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ANOTHER BIT OF THE PAVEMENT AND THE CAR AGAIN: PART TWO OF THE MARCO PIRRONI INTERVIEW



"I read between the lines of Adam's interviews: what's he really saying? What's really true? I could see which parts were the illness and which parts were the real Adam, and how much of it was the illness pretending to be the real Adam. Basically you see the three stages of Adam: the bits in the hospital, he's pretty much himself there. There's a bit where he's sitting in a projection room where he's completely out of his mind."

George Berger interviews Marco Pirroni of Adam & the Ants fame

COPYRIGHT © 2004, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Read part 1 of this interview

The second interview took place at Marco's remarkable flat in Central London. The flat is surreal in design: fragments of Alice In Wonderland as designed by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, and perhaps a nod to the interior of the Sex boutique. I'd forgotten just how much money he must have earned until pressing the buzzer, entering a posh building and making my way up to the toppermost of the poshermost penthouse flats on the top floor.

Marco Pirroni is a nice man.

We retake up Marco's story at the beginning of the eighties. He's on the dole, living at his parents and not apparently destined to a life of fame, fortune and 3AM retrospective interviews twenty years later. Adam Ant, meanwhile, has just lost his Ants to a Machiavellian Malcolm McLaren and turns his mind to a vague acquaintance from punk also-rans The Models, who had supported the Ants a couple of years previously.

"He came round my house -- I wasn't in. He left a note that said 'Call me - Adam'. I thought, 'I only know one Adam. I couldn't imagine how he'd got my address, or what he was doing there. So I called him and he said let's meet up. We met up and he told me the whole story, and said 'Do you want to form a new band?' I said 'yeah, ok'."

Discovering they had a mutual favourite band in common (Roxy Music), they set off on an odyssey that would prove one of the biggest phenomena of the 1980s.

3AM: Was the whole American Indian thing in place at this point?

MP: No, it was just vague ideas about Burundi drums, and to that I added film soundtracks, twangy guitars and glam rock. At the time he said, 'I don't know if it should be called Adam & The Ants, or it should be a new thing'…I said 'No, I think you should call it Adam & The Ants, you've worked to establish that name'. So we did.

Two weeks later they're in the studio recording a new version of "Cartrouble" to fuflfil a contractual obligation to Do-It Records for one more single. "We didn't want to give Do-It anything new", notes Marco, "we wanted the new era to be on a new label".

With such a wealth of unreleased back catalogue still lurking, it seemed a strange decision to redo a recently-released song, something Marco puts down to the speed at which everything had suddenly started to move. "I suppose if we'd had another couple of weeks to think about it, we'd have come up with another thing. We had literally two days to think about it".

"We turned up to the studio and somehow Jon Moss was there (to play drums as a session musician). Also Chris Hughes was there (to produce) -- he was a friend of one of the people from Do-It".

During the recording Adam and Marco found in course of conversation that producer Chris also played drums and the new line up started to take shape. The three rehearsed, then picked up Terry from Marco's Models days and Kevin Mooney from hearing him play bass on the off-chance. No Melody Maker ads here.

So a band was born from the ashes of one of the UK's two most popular remaining punk bands. This was at a time, remember, when that kind of accolade meant you still sold a lot of records. But Marco, and latterly Adam, had other ideas…

"My only worry at the time was that the Ants were still perceived as a punk rock band. To be honest, I was a bit embarrassed by that -- it was 1979 and I thought it was a completely dead-end scene to be stuck in. The band had to break out of that ghetto. I didn't want to play to a load of punks again. I hadn't even seen a punk for years -- I wasn't interested in punk. It was a deliberate move on both our parts to get away from that post-punk dour environment -- I'd been in Rema Rema, that was that Acklam Hall, Scritti Pollti, PragVec… I thought that was just shite. That was the arty studenty stuff, and Adam was stuck with bootboy, Tennents lager punk rock. We wanted to completely get shot of all that and do something completely anti-it."

3AM: So when you started gigging, how did the new Ants go down with the old crowd?

MP: There was animosity -- a lot of people wanted Andy Warren back. Then there was another crowd of people who only focused on Adam, who only looked at Adam, they didn't actually notice that the band had changed. Which was even more annoying -- they don't even notice it's different people!

