I was sectioned, I started to read. ‘Cos when you’re inside the nuthouse, they don’t give you anything to do. You’ve got four walls to look at, and piss to smell, and you can’t get clean, so you have to be very fucking disciplined. And I read [art historian] Sir Roy Strong’s book The Spirit Of Britain. And I couldn’t really read it, ‘cos the pills mean you can’t concentrate on one line to the next. But I thought when I get out, I’m gonna really fucking cherish everything I’ve got. And I looked back through my work. I’m an archivist: anything with my name on it, I’ve got. And you can have a go at me, you can say it’s shit, that’s your view. But you can’t tell me I don’t have the right to do it. You can say it’s good or bad, but you can’t say it’s right or wrong. Because if it goes tits up, which it has on occasion, I pay the bill. In answer to your question, if I know what my next album is going to sound, look and be like, I’m then becoming a fucking machine. And I don’t want to be a machine. So there will be a few surprises. Someone said to me once, I think it was Jordan, that the hardest thing to do is quit at the top. When you’re fucking number one. And we were number fucking one…"

So, that’s what you did…

AA: "Yeah, I thought ‘Right, that’s it, I’m going solo’. I didn’t want to go solo, but the band had been working too hard. I’ve looked back through my diaries, and I had 11 days off in 6 years. But a) we were a punk band, and b) Paul Morley, fucking twat, Mr Prog kissing my arse…"

I don’t follow…

AA: "Paul Morley, fucking message, you cunt: remember that shared review you did of Dirk Wears White Sox with Throbbing Gristle? And we both got ‘berks that lurk in the corner of your psyche’. That cunt is now being commissioned by Sony to write my liner notes. So, you were wrong. Suck my dick. You’re a turncoat. Go and write for Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Or go on TV and talk shit for three hours. That represents the old school. He’s fucked. He’s got no credibility. Fuck him. If I have a hit, he can suck my dick. You slagged me off. You tried to prevent me from doing anything. You hate punk. So, go and suck Joy Division’s dick, and go and get your photo taken with Anton fucking Corbijn, in black and white so it won’t show the weight you’ve put on, and become a fucking publican. Him, Peter Hook and Liam Gallagher should have a pub, like Coronation St: "Ee, fuckin’ ave it!" But I won’t be nasty, haha…"

Not a fan of Joy Division, then?

AA: "No! I actually had a song called ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ that we used to play live, but we were told we couldn’t put it on the album because it was based on The Night Porter, a Dirk Bogarde film about a sadomasochistic relationship between a concentration camp prisoner and a Nazi guard. What about Joy Division calling themselves that, and then New Order? They only got away with it ‘cos they’re fucking ugly and they look like brewers."

A lot of acquaintances and admirers seem to be concerned by this comeback. They’re worried that you’re not up to it. This sounds like a dumb question, but… how are you?

AA: "I’m alright! I’m back to normal. I’m excited by my work. The definitions of bipolar disorder are – look it up – sexually promiscuous, dressing up funny, behaving in an unusual manner, spending lots of money erratically, and just generally being a nutcase. Well, I don’t know a fucking good rock ‘n’ roller who doesn’t fit all the criteria, so lock everybody up! Lock Keith Moon, Pete Townshend, Jimi Hendrix… who would you not lock up? Cliff, maybe? I’m serious. People don’t know anything about mental illness. It’s bipolar disorder. Churchill called it the ‘black dog’. It was ‘the blues’ in the old days. Being ‘nuts’, ‘Bedlam’, call me a ‘nutter’. I was sectioned under the Mental Health Act, a Victorian law, which upset me because I don’t think I’m nuts. I did wrong, I broke the law, OK. But they made a big fucking display of it. I was sentenced in the court where The Krays were sentenced, which I thought was a bit out of proportion, maybe they wanted to make an example of me, but that’s the law. I paid the price, now get the fuck off my back. Cos I am Adam Ant, I dress up funny, that’s what I do for a living, The End. They dress up funny, but they’ve got a shit outfit. The French police have stopped me a couple of times, and after a while I’ve said to them ‘Those uniforms are shit, ain’t they? You should be looking like fuckin’ Alain Delon and you’re looking like Mr Plod.’ The British Police look like Teletubbies. No sense of fashion. If they got Vivienne Westwood in to design them, then we’d have something. Might happen! She’s a Dame…"

The shoes might not be too practical for chasing criminals in…

AA: "Seriously, though. European cops, they’ve got guns, but take away their guns and what have they got? Blokes in combats, looking like Robert De Niro."

