Thursday, 27 October 2011

An interview with Adam Ant - king of the anthill

(This is a longer, more in-depth version of my interview with Adam Ant than the ones that appeared in both the Bath Chronicle and Somerset Standard and Guardian on Thursday, October 27).

Adam Ant is definitely a man who has experienced the true highs and lows associated with the entertainment industry.

In the early 1980s he was probably the biggest and most instantly-recognised pop star in the country with his singles regularly racing to the top of the charts and his fashion copied by thousands of wannabee youngsters. In addition his picture adorned the walls of millions of teenage bedrooms and his videos were as eagerly awaited as the next James Bond film.

The creator of Ant Music was truly at the top of the ant hill.

Life was good. 

And, although the initial Smash Hits inspired satuaration coverage inevitably calmed down as he left his Ants behind and went under his own steam, he continued to make exciting, evocative music and seemed comfortable in his new skin as a respected solo artist.

Then, however, it all went terribly wrong.

As the pressures of trying to live up to the commercial demands of his industry took their toll, he sunk deeper and deeper into an over-riding depression and ended up being sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

It was a terrible time for the former King of the Wild Frontier but thankfully those dark days are now behind him and he is now back, stronger, happier and healthier than ever before and on Thursday November 10th he kicks off a major nation-wide tour with a warm up show at the Cheese & Grain Frome on Thursday, November 10 before he hits Bristol the following evening.

And back on stage is where Adam knows he belongs.

“To me it’s all about the audience - getting out there and playing your hour and a half. It’s great you know.

"I play all the catalogue, dropping in a couple of new tracks from the next album and  up to now I’ve been spending time just trying to get those songs right. They’ve all been created in the studio and are difficult songs to perform live. But I’ve got a great band so that’s really all I can hope for.”

Adam knows that he will never be able to escape his musical past – and nor does he want to. So, yes, the show he’ll be putting on will include some of the hits that defined a generation but there will also be lots more challenging tracks and previously unheard ones from his new solo work due out at the start of 2012.

“I’m going to put on the sort of show I would want to see if I was going to see someone that I liked. There will be stuff from my 'growing up' period with early stuff and B sides, latter solo songs and some new material. The hardest thing is actually leaving songs out -  we’ve got so many songs now  that we could literally play a three hour set if we wanted to.”

Adam’s enthusiasm for music seems as insatiable as ever but he says he feels more focused now than ever because he has total control.

Not only will he be doing the song writing and leading his band but his next album will come out on his own label -  to which he has already signed some kindred spirit acts. His aim, he says,  is to create something different from the manufactured pop that he sees around him.

“I think the music scene’s bit wide open at the moment, a bit soft. I’m trying as much as I can to show it is all about the song writing and the music - something you can’t get from the charts now because of the karaoke-based kind of mediocrity put up by the likes of Simon Cowell.

"When the current music industry predominantly is run by one person who doesn’t really adjust very well you’re in trouble. There’s not many brave bands out there at the moment who are willing to take a risk."  

Although it is the music that drives him, Adam knows that he is as well-known in recent years for his off stage troubles as for the great singles and albums that defined him.

He says he has become something of a poster boy for the subject of mental illness but having experienced a decade of treatment and anti-depressants he says he feels he has a duty to do so to try and inform and educate people.

“With any success there’s always a price to pay. I was 20 when I first started selling albums which was kind of signing your life away. Then they had me on magazine covers, doing several singles plus one album and two tours a year so by the time I took time out to act I was quite relieved to get away from it all.

"I feel a lot of my illness was just down to exhaustion and I ended up not knowing where I wanted to go creatively. You have to be quite fit to produce creatively - you can’t be like a robot. That’s one rule that’s changed now in that I’ve learned to do things at my own pace and say 'no' . That's good.

"This whole area is a subject that comes up in every interview now and I feel duty bound to explain that mental health is  not a disease, it’s an illness and it’s a curable one. I’ve finally managed to encourage a couple of high profile friends of mine in the business to try and stage a major television debate on a prime channel at a good viewing time for the public to actually watch and realise that it’s not the end of your life, it’s not a taboo and you shouldn’t be ashamed of it.”

Adam has clearly thought about the issue deeply and he said although he can understand why celebrities suffer from these problems, he thinks it shouldn’t take away from 'ordinary' people who are also going through it.

“I think the problem with lots of celebrities when they’ve done too many drugs or are completely messed up they can go to the Priory and claim bi-polar and that is something I don’t have a lot of sympathy for. I’m more concerned with mums and kids at school suffering either as a result of what’s going on at home or too much examination pressure.

“It seems easier for some people to put those in trouble on the couch with Jeremy Kyle and fill them with a gut full of anti-depressants which turn you into a zombie anyway. Anti-depressants are important in an emergency but they don’t wean people off them and it becomes their lifestyle and that ain’t right.”

Despite everything he’s gone through, Adam now feels he’s in a fantastic position and simply can’t wait to hit the road again – and hopefully see his new album connect with his now very wide-ranging audience.

“I didn’t become a man until I had my daughter and suddenly things got a lot more serious. I see myself as very fortunate now. I’m as healthy as you can be and that is important as you need a lot of physical and emotional stamina to go on stage and have 30 songs in your head and perform them differently every night. But I love it”

Adam Ant is clearly a man on a mission. He wants to entertain and excite his audience as much as ever and the fact that he’s managed to overcome some huge hurdles in his personal life will only make all those that come to watch him at Frome and elsewhere appreciate even more the man who really put the music into Ant Music.

Doors for the Frome show oepn at 7.30pm and under 14s must be accompanied by an adult.

Tickets cost £26.50 in advance or £30 on the door.

To book tickets call the Cheese and Grain box office on 01373 455420.

Sam Holliday

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