The Rose Boys’ Big Day Out in Ye Olde London Town! Punk rock icon Adam Ant, surely the comeback king of this decade and one of the finest, most flamboyant, most iconic rock stars we’ve ever produced in this island nation, announced a special one-off performance of his art school punk classic debut album “Dirk Wears White Sox”, so the Budlet and I were all over that. The fact that it fell on Record Store Day opened up all sorts of possibilities for in-store appearance fun and frolics, so I kept my ear to the ground, and when Adam announced a couple of in-stores to promote the RSD special re-release of the very album he’d be playing in its’ entirety that very evening, that pretty much nailed down our plans for the day!
My dear lady wife was happy with said plans, so Budlet picked me up just after 10 for a swift drive up to the Smoke, parking up in a sunny Hammersmith and taking an easy tube over to the busy and very pungent – from the various street food vendors – Portobello Market. We arrived midday at Rough Trade’s tiny West store, noting with dismay the huge queue to get in, also noting a couple of speakers set up on the pavement outside. We’d surmised it was to play the in-store performance to the outside crowd, but no – a chat with the store techie confirmed the acts would be playing on the pavement! So there we were and there we stayed!
So, we stood behind an Ant fan extended family, including a young girl sat on the pavement in front of us, and 12.30 saw the first act in SLOW CLUB. A two-piece featuring bearded guitarist and blonde vocalist, they played some wispy and pleasant alt-country, recalling Cowboy Junkies. Their best number, “Tears Of Joy” was a bluesy chugalong with nice choral harmonies: the girl can sing, no doubt. She introduced the climax of their short set with, “We’ve got 2 numbers left, then Adam Ant will be here. I never thought I’d say that!”
Sure enough, about 1 pm, ADAM ANT arrived, disappearing into the bowels of the shop (“I’ll just have a coffee then I’ll be up!”), then emerging, resplendent in black leather and flat cap, along with a similarly attired cohort. He opened his set with “Cartrouble”, the by now large crowd blocking the road and singing along to this original Ants classic, then into a sleazy acoustic blues run-though of “No Fun”, announcing it with, “without Iggy there’d be no Ants, without Jonathan Richman there’d be no Ants…”. Fulsome and chatty throughout, bantering with the crowd with easy confidence, this was nevertheless a restrained performance, the voice understated, saving some in the tank for tonight. As befitted the subject of the day, “Dirk” songs dominated this set; a cheeky “Cleopatra” (introduced with, “I got into trouble for this one!” and suffixed with a comment to the family in front of us, “I hope you covered [the young girl’s] ears!”), a haunting “Never Trust A Man (With Egg On His Face)”, which benefitted most from the stripped back rendition, then after a rockabilly and T Rex cover interlude, a singalong “Physical”, to round off an exemplary if understated performance, the magic of it simply being that here was Adam Ant, playing guitar on a pavement, barely six feet in front of us!
Then he was gone – ushered away by a beefy security man who’d eyed the crowd up throughout, into a waiting black van and off. Fair enough really. We grabbed some lunch in a nearby public garden, then took a walk around the overpriced trinket-fest that is Portobello Market, returning in time for EDWYN COLLINS. Before his arrival, however, I had the pleasure of a quick and entertaining chat with 70’s London punk rock legend Don Letts! A lovely bloke; having noticed him shopping and approached him for a photo, his reply was, “of course mate, I’m surprised anyone still gives a shit!”
We then took a spot on the less crowded pavement for Edwyn, who, aided by a stick, walked slowly out of the shop and took a seat between 2 young guitarists to perform. Victim of a horrendous series of critical illnesses; a couple of brain haemorrhages, bouts of aphasia and MRSA, it’s remarkable the man is still here, let alone feeling the urge to perform. Still bearing the ravages of his illnesses, his speech was slow, halting and deliberate, but amazingly his singing voice was as deep, rich and resonant as ever, with astonishingly precise enunciation. “Falling And Laughing” was a beautiful joy, a playful “Rip it Up” was introduced with, “it’s a single! Back in the day…”, but the newer “Forsooth” (“a new song – like the Velvet Underground… so sorry about Lou Reed…”) was the highlight, a lush “Sunday Morning” lazy wake-up vibe, with the simple but affecting chorus of, “I’m so happy to be alive…”
A similarly affecting “Low Expectations” brought another lump to the old throatie, then “Bridge”, the inevitable “A Girl Like You” and an unplanned, bright “Don’t Shilly Shally” rounded off another understated yet amazing performance from a veteran rock icon. This time I managed to sneak a few words with the great man, briefly comparing survivor stories and being simply thrilled, honey, that he’s still here.