So, does this mean you do or don’t accept your diagnosis?

AA: "The one liberty I have left, along with deciding who I sleep with, what I fuckin’ wear, what I vote, what I spend my money on, what job I do, is primarily what is going on in my mind. That’s the last bastion of freedom I’ve got. They haven’t taken away our freedom of thought. That’s fucking dangerous. This is my work. Correct me if I’m wrong but I have been invited to meet Her Majesty The Queen, Princess Margaret, Diana twice, Charles… I wouldn’t go and meet a fuckin’ politician, you can stick No.10, but the Royal Family I like. I’ve got a tattoo of the Queen on my arm…"

And no safety pin through her nose…

AA: "What Jamie Reid did made a point, but I personally felt… I mean, round the corner from here there’s a painting of the Queen with her eyes shut. What’s that about? I’d put them in the fuckin’ Tower! If you go to the USA, everyone’s from other parts of the world, but if you go into a bar and say ‘Fuck America’, you’ll get ‘Pick a window, pal, you’re fucking leaving.’ And it could be a Polish American, a Black American, a French American throwing you out. Then the cops will bash you up and deport you. Anyway, that’s how I am. Ask me a question, and let’s have it out. Do you want some Quavers?"

Don’t mind if I do. You have Romany heritage. Did that inspire your recurring theme of empathising with outsiders, whether its piracy, highwaymen or the Native Americans?

AA: "I suppose so. A lot of my mates are mixed race, or they don’t know what they are – you’re like ‘Oh you’re part Chinese, part Greek’ or whatever – and there’s a point where you don’t want to know about your family… and then you do. I’m lucky because my grandfather was Walter Albert Smith, a Romany gypsy, born in a caravan in Oxford. There were things he taught me as a small child that I’ve actually taken as part of my breeding. Things like ‘God always pays debts without money’, ‘If you lend money don’t fucking expect it back’. But the main thing he taught me was ‘Don’t hit a woman’. He said ‘If you hit a woman I’ll fucking hit you’, and I didn’t want to be hit because my dad hit my mum, and my grandad went round around the pub and knocked all his teeth out and said ‘Hit her again and I’ll come round and do it again’. He was a strong man. He joined the army just to get a pair of boots in 1917. He went over the France, his mum got him out and he fucked off and joined the Navy. A strong guy. He never said much, but what he did say I listened to and it was very very simple to understand: basically work hard, enjoy yourself but don’t take any shit. There’s a line.

"So, Romany… that made me get into it, subliminally. ‘I feel beneath the white there is a redskin suffering through centuries of taming…’ What was that all about? Why was I into the Native Americans? Because it was an alternative to Christianity, with respect for nature and the idea that everything in nature was alive: trees, rocks… Plus they look fucking great, and they were tough and could beat you up. And they were brilliant. But then I like Clint. I like Clint Eastwood and I liked all that."

You do a quick Clint impression at the end of the "Prince Charming" video…

AA: "Yeah. The thing is, I want to have fun with it. I think you learn from those that went before and I don’t think anyone has an original thought. In my first interview with The Face I went on and on, I was a very serious young man, about not having an original thought. Well, I did, but its an eclectic originality. People talk about genius, do me a favour there’s five in a fucking century. Picasso, Stravinsky, Dali, the bloke that invented penicillin, Stephen Hawking. I’d have a job remembering more. A genius is someone who is going to do something that isn’t in the book. Everything else is eclectic genius."

