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"I used to go to college in the morning and just sit there and look at someone wearing Brutus jeans and hate them -- consumed with hate about these jeans. It was more about trousers than anything else!"

George Berger interviews Marco Pirroni of Adam & the Ants fame


Read part 2 of this interview

Does passion end in fashion?

Who knows? Who cares? Marco cares, and it's a neat turn of phrase, particularly apt when considering Marco Pirroni: afficianado of McLaren's Sex boutique, his Pistols, their Banshees and of course, Adam's Ants. He's a walking history of what mattered in the late 70s and early 80s, a perfect example of how one can be in the right places at the right times. Self-styled punk historians and cultural commentators all seek his opinions when assembling a vox-pop of the times.

But you knew all that, didn't you? In square circles, Marco is/was famous. In enlightened ones, he's something near a legend. I did two separate interviews with Marco. The first -- this one -- took place at London's Groucho Club over empty stomachs and fast-release white wine. It covers the years spent hanging round Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood's boutique in London's King's Road, both before and through the punk years.

The second was effectively an acknowledgement that the first got too messy on the alcohol front -- were I more of a masochist, I'd tell you how it ended -- and covered the period playing guitar with Adam & The Ants and since.

It's been a fate-laden path, and the yellow brick road started with a pair of brothel creepers…

It all leads on from Roxy Music's second album. Andy Mackay had "great brothel creepers". Marco asked around his Harrow Ted(-dy Boy) acquaintances and was pointed in the direction of Let It Rock, Malcolm McLaren's shop at the 'wrong' end of the King's Road:

"I'd never been to the King's Rd -- I was about 13. I got off at Sloane Square, walked the whole length of the King's Road. Hadn't got a clue where the shop was, but I thought I'm not going to give up cos I want these shoes. Then I went round the corner and I saw it."


In the cultural wasteland that is 2004, it's difficult to appreciate just how spoilt young people had become -- they may have been 'bored' compared with the recently-deceased Swinging London, and even more recently glam rock; but they can sure as hell be grateful they're not 18 these days -- then they'd really know what 'bored' meant, but probably be too PC-game-brain-dead to ever express it.

MP: 72-73 seemed to be really buzzing -- it was only that lull 74-75 that left space for things like punk to come through. 74-75 was fucking dead. It was like that period when Elvis goes into the army, Chuck Berry's arrested, Buddy Holly's dead and there was nothing happening, then the Beatles came through. Roxy Music had split up, Bowie's just released Pin-Ups, Lou Reed had done Berlin (which now I think is a great album but then it was just dreary). Iggy was…fuck knows where he was -- that was it, there was nobody else.

3AM: Were you not into glam rock? I mean, the glam rock I was into at the time -- Slade, Sweet etc?

MP: I loved Slade -- I had all the singles but I never bought the albums. I loved glam rock, but it was a singles thing. I was more into 'sophisto-glam'…Jobriath, Lou Reed…

3AM: Jobriath?

MP: He was the American Bowie. His records were crap but he looked good! The only other person who's ever talked about him was Morrissey.

3AM: The picture that always gets painted about those times was that it was something like eight individuals in the UK who were into the same stuff. I can't believe it really was…

MP: There was probably more than eight, but I think it was a collection of…people like me really. In Bromley there was four or five of them. Just individuals who turned their mate onto it, their only friend who would listen to the Velvet Underground. So it was more than eight people, but none of them were connected in any way.

3AM: So was it the shop when people came together?

MP: The shop was the connection when people came together, and obviously the visual thing, which was really important. You're walking down the King's Road, and you saw somebody else coming towards you and you think 'they're alright, they've got Sex stuff on'. But of course you didn't speak!

3AM: (Incredulous) Did you not?

MP: No! Too cool to do that!

Marco's initial expeditions to Sex, before Jordan really upped the visual ante, were somewhat shell-shocked by the presence of Vivienne Westwood…

MP: When I saw Vivienne, I thought 'I've never seen anyone who looks like this in my entire life. I was a bit shell-shocked because I went into this shop and it wasn't like anything else. It felt like it had a history -- it felt funky and sexy and dangerous. It was a bit scary. She was nice, but she was slightly scary. It was perfectly fine, but you think: where does she go? What does she do? I was thirteen, she must have been about twenty-eight or twenty-nine. She looked like no one I'd ever seen, but looked amazing. You look at her, a bit shell-shocked, and you think 'I want to be like that.'

3AM: When you started going, there was loads of Teds hanging about…

MP: There wasn't actually. On Saturdays it was full of Teds, and these were the proper heavy Teds, the ones with the big sideburns. But it wasn't just Teds… I used to go on Saturday afternoons.

Marco started going in there a lot:

MP: If you go in once a week, people start saying hello. I started thinking I want to have something in common with these people. I didn't know who they were, what they did, where they went… Malcolm was the chatty one, we could talk. If Vivienne walked, I'd go 'whoah' (holds hands in front of face). Vivienne is slightly mad -- only slightly.