3AM: From my memory, Ants fans weren't the bootboy lager crowd…

MP: Perhaps their hardcore audience wasn't, but they attracted that crowd. In 1000 people at a gig, two-thirds wouldn't be hardcore Adam & The Ants fans. (Thinks…) I was hostile to that entire scene really. But I wasn't just hostile to that, I was hostile to everything that was happening at the time…

3AM: Though the New Romantic was happening then…You've been lumped into that scene but I never had you down as part of that…

MP: No, we weren't really. Although I did go to the Blitz, and I did know Steve Strange. A lot of the people who started New Romantics were old Kings Road punks. Old Sex shop shoppers. Steve was my lodger when he started the Blitz.

3AM: Was it good?

MP: Yeah I loved it -- thought it was great.

3AM: Beyond the clothes, was it creative scene?

MP: Yeah, a lot of things came out of that scene -- the whole synth thing. People were listening to Kraftwerk, Telex, The Normal…it felt modern, it felt new and futuristic, clean and stylish.

3AM: From the outside, it looked very elitist.

MP: It was, deliberately so. And that was a reaction to the Sham 69 'we're all kids together'.

3AM: What was your take on the elitism? The door policies etc?

MP: (Chuckles) Well, because the people who set the door policies lived in my house, it wasn't a problem! It's hard to explain because the people who weren't affected by the door policy were my friends. There was no question that people like Chris Sullivan and Kim Bowen and people like that were going to have to queue up. So I didn't know what the door policy was because I just walked in. I didn't care -- it didn't affect me. When you hung out at the Blitz with everyone looking pretty and made up and listening to music that I thought was new and exciting, it was very difficult to think 'Oh God, I've got to go back to the Electric Ballroom and play to bloody punks from Croydon with Crass painted on their backs'. Urgh! The scum!

3AM: That's a bit harsh…

MP: Well its true -- that's what they wanted to be, that's what they revelled in: being the scum. The Sex shop people I knew, there was a big feeling of elitism, of 'I'm not talking to you, you don't look right.' We thought we were brilliant, we thought we were fantastic…which was the whole basis of Siouxsie and the Banshees. Our first gig, we didn't bother to learn any songs because we thought we didn't have to. Ordinary people do that, that's not for us. That sort of attitude pervaded down to the early Blitz. And the other attitude, of course, was 'we're all going down the pub. I'm working class and I'm going to revel in my working class-ness'.

When I was with the Ants, after gigs people would say 'This used to be our band'. And I'd say 'Well, its my band now, why don't you fuck off and form your own band?' The Pistols were supposed to be big -- not play the 100 Club to two hundred people. They were supposed to be massive, to change the world.

And so the Ants followed this train of logic, and signed to CBS Records…

MP: It had to be a major label. Majors were the only people who had the clout and influence to take us where we wanted to go. We'd been offered deals by Beggars Banquet and others, and turned them down. We were also talking to EMI & Virgin -- Virgin we weren't keen on because we thought they were hippies.

Fast-forward a short while and Adam & The Ants started to hit the big time. An appearance on Top Of The Pops playing the second single off the Kings Of The Wild Frontier LP, "Dog Eat Dog", and all of a sudden, Marco found himself in a band that was causing more mania than anyone in the UK since the Bay City Rollers…

MP: The full-on fame was 2/3 years -- really full-on for about a year. It was bizarre, very surreal. It was like all that stuff you see with the Beatles: kids jumping on cars, not being able to get out of venues, stuff like that. Not being able to walk the streets -- though it was better in London. But there were things you found out: you could never go shopping on a Saturday. All your shopping had to be done as soon as the shop opened. You had to run down to the shop, wait for it to open, then quickly catch a cab home before anyone else could see you. You never went out during the day, you only saw cars, a bit of pavement, the inside of clubs, another bit of pavement and the car again.

3AM: Clubs were OK then…

MP: No! All people's own insecurities come flooding out. I was at the Wag Club with Gary Kemp, hanging out at the bar and a bloke came up to me and said "You both think you're really big". Another time there was an opening of a club at the Lyceum. I could see a crowd of guys pointing at me. Over the next 45 minutes I saw one of them gradually making his way through the crowd, and finally come to stand by me. He said "You're Marco, your band are a load of shit". So I said: "You've walked all the way from over there just to say that!" What sort of mindset is that? I mean, I think the Strokes are shit but I wouldn't go out of my way to tell them!

3AM: It must have been quite unnerving…

MP: Yeah, it was, because you're not quite sure how to react. I found it annoying to be honest, it impinged my freedom really. Every two minutes someone shouting "Antmusic!" at you.

3AM: It must have given you quite an insight into the cult of celebrity…

MP: I found that celebrities are nowhere near as weird as fans. 90% of fans are fine, but 10% are completely fucking bizarre. They miss the point.