The G-word gets thrown too lightly.

AA: "Yeah, how many geniuses there are in music? Miles Davis definitely…"

I would actually say Prince, I really would.

AA: "Yeah, Prince, but then there was that article in Uncut about the whole scene he nicked that from, Parliament-Funkadelic. And I know for a fucking fact, ‘cos Andre Cymone is Prince’s half-brother and he produced Manners & Physique for me, that when ‘Prince Charming’ came out, Prince rushed out and bought it, and he was dancing around… and look at the costumes he wore after that!"

Speaking of your love of dressing up, the ‘Prince Charming’ era was probably the height of that, with the whole Errol Flynn thing. You must have been in your element…

AA: "Well, no. Because I look at Kings and that’s the zenith, that’s it. Because ‘Prince Charming’ was a product. It was close but no cigar. The thing is, it was rushed, we’d done 300 gigs, we were tired, we hated each other. We were sick of it. Basically we should have had someone say ‘Listen guys, fuck off for six months and don’t do music, do something else’. I wanted to do a solo album then, but I didn’t because we had a record company who didn’t make money when we weren’t working. We actually had a contract that was for one album and four singles a year. You may have noticed, people say ‘Oh, the 80s, you guys had so many records…’, but if you didn’t fucking deliver they got another album for free. I signed a contract in 1980, for £60,000 for ten fucking albums for nine per cent. Of which I had to fund everything … er hello! That’s another story, but I would advise anyone reading your article never, ever, ever fucking sign a deal with a major record company unless you’ve got ‘Lube Up’ on your fucking forehead."

I think you said once, maybe half-joking half-serious, that the music industry sent you to the loony bin…

AA: "No. That’s not fair. I sent myself. I’m responsible. I didn’t have to do those things. I could have turned around and done what a lot of bands say now, ‘Fuck off, I’m not doing it’. It’s easier if you’re lucky to have a hardcore manager like U2 had or Led Zeppelin had: no one fucked around with Peter Grant around. I know, because he wanted to manage Adam And The Ants. But I didn’t. Hayley will tell you, I’m doing fucking anything. I’ve signed every autograph I can, because Marc Bolan signed mine and he was so nice I remembered it. He looked great, like he was off the ‘Ride A White Swan’ record cover. He was perfect. And he signed it, and I thought ‘Fuck me, if I ever become a rock star I’m going to do that’, and I have tried. People say to me ‘Oh, don’t do that, you’ll be here all night…’ Like when I signed my book. There were kids coming in carrying everything, and you have got an hour, and I wasn’t very well at the time, I was on very heavy medication so I couldn’t even fucking speak, but you know I could do my autograph in a sec."

Did you enjoy writing the autobiography?

AA: "I had to do that for the money. I got divorced and I had no money, that was the problem, but on top of that, after the Wonderful album I’d got glandular fever, which is symptomatic of depression, and I had to pay for the gig cancellations then because no one else fucking pays for them. The record labels certainly don’t. It had to come from somewhere and I had to do a book deal. Unfortunately, part of the deal was in-stores, which I would rather not have done in my condition. I couldn’t move the muscles in my face. Sodium Valproate is prescribed for epilepsy, but if you look at the instructions… anyone taking any SSRI or anti-depressant, read the fucking small print because it will cover everything. And unfortunately for me, maybe because I’m vulnerable, I experienced every fucking symptom, including not be able to smile, dribbling, lack of concentration, sexual incont, incont…just forget about fucking, put it that way!"

That’s a pretty terrible side effect to have.