3AM: Literally?

MP: No, I don't think she's clinically insane or anything like that, but she's certainly madder than Malcolm. I can understand where Malcolm's coming from, why he does things, Vivienne I just don't. I understood Vivienne better then than I do now -- I've only ever had about 5 conversations with her. Sitting there in the shop and talking to Malcolm, made me realise things. He'd say 'what do you do?' I'd say, well I go to school, I go to Harrow Uxbridge. He'd say 'Oh I went there, you won't learn nothing there'. And that stuck with me, I thought, I'm not fucking learning anything, what am I doing here?

3AM: What were you trying to do?

MP: I was trying to put off getting a job for as long as possible.

3AM: You've done pretty well so far!

MP: Yeah, I think so! Still haven't got one!

Before the people who came to be thought of as punks hung around the shop there were "Chelsea art-school types, also there was always those people who don't still exist. Those ex-Mod entrepreneurs, King's Road hustlers who were always trying to flog you records or Hawaiian shirts or old jeans". And of course the Swinging Sixties were only just round the last corner, with the requisite entrepreneurs:

MP: The idea of the boutique, which people don't do anymore. Individual shops doing individual clothes that you can only buy at that shop. So if you wanted those clothes, you had to go to that shop. So you could be a fan of that shop, and you could dress in that scene, and be part of the scene, part of the set.

3AM: At the same time, you had the Angry Brigade blowing up Biba…

MP: I didn't know anything about the Angry Brigade at the time, I didn't know who they were. They weren't aligned really. I didn't know who the Situationists were. It's only now when people started to research it… For people who weren't there, it assumes a kind of glamour and they research everything. I didn't know -- didn't care! I'd never heard of them!

3AM: Do you find it interesting now?

MP: I find it quite interesting. I read Greil Marcus's book, and you see photos of slogans on brick walls from the Paris riots, and I thought 'Oh God, that's where that came from!'

Of course, outsider chic was always at the forefront of counter-culture myth and legend, and was marketed as such right until Thatcher came along and re-wrote the rules to make life a lot less romantic for outsiders…

MP: I found it very exciting to be out there on your own.

3AM: Were you fucked up?

MP: I don't think so, but then I'm an only child, so that was probably part of it. I grew up brought up by my grandmother, mostly on my own, so I learned to be independent and seek things out for myself. I was never really told not watch television or not to read that or not to look at that.

And so around the nucleus of 430 King's Road, a group of outsiders came inside to have a damn good sneer…

MP: We just all adopted this attitude -- it could have been based on insecurity, I'm not sure. But when you're in a scene where it's hip to be horrible, you can just roll with it -- free rein -- the more horrible I am, the more people love me!

3AM: That sounds a touch cartoonish. Surely it can only have been like that to an extent, you must have been human beings to each other and had normal interaction?

MP: NO! I don't think it was. Now we're all having dinner round each other's houses and drinking wine and going on about 'do you remember that cunt?' 'yeah, he was a cunt'. (At this point on the tape, Marco sounds a dead ringer for Peter Cooke in Derek and Clive, right down to the voice.) It was very snotty, very snidey, and you'd build up this defence. I grew up with a bunch of people that were thrown together and found each other and caused something to happen -- even though we may have not liked each other at the time -- now I have a quaint affection for them all.

Out of this milieu came the Sex Pistols, initially almost a house band for Sex, but not garnering universal approval within said circles…

MP: Not everyone who went to Sex liked the Sex Pistols.

3AM: Like who?

MP: Er…Helen didn't like the Pistols, she still doesn't. She likes them as people, but she never liked their music. There were a lot of people, when the Sex Pistols and punk started who lost interest and said 'Urgh, not for me'. As Helen said, it's just a bunch of naff straights on the train down from Sunderland now…it's all cod dear!


MP: I used to go to Chagaramas -- a lot of people who used to go to the Roxy came out of the gay scene. The gay scene now seems to be completely gay -- in those days you'd say 'Is it gay?' 'Yeah, it's gay, but it's mixed on Tuesdays'. You'd think, 'oh it's alright on Tuesdays then'! It was the mixture that made it interesting.

Marco goes on to decry a recently visited media party that was "so boring because it was totally straight in every way -- sexually straight, fucking conservative" (Bang Magazine for those taking notes).

MP: I remember being at the Roxy for the 1st Jan 1977: on the stroke of midnight, The Clash were on stage and the first song was '1977'. And I thought, God, this happening right fucking now -- second by second! And by the end of the song I was thinking 'hang on, there's a real feeling of camaraderie in this room, a real togetherness'. And I thought 'that's fucking disgusting. I'm not like these people -- I'm not a fucking fan!' And that was the difference: they had to have a band.

