Adam Ant - Biography
By Scott Feemster
Adam Ant was one of the most memorable and theatrical stars of the early ‘80’s new wave music scene. Though his career has steered away from music over the years, he is still remembered for the exciting and swashbuckling pirate-meets-Native American persona he cultivated in the ‘80s. Adam Ant came along at just the right time with the just the right look and sound to translate the anger and energy of punk into a new sound that came to be called new wave and, more specifically, the New Romantic movement.
Adam Ant was born Stuart Leslie Goddard on November 3rd, 1954 in the Marleyborne area of London, England. Stuart, an only child, is of mixed Romany (Gypsy) and English blood and was raised in near poverty. The Goddards lived in a two room flat without running tap water or private washroom facilities. Stuart’s father, a chauffeur, was an alcoholic and his parents divorced when Stuart was seven. After graduating grammar school and passing his A level exams, Stuart enrolled in the Hornsey College of Art and took up the study of history, French, and art. Soon, young Goddard shifted his concentration entirely towards art, studying under such controversial teachers as Peter Webb and Allen Jones. Both Jones and Webb were known for their sexually-charged artwork and had a great effect on Goddard’s emerging persona.
While studying at Hornsey, Goddard became friends with a member of a band called Bazooka Joe and he took up the bass so he could join the band. Bazooka Joe employed shock shenanigans in the style of Alice Cooper, often starting fake fights on stage and spraying fake blood. It was during Goddard’s time with Bazooka Joe that he started writing his own songs. By 1975, he decided to leave the band to start his own, The B-Sides, with himself as the singer and frontman. Though The B-Sides practiced quite a bit, they never performed a gig because they lacked a drummer. Around this time, Goddard started playing around with stage names and eventually settled on Adam (a name he chose because he admired paintings of the Garden of Eden) and Ant (because The Beatles had an insect-related name). It was also in 1975 that Goddard met and fell in love with Carol Mills, a fellow Hornsey student. The two were married in the summer of 1975 and moved in with her parents in the Muswell Hill section of London. For a while all was peaceful in Goddard’s life, but he soon began working on an essay about bondage and fetishism for school and frequenting music clubs in London. Goddard’s behavior became erratic and he developed a case of anorexia nervosa. He eventually took an overdose of pills and was admitted to a mental hospital to undergo psychiatric treatment. After he was released from the hospital, he told his wife he wanted out of the marriage and changed his name to Adam Ant. He began attending gigs, seeing the emerging punk bands of London. After attending a Siouxsie & the Banshees show, Ant decided to form his own band around his new persona.
Ant was in the right place at the right time to launch a band. He put together the first version of Adam and the Ants with bassist Andy Warren, guitarist Lester Square, and drummer Paul Flanagan. He became friends with Jordan (a.k.a. Pamela Rooke), a fixture in the punk scene and an employee at Malcolm Mclaren and Vivienne Westwood’s SEX clothing store. Soon the Ants were gigging around London with Jordan as their manager. Through his connection with Jordan, Ant also did his first bit of acting, appearing in Derek Jarman’s 1977 surrealistic punk film Jubilee. The film features a performance by Adam and the Ants and two of their songs, “Deutscher Girls” and “Plastic Surgery.”
Square left the band and was replaced by guitarist Mark Gaumont before Adam and the Ants recorded and self-released their debut album, Dirk Wears White Sox (Do It Records), in 1979. The album was dark and spiky, much like the fetishistic images portrayed in the album artwork and the lyrical content. Largely due to the cult following the band was amassing, the record was a modest success on the newly-created British independent charts, but Ant was hungry for more exposure.
Ant, through Jordan, contacted former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren and asked him to advise and manage the band. McLaren suggested the band dress in pirate and Indian costumes, and make their songs more pop-friendly. He also suggested using an infectious African-derived rhythm called a Burundi beat to make their songs more danceable and exotic. The Ants took McLaren’s advice, but McLaren soon persuaded the band to leave Adam and work on a project with him. These musicians would form the core of McLaren’s next pop creation, Bow Wow Wow. Ant immediately formed a new version of the Ants, and recruited bassist Kevin Mooney, guitarist Marco Pirroni, and dual drummers Terry Lee Miall and Merrick (a.k.a. Chris Hughes) to back him. With the band’s new look and style, they became an almost immediate sensation and were soon signed to Epic Records.