AA: "You go to a psychiatrist and say ‘Oh, I’m feeling down, doc…’ and they give you an upper. ‘I feel up’, and they give you a downer. They just want you in the fucking middle because that’s where you’re easily ‘Next!’ because they’re on a time limit and a budget. That’s the fucking National Health for you. I’ve written a song about it called ‘Shrink’ on the new album. It’s all about what I’ve been through. ‘Shrink’ is fucking terrifying and the way I will perform it will be terrifying, because it is fucking terrifying. People are out there rotting in shithouses, coming back from wars, they’re gonna be fucked up. It’s not so much them, they volunteer for that and I respect that. It’s the families you know, the kids. I don’t even want to go there because some people can’t handle it. I want to talk about it on television to a politician, and I won’t swear. I promise. On TV you’ve got kids watching. I want to do it at 7 o’clock in the evening. I’m too fucking angry, disgusted, degraded and fucking hurt to swear. I’ll have my moment, I want David fucking Cameron when he becomes Prime Minister, or Lord Snooty or whoever he is. I’d vote for the Monster Raving Loony Party if it was me. Because they can’t debate me.

"You can’t talk about war to a guy who’s been to Viet- fucking-nam, chopping people’s lungs out, you can’t fucking talk about it. And politicians don’t. Winston Churchill was good bloke because he’d done that. If Vince Cable and these other people care about this country why aren’t they standing for Prime Minister? They should have a coalition, get us out this shit. But what they need is charisma, and Obama’s got it. Kennedy had it. Martin Luther King had it. Malcolm X had it. And you know what else they had? A fucking headwound. Dead. I don’t want to do that. Fuck that. I’m not interested in politicians, because they suck dick. Huge fucking elephant dicks. They wear suits, not very good ones. If they were good suits I’d respect them but they ain’t real, they’re fucking plastic. Don’t get me fucking started. Scared you didn’t I? But I’ll be on fucking TV one day, because I can act. Kennedy was trained. Kennedy came from a slave family. He was cursed by the voodoo. This is serious business you’re going into now, politics. That’s why I’ve always said, and you know this, I don’t mix politics with music. This is an interview, we’re talking about an album. But that is fucking close to my heart.

I’m a punk rocker, I’m a pirate metal rocker now because these guys, metal, they look great, they’re sexy, they play hardcore and they don’t give a monkeys. And they look like Hayley. And you. So why not, fuck them. No really, I’d love to go on there. I’d love Paul Morley, Liam Gallagher talking about style. Oasis have been ruling the roost, remaking Beatles records and trying to convince people it’s not. They’ve got one fucking song, ‘Wonderwall’. What else you got? I mean, Noel’s OK but hey, you ain’t fucking Miles Davies, you certainly ain’t fucking Bryan Ferry and you aint Adam Ant, Charlie."

He’s won some kind of poll in Q magazine for the best front man ever

AA: "Well in my view he’s the best backman. I mean, I’ve got a Q Award, I don’t give a fuck. I gave it to me mum. Q, I mean fucking hell it must have cost them all of 30 pence, they can stick it up their ass. Those ones up there, the Ivor Novello awards, they’re the only ones I’ve got in my flat because they are for songwriting, they’re Oscars. I’ve not met the man, I mean he’s probably a very nice chap…"

No he’s not, I’ve met him

AA: "Marc Bolan was lovely. Bryan Ferry was lovely. Michael Jackson was lovely. Liza Minelli was lovely. I’m dropping these names because I fucking met these people and they taught me something: Be nice. People that are really brilliant are really nice, people that ain’t got a lot of mouth. So here you go Liam, you cunt. I’d like to have a fight with him whichever way he wants: physically, mentally I’d beat him in anyway shape or form, I know that."

Well, if anyone ever needed a slap…

AA: "Yeah but he’s probably got a very big bodyguard, but that’s alright because I’ve got Hayley. I mean even the Spice Girls offered him out and he wouldn’t take it."

The Prince Charming era was rounded off by the single ‘Ant Rap’, which has to be one of the weirdest singles by a major artist ever to make the Top 10. Mediaeval hip-hop!