Some of you may read this paragraph and think Marco is a twat. But a few others will know what he means -- not because you want to be famous or above others, but because you realise the boundless potential of the human spirit. The two camps of punk, as ever, because they are the two camps of existential reality, of life. And Marco understood:

MP: Do you understand? These are just music fans -- this is different!

3AM: With hindsight, was that fair? Was it correct?

He's emphatic:

MP: Yes! They were just ordinary people. Some became coppers! That whole excuse that came up in 1977: 'I dress this way because I'm into the music'. I didn't like punk, I thought it was crap!

3AM: Define it…

MP: I was a Sex Pistols fan. I liked the Pistols, I liked the Buzzcocks… (thinks…struggles, for more examples). When you're a music fan, it's like 'I dress this way because I follow them'. That wasn't what it was about. I was that way before. It's like when I joined the Ants, I used to be accosted by young men with leather jackets with 'Antz' written on the back who said 'since you joined, it's different, it's not our band anymore'. I thought: well it never was your fucking band!
'Well, we're not going to come to the gigs'.
'Well good, fuck off and do your own fucking band!' When the Pistols got big, and loads of people with safety pins came down from places like Manchester or Corby or something, I didn't say, fucking hell they've sold out. I thought: fine, great, that's not for me, it's time for me to move on.

Fucking hell, I haven't even put my judge's wig on yet and Marco is defending the Ants on the sell-out front. There'll be more of this in part 2, natch, but only in the hindsight of transcribing the tape do I notice the obvious pre-empting of the question.

Another connection between the punk years and the Ants, of course, was Sex shop assistant Jordan, who went on to manage and sing with the Ants when they were still in the punk phase. She certainly cultivated the most confrontational appearance: a passion that redefined fashion…

MP: It was like…You walk in, you see her, you want to walk straight out again! I feel a bond -- she's one of the family -- that family. (Waffles for a bit, then frowns…) It sounds so sentimental… (Tries to explain) We came from this background of hate and swastikas and snideyness and hating each other.

3AM: But was it really like that -- 24 hours a day hating?

MP: I did, I did!

3AM: But you'd go mad if you hated 24/7, surely you couldn't keep it up for more than…

MP: When I lived in Harrow, I did go…I walked down the garden path and stood on the pavement and I did go 'I can't fucking stand it'. I was full of hate and anger and all the things that was…the cartoon punk rocker. I used to go to college in the morning and just sit there and look at someone wearing Brutus jeans and hate them -- consumed with hate about these jeans. It was more about trousers than anything else!


MP: I never saw him (Johnny Rotten) in the shop I don't think. I'd seen Sid a few times -- I saw him at a Roxy Music gig. He was tall and he had a very big quiff.

3AM: Sid the Ted!

MP: Yeah, cos that's what it was all based on -- we'd all taken it from that -- that's what we were all doing in the shop n the first place.

3AM: Was that a reaction against the 60s culture?

MP: No -- I didn't remember it. But I hated it!

3AM: Why?

MP: Pure aesthetics! Cos I was totally this clothes-fascist. If I didn't like what you were wearing, I wouldn't speak to you.

3AM: How do you look back on yourself doing that? Would you encourage today's 18-year-olds to be like that?

MP: Yes. Yes I would, actually. Cos they look like shit. I find it difficult to speak to people in brown T-shirts!

3AM: Any other colours whilst we're at it?

MP: Just brown. Brown being the Shoreditch colour -- this is the ultimate nothing scene. The scene that does nothing, has no fashions, is about nothing.

3AM: But punk was about more than fashion, you must have picked up on more than fashion, surely…

MP: It was individuals -- individuals who didn't fit and didn't wanna fit. We're the 1% who don't fit, don't care. Then you go to the shop and you meet these funny people who encourage you…it was like… I mean, the most outrageous T-shirt ever made must be the paedophile one. I don't know how the fuck they got away with it but it just wasn't prevalent in society at that time. That's what I thought the clothes were all about: attack! It was like 'I live in this world which I fucking hate, everyday I'm bombarded by visual images I can't stand, by television I can't stand, by music I can't stand, by trousers I can't stand, by hair I can't stand. So I'm going to wear this t-shirt, I'm going to wear these clothes, I'm going to wear these fucking pointed shoes, and this is my attack, my revenge'.

And here, perhaps, is the point. Marco was at the epicentre of a time when fashion somehow perfectly expressed anger in a way not done to that extent before or at all since. And in discussing the Bowling For Columbine film and its surrounding issues, Marco sure does sound like he was angry:

MP: This is one in a long line of bad taste things I say, but the whole Columbine shooting thing -- I've speed read over the issues, and I think 'yeah, if I 'd have fucking had a gun, I would have done it too. But I had an outlet: they didn't have an outlet.'

And before long, Marco would have an even bigger outlet writing songs and playing guitar with Adam & The Ants as they stormed the charts with a bigger vengeance than anyone since the Beatles. Part 2 of the interview will cover those years and what Marco has been up to since…

Read part 2 of this interview


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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