3AM: It must have been fun too, though…

MP: Oh yeah, it opens every door in the world. You never pay for anything, you never queue up, you only ever travel first class, you can cadge anything…

3AM: Are you still famous? Do people still recognise you in the street?

MP: Yeah. In the last couple of years, since Adam's antics have hit the papers. The way I gauge it is by the corner shop, actually. I've been going there for 20 years. It's weird -- you can go in there for 10 years and they never say anything. Then suddenly they want your autograph. Then another 5 years goes past and nothing happens, then they want your autograph again cos they've seen you on telly, and suddenly remember you.

Of course, the pop band Adam & The Ants didn't come out of nowhere. They came from the punk underground heroes Adam & The Ants. They went from being counter-culture darlings to appearing to sell their souls for a pocketful of gold, and were accordingly despised by a large section of the foot soldiers left behind, like jilted lovers abandoned after a secret affair. Personally, I was hurt and I was far from alone. It wasn't the music -- the Kings LP was fantastic and a massive leap forward from the Dirk LP. But the way they promoted it not only abandoned their punk roots (breaking a lot of Adam's promises along the way but appeared to embrace the teeny-bopper movement when such action seemed completely unnecessary. The idiot punks sneered, and who cares. But the smart punks got their hearts broken by the perceived 'I'm alright Jack, pull the ladder up' betrayal. I've come to praise Marco rather than bury him, but it can't be ignored…

3AM: Did any of that filter through, and if so, did any of the band care?

MP: Chris had never been involved in punk, didn't care. Terry didn't care. I think Adam did take it personally, but then Adam takes everything personally. And me and Kevin absolutely loved it. There were those anti-Ants T-shirts in that shop in Soho: I walked in, bought them all and gave them to my friends as Xmas presents. Me and Kevin would write letters of complaint about how shit the Ants were to the NME. Also, if we ever got a bad review, we'd send the reviewers money -- £50 notes -- and say there's more where that came from. I loved it.

3AM: I think one valid point in all the sell-out accusations is that the Kings LP seemed to have lost a lot of Adam's 'artiness'. The sleeve was just a still from the video…

MP: It was a deliberate move away from the artiness -- that came from conversations Adam had with Malcolm (McLaren). Malcolm held up Dirk Wears White Sox and said 'Why hasn't this got a picture of you on the front?' (Referring to the Dirk sleeve) I thought all that was pretentious really, I thought it was meaningless. (Referring to the Kings sleeve) It was taken on board to actually revel in commerciality. It was actually a lot more honest.

Later in our chat, we get talking about old 70s band Sparks. Marco comments that one of their albums has the greatest sleeve going. With a mischievous glint in my eye, I ask him if it has a picture of the singer on the front and the band on the back. The irony is not on his benign smile.

So, Kings was a great record, but the transition was complete when the Ants appeared on the Royal Variety Show - a cabaret for the Royal Family and as such, not quite punk as fuck…

3AM: Was there any point where you thought, Jesus we're going on Swap Shop, we're doing the Royal Variety show?

MP: Yeah, I thought the whole joke has now backfired. I didn't want to say we were making art -- we were making pop music, that's what we wanted to do, and a pop band has to sell records. But then we achieved that, and I thought we could change direction. We've all got more money than we can spend and now we're free. It wasn't a sell out for me. That's what I'd always wanted to do: be in a pop band and sell lots of records. But with Prince Charming, we went too far. Up until that time, I was having great fun. I'd had my revenge on everybody.

3AM: So where do you think you crossed your own personal comfort line?

Marco gets all weird and mysterious -- perhaps this one will have to wait for the book: "I think I know but I'm not sure I want to say".

Wherever that point was, Adam & The Ants found themselves with a market of 8-14 year olds. As far as punk rock culture was concerned, they'd left the building and were now ensconced in the arrivals lounge of tacky-showbiz central. Whilst Adam felt at home in his new surroundings, Marco seems a little less convinced…

MP: We didn't try to cultivate it, it just sort of happened really. Adam is less of a rebel than I am -- I'd have steered it back to a mid-point. I think at that point we were scared of losing what we had. To Adam, then, the success thing was everything, being No. 1 was everything. To the point where -- as I know now, but didn't know then -- it was actually pathological. It got fucking tedious.

