Still Standing And Delivering

24 March 2012 | 8:07 am | Cyclone Wehner

More Adam Ant More Adam Ant

Many a young artist channels David Bowie, Ian Curtis or Siouxsie Sioux, but never Adam Ant. Stuart Goddard's alter-ego is inimitable. But now there is a new Adam Ant – and, it turns out, it's the original, wholly rejuvenated. London's Cockney Rebel is returning to Australia to perform for the first time in 30-odd years and with his current band, The Good, The Mad & The Lovely Posse. So keen is Goddard that he recently flew in to promote the tour, reviving 'Antmania' in the process.

The sometime graphic design student was once bassist in an unexceptional rock outfit, Bazooka Joe. When the Sex Pistols supported them, Goddard saw the future. He began to – slowly – form a fetish-themed punk band. Adam & The Ants floundered initially, 1979's independent album, Dirk Wears White Sox, not transcending its cult status. Goddard sought out Malcolm McLaren, the Pistols' mastermind, to guide them. By decade's end, punk had become grim and fresh ideas were needed. “They were all kinda off their faces,” Goddard recollects the scene. “A lot of drugs had got into punk, which I didn't particularly like – and I just got sick of it. I thought, 'This has gotta have a bit of colour.'” Goddard developed an ever-more theatrical – and colourful – post-punk image, complete with costumes and make-up, modelled on outsider figures: Native American Indians, cowboys and pirates (he himself is of Romani descent). “A lot of that was down to Malcolm saying to me, 'What do you want? Do you wanna be indie, cult, or do you wanna be someone who people see on their Corn Flakes packets?' I said, 'I really wanna go for a hit record.'” McLaren played no direct part in The Ants' breakthrough. He'd do a little buccaneering of his own, enticing Goddard's musos away for another project, Bow Wow Wow. “We fell out. He inspired a mutiny in the ranks – and that wasn't nice.” Goddard had to reassemble The Ants, recruiting guitarist Marco Pirroni and two drummers, one of them producer Chris Hughes, aka Merrick. They cut 1980's Kings Of The Wild Frontier, a huge crossover success, partly due to Antmusic, which was an Australian #1.

Goddard had decided to hire dual drummers after catching James Brown – and The Ants' funky Burundi rhythms really helped distinguish them. In fact, Goddard was influenced by soul as much as glam or punk, The Ants “a hybrid”. “I grew up listening to Tamla Motown a lot and a lot of James Brown and Al Green, mainly the singers – 'cause that's what I do [sing]. So I was always trying to learn by listening to the way they use their voices.”

The Ants followed with 1981's avant pop Prince Charming, housing Stand And Deliver. Yet their lifespan was short and the group bowed out with their most outlandish single off that album, Ant Rap, ingeniously presaging hip hop. Goddard has suggested that Ant Rap was a pisstake. “I think [The Ants] had reached a sort of peak, as far as I was concerned. It got a bit too poppy and a bit too soft. I was under a lot of pressure from the record label to come up with a new look, new sound, new album... I let myself fall for that, but I didn't know better. I do now, but then I didn't... But, having said that, it was almost trying to put a song out that had no music on it, except for a harpsichord solo in the middle. I didn't know it was rap 'cause there'd only been Grandmaster Flash, really, I think at around about that time – or maybe after. I thought it was a cappella, not rap. Calling it Ant Rap was quite a literal thing.”

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Did Goddard ever regret The Ants' early demise? He sighs. “I didn't really have a choice. Things had crept into the group [Goddard notably banned drugs] – there were a few problems... It was almost like, you get the number ones and then what do you do? The only way is down, if you're not careful, so it was quit at a peak.”

Goddard's solo career started promisingly with Goody Two Shoes, which finally broke him Stateside. Friend Or Foe was thankfully the first of a succession of albums though in the end he set music aside in the late '80s to pursue acting. Goddard scored a green card, moved to Los Angeles (settling in arty Silver Lake), attended classes and auditioned. “I didn't really take any roles as a rocker, apart from Northern Exposure.

If in later years Goddard has slipped off the radar, it's because he fought a widely reported – sometimes exploitively so – battle with mental illness. (He'd already experienced depression, anorexia and a suicide attempt, pre-fame.) Goddard also wanted time out with his young daughter. He published a candid autobiography in 2006, Stand And Deliver, having kept journals since the '70s. (“That's probably the best therapy you can have,” he says.)

In 2012 Goddard – who is pensive, quietly-spoken and, being residually shy, inclined to avoid eye contact – still looks the dandy pop star, like Johnny Depp's Brit cousin. He's clued-up on contemporary pop, but he rues that today's bands neglect their presentation: so few look distinctive. Goddard is nurturing his own talent with “a boutique label”, Blue Black Hussar, its flagship Georgie Girl & Her Poussez Posse, a “tough” all-girl band Georgina Baillie fronts that will open for him in Australia. (“I'm trying to do a Motown label tour.”) In July he'll drop his comeback, Adam Ant Is The Blueblack Hussar In Marrying The Gunner's Daughter. He's worked on the “raw” analogue LP with Boz Boorer, who collaborated on 1995's Wonderful, plus ex-3 Colours Red guitarist Chris McCormack. “It's eighteen songs and it's really just, as always, songs and stories that interest me – and certainly songs about what I've been through in the last seventeen years since Wonderful. The songs are quite far-reaching. They're all recorded live. I can't really describe music – it's a bit of a dangerous area – but hopefully it will sound like the next Adam Ant record.”

Goddard has reason to feel optimistic. His live show is attracting the best reviews of his career. This month Aussie 'Antpeople' can anticipate the hits – and some “surprises” (Jubilee's Plastic Surgery!). Quips Goddard, “It's not gonna be a jazz-fusion version of my catalogue with horrible medleys at the end, which a lot of bands do – they seem ashamed of their work. I don't have a problem with my stuff. I love playing it.”