AA: "I’ll tell you what it is quite simply. It was me committing suicide. The band has fallen to bits, we didn’t even talk to one another. We had like three managers, one member brought drugs into the group and I wasn’t having that. So basically I was making a point of saying ‘Well, it’s not about the music anymore.’ I made a wonderful video, the ‘Ant Rap’ video is the best fucking video I’ve ever made; jumping out of turrets and shit, but I was just trying to kill myself. And it was an attempt to do a record that had no fucking music on it, and take the piss. And I’d heard about this rap thing and I did it and I paid the price. It was the end of Adam and the Ants. It was basically my grand finale saying ‘There’s nothing here anymore, you’re not listening. You’re still buying the cunt, but its shit. Well it’s not shit, it was a beautifully-made record, and bold in that respect, but looking at it now, asking me thirty years later when I’ve had time to think, I shouldn’t have done it, I should have had a break."

It felt like you were a band so invincible at the height of their power that you could release anything, and who’s going to say ‘Don’t do it’?

AA: "Yeah, but I wasn’t taking the piss because it cost a fucking lot of money and I would disrespect my audience, but looking as a writer it was basically based on Sweet: ‘Are you ready, Steve?!’ So it was all the things I liked, but it wasn’t a grown up decision. I should have been more U2 about it. What they do is they don’t change their formula. I know what their next record is going to sound like. I don’t buy it because I hate them, but I like Edge, and I like the band. I just don’t like fucking Mr Bono. (Does an Irish accent) ‘Every time I click my fingers, an African dies.’ Well, stop clicking your fucking fingers, then! I don’t like his lyrics or what he stands for or represents, how he dresses or anything. But I do actually like the fact that they had the bollocks to last, which I didn’t. You know even Billy Idol, some of the other punk rockers, they ain’t been able to make much of a living. You can’t put your arms around a memory, know what I mean? You can’t just fucking live off that."

You must have been made offers in the last few years to do big shows?

AA: "Yeah, I’ve been offered the O2 by very nice people, and I may fucking do it if I fancy it. [The offer was for an earlier line-up including long-term collaborator Marco Pirroni.] But I was offered a staggering amount of money. Enough money to forget about everything. Enough to buy a house, buy a car, get an inflatable doll. You know the ones… really nice! But you know something, my arse puckered, and when my arse puckers it’s ‘No’. It would have been ‘cha-ching’ but don’t fool yourself… No disrespect, but that’s what a 55-year-old guy does if he’s got nothing else. It just didn’t feel right to me, and no disrespect because I will deal with division one promoters, don’t get me fucking wrong but I want them to show me they care by producing a gig in a shithouse club and making sure the all the audience get treated well like they do in the metal scene. Like when I played with the Glitter Band and Angie Bowie, because Angie got the shit end of the deal. Because Angie was responsible for fucking Ziggy Stardust…"

You reckon?

AA: "Look, I saw Bowie a few months before he did that, at the Roundhouse supporting Genesis and Lol Coxhill, and he was a fucking dirty old hippy. Then a few months later on Lift Off With Ayshea, and it’s another fucking planet. And no disrespect to David Bowie because he’s a very good writer, he ain’t as good as Bolan, nowhere fucking near and nowhere as good as Bryan Ferry either. Like Malcolm said to me, ‘You won’t learn nothing from David Bowie, boy.’ And I thought about it and now I fucking know why. He’s a thief, he’s a vampire, and he probably don’t like me, but that’s my fucking view. I mean he pushes the envelope, but I was playing ‘Heroes’ to somebody, and yeah it’s good, but you know he goes ‘oooooh’, that one note? Eno had already used that on a song he did with Robert Fripp and Brian Eno called ‘Swastika Girls’. Own up, say ‘I was influenced by…’, but no. And Angie Bowie fucking made those outfits out of curtains in a squat. Nobody else, and what’s she doing? You know? Bless her heart, that’s why I wanted to play with her, because she’s lovely and she’s fucking good. Good luck to her, and the Glitter Band, even now they sound scary. I mean fuck me, it’s perfect. And there’d be no Gaga without Madonna so let’s put it in fucking perspective…"

I love Lady Gaga, though. You talk about dressing up, and she’s the only person right now really doing that…

