It’s a pretty PC world we live in. Sexism, racism and homophobia are all serious no-nos while seemingly common. Mental health issues are really the last taboo, and while on paper if you asked someone how they felt about such issues, you would get a muted, understanding response. The proof of the pudding really is when such issues affect a celebrity. Britney Spears shaves her head and goes through a messy divorce, Mariah Carey has a Twitter meltdown and the press have a field day, mocking and catcalling.
One of the most press-maligned pop stars of the past thirty years has got to be Adam Ant, his battle with Bipolar disorder, sporadic hospitalisations and court cases involving temper issues documented to high heaven in the media. It’s a tarring he can’t really escape, gig announcements always plagued by doubts about his attendance at said gig, the fact that his most recent album, Adam Ant Is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter, took seventeen years to appear adding to the scepticism.
So there’s a mixed crowd at tonight’s Custom House Square show. People who remember Adam from his early 80s heyday mingle with people who probably weren’t born until the 90s in full Ant regalia, smatterings of Steampunk scattered across the crowd with the infamous white stripe dominant within all age groups. There’s a fair share of naysayers here too though, people who bought a ticket for sheer curiosity, wondering if Ant will “do something mental”.
There might be mentalness here, but it’s all the right kind. Not a hint of unprofessionalism escapes in the just-shy-of-two-hours set. Instead, the only thing that oozes from the stage is coolness. Kicking off with ‘Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter’ and moving swiftly into ‘Dog Eat Dog’ with a segue into ‘Feed Me to the Lions’, the punks hearing exactly what they need to get them fired up, the dangerous edge carried off swaggeringly by Ant in feathered pirate hat, military-style brocade waistcoat over frilly white shirt and one inexplicable red glove. It’s an electric combination.
The clothes aren’t let down by his attitude either: his wide-eyed stare punctuated by the odd quirky leap which the audience respond to in kind, long-forgotten chants. Hand gestures that have gathered cobwebs from disuse soon begin, rusty at first, and then gaining momentum as a lusty sing-along begins during ‘Whip in My Valise’.
It’s all pop, of course, but curiously cross-bred with punk, 50s rock and roll and the earliest of early Britpop – the “la la”s of ‘Never Trust a Man (with Egg on His Face)’ sounds not unlike anything Blur produced in their cheeky-chappie days. The recent songs aren’t so different from the old although they’re missing a certain nonsense, a chantable refrain and the power behind them to keep such a chant going.
This is not Ant’s heyday, however, and some things fall a little flat. A well-versed audience know there are going to be two encores and start to leave after ‘Goody Two Shoes’ and ‘Prince Charming’ are played in the body of the set, at a loss to guess what will be played in encore number one, never mind the second. It’s not a sedate set by any means but perhaps not as frenzied as we were expecting. There’ll be no swinging from the chandeliers here and an attempted ‘Hey Jude’-athon of a sing-along to ‘Prince Charming falls rather flat, the crowd clearly delighted but seemingly unable to express their delight in song. PVC-clad backing singer Georgie Girl keeps it going longer than it should, with heavy-lidded abandon accompanying the famous Diana Dors dance moves.
A comeback, then, that doesn’t fall flat on its face like so many can. An audience walks away with their younger memories intact, those who have no memories of Ant come face to face with a genuine icon, one who has managed to maintain humour, charisma and a dandy dress sense. And the naysayers? Well, as Ant has been singing for years, ‘Ridicule is nothing to be scared of’.