There followed all the usual advantages and trappings of success, too boring to go into here, as Adam & The Ants turned into Adam Ant -- solo star -- but with Marco staying on board. Then, Marco got sick of it all…

MP: I just said 'I've had enough'. I'm not making the music I wanna make, I'm not living the life I wanna lead. All we do is fucking argue -- week in, week out. All I do is live in hotels cos I'm a fucking tax exile. I'm not free anymore, I don't do anything I want to do. So I've had enough. I'm not going on the road anymore; I'll go in the studio but I don't wanna be in the band anymore. It just got boring basically…

After which, Adam and Marco recorded Friend Or Foe, and "we started spending most of our time in America. "Goody Two Shoes" was a bit hit over there. I started living in New York and Adam in LA". They did big long tours in America but Marco has nothing of interest to report about them.

3AM: What have you been doing since Friend Or Foe?

MP: Bumming about…

The only other touring Marco has done was with Sinead O'Connor around the time she went mega with "Nothing Compares 2U. "That was about 2 years -- great fun because I wasn't so involved".

Adam, meanwhile, has been big news for all the wrong reasons. Booked to appear on the retro-nostalgia cabaret Here & Now tour, he never appeared due to recurring mental illness…

MP: When he came round to discuss Here & Now, he came round here and he sat on that sofa and he was 100% sane. He said 'I've been offered this, what do you think?' I said 'I think it's naff'. He said 'I agree, it's naff…however…I stand to make this much'. He was going through his divorce, and he said 'I'll just get up there, do two weeks, wear a funny suit, sing the hits and I'll get off, and I'll have enough money to pay my divorce. And then we'll get on with something new'.

The idea of creating something new to "to wipe away the stigma of that tour" never materialized of course. Nor indeed did Adam's participation in the tour itself. "Unfortunately, it spiraled into mania. He's a manic depressive, so the more he's stimulated, the worse it gets".

Together they discussed the possibility of Adam "going mad" if he took the tour on. Marco is candid and seeringly honest when it comes to discussing Adam's illness.

Then, as has been well documented, Adam did go mad. Marco relates his frustration at not being able to cure Adam, at nobody being able to cure Adam. Early on, he was given advice by a psychiatrist friend that you can't do much more than be there. It's the most heartbreaking and frustrating advice in the world, because any decent friend would feel like exploding at the powerlessness it delivers upon you if it's true. But it probably is.

Then there came the TV documentary "The Madness Of Prince Charming", an extraordinarily brave attempt by Adam Ant to dissect the nature of his illness, though Marco remains ambivalent…

3AM: Were you pleased with the documentary?

MP: Yes and no. I read between the lines of Adam's interviews: what's he really saying? What's really true? I could see which parts were the illness and which parts were the real Adam, and how much of it was the illness pretending to be the real Adam. Basically you see the three stages of Adam: the bits in the hospital, he's pretty much himself there. There's a bit where he's sitting in a projection room where he's completely out of his mind.

Marco realised Adam was ill again when he discussed the documentary on the phone and Adam was clearly in fantasy land, discussing getting Robbie Williams and Johnny Depp involved. "The whole thing was a plea for more attention…"

We're skirting on the edge of voyeurism here, and it's difficult to know just how much to write down. As with everything else in the interview, Marco is never less than honest and is a loyal, if worried friend. But I'm not convinced that any more of the chat about Adam is suitable for the public domain. "I don't know what the future has in store for him". All any of us can do is wish him luck.

These days Marco keeps himself occupied with his label - Only Lovers Left Alive. The name comes from a novel: "I've never read the book, but I thought it was a great title. Originally it was going to be called The White Label, but then we discovered that there was already a White Label. So we had three hours to think of a name…"

MP: The album's done about 6 or 7000 in the UK -- it's had the best reviews of anything I've ever done in my entire life. We're just about to release it worldwide.

There is also a possibility of doing something with Slits chanteuse Ari Up, and a new band called The Imbeciles.

MP: It started by accident. Sam and I (who started it) inherited a label we didn't want. It was Nils Stevenson's label, and he died. Apart from being his best friends, we didn't have anything to do with the label at all, but with him dying, we felt like we had to take it on. We didn't really like any of their artists, so we thought, fuck it, why don't we do our own: so we did.

Fuck it! Why not? So we did!

As seven word summations of the punk ethos go, I've heard worse

Read part 1 of this interview




ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER

George Berger is a freelance writer, with punk rock dna. He has written for Sounds, Melody Maker and Amnesty International among others. He has also written 3 books, with one published thus far: Dance Before the Storm: the Official Story of The Levellers (Virgin Books 1999). George (aka Gerard Evans) is also the singer with Flowers in the Dustbin. He lives where the mood takes him and funds allow.





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