AA: "Yeah she’s good, but Madge was doing that when I was doing it, you know? I saw Madonna outside the Music Machine before she even made it. I was doing a gig with the band in like ’79. There was this chick outside from New York going ‘I’m going to be a star’ and it was her! And she’s got some fucking balls you know? She’s done as much as Dietrich did for fucking Hollywood stars. She’s gone in and said ‘Alright. I’ve been raped. Someone fucking stuck his dick in my gob in a back alley. I got up from that and I went in there and I had a big fight. And I won.’ She fucking won, good luck to the woman. You know? And Gaga, great. Nice girl. What can I say. Because I know how hard it is to dress different every time. I do try to wear something different at all those gigs you see me at, but it’s hard. You’ve got to buy something every fucking day. I understand Gaga because she’s intelligent, good media worker, very good songwriter – almost kind of classical. She interests me. But Lily Allen is the best fucking lyricist in the last decade. That ‘Oh and I lie here in the wet patch/in the middle of the bed…’ I mean, I wish I’d fucking written that."

Can we talk about Live Aid?

AA: "We don’t talk about Live Aid. No comment! [he laughs]"

Here’s the thing. Nearly everybody who played Live Aid, they were all dinosaurs, playing their back catalogue, reviving their careers. Queen did it, everyone did it. But you played your new single and got a lot of stick for that.

AA: "The story of that is, it all started when I missed the Band Aid single they did when I was in America, and I was gutted. And I was back here in a play doing Entertaining Mr Sloane so I didn’t have a band, but basically I got a call from Geldof saying were doing this thing, and would I come to Wembley Stadium and announce it? So I went to Wembley Stadium, came down on the train, did it. There was Geldof, a couple of geezers from Spandau, lovely. Elton John, fuck, there’s another name. And I was just standing thinking ‘Are we going to fill this place up? No.’ But I was actually involved in it. Fine. So I thought I’ll do ‘Stand And Deliver’, ‘Antmusic’ and ‘Vive Le Rock’ because that represents me, you know… And ‘Vive Le Rock’ was a fucking good song.

"Anyway, then I get a call closer to the time from the promoter, Harvey Goldsmith, saying ‘Adam’s not on the bill’. Which was kind of embarrassing because I’d been in the fucking colour programme. My manager Miles Copeland, who managed The Police, a great manager, mad as a fucking nine bob note but a fucking hardcore hillbilly motherfucker, he said ‘What do you fucking mean he’s not on the bill?’ I mean it’s a charity event and all, but you know. And I was doing a play, I had other things to do and it was an experiment. Miles asks ‘So he’s not on the bill. Why is he not on the bill?’ Turns out all the major acts realised it was going to be a big deal and wanted to be on it, so they moved all the times. So I said OK, but Miles just said ‘If you don’t put him on you aren’t having any of my other acts you fucking need.’ So then Harvey did like any fucking arsehole promoter would do, and he knows it because he apologised to me afterwards, and he can fucking take me to court. But anyway suddenly I’m back on the bill but I’m told ‘You’re doing one song that’s all’. There was a four-piece band, and ‘Stand And Deliver’ and ‘Antmusic’ needed two lots of drums, so I did ‘Vive Le Rock’, a big fucking mistake but there you go. Then again I didn’t know, no one knew it was going to be as big as it was. And by the way, everyone was told ‘You’ve got three fucking minutes, there’s a circular stage, and if you go over time, someone at the other end doesn’t go on’."

