Wednesday, October 19, 2005

"The Deal"

This is from Chapter 13 of the James Maw Adam Ant Official Biography from 1981, which until now has been the only biography of Adam and the Ants. I will add more Young Parisians Reviews later.

If you take a Southern Region train to Victoria you will pass over one of the largest railway stations in the world. Clapham Junction.
It’s a maze of old tracks and dead railway buildings, and right in the midst of it is an enormous crescent-shaped place that looks abandoned. In large letters on the side it says DECCA. It is not an inspiring recommendation for their label; rather, it expresses in brick and steel the image that most people had of the company in 1978.
The Decca record company had been for some time in decline, they didn’t even have an A & R department: that worthy body of company men that actually go out and see new bands, and can always be seen at forty-five degree angles to the bar being abetted by the music press. But in 1978 they started up a department under the leadership of two men, Mike Smith and Frank Hodges.
One of their first ports of call was The Marquee where the ‘Ants’ were doing their Thursday night residency. They were immediately impressed. They thought The Ants were a more appealing version of The Banshees and, moreover that they were the absolute best of the new crop of bands.
They approached The Ants manager at Megalovision, Howard Malin, and offered him the standard contract of two singles and an album.
Adam was very dubious. Decca was a unknown quantity, it was run by two men both in their eighties called Bill Townsley and Sir Edward Lewis. Adam decided that they should sign but because he didn’t trust them he had a clause built into the contract, which meant all the demo time would be his and he would own the tapes. (Bands do not just go into a company and record one single at a time; they are made to spend a long time in the studio recording all their material as demo tapes for the company)
There were only five people in the company who liked the band; everyone else thought it a waste of time to have signed them. So Howard Maplin had the idea of organizing a trip for all the Decca executives to see the band play live. This was bound to do the trick, since the concerts were electric and the audiences enthusiastic. They had a strong following at this time and Adam was often up all night replying personally to every fan letter he received.
The executives were bought to see them during a gig underneath the arches in Battersea, just a few yards up the track from the cataleptic Decca building: ‘Three thousand punks crushed to death in a rush of wheelchairs leaving.’ It was a bizarre night, which only increased the gulf between the young and the old.
Adam decided upon the single that they would record. The release of Young Parisians caused quite a lot of fuss. It was hated by the press and many of the fans and associates of the band alike. The choice of their first single is a crucial decision for a band, because as soon as you are on record it can be one step further away from your fans. The friends of a band, naturally, get very excited about the first pressing, seeing their band ‘ Make It’, so it becomes a kind of fulfillment of a promise. Much has been said about the release of Young Parisians, the simple fact is this: Adam intended it to be a double A side with Lady. ‘But they did the dirty on me and they made Parisians the A side.’
Adam found the whole experience of Decca a bit strange. He found it ridiculous that every cheque and pound note had to be passed by an old man upstairs. The last band that they’d really worked with was in the sixties. He found it an archaic company in which not much happened. They wouldn’t ‘get in behind the band’. That’s partly the reason why he gave them ‘Parisians’ because he didn’t really trust them with any of his other work.
This he came to regret, the fact that he didn’t put out his strongest product at the time, because ‘Parisians’ was obviously a joke. Adam was concerned that people thought of them as a ‘four-four kind of crash, bang, wallop band’. He thought ‘Parisians’ was the last thing people expected, which was the most important thing at that stage for him. People were making their minds up about The Ants too much and too regularly.
Together, ‘Parisians’ and Lady could be called songs for voyeurs. A great many of Adam’s lyrics have to do with watching or looking, or one image being copied by another, as in Zerox. This was obviously part of the legacy of having been a designer, the fascination with isolated images, or one image upon another. ‘Parisians’ is a fairly subversive song that is posed as a ballad. Voyeurism is the theme of decadence, of Berlin, of dark clubs and atmospheres. The theme of Lady is that Adam is being sexually assaulted through his eyes by an unmoving naked lady whom he has discovered by chance, in a very surreal way, in a corridor somewhere, perhaps in a dream. It’s a vision of life that is always expectant of sudden sexual encounter. It’s the type of song which is likely to be raped in the foyer of a respectable banking company. The lyrics of someone molested in the photocopying room by a very ordinary, straight-laced secretary. In Lady Adam is the one doing the watching. The whole plot is tantalisingly perverse.
The reviewers of the music press however were not really prepared to listen at all. Sounds printed a review, which ran:
‘Laugh? I nearly split my bondage trousers. Good old Adam. He’s at last dumped all that punk outrage and gone onto punk singalongs extolling the virtues of Paris. Maybe it’s his way of conning a French promoter into bringing his band over.’


Monk said...

3,000 punks my arse!

* (asterisk) said...

Would you not consider the Fred & Judy Vermorel book a biography?