By Steve Spears
Thirty years ago, Adam Ant was a dandy highwayman who you were too scared to mention. He spent his cash on looking flash and grabbing your attention.
Stand and Deliver, which features those famous opening lyrics, was just one of nine quirky but catchy tunes that Adam (born Stuart Goddard) landed on Top 10 charts in his native England in the early '80s. Born during the tail end of the glam wave in British music, Adam Ant was half myth, half man, conquering audiences both on stage and on MTV dressed as a debonair pirate, with streaks of bold makeup to match his gold lipstick. He even briefly was the star of his own comic book, The Fantastic Adventures of Adam Ant.
But a foray into acting and a struggle with mental illness (later diagnosed as bipolar disorder) sidetracked Ant from his music. Decades passed. Before a short U.S. club tour last year, fans had begun to wonder if they'd ever see the dandy highwayman in person again.
In a recent interview, Ant called from London. He talked about his new album (take a breath, it's called Adam Ant Is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner's Daughter), his stint living anonymously in Tennessee and how it was he got to wander through Paul McCartney's house as a kid.
What expectations did you have when you returned to the U.S. to perform?
I was very delighted to see the response. It took me six to nine months to get this band together and it'd done quite well in the U.K. with the live stuff, but as I always say, when you go to the USA, it's an entirely different ball game.
Any wrinkles in the set list for this new tour?
Obviously people want to hear the hits, and I indeed enjoy playing them. It's not like a task for me; it's more of a challenge because I'm trying to get the songs as good as they can sound, as close to the record without any sampling or nonsense like that. We'll play a half dozen songs from the new album as well.
I heard the new album was influenced by your stay in Tennessee. How did that happen?
I was going to get married, and my wife and I — I'm sadly divorced now — we decided to hire a 4x4 in Miami and drive up to Vegas and get married in the Elvis chapel, that was the idea. But on the route, we stopped in this little town of Dayton for a cup of coffee. I picked up a property magazine — I always look at them — and I saw this advertisement for this wooden A-frame house overlooking the Tennessee Valley. It was one of the best views of the world. So beautiful. Before I knew it … we settled there. People kind of left me alone.
Nobody knew who you were?
They had no idea who I was. It wasn't until many years later. It's only now that people know I was a singer. Only my next-door neighbor knew. It was a lovely period of my life.
Growing up, do you recall when you first got the spark for music?
Yeah, I certainly can. Growing up, there was always a lot of music around the house. My mom used to have a record player. She had such an eclectic taste. She liked Perry Como, but also Sinatra, Tony Bennett. … I had a babysitter who was kind of a beatnik and she brought in Gene Vincent, Elvis and rock 'n' roll. And that kind of all got absorbed by me.
I've read that your mom's work as a house cleaner helped out, too.
My mother used to work for Paul McCartney. So I'd go to Paul McCartney's house after school and go into the rooms. They were doing Magical Mystery Tour. So there'd be the piano and a bass all painted psychedelic. It was just surreal. … I'm fortunate. I was in London at the right time when this music revolution came along, and I was part of it. I've been very fortunate in my life.