In the last two months I saw two UK musical geniuses – from completely different generations – here in Southern California at the OC Observatory. They were both a bit of a revelation for me.
Adam Ant: Ant Music and Antmania
Adam Ant from my phone (hence poor quality)
As a child of the late 70s and 80s my first inroad to Adam Ant was via his position as a major pop star in early 80s UK. ‘Prince Charming’, ‘Stand and Deliver’, ‘Ant Music’, ‘Goody Two Shoes’ and his other hits were Top of The Pops staples. Like Boy George, he inspired a cult fan base who would dress like and mimic their idols, in the case of Adam the look was New Romantic meets pirate. In a pre-internet world of – at the time – 3 TV channels in the UK, media penetration was much more incisive and hence more influential as a whole generation could be mesmerised by a single TV performance. Cue David Bowie, Boy George, Duran Duran et al.
Adam Ant came back onto my radar in the early 00s as I read about his struggles with mental illness. This culminated in him being sectioned (committed) under the Mental Health Act in the UK after a string of troubled public appearances, including unleashing a tirade of abuse to Christians at a charity gig. In one incident he threatened a neighbour with a spade after a dispute and in another he threatened drinkers in a North London pub with an imitation gun. Then again, he might have just been miming along to one of his best known 80s hits ‘Stand And Deliver’.
Flash forward to February 2017 and Adam was in the OC to sing his ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ album in its entirety and then throw in some of his other hits for good measure. The place was packed to capacity. Clearly an older audience, there were even some more cultish fans dressed up in the Adam Ant pirate look with the wide rimmed pirated hat and striped face paints. I was amazed to see this person who peaked commercially in the early 80s still had such a rabid fan base, almost forty years later. The other interesting angle was most of these fans had first come into contact with Adam through his late 70s punk career. I don’t think Adam was such a massive pop star in the US like the UK where we had full on Antmania.
Adam – who must be into his early 60s, but looking very spritely and half his age – was amazing. He prowled around the stage and snarled at the audience. He had a really good way of addressing the crowd, never really fully engaging with eye contact, that combative punk spirit still shining through. His performance gave me the feeling how mental illness and creativity can tread a very thin line. It was a kind of possesed performance and I felt honoured to see this total maverick live. In the current homogenous world of one hit YouTube anodyne pop stars, they don’t make ’em like this anymore.
Or maybe they do make them like this anymore? Kate stood and delivered but for total different reasons and with a talent, that, for me, was close to genious. We were lucky enough to see Kate in the smaller capacity room – The Constellation – which holds 250 and on the night there must have been barely 70 people in the house. It seems like Kate is approaching minor national treasure in the wings status in the UK, so it felt a real priviledge to see her in such intimate environs.
Kate had first come onto my radar through listening to 6 Music and her songs creeping onto the playlists – very spoken word, narrative driven, very earnest and very, very honest. To be frank, I thought that at this point she’s good but I probably would not have driven up to LA to see her, but would definitely be up for seeing her locally in the OC. I’m glad I did.
Prior to the concert – as part of her probably exhausting commercial campaign to try and ‘break the US market – she’d perfomed on Jimmie Fallon. Just look at this performance. Incredible stuff for prime time US TV. The performance is for me spellbinding and very brave for this type of TV slot.
On the day of the performance an Islamist fanatic had ploughed down three people on Westminster Bridge in London in his car and then stabbed to death a police officer outside the House of Commons. As an avowed fellow Londoner, I wondered if Kate would mention this in her peformance. She didn’t. And I’m pleased she didn’t. With the ever encroaching deluge and meaningless sludge of social media – one of Kate’s regular themes – we all know what’s going on. Mentioning it in a performance, ‘thoughts and prayers etc’ (pass the vomit bucket), won’t do anything and it’s good not to give this hate-fuelled nonsense any more air time.
Kate was mind blowing. She asked everyone to move closer at the beginning of the show. We all shuffled forward. It got even more intimate. Kate – a prize winning author and published author – is an incredible wordsmith and poet. Her wordplay is phenomenal, I don’t know how she remembers it all, the mind bending rhyming structures, visual turns of phrase, imagery, intonations, multiple narratives, wordplay and cadences. She paints quite a bleak picture of contemporary urban life for the millennial with enough relevance and feeling to draw in other generations – including myself. She cares about the world. She’s proper vexed at how things are, the injustice, anti-social media, loneliness, low paid jobs, boredom, existential angst, corruption of power, celebrity fixations, climatic meltdown, a brooding apocalypse, the whole anxiety and emptiness of 2017 living. She nails it. With emotion and conviction In a world of vanilla pop blandness, superficial shite and people who don’t care Kate’s the tempest we need. Taxi.