There’s so much more, about Daltrey and Townshend, Elvis and the Marquis De Sade, Gary Glitter and Jerry Lee Lewis, James Brown and Berry Gordy, Macca and Jimmy Page, Dizzee and Pixie, Jamie T and Plan B, and sending champagne and stilton to the Courteeners. Adam seems to have relished getting things off his chest. "I enjoyed that more than probably any I’ve done in the last forty years…"

I happen to be carrying my wife’s copy of his autobiography Stand And Deliver, which he signed for her in 2006. He asks me if he’d personalised it (he hadn’t), and takes it from my hands to right the wrong. He begins covering it in graffiti, random rubber stamps of penis-shaped pigs, and a brilliant pen-portrait of his own face. "That’ll be worth a fortune now…"

As I bid him farewell, I notice he’s ostentatiously flicking a pack of playing cards back and forth between his fingertips. The meaning of this only becomes clear after I’ve left. I open the book, and under the dedication, he’s written an apology. "Sorry I didn’t do this before, but I wasn’t playing with the full deck."

He is now.

Upon which optimistic note I was planning to end, but there’s a bizarre coda to this story. The Friday after the interview takes place, Adam turns up at The Purple Turtle in Camden for the nine-year reunion party of Stay Beautiful, the glam/alternative club night I co-run with Adam’s bassist David Ryder Prangley, and thrills the 300-capacity crowd by walking onstage unannounced for his latest guerrilla gig.

"Hi, we’re the support band," he announces coyly. "This is punk rock for you, children…"before launching into ‘Antmusic’. The realisation that yes, it’s really him spreads through the room like wildfire, and through renditions of more obscure Ants numbers ‘Beat My Guest’, ‘Red Scab’, ‘(You’re So) Physical’ and Iggy’s ‘Cock In My Pocket’, he visibly revels in the attention, playing kiss-tease with the front row, doing sudden dramatic drops behind the mic stand, taking his top off and smearing cider over his chest, and grinning like he’s having the time of his life. Midway through a finale of ‘Stand And Deliver’, he cackles "I managed to get every fucker in the world singing something completely fucking meaningless", before leading the nonsensical refrain "qua qua, da-diddley-qua-qua…"

He later reappears to encore with ‘Born In The UK’, a rambling work-in-progress based on Springsteen’s similarly-titled anthem during which, among other things, Adam accuses the police of complicity in the killers of murdered goth Sophie Lancaster evading jail. (In fact, the offenders are in jail at present, two with life sentences and three with four to six years.)

Afterwards, everyone’s buzzing about what they’ve seen. Sadly, Adam doesn’t feel the same way. I’m awoken at 9 o’clock the following morning by a phone call from Ant himself. This time, when I ask how he is, the answer is "Not great, Simon, not great." In fact, he’s sounding very distressed. He’s heard that two policemen entered the venue during his set, and is convinced that Special Branch are stalking him. He starts fretting over CCTV footage, and repeats the phrase "I’m a marked man", adding a telling "I’m not paranoid…"

While Adam may indeed be correct that police are keeping an eye on him, much to his anger ("It’s over five years since I committed a crime…"), this doesn’t appear to be the case here. I make a few enquiries and it turns out that the two officers were merely making the same routine visit to the Turtle they make every Friday and Saturday to check for underage drinkers. Adam isn’t buying that ("too much of a coincidence"), and is convinced that they were noting down the "seditious" lyrics to ‘Born In The UK’. It would almost be sweet that Adam believes pop lyrics are still considered so dangerous by the establishment – this isn’t 1976, this isn’t Thailand – were he not so deadly serious about it.

Suddenly, the concerns of his acquaintances don’t seem so far-fetched and patronising after all. It can’t be much fun living with this stuff whizzing around your head, and I too hope he’s OK.

Then I re-listen to the interview tape. The phrase "up and down like a bride’s nightie" leaps out. In the space of a week I’ve caught Adam on two up days and one down day. And, as another musketeer-shirted star once put it, two out of three ain’t bad.

So, what are you gonna do? Strap him to a sanitorium bed? Put him on display inside a Perspex cube in the British Music Experience and forbid him from actually doing anything? He’s a free man. For better or worse, this is who he is. This – "I write songs, I sing, I do records, I dress up" – is what he does.

He’s Adam Ant again.

The Quietus would like to thank Ms Dayglo of Punk77 and Jonny Garrett for their help behind the scenes with this feature

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today