Saturday 19th April 2014. To the Hammersmith Eventim Apollo, as it’s currently known, for a concert by Adam Ant. My brother Tom is playing guitar in Mr Ant’s backing band, as he has done for the past couple of years. Â Mum comes along too, making it our first family reunion in London since Dad died. Young Ms Holly also joins us, from the extended family on Tom’s side.
The Apollo is one of the largest theatre-style venues in London, and I’ve somehow never been to it until tonight. Built in the 1930s, it has a stunning Art Deco interior that has been recently refurbished. The upstairs bar looks like something from Grand Hotel: you half expect to bump into Joan Crawford as a pushy stenographer.
We have a slight panic when we get there and realise that our tickets are standing only, but Mr Ant’s crew help us to exchange them for seats in the upstairs circle (with our grateful thanks to Roy from the merchandise stall). Mum is 70, and is unlikely to be tempted to join a mosh pit. I’m 42, but increasingly prefer a seat myself.
That said, musing on the requirements of getting olderÂ is moot. Mr Ant’s main output was in the late 70s and early 80s, and many are here because they bought those records when they first came out. So they aren’t exactly spring, or even summer chickens themselves. But I look around and see a healthy amount of all ages and genders, albeit with the lion’s share in their 40s and 50s. There is indeed a mosh pit down the front – even a few people crowd surfing.
Tonight is also about one particular album: Dirk Wears White Sox, the first Adam Ant long player, which was released in 1979. Mr Ant is on top form tonight, and not only performs every song from the album in order, but goes straight into a decent amount of selections from his whole oeuvre, my favourites of the night being ‘Whip in My Valise’, ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’, and ‘Wonderful’. He performs for a straight two hours. No encores, no stopping. He even has a costume change onstage, behind a vintage screen, singing as he dresses (much as I saw Grace Jones do).
Dirk Wears White Sox is by no means a catchy album: it’s more of a cult favourite from the period just before he became a pop star. Much of the material is more experimental Â than post-punk: Tom confirms to me afterwards that ‘Animals and Men’ is particularly difficult to learn. It’s full of shifting, jazzy time signatures and lots of jagged stop-start moments. The more typical post-punk songsÂ sound very Franz Ferdinand now, of course, with that familiar slurping disco beat under the spiky guitar riffs. (Or perhaps that should be ‘very 2004’, when Franz Ferdinand’s debut came out.)
The moment when ‘Cartrouble’ shifts from Part One into Part Two, and the guitars suddenly change from wiry to widescreen, is even more startling when it’s live and turned up a thousandfold, and you’re sharing the moment with a whole temple of acolytes. In the past, I’d been a little wary about the validity of ‘classic album’ run throughs like this. But tonight I realise such concerts can be a joyous celebration of music history and of being alive full stop – still being alive – for artist and audience alike. A celebration of art and life, no less.
We stick around afterwards and chat with Tom at the aftershow party (held in the circle bar). Some public faces there: Keith Lemon (who obligingly poses for a photo with Holly, who’s a fan), Bill Bailey, Mark Lamarr, Mark Moore, Kevin Rowland. Lots of dandyish, well-dressed men in suits and hats, and women in Vivienne Westwood-esque takes on punk cabaret: a few berets with little polka dot veils.
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Monday 21st April 2014. The dregs of the Easter weekend. I grumpily buy a Smarties chocolate egg from Muswell Hill Sainsbury’s, mainly because they’re left overs, bumped down to 40p.
Work this week:Â revising the essay on Late Victorian flÃ¢neuses, for the Fin De Siecle course. Also mopping up the last set texts of the academic year, such as Lara by Bernadine Evaristo. Glad to have finally read Jane Eyre. It didn’t quite become a personal favourite, but I can see how it’s pivotal to the general span of literature. My favourite book that the degree introduced me to this year is Vathek, closely followed by Rana Dasgupta’s Tokyo Cancelled.
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Tuesday 22nd April 2014. I see Daisies at the ICA. It’s a 1966 cult film from Czechoslovakia, as it was called then. The director died a month ago, so the ICA are showing it as a tribute. Very of its time, like The Knack mixed with Bunuel. The story is essentially this: two childlike young women muck about in various surreal settings. There’s some moments of beauty, some of silliness, and some unnerving ones too. It definitely has its own identity – sheer psychedelic abandon.
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Thursday 24th April 2004.Â This week’s new film is The Double, seen today at the Prince Charles Cinema. Jesse Eisenberg stars, last seen as a monotonous computer expert in The Social Network. It’s directed by Richard Ayoade, who was last seen as a monotonous computer expert in The It Crowd. So Mr Eisenberg’s character this time is, well, no surprises.
But here the computers are very different, as is the whole setting: a kind of nocturnal Orwellian world where technology seems stuck at an early 1970s level, all primitive screens and chunky beige keyboards. The architecture meanwhile evokes 1960s Eastern Europe: lifts that never work, brutal underground trains, tower blocks and wastelands. The aesthetic may owe a lot to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and indeed his short Python spin-off film, The Crimson Permanent Assurance (most of the office workers are elderly men), but it has its own original stamp. Sadly the world of the film doesn’t seem to gel with the story about doppelgangers. The aesthetic upstages the plot, while the plot doesn’t know which rules it’s meant to be following. The ending is baffling, but whether it’s meant to be baffling or has just made a mess of its own logicÂ it’s hard to tell. It’s very nearly a great film, just not quite.
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I fume at an article in the Guardian about ‘Britpop casualties’. It’s based on interviews with members of UK bands from the 1990s, whose careers were not quite as successful as Blur and Oasis. The article seems less interested in music and more interested in the failure of those who dare to make it.
I’ve seen schadenfreude-laced features like this before, the gist of which is ‘don’t ever be in a band, be a music critic, that’s better’. In this latest article, there’s a sickening sense of crowing over the misfortune of the singer from Marion (drugs, near-death) and the one from Menswear (mental illness). As Wilde said, it’s the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Well, such journalists will never, ever know what it’s like to play a gig or hear their record on the radio or see the sheer bliss on the faces of people at the front row of a concert, and know that they made those people feel that happy, for that day. I saw Menswear play the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in the 1990s. They were absolute stars, and were loved as stars. They were on bedroom walls all over the world. I knew people who were absolutely, giddily besotted with Menswear. If such fans and even former band members now look back and think it was all rubbish, or that it now sounds impossibly dated, that changes nothing. Those bands added to the amount of joy in the lives of strangers. That’s as valid a life achievement as any, and should be celebrated as such.
Rock journalists who forget this have forgotten what it’s like to be a fan. To focus instead onÂ narratives ofÂ hubris and failure does them no favours. Music writing should be more about pop, and less about tall poppy syndrome.
Tags: adam ant, britpop, daisies, mum, the double, tom