Ant and Pirroni quickly banged out some new songs and Kings of The Wild Frontier (Epic) was released in 1980. Thanks to the infectious songs, Ant’s free-spirited dancing and showmanship, and the elaborate promotional videos that were produced for singles “Antmusic” and “Dog Eat Dog,” Adam and the Ants became a huge sensation in the UK The Ants continued their success in Europe, Japan, and the US as well, largely due to their easily recognizable image and the rise in popularity of music videos. When MTV was launched in 1981, Adam and the Ants were one of their early stars. In Britain, the Ants were the biggest band since the Sex Pistols and sold out every venue they played. The Ants image and sound also dove-tailed nicely with the emerging New Romantic movement, which was a grouping of bands who placed as much emphasis on style and image as they did on music. Bands such as Spandau Ballet, Visage, and Duran Duran were early leaders in the scene.
Adam and the Ants followed up Kings of The Wild Frontier with their next album, Prince Charming (Epic), released in 1981. The album was another huge success worldwide and included hit singles “Stand and Deliver” and “Prince Charming.” Prince Charming followed in the same mode as Kings of The Wild Frontier musically, though less emphasis was placed on the Burundi beats. Adam and the Ants launched the Prince Charming Revue tour in Britain and documented the tour with a VHS release that was made available worldwide. Even though the Ants were at the top of their game, Adam Ant felt that some of the band members weren’t as enthusiastic as they should be. At the conclusion of their tour, Ant dismissed everyone in the band except Pirroni. Ant and Pirroni immediately set upon work for Ant’s solo debut, Friend or Foe (Epic), which was released in 1982. The Burundi drums are gone but in its place are lots of horns and upbeat new wave songs. The album spawned the hit singles “Goody Two Shoes,” “Desperate But Not Serious,” and “Place in the Country.” Though still massively popular in Great Britain, Ant wanted more fame in America and set out on a tour across the country. As a result, Friend or Foe sold better in the US than any of his albums with the Ants. Ant wanted to continue the momentum with his next album, 1983’s Strip (Epic), but the first single – the title track – was banned by the BBC. The production on Strip was more polished and the songs were less unique than Ant’s previous attempts. As a result, the album was a dud and stalled out at number 20 on the UK charts.
By 1984, Ant and Perroni felt that another re-tooling was needed for Ant’s musical career, so the pair enlisted legendary producer Tony Visconti to re-make his image as a glammed-up 50’s rocker. The resulting Vive Le Rock (1985 Epic), which included the Top 40 hit “Apollo 9,” sold only slightly better than Strip. It seemed Ant’s time in the spotlight was over and after Vive Le Rock failed to sell well on either side of the Atlantic, he was dropped by Epic. Seeing his musical career going nowhere, Ant decided to devote more time to acting. He appeared for three months on stage in London in a production of Joe Orton’s play Entertaining Mr. Sloane, and spent the next few years dividing his time between England and Hollywood. While in Hollywood, he appeared in such films as Slamdance, Trust Me, and Cold Steel, and television shows such as The Equalizer, Amazing Stories, and Tales From The Crypt.
By 1989, Ant was ready to make another album. After signing to MCA, he enlisted the help of Pirroni and former Prince sideman Andre Cymone to produce the album Manners & Physique (MCA), released in 1990. Cymone played nearly all the instruments on the album, save lead guitar, and recast Ant as something of a modern soul singer. The album contained the Top 20 hit “Room at the Top,” and sold well in both the US and the UK Ant and Perroni recorded another album titled Provision that was intended to be released after Manners & Physique, but shake-ups at MCA forced the album to be shelved. Ant returned to his acting career, and appeared in more movies and television shows in the early ‘90s.
Ant was released from his contract with MCA and signed on with EMI. Again with Pirroni’s help, he released the 1995 album Wonderful (EMI). Wonderful was a back-to-basics album, heavy on the use of acoustic guitars and Beatles-esque song structures. Ant scored a hit with the title song and he, Pirroni, and their backing band embarked on a 70-date tour of North America and the UK. However, after only 18 performances, both Ant and Perroni both came down with a severe illness and had to cancel the remainder of the tour.
In the time since the release of Wonderful, Ant has had to grapple with mental illness. He has been arrested twice for attacking people while in an agitated state, and has since been hospitalized and treated for bipolar disorder. In 1997, he was briefly married and had a daughter but divorced the mother soon after the child’s birth. In 2000, his former label Epic released the three-disc anthology Antbox (2000 Epic), collecting together hits and rarities from his heyday. The six albums Ant recorded for Epic were also remastered and re-released in 2004 and 2005, and include extra tracks and outtakes. All of the remastered albums plus an extra collection of outtakes and rarities titled Redux were included in the seven CD boxset, Adam Ant Remasterd (Columbia), issued in 2006. The project was overseen by Ant’s long-time collaborator, Marco Pirroni. Ant published his autobiography, Stand & Deliver, in 2006, and appeared at various book signings around the UK. He also performed a live reading from his autobiography in 2007 at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London. The evening marked the first time he had performed on stage in 11 years. Ant is reportedly working on a new album, although no label or date of release have been announced.