This took us to 4 pm, so we took a wander to the tube, bumping past Paloma Faith on the crowded thoroughfare, then tubed it over to Tottenham Court Road so Paul could nose around Tin Pan Alley and I could hit Forbidden Planet. We’d talked about captivating performers on the way, and I’d mentioned the riveting performance I’d witnessed from Savages’ Jehnny Beth recently, so imagine my surprise when I ran into the lovely Ms. Beth in the Planet! Another pic and chat, another highlight of the day.
Grabbed a tube back over to Hammersmith for samosa tea, then joined the queue at the Odeon, getting into the large, sloping floored, standing hall early doors. Amazing that this was my first time at the Odeon since the 80’s and my first time downstairs at all! We took a spot on the barriers, extreme stage right, for the supports. Openers Vuvuvultures featured a crop-haired, kinetic and angular female vocalist in suit and red tie, and a nice line in angst-ridden 80’s gloomy post-punk rock which wouldn’t have been out of place on an Editors or White Lies support. Shades also of Flesh For Lulu in some stomping gothy rock moments, and with some nice hooky choral droning, I liked them and I’d check them out again. Definitely a better proposition than main support New Killer Shoes; they showed signs of dirty rock’n’roll promise, but were all too often spoiled by unnecessary rawk posturing, unfounded arrogance and an unwelcome tendency to lapse into ska. After a clumsy cover of The Police’s “So Lonely” which showed their own material into sharp relief, their revealed their best number, a less overt and more considered song which blew the rest of their stuff away. A message to the boys and their cap throwing, hat hair, Robert Carlysle in “Trainspotting” lookalike vocalist; don’t try so hard!
By this time the place was heaving (surely a sell-out on the night!) and anticipatory; a false “lights out” start 10 minutes before stage-time simply adding to the anticipation. Sure enough, the place plunged into darkness at 9, and the band took the stage to no fanfare, with Adam still in his Dirk-era leathers, a quickly discarded tricorne hat the only concession at this point to his later “pop” image. Straight into the stripped staccato art school rhythm of “Cartrouble Part 1”, Adam’s yelping vocal style driving this along. As it segued effortlessly into “Cartrouble Part 2”, the place ignited, the band totally nailing it, Adam already the focal point, energetic beyond his years, a real performer at work.
The embryonic, confrontational Antmusic of “Dirk” was largely superbly rendered; Adam transposed verses in some of the lesser played numbers, but no biggie. Adam was again fulsome and very chatty advising how the excellent “Day I Met God”, with its’ heady rush towards a soaring, terrace chant chorus, got him, “banned from WH Smiths,” and the giggly smut of “Cleopatra” got him banned from everywhere else! Not that he cared of course; “if you find [“Cleopatra”] prurient or sexist… I don’t care!”
“I don’t care” seemed a spoken and unspoken mantra for Adam tonight, he was doing what he liked and damn anyone who doesn’t like it. A rambunctious “Catholic Day” saw him acting out the assassination, with a subsequent comment of, “some people thought that was a sick song, personally I thought the assassination was sick!” The backwards tape loop rhythm of “Animals And Men” was a challenge (“I’m acting cool but I’m thinking – do I have to play this again?”) met with gusto, and a final ”The Idea” was messy but totally potty, the sniggering fun element of the song propelling it above any missed chords.
“Dirk” over, Adam bizarrely brought a modesty screen onstage, and changed into his dandy highwayman garb behind it whilst singing “Whip In My Valise”. The second part of the set was subsequently variable for me, a tremendous “Antmusic”, prefixed by another rant in, “I’d rather make the news than take the news!”, and a wonderfully savage “Beat My Guest” contrasted with throwaway versions of “Wonderful” and a frankly banal “Strip”. However a cacophonous “Kings Of The Wild Frontier” (“every time I sing this, it’s like the first time”), the Burundi drumbeats propelling the song along, was amazing, possibly the best single number tonight, and I piled into the mosh for the subsequent “Zerox”, always my favourite Ants number.
Running late, Adam and the band – featuring sterling turns from the first-incarnation Ants rhythm section Leigh Gorman and Dave Barbarossa – ploughed on through the planned encore, finishing a perverse yet overall thrilling and stunning 2+ hour set with “Physical”, then returning simply to take a well-deserved bow. I limped out of the mosh (I paid for that later!) as my brother got me a set-list from the lighting rig and we drove home after a great Rose Boy’s Day Out. Today we’d witnessed excellent performances from a couple of icons again proving age – and illness, in Edwyn Collins’ case – is no barrier to class. Just a perfect day!